In this audio chapter...

A sound collaboration has put Kannada literature and culture back in focus, and its rewards are many

Bengaluru reflects the aspirations of the state’s numerous youth. People who come here in search of jobs meet a different world and get lost in the din of the city, with hardly any time left for entertainment and reading taking a backseat. The Kannada literature world has been struggling with not enough takers for the content produced, book sales going down and not many new readers.

For Mukund Setlur, a Bengaluru-based management professional, Keli Katheya became a project to bring selected Kannada short stories closer to people, with audio as the medium.

In Kannada, there are hardly any audiobooks. “Story itself is an art form. The art form has to adapt itself to get a lot more reach than what it’s getting right now,” Mukund says, adding that people don’t have time to go to book shops, choose books or read stories these days.

So, his thought was, “Is there a way to bring these stories to people using a group of people who people are used to?”

In the first edition of Keli Katheya, which was released in 2014, cine stars like Rakshit Shetty, Kishore Kumar G, singer M D Pallavi, theatre artiste Suchendra Prasad and many other celebrities were roped in. Writers whose stories were chosen shared the audio rights with the Keli Katheya team. The project became a hit.

Unlike cinema, audio leaves a lot more to one’s imagination. “Ours was the first audiobook on short stories to come out,” Mukund says.


Film artistes reading out Kannada stories for the Keli Katheya project. 

Vasudhendra, a popular writer who contributed a story to the project, says the audiobook was well-made and became a success story. However, he thinks there should have been more emphasis on the writers, instead of making it a celebrity affair. Mukund has his justification: How do we take something to people, most of whom might not be willing to try out literature, in a way that’s more acceptable and relatable to them? Celebrities are the easy answer.

Kannada singer and actor M D Pallavi, who was a part of Keli Katheya first edition, and is going to be involved in the upcoming second edition, endorses the cause. “We get videos and audios done using state-of-the-art technology in all other languages but Kannada products are rare. This is a novel attempt to bring short stories closer to Kannadigas,” she says.

She adds that other than the team’s interest in Kannada literature and its passion towards the cause, what they do with the profit they get from the project is what got her to collaborate.

Where does the profit gained from this project go? Mukund says it’s donated to Aviratha, a nongovernmental organisation in its notebook donation drive that focuses on Kannada-medium government schools across Karnataka.

For schools...

Satheesh Gowda, founder member of Aviratha, says the Keli Katheya team is one of the collaborators for their annual notebook donation drive, that covers about 350 government schools every year across all districts of Karnataka, 99% of which have Kannada medium.

Every year, come June, Aviratha starts distributing notebooks to students. About 450 active members work towards mobilising the contributions and organising the distribution logistics. The members of Aviratha from rural areas of the state identify the needy schools and the team takes it forward. 

Aviratha raises funds through individual contributions, corporate social responsibility and fundraiser programmes. The initiative has gained respect and popularity. Shashikala Badami, a teacher from Kelavadi government primary school that has about 200 children, explains what the drive means to beneficiaries: “They come in June and give 12 notebooks to each kid. It means a lot to the children in our school, most of them being poor, whose parents are sometimes away in cities working as daily labourers... Entire year they don’t have to spend on notebooks. It is a big support.”

Government higher primary school at Hosakatti in Dharwad’s Kundagol taluk is another beneficiary of the notebook drive. Parashuram Teggi, the headmaster, says Aviratha team has been visiting the school for the last seven-eight years. They provide notebooks and compass boxes to the kids, numbering about 200. Science kits for kids are an additional donation this year, which are expected to arrive in the next few weeks. “It helps create interest,” he adds.

Aviratha’s journey is not without its own challenges. Fundraising programmes don’t help much. Donations that come through corporate social responsibility demand a lot of documentation, which becomes a burden to handle as Aviratha’s members work on voluntary basis.

The team, however, manages to do what it must, year after year, without any problem. This includes staging plays in which the team members themselves act, to raise funds for the notebook drive and save money.

Call for equal rights

What was the purpose behind Aviratha? Satheesh Gowda reveals that in 2005, there was a team of Kannadigas named E-Kavi that started campaigning for equal rights for the Kannada language in the increasingly globalised atmosphere. When this approach didn’t yield the expected outcome, many members were disillusioned. They came out and formed Aviratha, hoping to make an impact by just “doing what we can voluntarily”, and not getting into serious political activism, which takes up a lot of time and energy.

Interestingly, another offshoot of E-Kavi went on to become Banavasi Balaga, which became deeply involved in political and social advocacy on language issues. 

Kannada’s cause

Banavasi was the capital city of Kadambas, who were the first Kannada rulers to rule South India for two centuries, after AD 345. The famed first poet (Aadi Kavi) of Kannada, Pampa, was born in Banavasi.

Banavasi Balaga named themselves so 12 years ago, in order to remind themselves of their ultimate goal of making Kannada rule again, in a way suitable to the modern world, though the fight has mostly been about establishing a Kannada identity everywhere — in the national arena, in consumer care, in governmental communications and in entertainment.

Ganesh Chetan, the founder member of Banavasi Balaga, says that the team undertakes various language-centric activities, including focusing on quality education in Kannada medium, coining new words in Kannada, publishing informative books in Kannada and so on.

Federalism, fight against Hindi imposition, the campaign against dubbing, political advocacy and activism etc are the other major on-ground activities the team undertakes. The work goes on in the form of disseminating knowledge, writing about issues and campaigning on social media.

For example, Kannada consumer-centric activities are undertaken by an offshoot of the Banavasi Balaga, called Kannada Consumer Forum (Kannada Grahakara Koota).

The Twitter handle of the Koota has over 9,000 followers. It keeps highlighting issues such as demand for Kannada in customer care teams of various corporates, services, ATMs, banks and beyond.

What has been the impact?

Ganesh says Competition Commission of India (CCI) allowing dubbing of content to Kannada last year was a major victory. As a result, James Cameron’s Terminator Dark Fate has been released in Kannada, he says. The campaign against the imposition of Hindi becoming mainstream was another outcome, he adds. Arun Javagal, a member of Balaga, says the team has about 50-60 passionate members spread across Bengaluru and beyond.

The methodology is tactical and
covers all political ideologies. When a campaign, especially one which involves political will, is taken up, all political parties are involved in it, which ends up yielding the best results.

Journey of poetry...

Among the initiatives to popularise Kannada, many are low-key but interesting and impactful. Padayaatre (journey of words/songs) is an initiative started by Kannada poetry enthusiasts who read out Kannada poems every month on a Sunday. Sourabha Rao, a media professional who started this, says: “Four-five years ago, a few of us, friends, gathered in a park and started reading out random poems. People who were walking in the park gathered around and started listening to us. That’s how Padayaatre started.” The Facebook page dedicated to Padayaatre announces meetups every month, and they’re open to everyone. The team also films the recitals for YouTube.

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