I was reminded of Gandhi’s polemical words when reading about a protest by some well-known Kannada writers against the proposal to make R.K. Narayan’s home in Mysore a memorial to his life and work. Fifteen writers — among them the lexicographer G. Venkatasubbaiah, the poet G.S. Shivarudrappa, the novelist S. L. Bhyrappa, and the critic L. S. Sheshagiri Rao — argued that since Narayan was born in Chennai and spent his early years there, and since even while he lived in Mysore he wrote in English, he was not really a Kannadiga, and thus the government of Karnataka need not spend money honouring his memory. Narayan, complained these writers, “never introduced any Kannada work to the outside world through an English translation.” Narayan’s betrayal apparently ran further; he was guilty, it was said, of selling the scripts of his novels to an American university rather than gifting them gratis to a university in Karnataka.
Of course, the saving grace is there too!
the angry chauvinists of Karnataka have been put in place by two men who are the best-known, and perhaps also the most greatly admired, Kannada writers now living. The playwright, Girish Karnad, asked to comment on the statement signed by Bhyrappa, Sheshagiri Rao, et al, pointed out that “Narayan lived in Mysore, wrote about Malgudi, a place he created [out of towns and locations in Karnataka].” Therefore, to say that he was not a Kannadiga was “absurd”. Karnad’s words were weighty enough; and here they were endorsed by his great contemporary U.R. Anantha Murthy. “Anyone who lives here and writes on the state is a citizen of Kannada,” remarked Anantha Murthy. He thought it “very mean on the part of those who have said Narayan is not a Kannadiga.”
Take a look!