New Delhi, Feb 11: Literature in Indian languages is vibrant, thriving and more interlinked than is evident, say literary figures.
Renowned writers, poets and playwrights, from different Indian languages, who came together at the Jaipur Literature Festival, said their work was not diverse as perceived by outsiders but linked to world literature.
“Who said Tamil literature is dying? It’s so exciting! There are so many writers now. It was always so modern. There is no threat from English writing,” said Tamil writer C.S. Lakshmi (pen name Ambai), told IANS.
Sitanshu Yashaschandra, a Gujarati poet-playwright, said there were many new literary voices in the language now.
“But there is also a crisis. Its origin is in the country’s growing eco-political dependence on the West,” Yashaschandra told IANS at the festival held here from Jan 24 to 29.
Eminent poet K. Satchidanandan said literature in Malayalam was vibrant now.
Like the case of Benyamin, a popular writer settled in Bahrain, who said at a session that if his books in Malayalam sold thousands of copies, why should he bother about getting them published in English.
“As a writer one had to juggle language as a circus man. It is difficult to do so in any other language than the mother tongue. But it is nothing related to the love of the language,” said the 43-year-old author of “Aadujivitham” (Goat Days).
The other point that came up during talks was inter-connected to regional languages, including their link to English.
Lakshmi, 69, said though she wrote in Tamil, her writing was “informed by many languages”.
“English has also become a part of our existential world,” said the author of “Kaattil Oru Maan” (“A Deer in the Forest”).
Asia’s largest literary fiesta opened with feisty 88-year-old Bengali writer-activist Mahasweta Devi saying though she had written more in the context of Bengal, changing India influenced her literature.
Malayalam writer Sethu said he reached a pan-India mission unconsciously. “I went to different parts of India and it gave me a wider pan-India mission.” His novel “Pandavapuram” was some years ago adapted into a Bengali film.
Yashaschandra, who won a Sahitya Akademi award for his poetic opus “Jatayu”, said he found it easy to move within regional languages.
“The Gujarati way is reach through Marathi. Rajasthani is also next door. There is Nepalese, Assamese and Bengali. I try to bring to life that which is next to me, my neighbouring life.”
Uday Narayan Singh, a Maithili writer, asked if there was anything called Indian culture or was it Gujarati culture or Tamil culture.
To this, Yashaschandra said every Indian language had other languages in it.
Legendary Kannada folklorist and playwright Chandrasekhara Kambar said all his literary forms and idioms came from his native culture.
“Neither have I followed the masters who derived their imaginative tools from the repertories of pan-Indian culture, for instance, the shared ode of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata,” the 76-year-old, winner of India’s most prestigious literary award Jnanpith, said in a speech, praising writers H.S. Shiva Prakash and Hanur Krishnamurthy for “finding inspiration in folk and devotional cultures to turn works into ‘a mourning and fiesta’”.
Later, he surprised all by singing a Kannada folk song, “Mao Tse Tunga” mourning the death of Mao Zedong.
Contrary to this, Satchidanandan, who too has won the Sahitya Akademi award, made a case for bilingual writers, saying “that way, the language has a better chance of survival”.
He cited the examples of Rabindranath Tagore (Bengali), Kiran Nagarkar (Marathi), Jayanta Mahapatra (Odia) and Kamala Das and Vaikom Muhammad Basheer (Malayalam) who all also wrote in English.
Tagore, the first Indian and non-Westerner to win the Nobel prize in 1913, was given the award for his Bengali poems “Gitanjali” (Song Offerings).
(Sourabh Gupta can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)