The Bangalore Litfest had a platter-full of Modi-bashing, five-star culture and the likes of Kanhaiya robbing the Litfest of its real meaning
The annual Bangalore Literature Festival has passed off and as in the past, politics eclipsed literature. Some people found it to be more of a festival driven by book publishers, a display of five-star culture and elitism.
The very fact that the festival was held in a five-star hotel tells the tale about the festival. If the organisers were really serious about discussing literature, they should have organised it in a college or university campus. Other than a session on the noted English writer A.K.Ramanujan, who was a son of Mysore, there was not much to talk about literature.
No doubt the absence of a publishing set-up in Karnataka with regard to English literature has smothered writers in this part of the country. The publishing houses are concentrated in Delhi and they give preference to writers in the national capital or its hinterland or those with the right connections. One would wish the Festival had discussed such topics rather than the imaginary suppression of free expression and dissent in “Modi’s India”. The few Kannadas who have made their name in English literature are those who were privileged to get their works published in England or the USA. The same holds good of R.K.Narayan who made it big in English literature as his first work was endorsed by Graham Greene. His childhood friend, Krishna Rao Poorna, who was for a sometime private secretary to Dewan Sir Mirza Ismail and had the benefit of education in England had enabled it. So was the case with K.Raja Rao who was an expatriate writer based in France and later the US and Manohar Malgaonkar.
No Place for Kannada
Eminent teachers and writers in English of Karnataka such as the literary giant Prof B M Srikantaiah and Prof A N Murthy Rao, L S Seshagiri Rao, H H Annaiah Gowda, Bharat Raj Singh, B C Chandrashekara or D A Shankar (in recent years) had to be content with State level fame. The few exceptions include Prof V K Gokak, who held high offices and standing in Kannada literature, Prof C D Narasimhaiah who received Padma awards might be because of his works on Jawaharlal Nehru and Prof U R Ananthamurthy, for his involvement in public affairs. Karnataka itself had not considered Even C D N and Ananthamurthy as “good enough” to be appointed as Vice Chancellor of a university in the State. Even A K Ramanujam had to escape to the US and earn laurels.
It has not gone without notice that Kannada always receives step-motherly treatment at this festival held in Karnataka’s capital. There is only tokenism with regard to Kannada with a panel discussion or speech.
Ever since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014, the Bangalore Literature Festival like the ones in Jaipur and elsewhere has turned into popular forums for indirect Modi bashing and anti-Hindutva and so-called “rise of fascism” sloganeering. It has not gone unnoticed that these so-called literature festivals are being dominated by super-rich leftists, capitalists and feudals who mouth pseudo-socialism and secularism. It cannot be denied that there are capitalists and reactionaries among our communists and leftists. For many in the super-rich league and also modern-day “corporate communism”, leftism is more of a fashion than a commitment. Concern for the weaker sections is not the monopoly of the leftists. In that case, there would not have been such large-scale poverty in West Bengal and unemployment in Kerala. Was it not the Marxists and their friends who deliberately destroyed industries in West Bengal by encouraging gheraos, strikes, Naxalites and indiscipline? It was too late by the time they realised their wrongs.
Interestingly it is the middle class which holds rightist opinions and talks against socialism. Most rightists are in fact better progressives and liberals than the leftists.
Festival of Politics?
That the organisers of the recent Bangalore Literature festival had greater interest in politics than in literature, is illustrated by the fact that they had invited the former President of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union, Kanhaiya Kumar. Not much is known about his involvement in literature. No doubt there was meaning in holding a session on journalist Gauri Lankesh, who was gunned down in recent months. Her father P Lankesh was primarily a teacher of English and writer who later entered Kannada journalism. There is much place for display of literary talent in magazine journalism if not daily journalism. Journalism is even called literature in a hurry. English writer on cricket, Sir Neville Cardus set the style in reporting on cricket matches. He famously wrote two cricketing giants of the country, Vijay Merchant and Syed Mushtaq Ali as the “prose and poetry” of cricket after watching them score centuries each in a Test match against a star-studded English side in the mid-1930s. Helmets, protective gear and big money were unknown in their times. In a session on cricket, it was discussed how big-time cricketers today are after money and records.
In addition to fixtures at such festivals like the populist
historian Ramachandra Guha, there was this time the former Congress minister Jairam Ramesh, who is from Karnataka. He was for sometime deputy chairman of the State Planning Board but evinced little interest as his sights were on Delhi. While some of the speakers at the Festival indulged in rhetoric about the suppression of dissent in the country today, they failed to see that the organisers of the Festival had done the same. The organisers had ostracised the rightists or what they call non-liberals. They conveniently avoided a clash of ideas. One wonders what wrong the organisers and participants see in nationalism. Lack of nationalism, if not patriotism, is one of the main causes of the ills of the nation like corruption and inefficiency. The likes of Kanhaiya Lal have to be reminded about the growing Azadi culture and anti-national feelings being seen among a section of students in the JNU and some other universities in the land. Is it a crime if the BJP Government exhorts the people to encourage made in India and develop in India products. The Americans were encouraging such ideas even before Donald Trump became the President. We should be happy that there is some rise of nationalism on our land considering the cross-current of parochialism, communalism and casteism. The lack of it in Jammu and Kashmir is making a large section of the people there to run down our armed forces and speak in support of the terrorists.
The speakers at the Festival who complained of attacks on dissent in the country should be reminded that nobody silenced them and booked cases under the sedition law against them for expressing their cherished views. At least in the 2015 Bangalore Literature Festival, writer Vikram Sampath had hit out against writers returning their awards to the Sahitya Academy or the Union government. Were there no such issues to discuss this time?
There was mischief in holding a session on the works of A K Ramanujan (1929-93). The reason being his controversial and blasphemous essay on Sri Rama—Three Hundred Ramayanas, Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation. Written in 1991 it had been included in the syllabus for the BA History class by the Delhi University 15 years later. That was how organisers of the Bangalore Literature Festival remembered Ramanujan 24 years after his passing away.
(The writer is a Banglore-based columnist)