Does Kambar deserve Jnanpith before Bhyrappa?

The selection of the poet, playwright and novelist Dr Chandrasekhar Kambar for the Jnanpith Award threatens to go the way of the previous two winners from Kannada, U.R. Anantha Murthy and Girish Karnad, who although deserving in their own ways were seen to have upstaged more deserving candidates.

While URA’s and Karnad’s choice was discussed sotto voce, in this media-saturated age, in the BJP’s “Gateway to the South”, Kambar’s choice ahead of S.L. Bhyrappa (in picture), has attained the loud edge of ideology with the growing feeling that Bhyrappa is being sidelined for his right-wing views.

K.B. Ganapathy, the founder-editor of India’s most successful evening newspaper, Star of Mysore, joins the debate and asks if the Jnanpith Award selection panel, like the Nobel Prize panel, might one day rue its choice, privileging ideology over literature.



Mahatma Gandhi was the strongest symbol of peace and non-violence in the 20th century. He was acknowledged then and even now as the greatest apostle of peace in a world split asunder by war and violence.

Such a man should have been the natural choice for the Nobel Peace Prize. But he never got it.

What happened? Why?

This disturbing thought crossed my mind as I read a news headline in The New Indian Express this morning that screamed “Kambar Doesn’t Deserve Jnanpith, says Papu.”

The report said that the veteran journalist Patil Puttappa, a former Rajya Sabha member and a sort of political catalyst acting like an oracle from his native Hubli, had taken serious exception over the selection of the folk writer Dr Chandrashekar Kambar for the prestigious award which is considered to be the Indian equivalent of the Nobel Prize for literature.

Puttappa is reported to have even made the extreme remark of calling Kambar as “someone with no ability”, and that he was pained over Kambar’s selection as there were several other more eminent litterateurs in Kannada than Kambar.

I totally agree with Puttappa, though I may not be a Kannada professor or even one who has delved deep into the wonderful world of Kannada literature. But then I am no nincompoop either as I regularly read reviews and comments on important Kannada books and even read some of the books.

Patil Puttappa has also openly said that when the renowned Kannada writer S.L. Bhyrappa should have been given this honour, it had been given instead to Kambar.

I agree with a caveat.

Howsoever proper Kambar’s selection might be, he could not have taken precedence over S.L. Bhyrappa.

In fact, out of the seven Jnanpith awardees so far in Kannada, all were giants except the last two — U.R. Anantha Murthy and Girish Karnad. And it is significant to note that of all the winners of Jnanpith award in Kannada, it was these two awards that drew flak from some quarters. But then in these days of sycophancy, winner is soon turned into a God and worshipped!

It is now perceived that though the Jnanpith selection panel for some years in the beginning was free from political, caste, religious or any kind of bias or prejudice that influenced its selection, in later years it is seen as being subtly influenced by so-called secularists with leftist leanings.

And it is here that our S.L. Bhyrappa got stuck — in that venomous spider’s web.

I am sure once the Jnanpith selection panel is liberated from these shackles, S.L. Bhyrappa too will be honoured with this prestigious literary award.

It is for this reason I mentioned in the beginning about Mahatma Gandhi not getting the Nobel Prize for peace even though he was nominated in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1947 and finally a few days before he was assassinated in 1948.

Nominated. Never awarded.

Strange. A paradox.

If Dalai Lama could be awarded Nobel Prize for peace, was Mahatma Gandhi less deserving? On the same line of thinking, if Kambar, U.R. Anantha Murthy and Girish Karnad could be found deserving, could any reader of Kannada literature deny that S.L. Bhyrappa is less deserving or not at all deserving?

The lobby of the secularists, here in Bangalore and there in Delhi, apparently has worked overtime to deprive a deserving candidate, S.L. Bhyrappa, a rightful place in the world of Kannada literature adorned with the ultimate stamp of recognition — a Jnanpith award.

It is indeed sad.

It is believed that S.L. Bhyrappa is branded as one with rightist orientation or as being a pro-Hindu in his writings. If this is so, one can also brand U.R. Anantha Murthy, Girish Karnad and Kambar as those with leftist orientation and as being anti-Hindu.

Does it mean that being a rightist and pro-Hindu is a disqualification to deserve a Jananpith award while being a leftist and anti-Hindu is a qualification to deserve it?

No literature of creative kind should be evaluated on the basis of its ideology. It happens only in a totalitarian or a communist country. It should be evaluated on its pure literary quality — style, technic, use of language, rhetoric and above all, artistic merit.

Ulysses of James Joyce is considered literature for the same reason.

Further more, even if one takes into account the volume of works turned out by the last three winners of Jnanpith award, it is not comparable to other earlier winners and of S.L. Bhyrappa.

Having said this, I should hasten to add that I have absolutely no intention to diminish the literary capabilities of either Chandrashekar Kambar, U.R. Anantha Murthy or Girish Karnad. The last mentioned two are indeed intellectuals in their own right while Kambar has earned a niche for himself as a folk writer par-excellence.

Their contributions to enrich Kannada literature is no less significant but at the same time S.L. Bhyrappa’s contribution too is no less significant. In fact S.L. Bhyrappa’s is much more significant both for reasons of artistic merit and scholarship and therefore must be recognised.

I only hope that the Jnanpith award panel need not be apologetic one day in future for not giving its award to S.L. Bhyrappa, like the Nobel Prize committee which regretted its omission in not giving the award to Mahamta Gandhi at the time it gave the award to Dalai Lama saying that this award was “in part a tribute to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi.”

And as for Kannada readers, even if S.L. Bhyrappa, a resident of Mysore, does not get the Jnanpith award, it does not matter. Has not Napoleon Bonaparte, the Emperor of France, said the last word on such unrealistic decisions?

France was not recognised by some of the European countries following Napolean’s victorious wars.

And Napoleon said: The Sun need not be recognised.


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