PRITHVI DATTA CHANDRA SHOBHI writes: The 77th Kannada sahitya sammelana ended in Bangalore on Sunday. Everything—the speeches, the controversies, the complaints, the compliments, the arrangements—has been seen, heard and watched.
Here are seven trends that you may have missed:
1. Make no mistake and we suspect this will be ‘the’ legacy of the 77th sahitya sammelana: the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (KaRaVe) has entered the mainstream of Kannada cultural conversation. This would not have happened had the sammelana been held anywhere else but Bangalore where the organising capabilities of KaRaVe meant they were given several key responsibilities.
We heard that KaRaVe organized the procession on the first day when Prof. G.Venkakatasubbaiah was brought to the National College Grounds. We noticed that key KaRaVe activists were present almost everywhere and playing a key role in the background.
What this might mean for Kannada is a matter for another day.
However we want to note a simple development. Since it has now become fashionable to sport the red/orange KaRaVe neckwear, we have been seeing a different kind of saffronisation of the Kannada cultural space. Somewhat regrettable in our mind, given the aggressive, masculine connotations that the neckwear carries.
2. Prof. G. Venkatasubbaiah’s presidential address was a superb antidote to this general aggressiveness of the Kannada chaluvali. Even if we don’t agree with everything he said, we can be immensely proud of this: that we chose a 98-year-old lexicographer to address us, offer his vision of Kannada’s future and he lived up to our expectations.
Not only was his remarkable energy and gentle conduct throughout the sammelana an inspiration, I was even more impressed by the way he addressed the task on hand, with great civility and decency, which was a credit to the Kannadiga spirit.
His gentle but precise comments on the decline of political morality in Karnataka were spot on. He wasn’t raising hell. He didn’t sound anxious or insecure. On the contrary, he sounded confident and fearless, someone ready to get to work. Exactly, what we need and how we ought to act.
3. Most Bangaloreans wondered why the sammelana wasn’t organized in the sprawling Palace grounds. Informed speculation honed in on the fact that National College grounds in Basavanagudi falls under the Bangalore of R. Ashok, home minister and chair of the organizing committee, whereas choosing palace grounds would have brought Katta Subramanya Naidu and Shobha Karandlaje into the limelight. Perhaps, there is some merit in this twisted logic.
4. Electrifying is an adjective often used, without much justification. So I won’t use it describe the three days of the sahitya sammelana. We didn’t hear any electrifying speeches or witness unforgettable performances.
Still, the response to the sammelana was overwhelming. We estimated roughly 300,000 people visited the venue each day and this was perhaps because it has been 40 years since the previous sammelana in Bangalore.
Moreover, the media attention added glamour and brought intensity to the event. Each of the major newspapers and television channels had 8-10 journalists reporting. We will not vouch for the accuracy of their reporting though.
5. This intense focus seems to have led to an interesting new demand: that the sammelana be organized in Bangalore at least once in four or five years. This was the chatter on day one, much before the chair of the organising committee, R. Ashok, made the demand official.
The logic behind the demand is a simple one: if the sammelana were to be a more frequent occurrence in Bangalore City, then there would be less of a stampede.
Moreover, there are other compelling reasons to hold the sammelana in Bnagalore more often. Nearly, one-sixth of the population of Karnataka resides in Bangalore. Further, the city is also the centre of media and government, which will only help the Kannada Sahithya Parishat to get the necessary support, from both the state and society, to effectively respond the needs of Kannada language, society and culture.
In any case, Bangalore is the epicentre for the most of the challenges Kannada is facing and so if the City were to host the sammelana more frequently it would only help the cause of Kannada.
6. In fact, this demand should make us rethink the process of selecting cities to host the sammelana. Perhaps, it is time for the Kannada Sahithya Parishat to come up with a well thought out and widely publicised criteria to pick the host cities.
For example, along with Bangalore, border districts of north Karnataka in particular could have priority as the Sahithya Parishat seeks to find a regional balance in the selection.
7. Amidst all the cultural performances and socializing, clearly, the highlight of the sammelana was the book exhibition. The stalls were packed with book buyers of all ages and many authors added star quality. Several unconfirmed reports put the book sales at three crore rupees at the very least, and the book exhibition has been extended for two more days.
In our humble opinion, majority of the exhibitors didn’t reciprocate the attention they were getting. Even though the exhibitors had come from all parts of Karnataka, the majority of the big stalls were quite similar in that they all had the same stock and offered the standard 10% discount, which some book buyers thought was inadequate. Of course, the exceptions were the University publications and Kannada Sahithya Parishat, whose publications are subsidized by state support.
I found a Kannada translation of the 12th century Sanskrit work Manasollasa by Someshvara III, the Chalukya emperor. This, for the nerd in me, was the most exciting moment of the conference. I got to stress this because a journalist who spoke to me about my impressions reported the exact opposite of what I had mentioned.
At a purely personal level, the sammelana gave yours truly a opportunity to explore all the old tiffin rooms of Basavanagudi, Gandhi bazaar and Chamarajpet. In particular, we should give a shout out to New Modern Hotel and Mahalakshmi tiffin room.
We also saw several TV performers (actors, singers and reality show participants) at the sammelana. They were all mobbed, seemed to revel in the attention, and had a spring in their steps. Compared to the littérateurs, their eyes twinkled and perhaps, this is one sign of the future.
Photograph: Prof G. Venkatasubbaiah, the president of 77th all India Kannada sahitya sammelana, at a book stall at the conference venue, the National College Grounds, in Bangalore on Sunday. (Karnataka Photo News)