On January 17, The Times of India announced in a front-paged box that starting on that day, the paper would bring out ?a brand new and exciting newspaper?the Kannada edition of the buzziest media brand??namely, itself. The announcement went further; It said: ?The Times of India, Kannada, which hit the stands today, brings to Kannadigas all its journalistic vivaciousness and professional patriotism packages with a touch of class. The daily will reach out to the forward-looking Kannadigas with global aspirations, the Kannadiga who strives to keep Karnataka'sflag flying high in the national and international space, but yet one who has his roots firmly in this soil? The Times of India Kannada will have the best of The Times of India'sEnglish edition'sinsightful coverage from across the country and the globe plus a perspective of all that is happening around you. Indeed it will have more of Bangalore and more of Karnataka. Because a great culture deserves a great newspaper.?
But apparently Kannada leaders don'thave much faith in this approach. Deccan Herald (January 15) with which The Times of India is competing, carried a strong condemnation of the latter'sintention ?to start a translated version? of its copy in Kannada. At a function organised in Bangalore by the Nelasari Cultural Forum, Jananpith Award winner Dr U.R. Ananthamurthy said that ?all right-thinking writers should strongly oppose? The Times of India's jump into the field of Kannada journalism, without specifically mentioning its name. He said: ?The new ?spit out? of the English version is being brought out, after stopping the publication of another Kannada daily by their group. Many journalists have been rendered jobless due to this move. There can be no bigger insult than this to Kannada journalism.?
Asking fellow writers to follow his lead in boycotting the newspaper, Dr Ananthamurthy said: ?None of the writers should give a message or contribute articles to it.? Translations, he said, ?can prove inimical to the interest of languages, drawing an analogy to the fate suffered by Korean languages, following the translation of low grade English novels into that language.? ?Novels? he added, ?in the local language are no more available in south Korea. Such a predicament should not befall Kannada.?
Dr Ananthamurthy has a point. If educated Kannadigas, who know English very well, want to read The Times of India, they would do so anyway. It is a matter of preference. The Times of India is competing with the Bangalore newspaper Deccan Herald and the competition respected no norms. It was bitter and shocking. Also in the field is The Indian Express. Even before starting a Kannada version of its paper, Bennett Coleman had bought out an English daily which claimed to have a readership of over four lakh. Money power prevails. Bringing out a Kannada version of itself is meant to push out existing Kannada dailies which cater to their readership in a cultural language they are heir to. This is what intellectuals like Dr Ananthamurthy are opposed to; who will win out in the end is hard to guess. It is usually money power that prevails.
Kannada dailies provide their readership, news that Kannada readers specifically want to read. They know and understand the Kannada mind. Providing the average reader a translation of what is written in English is a poor way of serving the Kannada reader, but evidently Bennet Coleman has done some research. It is a way of pushing out smaller Kannada papers out of the market and imposing The Times of India'sunderstanding of what makes news. If Bennet Coleman succeeds, than it would have snuffed out democracy.
Kannada readers don'twant Page Three journalism, nor are they much interested in trash that passes for news in some of our English language newspapers. By and large they are a serious and conservative people whose views need to be respected. Obviously The Times of India believes that its standards are high and beyond challenge. English words cannot be translated into Kannada thought ?a point that cannot sufficiently be stressed.
If Bennet Coleman'sstrategy to capture a Kannada readership succeeds, why should not The Times (London) or The New York Times or Le Figaro (Paris) follow suit and have their editions translated and published in India'sseveral languages like Hindi, Bengali, Telugu and Tamil? As matters stand, even highly-respected newspapers like The Hindu are coming for criticism by some of its more sophisticated readers.
The Hindu ombudsman in a recent issue (January 1) quoted a letter he received from an Englishman who had settled in Tamil Nadu for years. Wrote the Englishman: ?As an Englishman living in Udhagamandalam and one-time admirer of the quality of writing in The Hindu, I feel compelled to protest at the standard of English that is now finding its way into the publication?There was a time when I encouraged my children to read your paper?this is no longer the case. I simply could not spare the time to explain to them what the article meant or the amendments that would be necessary to correct it into any form of readable English?Please try to do better.?
That The Hindu had the courage to let its ombudsman publish this letter speaks highly for its objectivity and sense of service. Kannadigas don'twant translations of English newspapers to read. And no translation can ever have the local flavour. News in Kannada?or, for that matter news in any Indian language?has to be written in a style reflecting Kannada ethos and Kannada thinking, the ideas flowing from a Kannada mind-set. Providing a Kannada version of the original The Times of India is doing poor service to Kannada readers.
Dr Ananthamurthy calls it an insult and there are many people who think so. Nevertheless we must also remember that many newspapers publish news items supplied to them in English by the Press Trust of India or the UNI. But that'sa wholly different scene. It will be interesting to watch the ultimate fate of the Kannada version of The Times of India. What seems to have happened, if what Dr Ananthamurthy'sremarks are a reflection of Kannadiga'sthinking, is that Bennet Coleman'sapproach has aroused a lot of anger and resentment. But it is too early to say whether Dr Ananthamurthy is reflecting a majority sentiment or only a minority view. The reality check no doubt will become apparent in a few weeks. But one thing can be said for sure: There is no power to check money power. One can push any idea through if one has power. That would explain Bennett Coleman'sdetermination to give Kannadigas a translated version of The Times of India. If Bennett Coleman is ready to face the music as it were, that'sthe end of the discussion. We live in a democracy.