A writer gets embroiled in a secretary’s labyrinth

D.P. SATISH writes from New Delhi: This past Sunday, Saptahika Puravani, the Sunday supplement of Praja Vani, carried an article on Kumbara Veerabhadrappa, better known to the reading public as Kum Vee.

There was nothing surprising in the timing of the article titled “Kumbara Eerabhadrappa-nemba halli haidanu“. After all, Kum Vee (in picture, left) had just won the 2007 Central Sahitya Akademi award for Aramane, a novel which, coming from a man who has rightly earned the label “rebel” writer, deals with class and caste conflicts.

The real surprise was in the byline that accompanied the article: Agrahara Krishnamurthy (in picture, right).

What was so surprising? For starters, Krishnamurthy is the secretary of the Central Sahitya Akademi, the organisation handing out the award. And, for another, Krishnamurthy makes no bones of being a longtime friend of the author on whom the award had been bestowed.

What was also surprising is that Krishnamurthy was offering not just a profile of the Kannada prize-winning author, or his friendship with him, but a justification for the award to be given to Kum Vee.

Many have hailed the award on Kum Vee, but a variety of charges have been flung at the Akademic honour:

# Authors like Mogalli Ganesh have questioned the selection criteria for the Akademi prize and called this year’s award “fixed”.

# Critics have said Kum Vee’s book is an ordinary one, and that “better” writers like H.S. Shivaprakash, who made it to the final round, have been overlooked. Vaidehi and Jayant Kaikini were also in the running.

# A few have detected a “caste” angle in the prize being given to a Lingayat, and a few others have also talked in hushed tones of “favouritism”.

Now, it is not clear if Agrahara Krishnamurthy volunteered the article or whether Praja Vani commissioned him to write it.

Either way, the question must be asked if the secretary of an organisation can write a panegyric on the recipient of an Award handed out by a government-funded organisation he represents?

Is the Akademi aware of Krishnamurthy’s article? And was it written with its OK?

This might seem like nit-picking and it probably is, but how does it sound if the secretary of the Nobel Foundation which does not defend its selections, writes an article praising Sir Vidiadhar Naipaul but also answers the criticism about his being chosen only after 9/11?

The point is about equality.

In the eyes of the country’s highest, but factious, caste-ridden literary body, all writers should be equal before it. For Krishnamurthy to hail Kum Vee while ignoring the other 22 recipients of the Award this year doesn’t give the Akademi or the Award the character, credibility and prestige it has lost and is seeking.

To be fair to Agrahara Krishnamurthy, Kum Vee writes in his language; so that’s a plus. And Krishnamurthy was not on the jury that selected Kum Vee for the prize; by Akademi rules, a secretary cannot be on it and the Akademi appoints the jury. But to go out of his way and grandly proclaim that Kum Vee deserved the prize, and that Mogalli Ganesh’s book was not even on the final list, doesn’t represent a proper defence if that was the intention of the piece.

If at all, Krishnamurthy wanted to justify the Akademi award for Kum Vee, he should have issued a press release in the name of akademi instead of writing an article detailing his three-decade-old friendship with an awardee.

What Agrahara Krishnamurthy’s article on Kum Vee does is raise serious questions and doubts over the functioning and selection procedures of the government-funded body. The Akademi secretary is a full time government job. It is equivalent to a deputy secretary post (junior IAS officer grade).

Legally, he is within his rights to write an article on anybody including akademi award winners. But propriety demands that the functionaries of akademi should stay neutral and shouldn’t openly align with any language or writer. Agrahara has violated the basic rules and ethics by taking sides. His audacity has shocked literature lovers. He has also tarnished the image (or whatever is left of it) of the Akademi.

As it is, Agrahara Krishnamurthy’s appointment as secretary of the central sahitya akademi two years ago was a major news story, with Mahasweta Devi and Krishna Sobti signing a memorandum against it.

A fringe writer with no major literary achievement in Kannada, he wasn’t a match to his predecessors, and the ministry of culture wasn’t over-eager to promote him. But he used his “seniority” and played the Kannada card deftly. He had promised to do a lot for Kannada, but clearly there’s much that remains to be done.

D.P. Satish is news editor (south) at CNN-IBN

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Photographs: Karnataka Photo News