Why U.R.Ananthamurthy missed the 2013 Man Booker Literature Prize?
There are serious gaps in the British English mindset!
The British, though now in decline, is still caught up with their imperial past.
The British mindset hasn’t yet woken up. They haven’t realised they are in a stage as Portugal and Span, once empires, now mere backward as they are. Ironically, the Indian mindset too as of now, hasn’t got out and realise India now counts in the world stage.
India needs another renaissance of sorts in reaching out to the outside world. The issues are many and complex. Indians today suffer so many hang-ups, the latest one is the American dream. That too all about money and materialist cultures. We need many initiatives. Our National Academy of Letters, Sahitya Academy, is in decline. Our English language, literatures and publishing and even universities and their English and translation depts. must see things in the light of emerging India.
If Chinese citizens can win Nobel Prizes for Peace and Literature why not Indians?
Anyway, Ananthamurthy’s reaching the short-list stage is a sign of changing landscapes. We invite comments from scholars, English language writers and publishers on these issues.
It means many things. This, rather, famous “miss” raises some sensitive issues in what we see today. In the areas of arts, culture and literature and many related fields. When Tagore won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 the Indian public woke up to the realisation that India had a place in the sun. And that too when imperialism was at its very active phase. The first Nobel Prizes went to the very narrow European languages and literature, one or two to the very native Swedish literature and we have all forgotten the names.
Much more shocking was the fact that the Nobel went mostly to the dominant English language, to Rudyard Kipling, the bard of British imperialism and the run didn’t stop and it even went to Winston Churchill, of all writers, for his English language histories. Or, was it for his war-time leadership. As far as Indians were concerned it was for the triumph of British imperialism.
The highly coveted prize missed famously such names like Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi. The misses were more telling than the actual awards.
But when it went to Tagore, it was not realised by most fellow Indians, outside Bengal, how the award came about. Why even inside Bengal, there were sections, first the Bengali pundits, the orthodox and even the apologists for the British rule that Tagore didn’t deserve for his faulty Bengali writings.
Yes, Tagore was not a Pundit in the traditional sense. He was a very creative genius of a very extraordinary kind. So, we have all read about the reaction of the poet himself when a delegation of admirers went on a special train to congratulate the poet!
Now, what I want to say here is this. Yes, it came as a rude shock and surprise that Prof.Murthy, now a very established write of great creative power and one who has risen above the rest in other Indian languages as well as one who is a public intellectual and a great exponent of what India means and what various Indian languages make for giving India its unique character and diversity in unity, its rich literary and linguistic traditions, the regional languages are all in fact national languages and that only gives the Indian nation, its people its rich diversity.
He quotes great Kanna medieval poet Vijaya the author of Kaviraj Marga to explain and exemplify the true Indian spirit, the living Indian spirit. Though all the Indian languages have great literatures and great histories, they are all hidden from an outside world that had gone in a different path.
The British rule and much else had hidden and even darkened the great classical past of India, its classical literature and the arts and when the British came and occupied India one tragic consequence was that the great achievements in human spirits, the Buddha and Ashoka philosophies, religion and arts were all down-played and down-graded, so to say, is-a-vis the Greek and Roman classical traditions. The British in their flush of land grabbing went on to portray Indian history and past were dark ages while it was the Greek and Roman worlds were the sources of all light and the British went about fashion themselves as true inheritors of the Great Western heritage.
In this “East is East and West is West” syndrome, India neither possessed any wisdom nor had any claim in the Western traditions.
What a great illusion, a great ignorance!
Now, as for Tagore, it was the Bengal Renaissance that gave Tagore the real push so to say. Tagore was the finest flowering of all that was best in the Bengal Renaissance. There were always a close interaction between the British writers and artists and the Tagore family members.
It is a long story.
What I want to say here is that just great British figures like Sir William Rosenstein, the artist and others used to visit the Tagore home, Jorasanko, in Kolkata. Thus when Tagore went to England in 1912, took with his Bengali poems and some translated to read it to his English friends.
The story is told many times and it was in one such meeting that Rosenstein called his British friends, and W.B.Yeats was also called and a long introduction was asked and the Geetanjali was printed and Sir Sutrge Moore, one leading English poet himself, who sent the recommendations to the Nobel Committee.
The rest is history!
Now, in the case of Ananthamurthy, alas. He had no such social and cultural background to push him further into the international limelight, I feel. Yes, he was translated sensitively, as his Samskara novel. But there is no sustained exposure of the Indian writer as in the case of Tagore. Now, anyway, we need to do many things in India to make Indian writers in the languages to be brought to light. There was the UNESCO project; some translations of such writers like the author of Patherpanchali were competently translated. What came after, I don’t know.
I know for sure that the Academies, the Sahitya, Sangeetha and Lalithkala, are all dormant. The current scenario in the arts and literature, and the government apathy are all known. May be we have too much at the regional level itself. The many Sahitya Academies must do much more.
Still, we have to take steps to bring to the attention of the Nobel Committee authors like Prof.Murthy with authoritative introductions and commentaries. Here we mention there is a brief write-up on the American author, Lydia Davis who won the Booker Prize and the brief write-up that appeared in the Financial Times Weekend edition. Sir Christopher Ricks, the chairman of the judges gives his appraisal of Lydia’s literary skills.
For Indians they might look convincing for we are always given to British superiority in these fields But it is time we have to look at the world and how other foreign languages are getting noticed increasingly. I write with a sense of anguish and also some nostalgia for the great writers of the past. I had moved closely with Mulk Raj Anand, R.K.Narayan and others. Also some others in such languages like Urdu (K.A.Abbas) and even Oriya (Sitakant Mahapatra and Jayant Mahapatra. As for Malayalam I know quite a lot. The late Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai was my long time friend. So too many others, as I live very close to Kerala border, near Palghat and Thrissur.
There are very concerned literature lovers inside other states. I try to know many Kannada writers, as we run a Kannada language monthly!
So, we have to take some initiatives, start a dialogue as to how we can carry forward this literary trail.