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The calf became an orphan

Robert J. Zydenbos


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Culture is the name of the creative adventure in which man is engaged in order to free himself from the material, historical and social fate in which he is caught.
- Yashwant Chittal (1977: 90)

10.1 Forty years have passed since India attained independence from colonial rule. In a numer of Western countries, we are seeing in our time an increase in the number of Indian immigrants, people who are in search of higher studies, employment or business. Indians are becoming our neighbours more than ever was the case before.

  • 1 There is apparently an official policy in India to refer to things that appear through the medium (...)

2The West has a tradition of Indological studies, approximately two centuries old, which is a late result of the humanistic scholarly attitude that arose in Europe with the coming of the Renaissance. Just as the intellectuals of the Renaissance had been primarily interested in European antiquity as it was reflected in classical Latin and Greek literature, much of Indology has been concerned with ancient India as reflected in its classical languages, of which Sanskrit is the foremost. Indeed a serious student who truly wants to understand Indian culture cannot do without knowledge of that language. It is one of the world's most splendid vehicles of thought, and a huge quantity of research on the basis of Sanskritic material is still to be done. But just as the West is more than Latin and Greek, India is more than Sanskrit. This may sound over-obvious; but the number of publications appearing on contemporary Indological topics in the West, in comparison with those on classical topics, suggests that the Western academic community is not fully aware of this. Whatever notions Westerners-laymen as well as some, if not most scholars-may have about Indian culture are largely based on the Sanskritic literary tradition: the Vedas, the Upanishads, the epics, perhaps some kāvya. But like Latin in Europe, Sanskrit was and still is an élite language, immensely useful for the spread of a Hochkultur and keeping a cultural region united. Though the importance and richness of the Sanskritic tradition can hardly be underestimated, it has its limitations. Just like in the case of Latin, Sanskrit literature was meant for intellectuals and people who were in close contact with them, and does not give us a complete picture of cultural life. And when it comes to understanding modern Indian culture, it is absolutely imperative that we give attention to the literature in the so-called 'regional', but more properly called national languages1 of India.

  • 2 Henkl 1952: 13.
  • 3 There is one peculiar matter to which some special attention must be paid: the special position of (...)
  • 4 Quoted in Lutze 1975: 5.

3The Western layman who has taken an interest in contemporary Indian writing will have read some sporadic translations of older authors, like Tagore (or translations of translations: thus Tagore received his Nobel prize for a German translation of an English translation of his Bengali work).2 More likely, he will have read some Indian fiction written in English. Some of this fiction makes interesting reading; yet we must bear in mind that English in India is not exactly a native language,3 and also that most Indian writing in English that reaches the West has been written specifically to please the Western reading public. As the famous late Hindi poet Ajñeya (S.H. Vatsyāyan) has stated, "India cannot have any literature - I mean a great literature, a literature in which the Indian mind can express itself - in anything other than an Indian language".4

  • 5 Disputed in Hacker 1964: col. 237-38 (= 1978: 479).

40.2 The Kannada-speaking part of India has been one of major historical importance for India as a whole. Religiously and philosophically, it has been the home and haven of the three great Vēdāntācārya-s: Śaṅkara, who according to tradition established a maṭha at Sringeri.5 Rāmānuja, who fled from religious persecution in Tamilnadu and then lived in Melkote near Mysore for twelve years, and Madhva, who was a native of the southern coastal region. As one may expect, the standard of Sanskrit studies in Karnataka is relatively high. Karnataka was the centre of two huge empires: the Cālukya, which spread along the coast into what is now Gujarat, and that of Vijayanagara, the southern empire which stopped the southward expansion of political Islam from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries. Of the two main styles of Indian classical music the southern style, which is the more purely Indian, is called 'Carnatic', since the man who is said to have given the system its final form is Purandaradāsa of Karnataka. However, Karnataka has not drawn much attention from scholars from outside the state: studies of Kannada language and literature are hardly found outside the state, and they are practically non-existent abroad. This dearth of philological interest cannot be because Kannada is philologically uninteresting: the previous section should have given some indication that this is not the case, and I hope the present book will help convince its readers that there is interesting modem writing in Kannada.

5The lack of interest shown till now can be attributed, in my view, to three things. Firstly, Kannada as a language is geographically limited largely to Karnataka state, because Kannada-speaking communities outside the state tend to merge with the local majorities and learn Tamil, Marathi etc. to a level that enables them to use the majority language for all their daily needs: hence they have not made political language claims outside Karnataka. Apart from a community of Kannada speakers in the United States and Canada (consisting generally of highly skilled technicians, scientists and physicians) there are no large groups of Kannada speakers who live in other countries, as is the case with for instance Bengali, Urdu and Tamil.

