Everybody loves his own Jnanpith winner

The heat and dust over the selection of the poet, playwright and writer Chandrasekhar Kambar for the Jnanpith Award has subsided, but the self-inflicted sense of injury about S.L. Bhyrappa being ignored for the honour won’t go away so easily, now that the debate has been framed in ideology with motives being attributed to the jury.

Left versus right, secular versus communal, and so on.

Tough, says the wellknown theatreperson Prakash Belawadi in reaction to two pieces published on churumuri.

Bhyrappa, he contends, is less deserving of the privately awarded honour than U.R. Anantha Murthy, Girish Karnad or Kambar. And those who don’t like how the Jnanpith is being awarded can well get together for an Award that they can hand out to their ilk.



In the opening lines of Woody Allen‘s Annie Hall, the principal character Alvy Singer (Allen himself) says: “There’s an old joke – um… two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, ‘Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.’

The other one says, ‘Yeah, I know; and such small portions.'”

I think that sort of applies to the attitude of disgruntled Kannadigas about the Jnanpith Award. They want it for their favourite guy because it is such a good award to get, but when denied, they denigrate it as a lobby-picked sour grape.

Let’s take the piece which opens with the grand insult: ‘There are mole hills and snake pits and then there are “literary circles”.’ This observer declares that writers are “peevishly insecure,” “loudly backslapping their peers in public and quietly backstabbing them in private.”

This follows beneath a Girish Karnad letter to the editor, so one presumes that this is a snide address to Karnad. There’s something about “incestuous” too, which is positioned against “true intellectualism”, whatever that is.

There is a self reference to “ordinary mortal” – though ironically, I fear – and a claim to “observe the small minds, the giant egos, the juvenile jealousies, and the awfully sour grapes on display.”

Who has the smaller mind and the bigger ego, I wonder.

And then there is the post by the Editor who says a series of contradictory things:

He quotes a Patil Puttappa comment on Chandrasekhar Kambar and calls it an “extreme remark” and follows it up in the very next sentence with “I totally agree with Puttappa”.

Does he mean both “extreme” and “remark” when he says “totally”?

Then comes this bashful confession, “I may not be a Kannada professor or even one who has delved deep into the wonderful world of Kannada literature,” followed by a swanking: “But then I am no nincompoop either as I regularly read reviews and comments on importantl Kannada books and even read some of the books.”

And armed with the confidence of regular reading of “important Kannada books,” he declares: “Howsoever proper Kambar’s selection might be, he could not have taken precedence over S.L. Bhyrappa.”

Says who? The Jnanpith Selection Board may well ask. He then thunders on,”…In fact, out of the seven Jnanpith awardees so in Kannada, all were giants except the last two – U.R. Anantha Murthy and Girish Karnad.”

I too, like the Editor have “even read some of the books” and I disagree. But that’s not so relevant, because I am not on the selection board of the Jnanpith and not likely to be ever, given my ignorance and insignificance.

For the record, the Jnanpith Award is instituted by the Bharatiya Jnanpith Trust founded by the Jain family that publishes The Times of India.

The Editor now moves into weird zone: “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.”

The Times of India is Leftist? And what about Kambar? If the ‘secularists’ are “backstabbing,” why would they choose Kambar? Make up your mind, dude.

Who are the “secularists”, for instance, that will “subtly influence” the following, all members of the present selection board? Dr Sitakant Mahapatra (Chairman), Dr. K. Satchidanandan, Gurdial Singh, Keshubhai Desai, Manager Pandey, Dr. Gopi Chand Narang, Dinesh Misra (Ex-officio) and Ravindra Kalia (Ex-officio).

Sitakant Mahapatra is a retired IAS officer, Oriya poet and critic (Jnanpith Award, 1993); Satchidanandan is a highly respected poet, playwright and critic in Malayalam; Gurdial Singh is a Punjabi novelist, the son of a carpenter and blacksmith who went on to win the Jnanpith Award in 1999; Keshubhai Desai is a medical doctor by profession and a highly acclaimed Gujarati writer, Manager Pandey is an eminent writer (who, alongside Satchidanandan, will perhaps fit the “leftist” label) and Gopi Chand Narang is an Urdu scholar and writer who was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2004.

Does the Editor seriously believe he knows better or, as he imputes, is more honest and independent than the above, all victims of “that venomous spider’s web?”

And if indeed the Jnanpith selection panel is yet to be “liberated from these shackles,” how is the award also the “the ultimate stamp of recognition?” Incidentally again, among the trustees of Bharatiya Jnanpith, the only non-Jain members are Sitakant Mahapatra and former bureaucrat T.N. Chaturvedi, who is now with the BJP.

He asks us, “could any reader of Kannada literature deny that S.L. Bhyrappa is less deserving or not at all deserving?”

Eh! Come again. OK, let’s allow that the slip is in subbing and not Freudian, but I, for one – though not a serious “reader of Kannada literature” – will offer that Bhyrappa is indeed less deserving than Anantha Murthy, Karnad and Kambar. (But nobody cares, dude).

And, finally, his disclaimer that he has “absolutely no intention to diminish the literary capabilities of either Chandrashekar Kambar, U.R. Anantha Murthy or Girish Karnad” seems ridiculous.

There are, I am inclined to wish and believe, many deserving writers in Kannada who must be recognized by awards of prestige, such as the Jnanpith, But the rules of the award stipulate that any language that gets the award must be out of the reckoning for the next three years.

I wonder what the mysterious ‘Lobby’ will do in the sit-out period.

Meanwhile, like the old women of Catskill mentioned in Woody Allen’s crack, disgruntled Kannadigas should stop looking for awards from places that offer lobby takeaways. Besides, it is a private award that is widely respected in India and nobody cares what you think, really.

Why should they?

What you could do, however, is get together in a group that is close to Bhyrappa and far from the “secularists” and hand out your own award.

I mean, you know best, don’t you?

Also read: Does Kambar deserve Jnanpith ahead of Bhyrappa?

Kambar and Karnad, Bhyrappa and Puttappa & Co