THE AUTHOR IN KANNADA 1
By A. N. MOORTHY RAO, M.A.
(President, The Kannada Sahitya Parishat)
I wonder whether I can claim to be an author by profession. I must admit there is but little I can advance in support of such a claim. I prefer to regard myself as a humble interpreter of authors, a harmless parasite on the Sons of the Muses. This would be a position of vantage in the present context since–self-analysis being a difficult job–the stamp of authorship is best understood by one who does not belong to that category. But I am uncomfortably conscious that I shall have to plead guilty to the charge of having perpetrated one or two things in print. I wonder whether the organisers of this series of talks were having a sly dig at me when they asked me to speak on the author. I mean to say–they might be hinting that to me writing is that unsavoury thing, a profession, a mercenary pursuit something undertaken for what is commonly referred to as filthy lucre. If any such hint is implied, I suppose I have pocketed it since I have consented to talk on the subject.
I mention this at the outset because it brings me to what was for long supposed to be the main ingredient in the character of the author–an indifference to money. I do not know, however, that the author is particularly anxious to be saved from the temptations that filthy lucre brings with it. If I may lay claim to a place in that august company and answer for myself, I admit frankly that I am going to pocket the cheque given in return for this script; and I firmly believe that other authors would do like wise. I have it on reliable authority that Shakespeare was by no means indifferent to box-office receipts and that he cherished an ambition for a coat of arms–a most deplorable ambition as all true democrats would admit. I have observed that those who insist that the true author should on no account barter the divine fire of inspiration for money, are not themselves writers. The world in general waits for the author to bid farewell to this world and then hastens to strew flowers over his grave; it is not prodigal of its bouquets when he is alive. We are told that fifty cities contend for Homer dead, through the streets of which the poet begged his bread.
Be this as it may, indigence is certainly one of the stamps left on the author and that is why one objects to calling authorship a profession. It is true Bernard Shaw left an estate; but men like him are the exceptions which prove the rule. Indigence is common to authors, and artists in other fields also. We cannot very well object to their trying to make a virtue of it. Probably it was this desire to take credit for what was really an unpleasant necessity that made painters and musicians shave once a fortnight or grow a beard, live in rooms innocent of the broom, and save on laundry bills.
I suppose I am expected to speak of the authors I know,–the authors of the Karnatak. Elsewhere we have two types of author–those who convey useful knowledge and those who indulge in writing which they are fond of describing as creative–poets, play-wrights, novelists and the like. We in the Karnatak do not very much believe in the literature of knowledge, and our writers, having their hand on the pulse of public taste, do not produce any; they plunge straight into creative literature. These men who have taken it on themselves to people the literary solitudes have not all the same stamp. They are drawn from two classes. First there are the people who have had University education and are in the services. To them authorship is no wife but a casual mistress; but as generally happens the casual mistress is more passionately loved than the wife. They conform to the orthodox code in their dress and manners. They wear the regulation short coat, often with collar and tie, look scrupulously neat and respectable. They never speak to anybody even in the railway compartment unless formally introduced; are not seen in eating-houses. In brief they carry their noses well above sea-level. Their dress may be the result of their education rather than of their pursuit of literature. But the altitude of their noses is undoubtedly in proportion to the number of books they have written. You get the impression that they carry an immense Atlantean burden on their shoulders. They are oppressively conscious of a mission in life and they carry it with them wherever they go. That mission is the service of the mother tongue. They band themselves together into associations devoted to the great cause–the cause of Mother Kannada. She is very much the mother and they are very much the sons. The education they have received is not education, but the breast-milk of the mother. Their friends are not friends, but brothers and sisters of the Karnatak. They themselves are not writers, but just humble servants of the great mother. The articles or books they write are not articles or books, but humble way-side flowers reverently placed at the feet of the Mother, or by a variation of metaphor, the baby-talk which they babble at the mother’s knee. When you hear such talk from a man, it is a safe bet that he is an author. This class became vocal about thirty years ago and has been going strong ever since. About the twenties they suddenly became sensitive to the glory of spring in the Kannada Land, to the music of the song-birds of Karnatak; they opened their eyes to the beauty of nature and went into raptures over the great sculptures in Belur and Halebid. I do not think they let any sunset go without putting it into metrical language. You can see them all over the land. They sit before the mighty image of Gomateswara, for hours together, watching how the shadow travels from west to east as the sun travels from east to west; and this journey of the shadow is a never-ending marvel. They sit on the mountain-peak listening to the sigh of the breeze; they sit on the palm-shaded sea-sands and go into a trance induced by the Kannada waves beating on the Kannada shore; or rather, the slave-girl sea washing the feet of the great mother. They stand on the platform giving an eager audience the benefit of their observations. They are to be found at the desk creating characters whose sole delight is the singing of Kannada songs.
