1971 or ’72. I had newly returned to Mysore. The Kannada translation of the Telugu Digambara poetry collection had just been published. The release function was held in Mysore at the public taxi stand. A hotel waiter was the chief guest to inaugurate the occasion. I was present there. The organizer, in his speech, announced that literature was the preserve of neither the upper classes/castes nor restricted to critics. It belonged equally to the lower strata of the society and included such people as daily wage labourers and poor farmers. The inauguration ceremony was rather threadbare. The book wrapped in a piece of torn towel was taped with a shred of paper. The embarrassed-bewildered waiter tore the shred of paper, announcing the book release. The poor waiter’s eyes showed the same confusion that his reddened face did.
About seven or eight in the gathering of thirty-odd people recognized me and treated me to coffee at a nearby restaurant. Because I was still new to Mysore, I couldn’t recall all their names except Shivarama Aital, a Kannada lecturer in Sharada Vilas college.
I spoke to them.
“What do you folks do?”
“We’re an enthusiastic group with ambitious goals, sir. We’ve not been able to do anything worthwhile so far because we lack leadership. Now that we know that you’re back in Mysore, we request you to give us that leadership. We’ll dedicate ourselves to the service of literature,” said a gentleman. A few heads nodded approvingly.
“Creative literature is not a group activity. It is neither a movement much less an agitation. Every writer needs to dip into his (or her) experience, empathy, and temperament and write alone. Consequently, the question of any sort of leadership doesn’t arise in the first place.” I said.
“No, no…we meant…let’s start a literary periodical. You are popular. You become the editor. We’ll take care of the rest.”
“Running a literary magazine doesn’t produce quality literary work. In fact, it might even be a hindrance.”
“What are you saying?! All we need is just one magazine to control the literary world. We can even alter the direction of literature because we’ll also have writers in our hand!”
“All this is disconnected from literature. I have a suggestion. Would you like to listen?”
“You’re aware that caste is the major focus of public discourse everywhere today. Young writers, novelists and artists routinely talk about opposing and cutting off ties with our tradition and breaking free. Doesn’t it make sense then, to learn about the roots and fundamentals of this selfsame tradition and study the historical changes it underwent? You can bring ten or twelve additional likeminded people along. Let’s make a group and order a set of P.V. Kane’s volumes on the history of Dharmashastra. We’ll read the volumes from the ground up. Once that’s done, we’ll invite knowledgeable scholars in this area and get their expert input and insight for over a week or so. If we’re committed, we can finish this project over a period of a year. Our litterateurs need this kind of preliminary study.”
At least two in the group laughed loudly at this.
“You seem to be mistaken sir! We asked for your leadership, you’re treating us like students!” A little later, “Take your time to think about this sir…I mean, about starting a literary periodical. We’ll get the necessary funding.”
I left it at that.
[ED: Excerpted from Bhitti, an autobiography of SL Bhyrappa]