See transcriber's note

The improvement of Kanarese

B M Srikantiah





B. M. Srikantaiah, M.A., B.L.

B.M. Sri Memorial Foundation



Bharataratna Sir M. Visvesvaraya came over to the princely State of Mysore as its Chief Engineer in 1909. He was appointed as its Dewan in 1911. During his tenure as Dewan he administered the affairs of the State with honesty, dynamism, dignity and imagination. Under his able administration the State achieved all-round progress and came to be known as a Model State. The style of his administration was unique and quite novel in the sense that he originated and developed the concept of planning in the governance of the State. With a view to giving concrete shape to his idea of planning he set up a standing consultative body known as the Mysore Economic Conference in 1911. It comprised three Committees, namely, the Industries and Commerce Committee, the Education Committee, and the Agriculture Committee. Visvesvaraya himself was the Chairman of the Industries and Commerce Committee. H. V. Nanjundiah, who later became the first Vice-Chancellor of the Mysore University, was the Chairman of the Education Comuittee. Deparimentai officials, experts in their respective fields and prominent public persons were the nominated members of these Committees. The Economic Conference was not meant to be a show-piece; Visvesvaraya implemented most of the important recommendations of the Committees of the Conference. The establishment of the Mysore University and the Karnataka Sahitya Parishat were a direct result of the recommendations of the Education Committee.

What is of immediate interest to us in the context of the publication of this thought-provoking lecture on “The Improvement of Kanarese,” delivered by B. M. Srikantia, apart from the pervasiveness of his inquiry into the problem of the improvement of the mother-tongue, is the question as to what or who prompted the establishment of the Karnataka Sahitya Parishat (now called Kannada Sahitya Parishat). It is generally believed that Sir M. Visvesvaraya was responsible for staring the Parishat. No doubt it was he who gave full support to the establishment of the institution which later became the foremost literary institution of Karnataka as a result of the yeoman services rendered by eminent literary men like D. V. Gundappa, B. M. Srikantia, Masti Venkatesha Iyengar, and others. But it is generally not known that it was B. M. Srikantia who first mooted the idea of establishing “a sort of Academy” during the course of this lecture delivered before the members of the Education Committee. A little elaboration is necessary to make my point explicit: In the course of his lecture he put forward a plan of action for the all-round development of Kannada which would largely depend on the production of “Good, stimulating books for the general culture of our people, written in the living idiom of the people themselves, raised to a literary standard, neither learned nor hard on the one side, nor slang and vulgar on the other.” “To attain this object”, he suggested that “it is essential to have the co-operation of a special class of writers, a general class of writers, and direction and help from an authoritative source.” He was clear in his mind as to the method to be followed to attain the desired objective. In his considered opinion, “teaching upto the degree should be so arranged that a special set of boys, who will later become the captains of our book-making industry, can master along with other subjects three languages – English, Sanskrit and Kanarese,” When the Mysore University was established in 1915, B. M. Srikantia must have felt happy that his ideas in that direction would materialise in due course. Of what avail would be the rise of a class of writers without a readership, without encouragement and patronage? And so, he liked “to see Kanarese made compulsory for all boys” (We may now add, and girls), which would “give us a large body of intelligent readers”. He further wanted “an authoritative source” from which would flow “direction and help”, encouragement and patronage, to writers. He said; “… the various governments concerned with Kanarese will, as they have been doing already, encourage writers systematically and on settled principles, and may even see their way to establish a sort of Academy (italics mine) with power to lay down general principles to map out a course of production and to reward any work that is done in an excellent manner and to print and distribute it if necessary, among the people at large.”

What a splendid dream! Much water was flown under the bridges of Kaveri and Tungabhadra since B. M. Srikantia spoke, and it is not necessary to go into the details as to how and in what measure his dream has materialized. It is now a part of our history. That apart, this lecture is as inspiring and motivating as when it was delivered some fifty years ago. It is now the privilege of the B. M. Sri. Memorial Foundation to place this second impression of the lecture in the hands of all those who love and cherish their mother-tongue.

