CAMPAIGN: Why you must speak up for RKN

To understand churumuri’s R.K. Narayan campaign, we must turn our minds towards Trichy. There, three weeks ago, the house where the only Indian physics Nobel laureate, Sir C.V. Raman, was born and bred, was demolished.

We must turn our minds towards Hubli-Dharwad, where the private bus service in the twin cities is called, most unbelievably, Bendre Bus Service.

We must turn our minds towards Pune, where the Symbiosis Institute has set up a statue of the Common Man that Narayan’s younger brother R.K. Laxman introduced to the world.

And we must turn our minds towards a letter from Poornima Venkatesh in the Star of Mysore of April 18, 2006, in which she responds to an editorial in that newspaper four days earlier.

“Recently,” says Poornima, “during a visit to Delhi, I went to the Indira Gandhi museum reluctantly. To my surprise, I spent more time there than I had expected and was fascinated by the rare pictures of her and her family and other items on display.

“Millions of us grew up watching Dr Raj’s movies and listening to his songs. Our children and grandchildren too should be exposed to the actor’s great qualities… I hope the Government sets up a Dr Raj Kumar Museum for public display.”

In short, to understand churumuri’s R.K. Narayan campaign, we must get out of the little holes we have dug in our minds of what should be or can be.

The issue is not about getting a road or a circle named after him. That’s easy, all it takes is a glass of panaka with a Corporator. And you know which one he likes.

The issue is not about holding a seminar or centenary events. That too is easy, all it takes is networking with the hyphens.

The issue is about creating something more substantial, something that will last forever.

Something that shows we care.

The issue is about how we honour the good and the great. And about who decides whom to honour. The issue is about how we remember our icons and legends. And how we remind them to those who will follow us. The issue is about how we perpetuate their memory to all those who enter and pass through our city.

On those simple parameters, there is no shame in admitting that Mysore and Mysoreans have failed Rasipuram Krishnaswamy Narayana Iyer.

Yes, R.K. Narayan was no man of the masses. But which writer is and why should he be in what is a solitary trade? Are all those who have roads and circles named after them men of the masses? If so, what is the minimum requirement?

Does anybody know who on earth A. Ramanna is that he should get a major junction in Yadavagiri, an area he had only recently moved into, named after him while he was alive, while Narayan just up the hill was gasping for life?

Yes, R.K. Narayan was no folk hero like Kuvempu. But which English writer is and how can he ever be in a nation where illiteracy is so high and English readership is always, forever, going to be lower than, say, Kannada readership?

Does anybody know what T.N. Narasimha Murthy’s great contribution to our City is that the biggest circle should be named after him? Just that he conveniently passed away when it was nearing completion?

Yes, U.R. Anantha Murthy should speak up an issue like this, if only to reassure the world that, for just this once, he does not think the world revolves around him. There have been others bigger and better before him and he should use what Narayan didn’t have and he does—political canny—to get their due.

But URA is only an emblem and, hey, where would all these English writers and professors, and us, be if Narayan hadn’t started writing in English?

Which is why we should think of Raman and Bendre and Laxman and Indira Gandhi while thinking of what we can do for R.K. Narayan.

We should think of Sir C.V. Raman’s house because it shows our extraordinarily poor sense of history. What would have it taken a government that promises 10 kg or rice for every 10 kg bought to preserve Sir C.V.’s house for posterity?

We should think of Bendre Bus Service because it shows that our politicians and administrators can get out of the linguistic, parochial and communal straitjacket that we have thrust them into. Bendre like Narayan was an expat in his own land.

We must think of the Common Man’s statue because it shows what good corporate social citizenship can do. A “deemed university” had the vision and foresight to recognize Laxman. The editor-in-chief of “India’s National Newspaper Since 1878” (2005 turnover: Rs 1,200 crore) for whom Narayan wrote all his life didn’t even have the courtesy to respond to a petition from eminent Mysoreans on the issue.

And we must think of Indira Gandhi’s museum because it shows us what we can do to give generations of Indians an inside view of how India’s most famous English writer lived and worked. We will be able to see his desk, his writing implements, his books, everything.

Nobody wants Mysore to be a city of mausoleums like Delhi.

Still, R.K. Narayan is, without question, responsible for spreading the name of our City the farthest. What are we going to tell those who come here looking for him? What are we going to show of his house?

Italian ceramic tiles?

With a little effort, R.K. Narayan could well be Mysore’s finest tourist symbol like writers in the West are. But we need to get out of the huge hole we have buried him (and ourselves) into.

If all we have to show to the world are roads, circles, memorials, halls, localities named after two-bit politicians, three-bit goons and four-bit operators, what a pathetic city we will turn out to be.

Or already are.