Along with this great awakening; this sensitiveness to things in general, they develop also a streak of psychology. On principle and in the interests of what has almost, though not quite, become their profession, they are observers of men and analysers of their motives. The prying suspicious creatures are always looking at you with penetrating eyes. If looks could speak they would tell you that it is no use your trying to hide your thoughts. The author is first and foremost Mr. Nosey Parker interested more in men’s inner thoughts than in the outward shows of life. What is it the critics say of Shakespeare’s tragedies?–That it is more a record of an inward battle than of a battle of outward forces. Of course every author has taken this lesson to heart and is duly psychological in his attitude to life. He is on the look-out for deeper influences and motives, and hidden meanings. This is not suspicious prying. The term for it is insight. That is what critics obligingly credit authors with, or carpingly deny them.
These characteristics are so universal among authors that at the social gatherings at which these mighty men of letters are honoured guests, it does not take you a minute to mark them out as authors. You do not even need the assistance of the lionization they are subjected to. They have a throng of younger aspirants in authorship in their train, who have read the author’s works and quote snatches from them. The author of course says that those works were his juvenilia and that he has now outgrown them, thus killing two birds with one stone. He gets credit for modesty and also for a steadily developing genius.
You may occasionally see also a giggling girl, obviously at college, begging the author not to put that evening’s party into his next work. I don’t think she really dreads it so much; she is devoutly hoping that the author will interpret her request in the proper light, and that she will figure in the next. work The author smiles cryptically–it is difficult to say what that smile means, and therein lies its charm. It may say, “Oh no, I wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing,” or “Ah, well, I am laying the whole world under contribution and you, my dear young lady, cannot hope to escape.” This latter is the more correct interpretation; for the suspicion that the author looks upon the rest of the world as ‘copy’ is, I am sure, not misplaced.
There is another kind of author different from, and even actively opposed to, the University type. Indeed he holds the University man in contempt. This latter, we now learn, is a despicable creature, a prig who prides himself on his academic training and on his reading of other literatures. In the eyes of the artist in letters–that is what this second type thinks of itself–the University man is not an artist at all. The artist-author type pronounces Art with a capital A–you can feel the capital even when the word is spoken; and the r in that word Art is artistically slurred. The University man poor fool, thinks that a knowledge of grammar and a reading of orthodox conventional criticism equips him for creative work. The artist knows that these are really fatal to genius–‘as killing as canker to the rose’ is the phrase that occurs to one’s mind; these influences can only result in a hide-bound puritanical view of art. Listen to these University men talking of the appropriate theme or the appropriate word in a particular context! As if taboos can for a moment be accepted in the world of art. Why, these people are afraid of the facts of life! You can kill them with the bare mention of a kiss! We are believers in the unfettered freedom of the artist, and we recognise no bounds which the critic would set–neither in literature nor in life. This section among authors, realising as it does the close affinity between authors and artists in general, adopt those external characteristics of the artist which I have already mentioned, the stubbly beard, the long hair, and the mincing gait. But I wouldn’t now claim them as part of the stamp of the author. They have fallen into disfavour of late. Too many non-authors stole this thunder. So now it survives not so much among authors as among those who ply the brush or the chisel. But the cigarette still remains a necessity, though I think that with some a powdered Lady Nicotine finds more favour. The long hair is still visible; among us the long white jubba with the pockets along the sides corresponds to the poetical singing robes of the West.
But the jubba and the cigarette are after all mere externals. The strong point of the artist-author is something else. He calls it soul. The University man also is keen on it; but he foolishly imagines, brought up as he is on reactionary authors like Wordsworth, that he can get it from Nature.
The artist-author believes in this thing but his ideology does not permit of his calling it soul. Whatever the name to be given to it, he does not believe that Nature helps its growth. Against the fading charms of the green grass and the purling stream may stand the vision of a dream girl. But even the love of women is a personal affair, great though it is. These are days when we think in terms of society. I have a notion that the artist-author has slightly reddish eyes. The colour of course denotes what is normally called soul–it doesn’t exist of course, but let us use the term–a soul burning with indignation at the thought of the enemies of society who snatch from the bleeding lips of the starving millions their meagre allowance of bread. The artist-author holds that true creative art ought to treat of these themes–of the enemies of society, of the rivers of blood they shed, of the hunger of the millions and all the rest of it. All this along with a modicum of hope; optimism you can see in the longing wistful eyes of the artist-author which look into the future, the not very distant future, and see a land where the capitalist and tire bourgeois cease from troubling–a land flowing with milk and honey meant exclusively for the workers of the world.
I do not know whether I have given a formula which sums up the author; but I am hoping I have given indications which will help you to recognise an author when you see one. But strictly speaking, I would not call authorship a profession–not in the Kannada world. If it is, it is a profession which does not pay.
1 By courtesy of A. I. R., Mysore.