  • 6 Mallikarjun 1985: 265.
  • 7 Ibid., p. 266.
  • 8 Ibid., pp. 277-8.
  • 9 Ibid., pp. 277-8.
  • 10 Ibid., p. 264.

6In Karnataka, the meekness of Kannada speakers has not been rewarded by the members of other speech-communities. There are sizeable linguistic minorities in Karnataka which speak Urdu (9%), Telugu (8.2%), Marathi (4%), Tulu (3.6%) etc.,6 unevenly spread through the state, and Karnataka has had a liberal language policy towards non-Kannada speakers.7 People whose mother tongue is Telugu, Tulu or Konkani have accepted Kannada as the language for official use in Karnataka; but the tolerance which in previous times gave shelter to Rāmānuja could not curb the physical violence committed by Tamil speakers (3.36% of the population of Karnataka) in Bangalore or Marathi speakers (4.05%) in Belgaum, which was aimed against giving the language of the two-thirds majority of this state (which was formed on a linguistic basis) its rightful status. Urdu speakers have opposed the extended use of Kannada as "hostile to their religion and asserted that Islam... is in danger"8 - as though Islam is identical with Urdu, or any religion with any language. Only recently have Kannadigas begun to struggle for their language in their own state, and their movement (known as the 'Gokak Movement') is "unique because it aims at giving the sole first language status to Kannada in Karnataka. This movement has no parallel in any other part of the country".9 Strictly speaking, following the guideline that the modem states of India are to be based on linguistic majorities in districts, Karnataka would have to include parts of Maharashtra (in fact a large part of what is now Maharashtra was Kannada-speaking in former centuries)10, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

  • 11 Kamath 1981: 11.
  • 12 Ibid., p. 3.
  • 13 Ibid., p. 10.

7Secondly, Kannadigas lack the linguistic chauvinism of the speakers of Hindi, Tamil and Bengali, and they do not publicize their real or imagined greatness, as others tend to do. Before English arrived on the scene, the Kannada-speaking region was already politically disintegrated, and Marathi was patronized as an official language by the Peshva rulers in northern Karnataka as well as by Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan in the south, although in the latter case less than 1% of the population of their realm knew Marathi11. The Hindu rulers of Mysore were an exception in that they kept extending their patronage to the cultivation of Kannada. The people of Karnataka are not very aware of their past achievements12, and it is significant that most of the older modern works on the history of Karnataka have been written by non-Kannadigas13.

  • 14 E.g. Moegling's translations of older devotional Kannada literature in old volumes of the Zeitschr (...)

8Thirdly, the heartland of Kannada culture, old Mysore state, was not under direct British rule but was a 'princely state', where there were no major British settlements such as Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. This too must have retarded the acquaintance of foreigners with Kannada and its literature. Good studies of Old Kannada literature have been written mainly in Kannada and German14, and there is also Rice's History of Kannada Literature, first published in 1921, which deals almost exclusively with Old Kannada. Whether in Kannada or in other languages, not much research has been done on modern Kannada literature. The large and ambitious Kannaḍa Adhyayana Samstheya Kannaḍa Sāhitya Caritre ("History of Kannada Literature of the Institute of Kannada Studies") of the University of Mysore, a project which has unfortunately come to a standstill, has not dealt with the modem period.

  • 15 Eichinger 1983. It is somewhat out of place to criticize this work here, but I do want to state th (...)

9The present study is, to my knowledge, the first extensive study of contemporary Kannada fiction carried out by a Western researcher; also, it is new in that it is a study of culturally specific themes in this literature. Literature is one of the most important, most explicit and most precise expressions of a culture; literature also reflects that culture in such a detailed manner that for an outsider it is a most highly helpful means of entering into that culture and learning about its specific features. In this study I have striven to let the Kannada writers speak for themselves, to distill and reflect the thoughts underlying their work in a manner which should make their work more easily accessible to interested readers from different cultural backgrounds. (There is an anthropological study based on short stories in Tamil, which differs from the present work in a few very important respects15.)

100.3 Is Kannada culture something that can be meaningfully spoken about as different from the surrounding cultures in India, or Indian culture in general? From my own reading in Kannada, Tamil, Sanskrit, Hindi and Bengali, I am inclined to say that we indeed can speak of 'Indian literature', but only on the same level of abstraction as 'European literature'. India has over twenty modern literary languages, like Europe; its classical languages, Sanskrit, Prakrit, Pali and also Tamil, have spread mythological, narrative and intellectual material like Latin and Greek have. Among the modem literatures, Bengali and Marathi have influenced other modem Indian literatures in much the same way as French and German have in Europe.

