'Introducing English at primary level will deny children an opportunity to learn Kannada'

Against English medium, not language: Kambar

Jnanpith awardee and Kendra Sahitya Akademi president Chandrashekhar Kambar is one of the leading figures in the contemporary Indian literature. The poet and playwright will preside over the 84th Kannada Sahitya Sammelana — the three-day festival starting on Friday celebrating the spirit of language, literature and culture of Karnataka. Alongside the preparations for the Sammelana, Dr Kambar, in conversation with DH’s Chiranjeevi Kulkarni, spoke about the pressing issues that have drawn the attention of the state. Excerpts from his interview

The government’s decision to start English medium in its schools has led to a furore with some seeing a threat to Kannada schools and the language itself. What is your take on this? Introducing English at primary level will deny children an opportunity to learn Kannada. They will not learn either language. I don’t think this will help them in the learning process. A child should learn in the mother tongue from Class 1 to 7. That is what experts say and I support it.

Many say that the writers who oppose English medium are the ones sending their children to English-medium schools...

That’s a theory. Of course, not all do that. Moreover, we are not opposing English. I request them to learn English, but only after they learn their mother tongue and understand the power of its words and rhythm.

The allegation that writers preach one thing and practise another...

What I say is based on my experience. What should we do when everything is commodified? We should fight for our values. Those who are concerned about learning should have adopted government schools but unfortunately, they opened private schools.

Read also: Siddaramaiah flags CM's English schools plan

English learning is usually linked to economics, including jobs and growth...

We have to understand that there is nothing to be gained from giving primacy to English. On the other hand, we are losing our mother tongue. It’s like the Greek hero who kills his parents after getting drunk. We should not get intoxicated on English and do the same. Kannada should be compulsory from Class 1 to 7 so that the child in its formative stage will be able to develop grasping power.

How will the literary meet respond to the government’s move?

We have a separate session on the issue, where experts from the field of education will share their views. We have also sought time to speak to the chief minister. Literature is usually seen a tool to widen the space for debate and increase tolerance among different people. However, we see some of the leading figures from the world of art and literature contributing to intolerance. I am not aware of the role of writers in spreading intolerance. However, I can say that our literature and poetry have the power to overcome intolerance.

Read also: Revanna for Eng medium in primary schools

Your plays and poems celebrate folk culture, what is the first inspiration?

The inspiration is folklore itself. I used to graze cows where the interaction with villagers enriched my life.

I had a good grasp of folk songs. Secondly, the figurative power and power of poetry is realised in folk language. Urban language tends to be ‘clean’ to render itself for the writing culture.

When your contemporaries, influenced by Navya (modernism in Kannada literature) tend to go inward, you turned to folklore.

Because that was the time I realised that time got divided into three segments of past, present and future. Till the modern perspective of history, time was indivisible and intertwined. People saw the hill on the edge of the village as the place where Bhima (from Mahabharata) lived.

So we have (Rabindranath) Tagore’s Gora wondering about his origin and the identity crisis of Salman Rushdie’s protagonist.

Also read: Why not English medium?

M T Vasudevan Nair’s story has a boy searching for a father figure. The sense that we got separated from our own past made folklore a very relevant subject.

You view modernity with suspicion but also say Kannada should adapt itself to the modern world with digitisation. Is there a contradiction?

My suspicion springs from the fact that modernity and globalisation have ignored agrarian society. Questions have to be asked when we abandon the values of our culture.

There is no stopping modernity. So, modernisation of language is a necessity. Now, I can’t say I will protect orality. Yakshagana is the last fort of the oral culture. The only other sphere is politics where leaders speak for hours without a note

There was a time when literary meets would draw youths and inspire them. Do you think the Sammelana will draw youngsters who rush to literary meets organised by private organisations?

I got inspired to become a poet or writer by listening to Kuvempu, who was speaking as the president of the sammelana in 1957. So, we have to reach out to others. We have to reach out to youths by taking our language to the digital world.

Read also: CM says English in govt schools won’t harm Kannada


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