Which Indian language will have the distinction?

Kannada or Bengali, Malayalam? Tamil has no chance! So too Hindi & others!

As I finished writing on Tagore and Yeats my thoughts turned to contemporary Indian literature.

The Indian language literature. One of my recent preoccupations has been to promote Tamil, my mother tongue, its current literature to   reach an all Indian audience, if not an international audience.

The Tamils are very proud people, proud about their 2,000 odd years of ancient literature, Tamil being a classical language on par with Sanskrit and other languages.

Yet, the current Tamil literary scenario leaves one rather bewildered if not down right sad and angry at once. The Dravidian politicians and their henchmen, some of these are poets, film poets and others and also the Tamil scholars are all thoroughly brain-washed by selfish interests in the political arena.

I took some steps to do what I can in my personal capacity. Recently, I convened some literary meets, three so far, two in Chennai to which I invited some of the top names in creative literature and literary criticism and senior scholars of standing. In the last meet I invited leading political figures from the more balanced segment, notably Mr. Veerappan, a former minister and leader of a political faction and Tamil orator in his own right. Mr.Nallakannu, state secretary of the Communist Party of India is a well -admired senior and a Tamil scholar in his own way. The occasion was the release of my poetry collection which surprisingly comes out after a very long time. In these literary meets I raised the question that was uppermost in my mind:

A Nobel literature prize for India?

Why Tamil literature doesn’t win all India prizes? Say, the Jnanapith awards?  Let alone international recognition?  So, I posed the audacious question: when would Tamil win a Nobel Prize?

That created lots of consternation! For the Tamils, the Tamil writers in particular were not prepared to ask such questions.  Even for the reasons why Tamil is bypassed by the jnanapith awards committee? No one seemed to have any explanation. Neighboring Kannada language had the question arose in my mind: what about the current Indian languages literature ever catching the attention of the Nobel Prize committee. What chance for Indian language literature ever attracting the attention of the Nobel committee? After the 1913 Nobel for Tagore, it seemed a very long time for Indian literature to contemplate any such thoughts.  Indian literature didn’t flower afterwards? No thought of a second Nobel Prize ever ran through the minds of Indian writers?

Yes, they did. There is evidence to suggest Indians, more so in Bengal entertained such thoughts. When I was in Santiniketan in the early fifties, there were already some writers who seemed to me,  so my fellow Bengali  literary friends told me that there were writers like Buddhadev Bose(1908-1974), Subash Mukopadyaya and even Mukul De who were then living and who were of the Nobel prize material.  In fact, I was for a time a great reader of Buddadev Bose who also used to write in English and it was he who founded the comparative literature course at the Jadhavpur University and there were so many stories about his great abilities.  So were the others who passed away then and yet they were very much fancied as the potential Nobel winners. One was none other than the author of Patherpanchali, the novel that was turned into an immortal film classic by Satyajit Ray.

There were many Bengali names who wrote prolifically(Bose produced some 100 works) and even Nirad Choudhary was fancied by many as a potential winner, though he wrote in English and ,even in my opinion, he rivaled the best of the writers of English prose. Today too Bengali literature thrives.


Anyway, as for the other language writers, Hindi writers were there.    Certainly a writer like Prem Chand and Rahul Sankrityayan and others stand out. In other languages, yes, Malayalam had produced some world class writers, Thakazhi is certainly my favorite (as I came to know him personally) and so too some others.  Incidentally my friend Kamala Das, the poetess and writer, was once making some sensational news after she got some of her poems publishing in the Swedish academy journal.

Kannada literature

Now, there was recently a translation ‘workshop’ in Bangalore in which Swedish and Kannada writers participated and the workshop was inaugurated by the Swedish Ambassador. Already Kannada literature had won the all Indian prize of Jnanpith literature prize for as many as seven writers and as such Kannada is very much in the minds of at least many fellow language authors as a potential candidate for the Nobel Prize competition.  Why not? 

