Karnataka Posts

“Rajinikanth: A Life” by Vaasanthi

Rajinikanth is a superstar who rose from being a porter/coolie and a bus conductor to achieving godlike status in Tamil Nadu. He has over 150 films to his credit, many of them blockbusters, and at the age of seventy he still plays a hero! With nearly forty years of stardom, his career coincided with the Dravidian self respect movement promote atheism, his fans venerated him as ifbhe was a god by worshiping his cut-outs and bathing them in milk and beer. He has tried dabbling in politics by commenting on the policies of various chief ministers, being fairly outspoken on the river Cauvery water sharing between the two states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and so on. In 2017, Rajinikanth announced that he would form his own political party and contest all 234 seats in the 2021 assembly elections. It created a frenzy. His fans were delighted as this was the day they had been waiting for. Tamil Nadu has a history of having actors-turned-chief ministers. So this avatar of Rajinikanth would not be out of the norm. But his political detractors considered him to be naive and there were others who were convinced he would align with the BJP, a right wing party, thereby giving the party a foothold in the state. Ultimately, after three years, Rajinikanth announced his retirement from politics citing health reasons.

The images with this post are from his comments on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019. The Act granted citizenship to undocumented members of six minority communities — Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, and Parsis — from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan who had migrated to India on account of religious persecution before 31 Dec 2014. The Act excluded Muslims. Rajinikanth publicly declared his support for the Act. After much intervention by civil society groups, individuals and push back from political analysts, Rajinikanth posted on Twitter (2 Mar 2020), “I am willing to play any role in order to maintain peace I the country. I too agree with their [Muslim leaders] comment that a country’s prime objective should be love and peace.”

Vaasanthi is a bilingual freelance writer, journalist, novelist and translator from the Tamil into English. In her biography of this superstar, Vaasanthi, tries to map the ascent to stardom as well as try and understand the intricacies of what makes Rajinikanth what he is. Given that she is able to straddle the English-speaking world and Tamil society, she is the ideal bridge in conveying to rest of the world on what is so special about Rajinikanth. She is able to put aside any inclination to turn this biography into a hagiography as most Tamilians would find it challenging to have a rational perspective on the actor. It is impossible to explain in words. It has to be seen to be believed. The extract from the book is a fine example of how well Vaasanthi is able to create a narrative and explain the compulsions that drive Rajinikanth. The CAA is a tricky space to comment upon but Rajinikanth opted to do so. Yet, he has lived his life sufficiently in the public eye to probably recognise the folly of his hasty announcement and how it may affect electorate sentiments as at that time he was still contemplating entering politics. So he did not exactly take back his words but he came forth to support the Muslims. It was a quick comeback but politics is not like cinema. Fans can be mollified, politics affects people at multiple levels. It requires astuteness, wisdom, knowledge and deep understanding of issues rather than glib PR stunts.

Nevertheless, this is a book that will appeal to Rajinikanth fans, political scientists, journalists and perhaps a few academics. Understandably it is embedded in the socio-political space of Tamil Nadu and it is not always easy to comprehend. Sadly, this book lacks pictures. Except for the technicolour cover design, there are no other images.

25 July 2021

Agni Sreedhar’s “The Gangster’s Gita”

The Gangster’s Gita by Agni Sreedhar is a slim book. It is a conversation between a hit man and his victim. They are waiting for the appointed time of the killing which will be indicated by the hit man’s boss. While biding their time the two men start conversing. The “victim” is a hit man too. So call this conversation a kind of swapping professional notes or just sharing thoughts as the end draws near. Even so the calm and composed manner in which it is narrated, even by making allowances for the written word, the last few pages come as a jolt. At times it feels as if it is two men merely chatting across the lawns of the farmhouse where the hostage has been spirited away and not that the victim is standing on the balcony of a locked room looking down upon the hit man who is sweating it out doing his daily routine of exercises. For inexplicable reasons they start conversing, knowing full well that their breaking their profession’s codes of conduct. It is not advisable to become too familiar with each other in this nasty business.