  • 16 Quoted in Gokak 1979: 85.

11The cultural situation in India thus resembles that of the European continent more than that of nearly any single Western country. Unfortunately, I have noticed that discussions about the cultural situation in India tend to be dominated by highly emotional or political, in a word: non-scholarly, considerations, and most of the writing that is being done in India on the subject of 'Indian literature' is utterly useless from an academic point of view and is usually guided by S. Radhakrishnan's dogmatic statement that "Indian literature is one, though written in many languages"16. As a rule, the people who write like this are not familiar with more than one or two of those languages and literatures, and therefore they have hardly any objective base for supporting such an idea.

  • 17 Gokak 1979.
  • 18 Gokak 1979: 76.
  • 19 Ibid., p. 82. This looks like a distorted quote from a long article in which Sri Aurobindo fulmina (...)

12An example of what can happen when this idea is taken too literally can be seen in the writings of the prominent Kannada author V.K. Gokak, former president of the national literary academy (the Sahitya Akademi), esp. in his book The Concept of Indian Literature17. Very characteristically, the two men whose thoughts figure most prominently in the book are not literary scholars but the religious thinker Sri Aurobindo and S. Radhakrishnan, the philosopher who became president of the Indian republic. In his book, Gokak cannot produce anything substantial in the way of a demonstration that Indian literature "is a much closer and intimate unity" than European literature is, and his argumentation is marred by the absurd Indian prejudice that European culture is inferior because it supposedly has no 'spirituality'. He has a vague and unpleasant idea of such a thing as a unifying Indian race18 and believes in a sort of primeval Indian culture, which apparently split up into many little pieces. The spiritual unity of India, Gokak believes, is something sublimely ungraspable for a mere European, for whom "the ultimate truths are only truths of the ideative intellect19."

  • 20 Ibid, p. 242.

13But when Gokak finally argues that Indian literature is a strong unity because India is a country which is ruled from Delhi and "has a history, going back to a century and a half or more, of an utterly identical aspiration, governance, struggle, and fulfilment. That is why we speak of the unity of Indian literature20 " then it is clear that his idea of the unity of Indian literature is motivated not by objective literary considerations but by a political ideology The identification of culture with politics is absurd, and the consequences of Gokak's ideas are of course ridiculous. A truthful evaluation and classification of literature must be based on the writings of authors, and not on those authors' passports.

14Though to my knowledge no one has yet made a serious intellectual effort at establishing cultural similarities and distinctions as expressed in modem Indian literatures, it seems obvious to me that what I consider culturally specific in this dissertation is not necessarily specific for Kannada literature or for the culture of the Kannada-speaking area, in the sense that much of it may be specifically Dravidian, or South Indian, or pan-Indian; but I am not concerned with this question here. Literature is rooted in a language. I have taken Kannada fiction as an expression of the culture of the people of a certain region in the world, people who of course, unavoidably, have many things in common with the people in neighbouring regions. This dissertation is an attempt at learning more about the culture of Karnataka as it is reflected in contemporary Kannada fiction; it may be, and probably will be, helpful in understanding the culture of other parts of India as well. I will leave the question of to what extent this is the case to the judgment of experts on those regions.

  • 21 Pattanayak 1973: 77.
  • 22 Mathew 1985: 396.
  • 23 Ibid
  • 24 Ibid.
  • 25 Ibid. p. 400.

150.4 According to the 1971 census, Kannada was the mother tongue of 21,707,918 people21, and it is the eighth largest language of India. It is the third largest of the Dravidian family of languages, almost all of which are spoken on Indian territory, and primarily in the southern part of the country. It is the administrative language of the southwestern state of Karnataka, the eighth largest state of the federal republic. Karnataka's total population of 37,135,714 (in 1981) makes it the eighth most populous state22. These figures also indicate that Kannada is spoken by many people whose mother tongue is different. Since India's runaway population growth in the case of Karnataka was 26.75% during the period 1971-8123, all these figures will be considerably higher now. Approximately 11% of the Kannada-speaking population of India lives outside Karnataka state, mainly in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. Literacy in Karnataka was 38.41% in 198124, making it the ninth most literate state. Female literacy, traditionally always lower, was 27.83%25 (again ninth among the states), which means that male literacy was just above 50%. But very recently there has been an enthusiastic response to new literacy programmes, and South Canara district (in southwest Karnataka) has been declared a 100% literate district. The percentage of literates elsewhere may similarly have changed.

