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Deccan Herald » Panorama » Detailed Story
‘Kannada qualifies for classical status’
Octogenarian G S Shivarudrappa, who has been honoured with the prestigious title Rashtra Kavi (national poet) by the state government during the golden jubilee year of Karnataka, is among the finest writers in Kannada. He is only the third recipient of the honour after M Govinda Pai and Kuvempu. Before the announcement was made, there was some controversy in Kannada literary circles as the government had discontinued the practice for well over three decades and many deserving literary giants had passed away without getting the recognition.

Shivarudrappa himself admitted that D R Bendre and Pu Ti Narasimhachar were among those who richly deserved the honour before him, but since there is no practice of giving it posthumously, they were not considered. So was Gopalakrishna Adiga, K S Narasimhaswamy, B C Ramachandra Sharma and many others. There is no denying, however, that among the contemporary writers, Shivarudrappa richly deserves the Rashtra Kavi award. The soft-spoken, unassuming Shivarudrappa (80) has been involved in ‘kavya krishi’ for over five decades and he deservedly occupies the top rung among the pantheon of Kannada writers.

Following in the footsteps of his eminent teachers, Kuvempu and Ti Nam Shri, Shivarudrappa taught as well as wrote poetry and literary criticism. According to his disciples in Mysore University and later in Bangalore University, who are a legion, Shivarudrappa’s command over both ancient and contemporary poetics was outstanding. He could effortlessly switch from ancient Kannada poetry to European poetry to romantic poetry to modern poetry and offer an erudite, scholarly comparative analysis. Shivarudrappa, who has more than 12 poetry collections, three travelogues, one biography and a number of research publications to his credit, was awarded the Central Sahitya Akademi award for ‘Kavyartha Chintana,’ a scholarly critique on poetry. He distinguished himself as director of the Kannada Study Centre at Bangalore University from 1970 to 1986, won the State Sahitya Akademi Award in 1982, and was bestowed with the honour of chairing Sahitya Sammelana in 1987 besides being a recipient of the Pampa Award in 1998.

Rashtra Kavi Shivarudrappa talks to Ramakrishna Upad hya of the Deccan Herald on several issues.

Excerpts from an interview:

Who were the great teachers in your formative years and what kind of inspiration did you derive from them?

Kuvempu was my greatest teacher. I was fortunate to be his student for five years. He had already established himself as a great poet. Naturally, his teaching was far more valuable than an ordinary teacher. He used to give us a lot of insight and interpretations, which helped us a great deal in understanding and assimilating both Kannada and European literature....Another was Ti Nam Shri. He was also deeply rooted in traditional scholarship. When he came on a transfer to Maharaja’s College in Mysore, I was already a lecturer. He permitted me to attend his MA classes for two years along with the other students. The third was D L Narasimhachar, who was known as the walking encyclopaedia. I benefited a great deal from Kuvempu’s intuitive way of thinking, Ti Nam Shri’s knowledge and Narasimhachar’s scholarship. Because of the foundation I got, I was able to dabble in poetry, literary criticism as well as comparative poetics.

Why do you think the quality of teaching has gone down of late? We don’t hear of too many great teachers any more?

Time keeps changing and historic occasions don’t come very often. It is difficult to say why such teachers are not there any more. Maybe the people of the new generation don’t pay much attention to research and study. There are people who know about contemporary literature. But there are very few who are interested in ancient literature.

The kind of Guru-Shishya tradition which you mention seems to have gone out of fashion. Why?

I don’t know really. Maybe because people have other interests.

Why do you think Kannadigas, unlike other linguistic groups, lack pride in their language and culture?

We have a tradition of being large-hearted. Even in our literature, we have a tendency to adopt from others, without getting into confrontation. From the time of Nrupathunga, we have adopted tolerance and assimilation of good elements of everybody. Apart from such good qualities, it would have been nice, if we had the kind of pride the Tamilians, Malayalees have.

There is great literature in many Indian languages, but we are hardly aware of it. Why do you think translation has not taken off in a big way?

A lot of translation is happening. We are not strangers to Indian literature any more. The NBT, Central Sahitya Akademi and universities have been doing translations. But the work has to be intensified. I agree that not much Kannada literature has been translated to other languages. We have writers who are second to none in any language...Indian writing in English is being projected as Indian literature. The real Indian literature is in regional languages. If they are made available in other languages, people will come to know that we have some of the best literature in the world.

English somehow seems to be inadequate to translate Indian literature, to capture all its essence. Don’t you think it would be better if bi-linguals of Indian languages do the translations?

Not just bi-linguals, people with multi-language skills should be employed. We have found that many of the works translated to English, appear like pale versions of the original. Literary bodies should consider offering fellowships to those well-versed in translations and send them to different countries to learn the languages, so that they will be in a better position to provide more authentic translations.

Do you think Kannada should get the classical language status? Why has it become such a controversial issue?

The word ‘classical’ is misleading. Classical language by definition is one which is not in use. But Kannada has been very much alive for over 2,000 years. Maybe they could have termed it a ‘contemporary language.’ Kannada literature has a history of about 1,200 years and though Tamil is slightly older, in many respects, it is richer than Tamil in modern literature.

Despite such a rich heritage, it is surprising that hurdles are being put in the path of Kannada getting the classical language status. Considering its history, contribution, heritage, Kannada has all the qualifications to get that status. With the funds that will be available, it will help the development of the language.

After becoming Rashtra Kavi, have your responsibilities increased in any way?

Not really. It’s not an office, post or assignment. Whatever responsibilities I had as a writer will continue. Nothing more, nothing less.

‘Let experts decide on English’

What are your views on the government’s language policy?

Kannada should get pride of place. There’s no question about that. We should learn the other languages out of interest and take the best elements from them. But, somehow the ruling class in our state does not have the will power to support Kannada in a big way.

You are one of those strongly opposed to the introduction of English from the first standard. Don’t you think children need to be taught English as a language as early as possible to make them competitive?

First of all, nowhere in the world is there a dispute about children being initiated into education through their mother tongue. It is a natural process. English should be taught later. Even the Supreme Court says that in the first four years, education should be in the child’s mother tongue. That’s what Gandhi, Kuvempu and others also propagated. But when you try to teach two languages at the same time, children are bound to get confused. By trying to teach both together, I feel that Kannada may suffer.

So, are you in favour of teaching English from the fifth standard rather than the first standard?

Once the foundation is laid in Kannada, children can be taught the other languages. We must remember that there are a lot of differences in the environment in English medium schools and Kannada medium schools. To learn a language the environment should be there. If it is not spoken at home or in the street, children will find it difficult to pick it up. Nobody is against English, but for whom, at what level is important.

Won’t it lead to an urban-rural divide? Are we not denying the rural poor and Dalits the benefits of English education?

But how good is the quality of our government schools? It is true that children will get self-confidence by learning English. But when there is so much of difference between the English medium schools and Kannada medium schools, how can the disparity be removed? There is no proper infrastructure in our schools. If you can’t provide the same standard of English, what kind of language are you teaching? The government should introduce Kannada medium in all schools up to the fourth standard and then teach English. The teachers themselves don’t know proper English in rural areas. How can they teach children? The basic needs should be met first....Unfortunately, those opposing English have been projected as anti-poor and anti-Dalit. It’s an unhealthy atmosphere.

But when there is so much of clamour for English from the rural areas, how could the government not respond?

If the government had formed a committee of linguists, psychologists and educationists and taken their opinion before taking a decision, there would not have been any controversy. We too would have accepted such a committee’s recommendations. Even now, the government should do it. The high court is also looking into the mother tongue issue. The government could have waited for its verdict, which is expected soon.
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