'A novel is not thesis; it's not sacrosanct'

Interview

On the eve of Kannada language being honoured with eight Jnanpith, one of the most celebrated writers in Kannada, who has people who love and hate him with same intensity, S L Bhyrappa is bringing home the first ever Saraswati Samman for Kannada for his novel ‘Mandra’.

On the occasion of this rare honour for the land, language and his writings. He speaks to Preethi Nagaraj.

Excerpts:
Kannada has been accorded with eighth Jnanpith. And, you are receiving the first Saraswati Samman for Kannada at a time when it is yet to be used as administrative language. How would you want to react to this strange situation?
Administrative language is different from language of medium. To an extent, Kannada is used in administration of the state. Yet, as far as schools are concerned, English has taken lion’s share. As a result, generations ahead may read only English and may even learn to write in that language. Kannada will bear the brunt.

If there is a political will, Kannada can be taught up to 10th standard in schools and students can later take up English, which will not be too tough. But, the government has to act very strongly on this. If generations do not learn Kannada, their power of imagination will be limited, and evetually begin to dimish.

Because, English is not the language our emotions speak. I have taught students of philosophy for 32 years in English. But, deep within me, I converse in Kannada. We may learn ‘working’ English, not the language that expresses emotions.

Government’s decision to merge Kannada schools for want of students has hit the state like a thunderbolt. What’s your reaction to this?

State government seems to have fallen prey to some commercial proposition by private institutions. They have now rooted themselves well in cities and now think villages are lucrative markets. It is not the question of students or teachers alone. It is also the fact that state has less control over people working in these schools to bring them to a certain standard. Now, children becoming engineers, going abroad and tasting a slice of high life was an impossible dream for a farmer. He now wants his son also to experience the same riches as a city-bred boy. Can he be denied that?

More and more non-resident Kannadigas are stepping into the field of literature. Would you as a writer see this as a significant change or a new kind of literature?

Why not? Technology has opened up all kinds of possibilties for them. And, the non-resident Kannadigas who are writing are the are settled abroad and are capable of expressing them in chaste language. A majority of them being engineers, some of them are serious writers too. After initial years of writing about cultral differences, homesickness, food, etc, they get down to create some quality literature.

They don’t have economic constraints as the writers in past did. Few of them are capable of publishing books themselves and few simply e-publish their works. I am sure some among them will formally study literature and will turn into the finest writers of our language.

Your last novel ‘Kavalu’ was dubbed regressive by feminists and organisations which worked for the empowerment of women. They said it portrayed working women in very poor light. It also generalised some cases where anti-dowry law was misused by some, while at a larger level that law has helped many women find protection. How would you want to comment on it?

I don’t understand how people define ‘modernism’. Most of the women characters in that novel are very strong, sensible and pragmatic. Traditional values are also part of their life, yet they are not submissive.

There were discussions following the novel. And most women who participated in such discussions said they related to many parts of the novel and felt it was drawn from their own life! And, most of those women were in mid-60s. The novel saw 13 reprints. And, is still being sold.

Besides, why should anyone take it as sacrosanct and the ultimate truth? I have just written an engaging story. Why build theories based on it? Tomorrow, if I feel like it, I might even write a story that completely contradicts the earlier one? Like an anti-dowry law helping women lead safe life!

What’s coming next?
I have no idea right now.

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