  • 26 Advani 1988.
  • 27 Kannada television could be watched only in and around Bangalore until recently, and not via any o (...)

16Among the living languages of India, Kannada has the second oldest literature: its first literary specimen dates from ca. 450 CE (in the Halmidi inscription from Hassan district), and the oldest integral text which has come down to us intact, the Kavirājamārga, dates from the ninth century. This work on poetics is particularly valuable for its many quotations from older works which are now lost. From the ninth century onwards we have a very rich and varied literature which testifies to the great literary interest of the Kannada people, an interest which is still alive today. In spite of Karnataka ranking only ninth in literacy, and of Kannada being the eighth or ninth largest language, Kannada ranks very high with regard to the number of publications: in 1976, it ranked fourth in India, after English, Hindi and Marathi (6733, 2235, 1290 and 1261 titles respectively)26. Even if one is illiterate, one can enjoy public recitations of old Kannada poetry in rural areas, attend poets' meets in towns and cities (some of which are also broadcast on the radio) and witness a variety of drama performances. Literary figures play an active role in Kannada radio, and a little recently on Kannada television27. The high standard of modem Kannada literature has found national recognition in the fact that the most prestigious national literary award, the Jñānapīṭha Award, has been received six times by Kannada authors.

  • 28 Mugali 1975: 12.
  • 29 See for examples Ramanujan 1979 and Zvelebil 1984.
  • 30 Cf. Clark 1970 with regard to Bengali, Urdu, Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi and Marathi.
  • 31 In Muddaṇa's time, modern Kannada had still not gained full respectability as a literary medium, a (...)
  • 32 Rao 1983: 124-5.

170.5 As is the case with every old literature, most of the older works are in verse, but already at the very beginning of Kannada literature we see the appearance of a sort of prose. The Kavirājamārga mentions a king Durvinīta of the sixth century, who appears to have been an important prose writer28 but no work of his has remained. The Vaḍḍārādhane (tenth century) is a collection of didactic stories in prose, written by a Jaina author, and the earliest large works are the Jaina puranas, written mostly in campu style, i.e. verse with connecting passages in poetical prose between the stanzas. The purana by Cāvuṇḍarāya (known as the Cāvuṇḍarāyapurāṇa, tenth century) is entirely in prose. Practically all the oldest literature in Kannada is the creation of Jaina authors, written at a time when Jainism was the dominant Hochreligion of the Karnatakan region. In the twelfth century we see the appearance of Virasaiva authors, who used a new literary form to propagate their religious views, viz. the vacana, which can briefly be characterized as a kind of prose-poem in which composition rests more in the meanings of words than in their phonetic form29. Though there already was this cultivation of literary prose in Kannada, fiction as we have it today (in forms like the novel, novelette and short story) is the result of the impact of Western literature through the medium of English, as was the case with the other literary languages of India30. The first novel to appear in Kannada was a translation of Bankim Chandra Chatterji's Durgēśanandinī (1885) and the first original work in Kannada which can be called a novel is Muddaṇa's Rāmāśvamēdha (1898), which is all the more remarkable because it was written not in the modern language, but in Old Kannada31. 1915 saw the founding of the Kannaḍa Sāhitya Pariṣattu (Kannada Literary Society) with royal patronage from Mysore, which meant a boost to literary life. More novels were translated from Marathi and Bengali by Galaganātha and B. Venkatācār which served as models for Kannada authors, and in the second decade of this century the popular stories of Masti Venkatesha Iyengar began appearing. By 1935, the development of a new kind of literary prose was under way, one that would be suited for the new literature which, according to critic L.S. Seshagiri Rao, can be called humanistic, democratic, secular and not didactic32.

  • 33 G.H. Nayak 1985: 146.
  • 34 Kripalani 1974: 185.
  • 35 Govindaraj 1974: 233-8.

