S.L. Bhyrappa explained how, at the day-long Mysuru literary festival

The Senate Bhavan Hall of the Mysore University’s sprawling Manasagangothri campus wore a festive look. It was the cool morning of June 18. The spacious foyer was full of lovers of literature, young and old, rushing for registration and looking for counters displaying books. The day-long Mysuru Literary Festival was organised by the enthusiastic group of academics and writers of English literature, including Dr. H.S. Shivanna, Prof. K.C. Belliappa, Mysore Literary Association president, and Reginald Wesley, Association Secretary. The packed hall heard the grand old man of Kannada literature, S.L. Bhyrappa, delivering his inaugural address in English.

“Mysore is a heritage city. It is a city of English, as well,” said Bhyrappa. “I came to Karnataka in order to be a Kannada writer. You must live among the people who speak the language. I wanted to speak good Kannada, real Kannada. I went to Ramanagara, Hassan and Kengal — where cattle were brought for sale. There I heard the real Kannada, as a boy in my village. Thus I learnt my real Kannada,” he said.

Bhyrappa traced his early childhood. “I was born in a village, in a very humble family. A brother and a sister died of the plague. I was a boy of 15 and carried the body of my younger brother of five years. Within two days, my mother died of the same disease. I wondered about death and why people died. Much later, as a student, I asked my philosophy professor Yamunacharya the meaning of death. He asked me to read Katopanishad. I could understand the story of Nachiketa, but because of my limitations, I could not know the cause of death. I approached my professor again, who advised me to take up philosophy as a subject. I did my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in philosophy and developed an interest in aesthetics. Then I came across Ananda Coomaraswamy’s writings, and read many of his books. My D. Litt. was on aesthetics.”

According to Bhyrappa, a literary person without a good foundation of philosophy is shallow and a philosophy person without a knowledge of literature is dry.

The Saraswati Samman awardee walked down memory lane and recalled his Ph.D. (philosophy) days under Dr. Jawdekar of Baroda University. When Bhyrappa confessed that his interest lay in creative writing and not philosophy, his mentor was upset. “Your interest has changed to a devil called literature!” he commented. But when Bhyrappa sent a copy of his novel ‘Vamsavriksha’ to him, the professor promptly responded saying, “Your philosophy is not dead. Continue writing novels!” He also sent Bhyrappa a new suit! The writer said that perhaps that was the only occasion a mentor was honouring his student with a gift!

It was around that time Bhyrappa decided to explore the novel. “I asked Prof. R.A. Dave, HoD of English Department of Sardar Patel University, Gujarat, whether I could sit in the English class room,” recalled Bhyrappa. He was asked to prepare a list of world classics of 25 novels, including European. It took him two years to finish reading all the books. Bhyrappa decided to become full time fiction writer but was determined to find his own roots. “I read the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and found that Vedas were the foundation of Indian culture, philosophy, and thinking that gave insights into questions of life.”

According to Bhyrappa, Valmiki and Vyasa wrote in the form of story with strong characters and situations. Ordinary people understood them. Their stories explained philosophy. So many slokas of philosophy are related to the epics. His first novel, ‘Vamsavriksha,’ was received very well in Karnataka, which he wrote after returning to Mysore in 1971. But what was happening in Kannada literature was quite different. The ‘Navya’ or modern litterateurs were gaining importance. This group labelled Bhyrappa’s works as regressive and not progressive. He had a running feud on this aspect.

“I discussed with friends. I understood fully the navya movement and felt that they were strongly influenced by western writers. Literary movements were actively prevalent at that time. The Navodaya movement affected English literature, too. This gave a new avenue and freedom to Kannada literature. I, however, stood firm because of my foundation in philosophy,” said Bhyrappa. I

Worked as porter

At 83, Bhyrappa looks trim. Although he writes in Kannada, he spoke in English. “He travelled to Antarctica when he was 75 plus for his novel ‘Yana’ so that it would be authentic!” said Kamala Anil Kumar. Bhyrappa, in his younger days, left home and even worked as a porter in Mumbai! One of his novels, ‘Avarana,’ had seen ten reprints in five months. Many of his 25 novels have been translated into English, Hindi, and Marathi, a few made into films. He was awarded Padma Sri and has also won Sahitya Akademi award.

Calling Bhyrappa a jewel of India, Ramachandra Guha, spoke of the five commandments a historian should follow. 1. Thou shall not steal — means that historians should move beyond the information from the government sources and learn all disciplines. 2. Thou shall be promiscuous — that historians should not go in search of just government archives and records, but should look at other non-government records and even newspapers, which have incredibly rich information. 3. Thou shall be disloyal to all political or religious ideologies — as a historian, one should be apolitical and not stick to any ideology; only then he could write a good book on history. 4. Thou shall be unfaithful to your country, if necessary; this simply means that a historian cannot be a nationalist. Citing an example, Guha said that he wrote India After Gandhi as a historian and not as nationalist. A historian cannot be a nationalist, as he is committed to historical truth. 5. Thou shall never forget that yours is the first word on the subject, and it can never be the last word — history is always a work in progress.

Ramachandra Guha did not fail to recall his Mysore connection of the famous M.N. Srinivas who hailed from Mysore. He also mentioned the second connection, Mr. M. Krishnan, son of Madhavaiah, as he had started editing Nature’s Spokesman: Mr. Krishnan and Indian Wildlife. Krishnan died in Mysore. The third connection was T.S. Sathyan, photo-journalist. “I have not seen anyone like Sathyan. His theme was always people and he brought them alive in his pictures!”

Dr. Harish Trivedi and distinguished scholar and critic spoke on ‘Professing English, Practicing Hypocrisy-last 50 years’, and his speech was more tongue in cheek. Novelist Shashi Deshpande was in discussion with the English teacher June Gaur“I am purely a novelist, who transcends every other commitment,” declared Deshpande.

Another Novelist-surgeon Kavery Nambisan was in conversation with Geetha Kariappa, who teaches English.Kavery, author of seven novels, including ‘Scent of Pepper, shared her experience both as a writer and a surgeon. “Society has not changed much in these 70 years, especially caste system. Women have changed, but not the society!” said Kavery.

 

[Via: The Hindu | Image Credits ]