The vigilant observer

L.S. Seshagiri Rao: `Role models are not available in markets, and universities can't produce writers.' — Photo: Bhagya Prakash K.

L.S. Seshagiri Rao: `Role models are not available in markets, and universities can't produce writers.' — Photo: Bhagya Prakash K.  

— Photo: Bhagya Prakash K.

PROF. L.S. Seshagiri Rao, fondly known as LSS, could be called the conscience-keeper of Kannadigas. He is an English teacher by profession and has taught thousands of students in his long career spanning nearly thirty-five years. He is a literary critic by choice, his valuable insights guiding innumerable Kannada writers. But what makes this 80-year-old teacher-writer-critic one of his kind is the fact that he has not just confined himself to language and literature, but has also donned the role of an activist and is always in the forefront of any movement pertaining to Kannada and Karnataka. .

Like the literary geniuses of yesteryear such as B.M. Srikantiah, S.V. Ranganna, G.P. Rajaratnam, A.N. Murthy Rao and V. Seetharamiah, L.S. Seshagiri Rao has imbibed their spirit of hard work and sacrifice to preserve the stature of Kannada. He fondly remembers his father and mentor L. Swamy Rao, who was a teacher and initiated him into the nuances of literature.

Since LSS has closely been observing several literary schools of thought and has always remained a curious reader of all the works produced in Kannada, he has the great advantage of putting forth things in an authentic manner. He says literature has scaled new heights in the recent times with writers who are well-versed in various disciplines such as modern psychology, sociology, besides being conversant with economics and politics too. He explains how Dalit literature is a powerful force to reckon with. LSS believes that unless a writer is backed by a rich experience and can speak for his values, which include self-respect and truth, he cannot achieve much. It is precisely for this reason that has given Dalit writing so much credibility.

Don't many young writers complain that they have no role models? "Kuvempu, Masti, Bendre and Shivarama Karanth did not announce themselves as role models?" retorts LSS. "Role models are not available in markets and universities can't produce writers," he adds. LSS stresses that technique and craft could be taught in the classroom, while writing is something that comes naturally to an individual. "It is necessary that a writer grows independently by observing things and develop a writer's temperament."

Jane Austen became a fine novelist with her keen sense of observation and sensitivity. He says that's what made Bendre a great love poet, Shelley so convincing on death, and Eliot, who began at the late age of 40, a powerful influence on several generations of writers. He went on to talk of S.L. Bhyrappa, the well-known writer, who travels widely to acquire first hand knowledge, before he ventures out to write a novel.

LSS does not agree to the fact that Kannada readership is dwindling. Television has done considerable damage but believes that the existing readership will continue as more and more people are coming back to books. He recalls how as the Chairman of the Kannada Book Authority, he had such difficulty in putting things into any kind of order, because book selling has never been an industry in Karnataka and it lacks systematic approach.

He feels that the requirement of each reader is different, and so there should be a wide variety of books. LSS feels that the present-day Kannada agitations need an altogether new approach keeping in mind the ground reality. If it is a bleak situation, it is because of the lack of political will. Unless we are able to provide books in Kannada that suit every discipline, we cannot expect to make Kannada the medium of instruction.

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