180.6 In this century there have been four different schools of fiction writing in Kannada, all of which have their counterparts in the other modem literatures of the country. The Navōdaya movement began in 192633, brought about by the discovery of English romantic poetry and the ensuing release of individualistic creativity34. This does not mean, however, that this literature was totally subjectivistic: it was on the contrary quite programmatic, devoted in large part to the romantic glorification of ancient India and to the propagation of nationalistic sentiments. The 1940s saw the arrival of the Pragatiśīla or 'progressive' movement, which produced a literature of concern with social change to bring about a more equitable society and which was largely Marxist-Leninist-oriented. In the 1950s began the Navya or 'modern' movement, which differed from the previous movements in a number of ways. This new literature focussed on the individual, was more introspective than previous writing, which also meant that social problems were discussed on the level of individual characters. There was no programmatic ideological commitment and the complexity of the problems of real life were not simplified, although there was a general scepticism about traditionalistic answers to the main problems of modern life and a tendency to a kind of existentialist thought. Anything could be investigated, and hence also traditional values are questioned35. The fourth and latest movement in Kannada fiction is that represented by the Dalita-Baṇḍāya combination. Somewhat as in the Pragatiśīila movement, the writers of these two groups use literature as a means of publicizing social injustice and impressing the need for social change on their readers; though some of its main spokespersons have a kind of Marxist outlook, this orientation is less prominent than in the case of the Pragatiśīla-s. The main difference, perhaps the only one, between the Dalita and Baṇḍāya writers is that the first group consists of people from really downtrodden sections of society (mainly harijana-s or outcastes) whereas the second group consists largely of non-harijana-s. Whereas there is practically no Pragatisila poetry in Kannada, Dalita writers have produced some very noteworthy short verse.

  • 36 Jung 1960, passim.

19A look at the literature on which this study is based will tell the reader that no typical Navōdaya literature has been included (since it is a typically pre-Independence phenomenon), that Navya is very strongly represented, that some Pragatiśīla works have been included and hardly any Dalita-Baṇḍāya literature. This is entirely due to the degree of usefulness for the present study. The latest movement is still young and needs more time to prove its literary worth, for till now it has not gone far beyond merely voicing indignation about casteist discrimination, with little or no serious analysis-and in the process becoming virulently casteist itself, and thus it becomes utterly unconvincing and frustrates its purpose. From the sketch in the preceding paragraph it will be clear why I have found Navya writing more useful, on the whole, than Pragatisila writing: because the Navya writers did not set out from an ideological program, they approached the problems which they faced with a more open mind and usually subjected them to a more thorough-going analysis, and this is a more useful kind of writing in a literary study which is thought of as a study in Geistesgeschichte. The socio-cultural analysis on the individual level is more in agreement with the obvious psychological truth that society is a collection of individuals36. Navya literature also gives more explicit statements about society and culture. I want to make it very clear here that the literature which has been selected for discussion in this study is selected not primarily for its literary value per se; had this been the case, I would have liked to have included much more by those highly gifted writers who have less to say about Karnatakan cultural peculiarities but more of universal interest, and whose works have been included now only meagrely or not at all. In future I hope to make amends for this in a different study.

200.7 In spite of the great literary activity that we find in Kannada, it can be problematic to find copies of literary works which by the more highly cultured section of the reading public are unanimously considered to be of major importance. Most titles go through only one edition and are never reprinted. Back issues of magazines are very difficult to obtain, and this is very often the case with older books as well. Often short stories and serialized novels appear in magazines and are never printed in book form, and this does not necessarily have anything to do with the readers' appreciation for, or the importance of, the work in question. The book trade in Karnataka is very badly organized. I have come across only two booksellers, one in Bangalore and one in Dharwad, with whom one can place orders for Kannada books and actually obtain them. Libraries have been not useful for this study, since there is a tendency for lent books not to return, or to return in a badly damaged form, which must be attributed to the unfortunate Indian lack of respect for public property. The Kannada section in the library of the University of Mysore abounds in books of which the first or last twenty or fifty pages are missing. A number of the books discussed in the present work had to be borrowed from individuals.

  • 37 Cf. Banerjee 1966: 8.
  • 38 Insofar as I have ben able to collect publication data, these are given in the bibliography of pri (...)

210.8 When trying to give a survey of a literature as a representative reflection of a culture, one would naturally like to have data about how the society in and for which this literature is produced reacts to it. As a result of the growing interest in the West in the sociology of literature, a large variety of statistical material has become available considering various measurable aspects of the book world. Unfortunately such statistical material is not available for Kannada, and to my knowledge the situation is not very different for Indian literature in other languages. There is uncertainty about even such basic matters as how many titles appear annually in the various Indian languages37. As a rule, it is unknown how many copies of a title are circulating. In the case of a number of titles, it is actually difficult to find out when they first appeared38. Often it is difficult to find out how often a book has been reprinted. Hence one cannot expect a study of Kannada or any other modern Indian literature to be as statistically objective with regard to its sociological aspects as a similar study of certain Western literatures can be.

