It is well over a decade since R.K. Narayan died and no memorial worthy of the legend was either planned or executed all these years. The people of Mysore woke up only when his house in Yadavagiri had started being demolished last September. What followed was an uproar of sorts and the government immediately stepped in and promised to buy the house at market price and turn it into a memorial. Narayan put Mysore on the world literary map through his fictional representation of Malgudi. However, despite demands from some quarters, not even a street or a circle in Mysore was named after the creator of Malgudi. Only belatedly, a train was named Malgudi Express.
Now, after a year, a handful of famous Kannada writers have publicly come out against building a memorial for Narayan. The fact that many of them are giants in the Kannada literary scene is what made me sit up and take notice. The first objection is that R.K. Narayan is not a Kannadiga. This is stating the obvious, but we should remember that Narayan is first and foremost an English writer. He did not write in any other Indian language. They are equally unhappy that Narayan, while he translated Kamban’s Ramayana into English, did not introduce any Kannada literary work to the outside world, after the manner of A.K. Ramanujan. To draw a comparison between Narayan and Ramanujan is manifestly unfair. Ramanujan was an accomplished translator who was proficient in Tamil, Kannada and English. Narayan was not a translator in the real sense of the term, but what he managed to do was to render a free translation of Kamban, generally regarded as a work of inspiration. Seriously, Narayan had neither the competence nor the talent to translate Kannada works into English. Hence, this is not a legitimate complaint.
They are unhappy that Narayan sold his manuscripts to an American university and did not donate it to any university in Karnataka. They regard this as injustice to Kannada readers who know English. I honestly fail to understand their specious logic. During one of my visits to Narayan’s house in Yadavagiri with the late Prof C.D. Narasimhaiah, he held forth eloquently on his reason for giving the manuscripts of his novels to the Boston University library. Narayan said, in his inimitable style, “CD, if I had given my manuscripts to the government archives, they would have dumped them in some corner where they would have been gathering dust, and all that I would have got was an acknowledgement on a buff paper. In Boston, they are preserved in air-conditioned lockers.” Of course, he added that he was paid $5,000 for each manuscript. In a manner of speaking, Narayan was a professional writer and looked at his writings wholly from a commercial perspective. I am not too sure whether we can question this premise of his.
The critics also argue that Narayan did not know Kannada well enough, except for four or five sentences which he spoke with a mixture of Tamil. I think his Kannada was much better than that and this accusation has to be seen in the context of their opposition to the memorial.
Finally, they are of the view that Narayan’s relatives are selling the house just as Narayan did his manuscripts—solely for money. The major burden of their argument is that Narayan as a non-Kannadiga does not deserve a memorial in Mysore and the government of Karnataka should not spend any money over it. I fail to understand how writers, eminent ones at that, could take such a stance. Literature at its fundamental level tells us to transcend all differences—linguistic, religious, cultural or any other for that matter. If they were genuinely concerned about memorials for other well-known Kannada writers, they ought to have raised this issue dispassionately, without questioning the decision of the government to honour Narayan.
R.K. Narayan, by virtue of his being a writer in English, is a pan-Indian figure of international acclaim. He, along with Mulk Raj Anand and Raja Rao, was responsible for putting Indian writing in English on the global literature scene. He is possibly the most widely translated Indian writer. I suspect Narayan was the top bestselling author among Indian writers, and should rank as one of the richest too. Narayan will reign supreme in world literature as far as readability is concerned. Setting up a museum in his memory is the least we can do for such an illustrious son of India, and Mysore in particular.
(Prof K.C. Belliappa is former V-C of the Rajiv Gandhi central university in Arunachal Pradesh, and formerly with the English department, University of Mysore)
Outlook should be thanked for writing about the narrow-minded politics around the R.K. Narayan memorial in Mysore (To Cut A Giant Dead, Oct 8). As a Kannadiga, I am ashamed to have such small and mean people claiming to represent the interests of a whole state or language. Karnataka (and, by extension, Mysore) should have been proud to host people of talent regardless of their mother tongue. Challenging the Kannada credentials of a man of Narayan’s stature, especially one who based Malgudi on Malleswaram and Basavanagudi, is plainly ridiculous.
The move is good, but what will be preserved and displayed in the RKN memorial? His manuscripts and other papers are preserved abroad. Will it not be enough to mark the place by putting a plaque about him? Or perhaps a small plot and a bust of Narayan? A better memorial would be to get photocopies of whatever is preserved abroad, plus what his family is able to provide—books that he read and wrote on, first editions, and photographs.