Set in the Bangalore underworld of the ‘90s, The Gangster’s Gita—published in Kannada as Edegarike is set to become an instant cult classic in English. The writer is an ex-gangster, Agni Sreedhar, who also won the Sahitya Akademi award for his memoir — My Days in the Underworld: Rise of the Bangalore Mafia. His column in a Kannada paper was called “Editorial from Behind Bars” which he wrote while incarcerated in Bellary jail. Apparently in the literary circles of Karnataka it was well known that before Agni Sreedhar strayed into a world of crime, he was a voracious reader and deeply influenced by Albert Camus and Carlos Castaneda. Once he famously asked a friend to get him Camus’ The Outsider to re-read in jail.

It is impossible to share the gist of the freewheeling conversation between the two men except to say that this book is worth reading. Also it is hard to distinguish how much of this is fiction and how much the truth. An extraordinary book. It is a book that will travel well overseas too as a fine example of World Literature. It exists. Read it. Mull over it. You will not regret it.

9 Dec 2019

Kannada, Konkani, English: Memories, Texts and Distances

On 23 April 2016 Vivek Shanbhag and I were invited by Namita Gokhale, co-director, Jaipur Literature Festival to be in conversation at the Apeejay Languages Festival 2016, Oxford Bookstore, Connaught Place, New Delhi. We were to discuss his recently translated novel from Kannada to English, Ghachar Ghochar, as part of the topic, “Kannada, Konkani, English: Memories, Texts and Distances”. Before we began the discussion I read out a note contextualising the conversation. I realised that Vivek Shanbhag and I had spent a while chatting a few days earlier and would happily fall into a chat easily. Hence the note which was passed by Vivek Shanbhag too. With his permission I am publishing it here. 

Kannada, Konkani, English: Memories, Texts and Distances 

Vivek Shanbhag 1Vivek Shanbhag is a noted writer, editor and translator. For seven years while holding a busy day job he edited a literary journal of Kannada writing called Desh Kala. It was phenomenal in the impact it had in discovering new writers. It is probably the only contemporary journal in an Indian regional language that continues to be talked about in English and now edited excerpts of it are to be published.

Although he has been a name in Kannada and other literary circles for a while, few probably know his mother tongue is Konkani. A language that can be written in five different scripts –Devanagari, Roman, Kannada, Malayalam, and Persian.  (Now it is the Devnagari script that is accepted officially by state governments. )Yet Vivek Shanbhag chooses to write in Kannada. And he is not alone in this comfortable oscillation between mother tongue and the language of professional writing. I gather from him it is common practice among the Kannada, Marathi, Telugu writers. For instance, one of the finest Marathi short story writers G. A. Kulkarni was a Kannadiga; Girish Karnad’s mother tongue is Konkani but he writes Vivek Shanbhag 2in Kannada and the list goes on.

Earlier this year the English translation of Vivek’s fine novella Ghachar Ghochar was published by HarperCollins India. It has been translated by Srinath Perur. It was the only translated text from an Indian regional language included in the special edition of Granta on India ( 2015) edited by Ian Jack. “Ghachar Ghochar” is a nonsensical phrase yet the story is an impressively crafted vignette of a middle class family in Karnataka. Peppered with sufficient local characteristics for it to be representative of a Kannadiga family with universal issues such as socio-eco mobility & status of women. It is no wonder that this novella has caught the English readers by storm.

And yet,

Ghachar GhocharWhen you read Ghachar Ghochar it reads like the finest example of world literature. By world literature I mean translations of literary fiction from various cultures. It reads smoothly in the destination language of English but translation purists tell me exasperatedly that it does not retain the “flavour” of the original Kannada text.

One last point. I believe that “cultures” are not necessarily defined by political boundaries but geo-political formations. Under the British this region fell under the Bombay and Madras presidencies. Today it is bordered by the Arabian Sea, Goa, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Kannada is the official language of Karnataka and spoken by about 66.26% of the people as of 2001. Other linguistic minorities in the state are Urdu (10.54%), Telugu (7.03%), Tamil (3.57%), Marathi (3.6%), Tulu (3.0%), Hindi (2.56%), Konkani (1.46%), Malayalam (1.33%) and Kodava Takk (0.3%).

With this note Vivek and I launched into our conversation. It touched upon various aspects of translation, Kannada literature, how is Kannada literature defined, the significance of literary awards, the process of translation, etc. 

6 May 2016

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