Does art have boundaries?
Newspapers have carried two interesting stories and viewpoints recently. The first one comes from a far away country. It tells us that the Norwegian prime minister has appointed a Muslim woman from Pakistan as the new minister for Culture in Norway. The second one is nearer home and talks about eminent Kannada writers opposing a memorial for India’s one and only R K Narayan because he is not a Kannadiga.
While the first story conveys a deep sense of inclusiveness at a time when communal passions are riding high in the world, the second leaves us stunned by its narrow conviction that a writer who wrote in English has no place in the city that he loved and immortalised.
Read Mysore for Malgudi, and RKN immediately becomes a more loyal Kannadiga than anyone else. If the Town Hall, the Market place, Lawley Extension, the Sarayu river and the Memphi forest are not quintessential Mysore, what else are his novels all about?
To disown their creator would be disowning our own Kannada way of life.
Yes. R K Narayan was a Tamilian by birth who made English language his own. But so were Kannada’a greatest playwright, T P Kailasam, novelist Masti Venkatesha Iyengar, poets G P Rajaratnam and and P T Narasimhachar and many others who spoke in Tamil, studied in English and wrote in Kannada.
Why, our most renowned Kannada intellectuals like A N Moorthy Rao and L S Seshagiri Rao cut their teeth on English literature which they studied and taught before branching into Kannada writing. Moorthy Rao used to humourously describe Mysore in the 1930s, when there was a wave of Kannada revival in that city, with agitators shouting in English “Please speak in Kannada only!”
When we see the number of Tamilians, Malayalis, Bengalis, Maharashtrians and Telegu speaking people in Karnataka, who have made significant contributions in various fields, who are ‘we’ to call them ‘outsiders’ or to deny them honours? If Raja Ramanna spoke in Tamil, studied in English and went on to become an international scientist in nuclear physics, have we not proudly claimed his achievements as ‘ours?’
Our best scientific institution was established by a Parsi. Our popular dance and music genres originated in Andhra and Tamil Nadu. Some of our literary gems were written in English.
The poet, essayist and translator AK Ramanujan who was a Tamilian born in Mysore, majored in English and migrated to America at the age of 30, where he lived and died, after an illustrious career as a scholar in Tamil, Telegu, Sanskrit and English. He is still revered as a son of Karnataka. Shall we deny them all honours when the world has recognised their genius?
Why, the first Kannada-English dictionary was produced in 1894 by a Christian missionary, Rev Kittel. He was a scholar in Kannada who dedicated his life to studying Kannada literature, art and customs.
Should we obliterate his memory because he was a “foreigner”? Or, throw away a painter of the staure of Yusuf Arrakkal because he is Malayali/Muslim? Our narrow boundaries have to give way to “boundlessness” if we desire our state to progress.
If one state cannot tolerate persons coming from another state in India, this country is far from becoming a “melting pot” like America where so many immigrants from so many countries and cultures have all come together to live in harmony.
When we consider the flow of people long ago from England, Ireland and other European countries who came to the two Americas in search of a living – added to the more recent rush of educated immigrants from Asian countries - we may as well ask where are the original inhabitants of those great continents?
The native American Indian has become a small minority in his own land which has absorbed and assimilated so many languages, dialects and cultures. The Nobel Laureate Chandrashekar did not go unrecognised in the country of his adoption just because he was born in India.
Sweden gave him the highest scientific award, while America showered honours on him. Similarly, the mathematical genius of Ramanujan went unrecognised in his own country but hailed by mathematical societies world wide as a scientific marvel.
So, let us not grudge or deny recognition to an eminent writer simply because he was born in another state. On the other hand, we can prevail on our state government to award similar honours on Kannada writers and artists of eminence. We have had such abundance of talent, now and in the past.
Whether it is our rashtrakavi Kuvempu, theatre wizard Gubbi Veeranna, film maker Puttanna Kanagal, legendary sculptor Jakanacharya or even the 12th century mystic poet Akka Mahadevi – the state should feel proud to preserve and honour the rich heritage they have left behind.
We must also learn to view all creative artists and geniuses through ‘a different mirror.’ Art has no boundaries or walls. It is a bridge where everyone should feel free to walk cross.