I have some Kannada friends, rather too many! Prof.D.S.Gururaja Rao, Prof.Rajiv Tharanath and the late Prof. Sunderrajan were all English teachers in Coimbatore and elsewhere in T N. Somehow, the Mysore University had produced a long line of competent English teachers and some of the modern Kannada writers are also happen to be English teachers and exposed to the world outside, the literature in English.  May be it is one reasons they are able to write with a world perspective? Anyway, I also knew A.K.Ramanujan, also know Girish Karnad from the OUP days in Chennai and once I went and met the late P.Lankesh. So my interest in Kannada literature and arts continues. But there are one or two points. Somehow Kannada writers don’t translate well into other languages, as, say, like the Malayalam writers! I just now read through a translation of Malayalam short stories.  One story translated for the second time.  It still reads like a fresh original story (Karoor Neelakanta Pillai).

In Tamil Nadu you see a reverse scenario.   Most writers and poets are just Tamil scholars and Tamil teachers.  Their world view is shaped or grossly distorted by the company they keep. The Dravidian leaders, starting as film dialogue writers had captured power and now the political power and money power had thoroughly led to a n alarming degeneration of tastes and literary perspectives.  On the other hand we find, for instance, Prof. U.R. Ananthamurthy, one of the high profile authors who had also the distinction of heading the Indian Sahitya Akademi and also had won the jnanpith award himself could be  a worthy competitor. His famed novel, Samskar, had been translated into English by the competent hand, the late A.K.Ramanujan and also made into a path-breaking film that coped up the parallel cinema in Kannada and all these factors and the fact that the very same novel is also now available in the Swedish language could all work towards Murthy’s name being put forward by many writers and others. There could be many others, in other languages too, from Assamese to Marathi to any other Indian language.  There are some very talented writers who have a wider vision and a robust creative imagination.

Oriya is one language that is rich in literary riches, the Oriya authors excel both in Oriya as well as in English! I have not forgotten the new generation Indian writers writing in English and making sensations in the literary world of the West. The names are too many! So, India is ripe for a second Nobel in literature? 


The times seem just right! Even with V.S.Naipaul’s jibe that Indian writers in English still aspire to publish abroad and that shows our inferiority complex.  Naipaul himself caters to a Western audience and so he carefully chooses his themes, deriding Indian strengths. Anyway,   the time is here to strike at the Nobel committee!

Just now I read that some 199 candidates are lined up for the Nobel Peace Prize and one is our own Pandit Ravi Shankar. Why not?  Even the Sahitya Akademi in the past had recommended to the Nobel committee such names like Tarasankar Banerjee, Thakazhi and K.V.Puttappa and R.K.Narayan.

As I have noted  elsewhere, it is now more and more political pressures and political  controversies and even claims of many new nationalities and languages hitherto unnoticed than can make a strong case for  Nobel being awarded  to new world perspectives offered in languages other than English. When India was a colony dominated, more by their own sense of delusions, as propounded by Winston Churchill and Rudyard Kipling, the two undeserving Nobel Prize winners, as seen from today’s world.

Anyway, Indian literature has to search for newer relevance to the world we live.  Also we have to learn to see Indian literature through our own languages. Men like Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr.Radhakrishnan, why even Nirad Choudhary and the current crop of English writers of Indian citizenship, have somehow only helped to neglect the India’s rich literary traditions.  India must make a strong case; mount a pressure lobby to persuade the Nobel Committee to see the wisdom of looking at the rich Indian language literatures.
An unstable world, a dangerous world is no less owing to the blindness of the English language dominated Anglo-American distortions of the aspirations of the world’s peoples. May be the Nobel Committee could be persuaded to consider India’s own claims for a share in the Nobel honors.  The Nobel Committee may also be sensitized by their great blunders, by not awarding the Nobel Peace prize for the great apostle of peace, Mahatma Gandhi or to such greats like Tolstoy.

The Committee could atone its sin by redressing the injustice to the Third World countries and their languages and their own rich literatures and cultures. 

In my view, we need in India a broader intellectual debate and intellectual project, so to say, to remove and destroy our long-accustomed mindset shaped by the imperial legacy, the colonial legacy. Our English language obsessed current colonial hangovers too in our education system too.         

V. Isvarmurti

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