It’s more than befitting that Dr. S L Bhyrappa has been awarded the Saraswati Samman this year.
Kannada writer S L Bhyrappa was on Tuesday chosen for the prestigious Saraswati Samman for his novel ‘Mandra’… The jury which selected Bhyrappa was headed by former Chief Justice G B Patnaik. After consideration of works published in 22 Indian languages during 2000-2009, the Chayan Parishad (jury) selected Mandra, a novel in Kannada by S L Bhyrappa for the 20th Samman, a statement said…He is one of the best selling novelists in Kannada over the past 25 years. ‘Mandra’ is one of the most acclaimed epic novels of Bhyrappa.
Actually let me rephrase that: the dignity of the Saraswati Samman has been elevated several notches higher, and the bar for the award has suddenly been raised starting this year. All this isn’t an exaggeration. S L Bhyrappa is truly the lone giant of a writer living amidst us, an artist who constantly meditates on his art and it wouldn’t be a further exaggeration to say that he’s the greatest Indian author alive.
Although Mandra ultimately won the award, any of his sweeping epics—Parva, Tanthu, Saakshi, Saartha, and Daatu—would’ve easily stood to win it. Ardent Bhyrappa fans have on several occasions decried the fact that he hasn’t won the Gnanpith so far but it doesn’t matter. In today’s interview with Kannada Prabha, the author says that an award is not a yardstick to measure a novel’s worth. Here’s a translation of portions of his interview for the benefit of those who don’t know Kannada (translation mine):
The worth of a work neither increases or decreases if it’s conferred with an award. The longevity of a literary work depends on how many hearts it can touch over several generations, and how well it expresses each generation’s problems…readers of all Indian languages have accepted my works as their own. 1 Maharashtrians tell me that I’m an extremely popular Marathi writer who writes in Kannada…I’m an Indian writer. Even in [my] works that have strong regional specificities, the characters and situations therein are pan-Indian…today, there has been a huge increase in the number of books published because there’s a corresponding readership. Those of our youth who don’t read Kannada (Ed: regional) books are products of English education.
Mark that underlined sentence. In his Bhitti, the author remarks that a literary work must shine on its own and not through the torchlight of critics. Dr. S L Bhyrappa’s major and many minor works are the biggest proofs that this secret of producing enduring literature is not idle preaching on his part. No other living writer has managed to write so many books on such varied themes in depth, scope, sweep and quality for close to four decades.
As to those who genuinely lament that he hasn’t yet been given the Gnanapith, I have two things to say at least as far as Kannada literature is concerned: one, that Dr. Bhyrappa is truly beyond awards: this is a man who donated some award money of ` 1 lakh towards efforts to enrich literature, and a man who never goes on tours promoting his own books—the current trend with first-timers and even the high & mighty of literature—and participates as little as possible in public functions. Two, thanks to Gnanapith # 6 & # 7, the galaxy of Gnanapith awardees in Kannada has been permanently sullied. It’s good that Dr. Bhyrappa isn’t part of that galaxy. Actually, we need three categories: The Gnanapith awardees and # 6 & # 7, each a category in his own right.
The Saraswati Samman is definitely an award of merit and deserves the prestige associated with it. And it deservedly went to the son of Saraswati.