The year of activism (from A. Roy to V.Seth via S. Rushdie), plagiarism (K. Viswanathan) and novel book launches — and an overview of awards, passings, controversies.
From Bangalore To Bengaluru
Kannada Jnanpith laureate U.R. Ananthamurthy (URA) was named, by the ex CM of Karnataka, to be the brain behind changing the official name of Bangalore to Bengaluru. ‘Bengaluru’ is a combination of ‘Benda’ and ‘kaluru’, literally meaning ‘a city of boiled beans’— a title given to the city in the 14th century, apparently by a hungry Hoysala king who was fed beans by a poor woman. The official logic for the name change is that the ‘u’ sound (as in Uruguay) for noun endings is special to the Kannada language and renaming the city would be a special way of commemorating the 50 years of the state’s reorganisation. But it was not taken kindly by all. "The city’s name is common heritage. For the CM to make it look like it was the brilliant suggestion of one writer given to gimmickry is an insult to five crore Kannadigas. He should have said his government was proud to go back to the original name," fumed one D.V. Prahalad, editor of Sanchaya, a literary magazine. That was not all, he also decided to contest the Rajya Sabha elections on the shrill chauvinistic "Kannada lobby" reasoning and declared that this being the 50th year of the state’s formation, he was trying to save "Kannada pride", which was being undermined by the BJP and the JD(S) who fielded industrialist Rajeev Chandrasekhar, a non-Kannadiga. This, from the man who only a few months ago would talk loud about the "inclusiveness" of Kannada culture but now wants all states to adopt teaching in the mother tongue instead of English: "English in India just has a frontyard in form of English schools, whereas all other Indian languages have a backyard and a frontyard, and it is from this fertile backyard from where we will have the talented writers local languages." No surprise then, he lost the election.
Guest Of Honour
India had been featured at the 58-year-old Frankfurt Book Fair once before, but that was some two decades ago. As the international flavour of the season, it was no surprise that India became the first country to be chosen for the second time as guest of honour. The Indian delegation included Mahashweta Devi, Girish Karnad, Namdeo Dhasal, Mamang Devi and Dilip Chitre, while as many as about 70 Indian writers including Amitav Ghosh and Kiran Desai presented their work at the five-day event. Hear it from Mahasweta Devi (who, incidentally, also received the Padma Vibushan earlier in the year): "Sixty years after our hard-won Independence, the khadi sari is India just as the mini-skirt and the backless choli is. A bullock cart is India just as much as is the latest Toyota and Mercedes car. Illiteracy haunts us yet the same India produces men and women at the forefront of medicine, science and technology. 'Satyam Shivam Sundaram' is India. 'Choli ke Picchey Kya Hai' is also India. The multiplex and the megamall is India. The snake charmer and the maharishi-that too is India."
"Pick Your Side, Take Your Position, And Then Go For It"
Arundhati Roy began the year by refusing the Sahitya Akademi award because, she said, she could not accept the honour from an institution linked to a government whose policies she opposes. She once again pointed out how Manmohan Singh is a 'prime minister who has not been elected. He is a technocrat who has been nominated. He is part of the Washington Consensus' (Last year she had upset the PM by pointedly asking, 'If Bush is so acceptable to Manmohan and the Congress, why lose sleep over Modi?'). And then came the Bush visit to India. ("Since the Purana Qila also houses the Delhi zoo, George Bush's audience will be a few hundred caged animals and an approved list of caged human beings, who in India go under the category of "eminent persons." ... Will the gorillas cheer him on? Will the gibbons curl their lips? Will the brow-antlered deer sneer? Will the chimps make rude noises? Will the owls hoot? Will the lions yawn and the giraffes bat their beautiful eyelashes? Will the crocs recognize a kindred soul? Will the quails give thanks that Bush isn't traveling with Dick Cheney, his hunting partner with the notoriously bad aim? Will the CEOs agree?)
That was not all. In between she found time to speak out against the American army in Iraq and Indian army in Kashmir, against the Supreme Court micro-managing our lives, against the entry of Wal-Mart and Kmart, against Armed Forces Special Powers Act in northeast, against the Tata factory in Kalinganagar in Orissa, and, then again, in Singur, West Bengal. And then, finally, by the time we entered the last month of the year, she was railing against the death sentence to Mohammed Afzal, the accused in the Parliament Attack case, questioning the Supreme Court's decision: "To invoke the 'collective conscience of society' to validate ritual murder, which is what the death penalty is, skates precariously close to valorising lynch law."
But when it came to Singur in West Bengal, even old allies were seeing red. Her remarks against displacement in the name of development ("whether the government or the opposition, they are all speaking the same language") provoked Brinda Karat of CPI (M) to lash out: "Ms Roy is in the company of Ms. Mamta Bannerjee, George Fernandes and Rajnath Singh and a 19 party alliance led by them (Krishi Jami Raksha Committee-KJRC) and has supported their campaign of anti-communist calumny."