A nephew's recollections

I remember answering a telephone call at Mysore in the year 1962 from the Sahitya Akademi. My uncle, R K Narayan, was told this and he announced that he is unavailable! He thought it would be an invitation to some kind of a seminar which he could not attend because he was very busy writing a novel, ‘Man-eater of Malgudi’. 

The next day, the Sahitya Akademi office called again to which his answer was again “Not available”. However, two days later, there was a call from the Prime Minister’s Office by H Y Sharada Prasad (an old friend of RKN who had translated his first novel ‘Swamy and Friends’ into Kannada. 

Narayan answered this call and was told that he had been awarded the Sahitya Akademi for his novel ‘The Guide’ – a first for an English writing. RKN accepted it, mainly because of Sharada Prasad’s urgings and also because RKN himself was an acquaintance of Jawaharlal Nehru.

Now, cut to the recent “awards-returning spree” in the month of September and October during which more than 43 writers from all over India returned their Sahitya Akademi awards. All this began after the murder of resp-ected scholar and author M M Kalburgi, who was a known rationalist and also a winner of the Akademi honour.

I feel that the litterateurs who return-ed their awards did it a little too late. The whole thing looks like an exhibition of pseudo-secularism based on political issues, because if the writers felt so badly about the present ruling government, they should have acted earlier.

Let us not forget that 99 per cent of Indians are into some faith or the other except probably the “rationalist fringe” and as such returning of awards on the pure basis of Hindutva and increasing intolerance is balderdash.

RKN received a Padma Bhushan after the Sahitya Akademi prize. During Emergency, when a few writers retur-ned their awards, a correspondent asked RKN if he was going the same way too. The writer dismissed the newsman stating, “Definitely not. I’m not a politics man. I am only a storyteller and I wrote 88,000 words to create ‘The Guide’. Why should I give back the award?”

Politics and RKN mixed for a while in 1989 when he was made the member of the Rajya Sabha. His first and last speech was a fascinating one where he criticised very meaningfully the amount of books primary schoolchildren, even those in first standard, are made to carry for their classes. He said in his speech that even to his BA Literature class at the Maharaja’s College, Mysore, he had carried only a 40-page notebook.

The one hour session was, according to him, like writing a very beautiful short story. (He has written 280 amazing short stories). In short, he wanted to tap the creativity of the children in their classes rather than making them carry a heavy bag of books.
RKN was also conferred the Padma Vibhushan award in 2000, which he accepted with great joy and grace.

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