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The world within us

As Karnataka enters the 50th year of its unification, writer-thinker Dr. U.R. Ananthamurthy talks of the unique position the State enjoys given its glorious history, even as he feels disappointed over the present scenario

DREAMS AND DISAPPOINTMENTS U.R. Ananthamurthy: `With less and less of writers asking civilisational questions, Kannada will no longer be the language of the intellect. It will just remain the language of our culture, of everyday life.'; (below) Kuvempu, Bendre and Shivarama Karanth who were a major force in shaping the Kannada thought PHOTO: K. GOPINATHAN

I grew up in Mysore. As students, one of our dreams was to see Karnataka come into being. Fortunately, this was part of the Independence dream. But after we became independent, the intellectual class all over the country, including Nehru, felt that the desire for linguistic States was wrong. Mahatma Gandhi never thought so. The Nehruvian kind of modernism didn't want linguistic States. But now I feel that if linguistic States were not there, European modernism and westernisation would have been much more dangerous for us.

Even before Karnataka came into being, Gandhiji had a Karnataka Congress. Emotionally there was a sense of Karnataka. This comes from Amoghavarsha's Kavirajamarga where the poet reckons Karnataka as the centre of the world and the world as existing in the heart of Karnataka. He wants the whole world to be mirrored in Karnataka. The poet also praises the qualities of Karnataka in its tolerance of different religions and varied viewpoints. So in Kavirajamarga, written 1,000 years ago, we had that kind of a dream for the State. The concept of Karnataka was never something that would make it an independent nation apart from India, but a part of India. This is reflected in Kuvempu's poem that became the State's anthem, "Bharata Jananiya Tanujaate". So we think of Karnataka along with India. Hence we were ready for not a highly centralised kind of a nation state, but a federal state. And I think what is going to save India is its federalism.

Religion of our own

In Karnataka, all the important aspects of the Hindu religious movements have found expression. We have our own religion that is Veerashaivism. Maybe the best of the Vedic and Upanishadic thoughts is Karnataka's contribution. I say this because there are very few languages that are the languages of a religion. For instance, English is not the language of a religion. The Bible has been translated into English. But Kannada is the language of Veerashaivism, and to some extent Jainism too. This again gives Kannada a special status. Karnataka is one of the seats of Sankaracharya's Advaita philosophy. We gave birth to the other great thinker and philosopher, Madhvacharya. Veerashaivism, the Madhwa kind of Vaishnavism, and Sree Vaishnavism had its roots here. All these ideas have been crucial to us in these 50 years.

Coming to Kannada literature, we were fortunate to have Pampa, who wanted to excel the Sanskrit poet Kalidassa. There was never a sense in Karnataka that we are an ethnic people writing in one of the regional languages. In fact, the word regional language itself is a recent coinage. It was the language of this land, one of the languages of India. And hence, India was always thought

of as being multi-centred: an idea that has been central to the Kannada mind. So Pampa, the classical poet, has Kalidasa at the back of his mind. In fact, he even excels Kalidasa in many parts. And then we had the vachanakaras who created a new spiritual language in Karnataka. Vaishnavism found its expression in the dasas. All this sum up to mean that Karnataka never had one single capital. Karnataka as a land is sacred to several people for several reasons. Look at our literature. We have a Kuvempu who is as much influenced by the past of Karnataka, Sanskrit literature and European literature. So if you read Ramayana Darshanam, he mentions all the poets all over the world. I once went to Kuvempu's house and chanced upon a copy of

Homer at the end of which Kuvempu had written a sonnet in which he said: "Although your poetry is great, your story is is not great." And this was before Independence. Here was a man who could admire Homer but had a mind that was decolonised even before Indian independence. Then we had remarkable writers like Bendre, Karanth... so we get to inherit that kind of a rich legacy, a belief that we are citizens of the world, without being inferior to any other writer. Hence writing in Kannada always meant being an Indian writer.

Look at our musical inheritance; we had great minds in both genres, Carnatic and Hindustani styles. That way Karnataka has a unique place in India and is like mini India itself.

But the present, say in the last decade or so, there is something that has been bothering me. Most writers, thinkers and important personalities came from common schools. That means we all came from Kannada schools, though we later studied in English. It was not just studying in Kannada schools but also growing up with children of various other castes and classes. And hence we had a sense of Karnataka. Though when we grew up, some of us in the class grow up to be rich, and some poor... That kind of a childhood experience is becoming rare now with privatisation of education and the increasing number of English medium schools. And there may come a time when we will have second-class English speakers and no Kannada speakers.

Language as common experience

It's already becoming true with the younger generation. The sad thing is that the new generation in Karnataka does not define itself in terms of its language. A Bengali anywhere in the world thinks of himself as someone who speaks Bengali. But people of Karnataka, despite their rich inheritance, define themselves as say, Bangalorreans, or with respect to a caste or region, rather than defining themselves largely belonging to a particular language. This is a great pity. If religions became spiritual, it was because of language. I'm not a Lingayat. But Basava makes it possible for me to experience the entire Veerashaiva tradition because of language. Pampa and others gave me the experience of Jainism. Somehow these things are being lost because language is the basis of such experiences. When a Muslim writes in Kannada, that great Muslim experience becomes mine. And if he reads Kannada, my experience becomes hsi. Language somehow becomes the space where all religions can meet and share experiences. So Karnataka, which is such a repository of various cultures, may lose all the rich inheritance if we give up the language.

It is a shame that Bangalore has forgotten its writers. The new kind of development has brought about a cultural amnesia which is bad for Karnataka. We have several good writers now, but they don't seem to marvel at the civilizational questions as the old writers did. With less and less of this, Kannada will no longer be the language of the intellect. It will just remain the language of our culture, of everyday life. But the question is also whom do the writers write for. The largest circulating Kannada newspaper doesn't have a literary page. What they are interested is in becoming part of a world market economy. If Kannada is alive, it is because of its writers.

(As told to Deepa Ganesh)

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