22Furthermore, there are other factors in the case of literature in India that would undermine the significance of such statistical material: for instance, people tend to borrow books from each other much more often and easily than in Western societies, hence book sales are not a reliable indication of the reading public's appreciation of an author. Broad generalizations about an author's popularity and importance can be made on the basis of the number of his titles in print, the number of reprints (if known), the frequency of publication of his short stories or serialization of his novels, the amount of discussion of his works in periodicals. But any such generalization remains impressionistic to a certain extent; and perhaps more than in other country, the structure of society may be distortive in the attempt (cf. the triumphant utterance of one character in Kattimani's novel Janivāra mattu śivadāra) in which he tells his imagined enemy, the protagonist, that 'fortunately' the literary critics all belong to his caste and will tear the protagonis't's poetry to pieces in their reviews.

230.9 Though I have referred to Kannada literary criticism in a few places throughout this book, this criticism has not proven to be very useful. This dearth of good criticism is not particular for Kannada, but is something that we find in most of the Indian languages. Contemporary Kannada literature is the product of a society that is in transition, as will be clear from our discussion later on. All over India, a radical change took place in literary life around the turn of the century: new literary forms were introduced, linguistic expression changed, the reading public changed, the expectations from literature on the part of both the authors and the readers changed. Classical Indian literary criticism, as we find in the various Sanskrit works on alankāraśāstra, was a very formalistic affair, applied to a very different kind of literature, and a modem Kannada criticism has yet to develop.

  • 39 See my Kannada Literature, which is due to appear in the series History of Indian Literature with (...)

24Much criticism that is produced in Kannada is not mature, and in their value judgments many critics are often guided by utterly unliterary criteria. In many cases, it is no longer necessary to read the criticism if one knows the castes to which the critic and the author under discussion belong; and with the most recent critics on the Kannada literary scene, intellectual vulgarity can reach quite amazing depths. Though the reasons for the present state of affairs in criticism are culturally and historically quite interesting, it is a bit out of place to deal with the matter here. I will deal with criticism more extensively in a separate work under preparation39

  • 40 See e.g. Vanheste 1981, esp. ch. 5.

250.10 The method of analysis which I have chosen for this study is basically that of content analysis40 concentrating on the development of the narratives as reflected in the thoughts and actions of the main characters in the novels and stories under discussion. In some cases it was useful to compare ideas that were expressed in different writings by the same author. The views of individual authors were finally compared in order to reach more general conclusions concerning the treatment of these themes in Kannada fiction. With this, the general pattern of study followed in this dissertation is given. More needs to be said about the selection of titles of literary works and the method of analysis.

  • 41 Cf. Cassirer 1944 and 1980.

26I consider literature, as did the philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey, something that is in essence closely related to two other quintessentially human activities, viz. philosophy and religion. Just as these two, art represents a human's attempt at and / or means of coming to terms with reality, of understanding the world and placing himself in it; all three are manifestations of what Dilthey has termed Weltanschauung. To me this means that literature is something parallel to philosophical investigation. This view is also found in the writings of Ernst Cassirer41 on the subject of culture: all art, philosophy, mythology, religion, and also history and science, are seen by him as expressions of the typically human activity of symbolic thought, which tries in these various ways to understand life and one's position in the world.

27Like philosophy and religion, literature has themes, which are questions or problems which writers set out to solve. Hence, in the present work, the problem which the author of a literary work seeks to solve, or at least to understand more clearly, will be considered the theme of that work. We can distinguish cultures; writers, like ordinary people, live within those cultures and deal with problems which occur in all their concreteness in those cultures. What I call a culturally specific theme is a theme, i.e. a problem, which arises in the culture in which the writer lives and about which, and within which, he writes. For instance, casteism is not known in the West, and so I have considered casteism a specifically Indian problem.

28To some extent, the demarcation of one theme as different from other themes remains a debatable matter. It is often very difficult in the case of a story, and much more so in the case of a novel, to say what the theme of the work is. Often it is useful to distinguish between a main theme and subthemes, or more than one main theme. The reason for this is simply that life is complex. One problem may be closely linked with another problem; or it may be solved after the other one is solved; or both may be solved if their common cause is removed. What we see with our Kannada authors is a very strong awareness of the interconnectedness of problems. I hesitate here to say that they are 'conscious' of this interconnectedness, because often this awareness seems subconscious and shows itself in writing apparently without any further conscious elaboration. Thus we shall see that some striking culturally specific themes practically always occur together, e.g. the spread of modern education, the urbanization which leads to the breaking up of the joint family and of the social structure which is characteristic of rural India, rebellion against the caste system, intercaste marriages, 'love-marriages' (i.e. marriages which are not arranged by elders), contact with Western culture, the changing status of women in society, secularization. One never comes across any theme from this list without the author touching upon at least one of the other themes. Indeed the interconnectedness may be so strong that at times it is difficult to decide whether the author is primarily writing about one theme, or about the other, or does not distinguish between the two as essentially different themes; in such cases, I tend to think that the last view is the correct one to take. The themes join together in theme complexes.