C.M. Naim, Barabanki
Of Karnataka’s eight Jnanpith awardees, only three have Kannada as their mother tongue. Yet no one questions their Kannadiga-ness. I’m sure Narayan could have penned something in Kannada or shown greater emotional connect as an appreciation of what Mysore meant to him.
B. Shivarudraiah, Chitradurga, Karnataka
The narrow-mindedness of Karnataka intellectuals is in full display in this mean reaction. In contrast, Tamil Nadu elected a Malayali (MGR) as CM for several terms, and Rajnikant, a Maharashtrian Kannadiga, has almost a godlike status there. Tamils love people who identified Tamil Nadu as their home, never questioning their origins.
Ramesh S., Mumbai
R.K. Narayan is among a handful of writers who brought international renown to Indian writing, especially in English. Of course, this was in some measure due to the efforts of Graham Greene. Kannada literature has been enriched by many authors who are in the strict sense not Kannadigas. Examples abound, like T.P. Kailasam and D.R. Bendre. Don’t these intellectuals know meaningful literature transcends geography/language?
H.N. Ramakrishna, Bangalore
R.K. Narayan would have taken it easy, possibly even written a humorous piece on it! One should look at his comments on his ‘reported’ chance of getting a Nobel. Or the casualness with which he handled ‘the violation’ suffered at the hands of Dev Anand in Guide.
K.S.C. Nair, Indianapolis
As pointed out by the editor of this magazine in a heated televised debate on a Kannada channel, the land of the memorial itself would be valued at several crores. When the family of the writer is ready to forego the property for a pittance, the government would be foolish to pass up on this chance. This is a wake-up call for the authorities to take their literary and cultural heritage more seriously, especially those of unsung and gifted Kannada writers.
Anoop Hosmath, Mysore
The narrow minded Kannadiga comes out in full display through this meanminded reaction to the positive move of the Karnataka government to preserve the house where R K Narayan lived, got inspired and wrote those great stories which are alive even today. No other Indian writer (except Kushwant Singh ) comes close to him as a genuine Indian writer who used the local idiom to write lovable tales in English.
In contast Tamilnadu elected a Malyali ( MGR) as the Chief Minister for several terms. Rajnikant ( a Maharshtrian Kannadiga) is the most popular film superstar in Tamilnadu with god like status. Even Jayalalitha grew up in Mysore and can be regarded as a Kannadiga.
The point I wish to make is that the Tamils gave their love to those people who identified Tamilnadu as their home. They never questioned the origins of these people.
Shame on these Kannadiga writers to block the one genuine writer who made Mysore world famous ! Even now it is not too late to realise their folly and support the preservation of the house of the great R K Narayan !
Thanks for exposing the narrow-minded hypocrisy of these rusting Kannada writers. As a Kannadiga, I am ashamed to have such small and mean people represent the interests of a whole state or language. Karnataka ( and by extension Mysore) have been proud to host people of talent regardless of their mother tongue. Challenging the Kannada credentials of a man of RK Narayan's stature and especially one who created Malgudi based on Malleswaram and Basavanagudi, is plainly ridiculous. Cities like to remember its most accomplished sons and daughters, a memorial is one way of doing it. The shine rubs off more on Mysore and not on an author who is no more. It is sad that these people are making a controversy out of something that should be a matter of pride for Mysore.
Loved RKN books. Read him though while in the US and realized what I had missed while chasing British/American authors - Chase, Sidney Sheldon, Leon Uris, etc. Language was simple yet beautiful. Today when I have to motivate my son to write short, sweet, simple yet communicate powerfully, I ask him to read RKN.
But I agree, may be there is no reason for the government and the state to get into this.
RK Narain, would have taken it easy, and made a humorous article on it. Look at his comments on his 'reported' chance of a Nobel! Behind this profligate, down to earth litteretteur, one could see a human being who has conquered the greed for such overplayed recognition. See the disdain with which he handled 'the violation' he suffered in Dev Anand's turning a film out of his 'Guide'.
It seems o k both ways. In Mumbai, people like to say, that is where Hrishikesh Mukherjee lived, when they look at his house. It is natural, to look at Lataji's house and say, she lives there. It occurs to me, that Mr. Narayan is such a person, and a person perhaps doesn't like what I mentioned earlier, all the time, even when he is living. I am sure, he loved his house, and his house perhaps isn't an ornament for people to like.
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