Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Prose in Modern Kannada

Prof. R. V. Jagirdar


(Karnatak College, Dharwar)

If modern Kannada were to leave not a single work of universal merit, even then future history would recognise these last three or four decades for one great achievement of literary progress: that achievement is the creation of Kannada prose. Any one going through the Presidential Addresses of the recent Literary Conferences in Karnataka would find a consistent tone of complaint in one respect. In spite of the vaunted advance of our literature and a large number of promising writers, we have no works to show on scientific, technical or political subjects. It is not that we have no scientists or technical experts or political theorists in Karnataka. But those specialists learnt, and now think, in a foreign or, as is the recent fashion to attempt, in a ‘national’ language. The vocabulary of the spoken form of their mother-tongue contains almost not a single word in such subjects. To put it differently, we have not yet succeeded in thinking in our own tongue.

I do believe that thinking has a good deal to do with the medium of expression. The plethora of poetic effusions, day in and day out, can be instanced to make my meaning precise. The poetic or the metrical style is mostly the vehicle of fancy or imagination. You can write about what you fancy, and quite naturally you fancy only what you are capable of writing about. Poetry has less to do with logic and more with emotion, less with definitions than with descriptions, less with what is but more with what may be. ‘Man,’ said Vico, the eighteenth century philosopher,’ ‘before he can articulate, sings; before speaking in prose, he speaks in verse; before using technical terms, he uses metaphors.’ I am quoting these remarks to avoid an exhaustive discussion, for want of space, about the respective merits of the poetic and the prose styles.

A glance at the more than 2000 years’ old history of Kannada Literature would reveal the underlying truth of the above quotation. From the very beginning up to the middle of the last century, there were no prose works in our Literature. As exceptions to prove the rule, there was one belonging to the 6th, and just another one (Chavundaraya Purana) belonging to the 9th century A.D. I am ignoring the prose of the inscriptions in this discussion, from a literary point of view. Kannada is not alone in showing this feature; Sanskrit and almost all other Indian Literatures have utilised the metrical style alone for a long, long period. Of course, there is prose of a sort in the Champus. But that was no more than an imitation of the later Sanskrit style wherein an exhibition of double entendre and other verbal acrobatics could be indulged in, with no restriction of the measured syllables of a verse. It is true that, like Sanskrit Literature, Kannada Literature also has books on mathematics and cooking, etc., in metrical style. But that style gave metaphors and not technical terms. Precision is the very soul of prose; and in the absence of technical terms, it would be idle to expect prose.

The beginnings of a prose style, as mentioned above, are to be met with only in the last century. An idea was continuously and completely expressed in sentences that had nothing to worry about the rhyming of the second letter in each! The style of Muddana and of some court poets in Mysore (who usually translated a Sanskrit work) illustrates the first attempts. Even here, the writer is oftentimes more concerned with the figures of sense and sound than with the expressing of the idea. It is not till we come to the early novels of Messrs. B. Venkatachar, Kerur Vasudevacharya, and Galaganatha that we can speak of a prose style. These novelists (though mostly translators) were compelled to use, in the absence of the classical figures of speech, a different kind of vocabulary, and to invent phrases. Journalism first made its appearance in Karnataka at this stage, and that itself is a thing to be noted. With a prose style at your disposal, you could write about a variety of ‘non-romantic’ topics like the news and the politics of the day. Writing in the ‘Bombay Karnataka,’ Mr. Mudvidu Krishna rao and the late Mr. Kerur could be called the journalist-contributors who helped in creating Kannada prose.

Then came the Gandhian era which, in the rebellious atmosphere of freedom and in the general enthusiasm it created, gave spur to Kannada literature. Newspapers, short stories, lectures and reporting, essays on Satyagraha and other political theories, etc., were the order of the day. After the smoke of the agitation subsided, all that was left was the monumental translation of ‘Gita-Rahasya’ by Mr. Alur Venkatarao and the appearance of periodicals in different parts of Karnataka. These periodicals were a direct help to short stories. One of our best and earliest short story writers, Mr. Masti Venkatesha Iyengar, has given us a prose which is sweet, fluent, flexible and as yet unsurpassed. This wave of periodicals gave to us another master of prose who showed how vigour of expression and wide variety in subjects could be combined with precision and logic of thought; he is that great versatile genius, Pundit Taranath of Tungabhadra.

It is neither possible nor polite to mention names in the course of a brief article. Many are the novelists, journalists, dramatists and essayists who have contributed to the making of the modern prose style. Mr. D. V. Gundappa of Bangalore is both a journalist and a scholar who can express himself on a variety of ‘non-romantic’ subjects. Mr. K. S. Karant is another example, with his parodies, sketches, essays, dramas and articles on topical subjects. The present writer might include himself in this ‘free-lance’ class on account of his essays, sketches, biographies and column-writings. These names are mentioned just because the writers happen to write on any and every sort of subject. As a matter of fact, there is a host of novelists and short story writers and play-wrights who are wielding Kannada in relation to all aspects of experience.

And yet! And yet Kannada has nothing to show by way of scientific or technical works, with the exception of Bala-prapancha edited by Mr. K. S. Karant, and Hana-prapancha by Mr. V. Sitaramayya. Looking at one circumstance, I am tempted to believe that it would be still long before we get such works. That circumstance is the plight of our journals, especially the weeklies and the dailies. These latter are a guide to our thought- contents and ‘expression-capacity.’ The Kannada that is written in our dailies and weeklies is, with apologies to all good-intentioned editors, of a patchy, sloppy, life-less variety. The journals due to their very profession and needs, should be the inspirers of a vocabulary of technical terms; at the moment, at their very best, most of them are very careless and unsuccessful translators. A committee of experts can but produce a dictionary but cannot enforce the use of just those words. So until the journals evolve a vocabulary of the different sciences in a gradual and natural manner, many more Presidential Addresses will have to bewail the situation.

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