29The theme of a work of literature is the central problem which the author seeks to solve. I have conducted my search for culturally specific themes in Kannada fiction in the following manner. Starting with my own background knowledge of Indian culture, based on studies of Sanskrit, a number of modem Indian languages and literatures, Indian philosophy, religion, history and art history, I drew up a list of possible culturally specific themes based on known cultural differences. But the mere possibility of a theme of course does not mean that there is an author who has actually written on it. I therefore gave the list to 26 scholars, critics and authors in Mysore and Bangalore who were willing to help, with three questions: 1. Have the possible themes on the list ever been written on by Kannada writers of fiction? 2. Have any themes been omitted from the list which you think ought to be included? 3. Can you give the titles of novels and short stories which in your opinion are good examples of how the theme has been treated in Kannada fiction ("good" meaning either original, or common, or representative, or trend-setting, or thorough, or stylistically exemplary, etc.)? Most of the informants gave additional comments, explaining why they believed a particular title to be good. Some of the themes which I thought were possible had never been dealt with, to the knowledge of these informants, and no one suggested additional themes.

30With regard to titles there was a high degree of uniformity in the informants' recommendations. There was a practically total unanimity with regard to who the leading authors are, and many works of these authors were recommended by all or the great majority of the informants. This was of course a great help in compiling the reading list; however, there were also some small difficulties. Most of the informants had never been outside India and hence were unaware of what could be cultural differences between India and the West or how exactly these differences can express themselves in creative writing. As a result, a number of recommended titles proved to be not useful upon reading and therefore had to be discarded from the final corpus. Also I have added other titles by the same authors which I myself came across, whenever I felt that these were useful for forming a firmer opinion about the author or about the treatment of a particular theme. Eventually 35 titles were selected.

31The reader will notice that certain authors are represented more prominently, i.e. by a larger number of their writings, in the corpus than others. By this I do not want to imply in any way that some authors are better or worse as authors, for the quality of an author's writing is determined by many things, not only by his choice of themes. Overall literary excellence and interest were not the criteria of selection; otherwise, the selection would have been rather different. Important for this study is the amount of insight about the treatment of a limited number of themes which one gets through an analysis of works of fiction, and I have found that the works of certain authors are more useful and unambiguous than those of certain others.

32Wherever I found this necessary or useful, I have inserted some bits of background information concerning the culture of Karnataka and of India in general; but the introduction of such information has been limited, so that the size of the book would not increase disproportionately.


1 There is apparently an official policy in India to refer to things that appear through the medium of Sanskritized and Anglicized Hindi (which the Congress Party declared the 'national language': cf. S.K. Chatterjee 1962: 60) as 'national', and everything else as merely 'regional' (this is especially clear on television). But if we take 'national' in a cultural sense, and not as a term of international politics, then it is obvious that we must speak of a number of national languages, among which Hindi is only one (S.K. Chatterjee 1958: 15; Henkl 1952: 50). India's linguistic diversity is an indication of its rich cultural diversity, and at the same time it is an indication that we must know these languages in order to enter into contact with this diversity.

2 Henkl 1952: 13.

3 There is one peculiar matter to which some special attention must be paid: the special position of English in the Indian language situation. This position of high importance and prestige is something which Westerners can hardly imagine or understand, for there is no language in the West that is similar to it in these respects. The following note may give some insight into certain linguistic peculiarities in Kannada fiction (and also in fiction in other Indian languages), as well as into the Indian view of the world outside. We will see in our discussion of Kannada works of fiction that English fulfils a most important symbolic function.
English began its career in India during the governor-generalship of William Bentinck, who in 1829 decided that "the British language" was "the key to all improvements" in India. In 1835 he declared that English would take the place of Persian as the language of the high courts and government, while the local indigenous languages would be the languages of the lower courts (a measure which prompted the modern development of a number of these languages). Moreover, he achieved that European literature and science would be imparted to the natives through the medium of English. The language thus became the key for those who strove for a position in the quickly growing new middle class. English became the real unifying language of modern India, the language of the all-India (albeit colonial) government, the one language which could be understood throughout the entire territory by significantly large numbers of people. This fact, along with other factors, was to determine e.g. the crucial role of the language in the movement for independence.
But what has happened to English in India is something that by far exceeds mere practical expediency. It has been summed up nicely by the German linguist H. Berger, whom I think should be quoted somewhat extensively here.
"... English, apparently fought against as a hated intruder one had to get rid of as quickly as possible, has since long acquired in the consciousness of the modem Indian all the essential attributes that were once ascribed to Sanskrit. I will point out only a few characteristic peculiarities. No one among us will deny the importance and usefulness of English as a world language, but what the Indian - even if usually only unconsciously - imputes to it exceeds what we consider appropriate and clearly bears an esoteric character. Even among the most highly educated Indians one can hear the doubt whether one can express oneself at all scientifically in any language other than English, and the belief is common that English is the university language also of the whole of Europe. An Indian would think of learning any foreign language other than English in the first place only out of practical considerations, since such a language is a mere bhāṣā, a provincial dialect next to English, and one cannot expect any new revelations from it. Also he will think that a European who does not speak English fluently is uneducated: an opinion which usually disappears only after a longer stay in Europe.... As once was the case with the Brahmins, still today knowledge of English as the higher language guarantees one a place of social privilege, to which one who is not proficient in it, be he however so industrious, can never aspire.... It is... no secret that especially phonetically it Ṝthe language] has moved so far away from real English that in serious cases even Englishmen cannot understand it, but that does not bother the Indian. Since he feels that English is the language of humanity, he sees no error in this.... Berger 1967: 31-32; my translation. This peculiar, imported language chauvinism has as a result that it is nowadays practically impossible for an Indian to have a favourable impression of or any interest in whatever is foreign but not associated with the English language.

4 Quoted in Lutze 1975: 5.

5 Disputed in Hacker 1964: col. 237-38 (= 1978: 479).

6 Mallikarjun 1985: 265.

7 Ibid., p. 266.

8 Ibid., pp. 277-8.

9 Ibid., pp. 277-8.

10 Ibid., p. 264.

11 Kamath 1981: 11.

12 Ibid., p. 3.

13 Ibid., p. 10.

14 E.g. Moegling's translations of older devotional Kannada literature in old volumes of the Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft.

15 Eichinger 1983. It is somewhat out of place to criticize this work here, but I do want to state that it has fundamental flaws of an ideological nature which result in a distorted reading of the Tamil stories and an unacceptably distorted view of Indian culture and society. Also, the author seems to hold a different opinion regarding the meaning of the term 'theme'.

16 Quoted in Gokak 1979: 85.

17 Gokak 1979.

18 Gokak 1979: 76.

19 Ibid., p. 82. This looks like a distorted quote from a long article in which Sri Aurobindo fulminated against a silly British colonial author who is now deservedly forgotten (cf. Aurobindo 1968, p. 61). Here, just as there, the image of Europe is one-sided, exaggerated and distorted; but at least Aurobindo had some cause for being indignant, and he also had some idea of what he wrote about, and neither thing can be said for Gokak.

20 Ibid, p. 242.

21 Pattanayak 1973: 77.

22 Mathew 1985: 396.

23 Ibid

24 Ibid.

25 Ibid. p. 400.

26 Advani 1988.

27 Kannada television could be watched only in and around Bangalore until recently, and not via any of the Karnataka relay stations, due to Delhi's policy of spreading Hindi through rural television relays.

28 Mugali 1975: 12.

29 See for examples Ramanujan 1979 and Zvelebil 1984.

30 Cf. Clark 1970 with regard to Bengali, Urdu, Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi and Marathi.

31 In Muddaṇa's time, modern Kannada had still not gained full respectability as a literary medium, and he thought his work would be received more favourably if he would pass it off as something old.

32 Rao 1983: 124-5.

33 G.H. Nayak 1985: 146.

34 Kripalani 1974: 185.

35 Govindaraj 1974: 233-8.

36 Jung 1960, passim.

37 Cf. Banerjee 1966: 8.

38 Insofar as I have ben able to collect publication data, these are given in the bibliography of primary literature at the end of this study.

39 See my Kannada Literature, which is due to appear in the series History of Indian Literature with Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden.

40 See e.g. Vanheste 1981, esp. ch. 5.

41 Cf. Cassirer 1944 and 1980.

© Institut Français de Pondichéry, 1996

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