A word by way of explanation: I have taken the liberty of substituting “Kannada”, the actual form of the word, in the place of the obsolete “Kanarese”, which was coined by the Englishman in India, in the cover-title, with apologies to the late revered soul.

It would not have been possible to bring out this publication but for the permission so readily given by Dr. S. G. Srikantia, grandson of B. M. Srikantia. The Foundation is grateful to him for this generous gesture. It is quite an accident that we came to have acopy of the lecture, probably the only one available, and the Foundation is very much obliged to Sri S. Ramachandra, nephew of B. M. Srikantia, for kindly presenting it to the institution.

Sree Raghavendra Printers have done a good job. We are thankful to them.

May 4, 1987




The Improvement of Kanarese



Many of you here, Iam sure, are devoted readers of Milton, and appreciate the intense patriotism with which he gave up composing in Latin and chose to write his best poetry in English. Milton was by no means a poor Latinist and a poem in Latin would then have been read all over Europe, as a poem in Sanskrit is read all over India. But Milton was also a lover of his country and his mother-tongue. He no doubt knew that it would be hard to arrive at even the second rank among the Latins, but that was not the point that decided his choice. “If were to write for three lives”, he says, “there ought no regard to be had than to God’s glory by honour and instruction of my country.” He therefore applied himself to fix all the industry and art he could unite to the adornment of his native tongue; and made it the ambition of his life” to be an interpreter and relater of the best and sagest things among my own citizens throughout my land in the mother dialect; that what the greatest and choicest wits of Athens, Rome or Modern Italy and those Hebrews of old, did for their country, I, in my proportion, might do for mine—not caring to be once named abroad, though perhaps I could attain to that, but content with these British islands as my world”.

This pride of Milton in his native dialect and this sense of a duty to be performed towards his countrymen through the vernacular, are both in the right spirit and must warm the hearts of all men who sincerely love their vernacular and recognise the duty to use it as an instrument in the great task of emancipating the minds of their fellow-beings. Every nation, great of small, with any pretension to self-respect and insight into means of development, loves its language and labours to cultivate it so that it can give beautiful and powerful expression to the best knowledge and aspiration available in the country, if not in the whole world. It is no great matter that the nation is a small community negligible in international relations, or that the language has not already been polished to a degree of perfection that will make pride in it an easy and natural thing. Every community ought to make it a matter of duty to glory in its vernacular, and be able to glory init on right grounds and with the agreement of dispassionate observers. Rather than grow up like the grass that flowereth today, and tomorrow withereth and is cast into the oven; rather than eddy about like dust in bustle and anxiety, leaving no mirror for the coming ages to look into and learn what manner of men their forefathers were; rather than breathe on a deaf and dumb people, hearing nothing, speaking nothing, having no bonds of union between a multitude sunk in ignorance and a minority enlightened but proud in its isolation—no common sympathies, no common aspirations, nobly uttered and loyally cherished from generation to generation; rather than live like this and die like this, shadows of a day, linking ourselves neither with yesterday nor with to-morrow, should we not take thought in all seriousness and set about consolidating and popularising our literature in the past and producing for ourselves and our descendants a great and useful literature in the new spirit which they will not willingly let die?

What is it, now, that makes a language or literature helpful, influential, great? Languages there are that loom large in the eyes of the world for their political and economic value, if for nothing else; for example, English. Spoken by large millions of people, with a long history and a great literature, and spread over a greater Britain that is washed by many a strange sea, it contains within itself not only excellent artistic writing but all kinds of technical information, and has very nearly become the universal medium of commerce. Other languages, again, there are, which, though dead, live on imperishably and command the loving homage of all scholars for their artistic and literary value, for example,Greek ; or for their religious and philosophic value, for example, Sanskrit. Kanarese can hardly be named along with these for political and economic value, for artistic and literary value, or for religious and philosophic value. In all these respects, one might say without doing great injustice that it is feeble and poor. Not much of any real value, an adverse critic might go on to say, has been achieved by it in the past, nor isitat all likely, so helpless is the speech and such a mere handful are the speakers that it will achieve much in the future. Gentlemen, let us not silence our local patriotism in this way. A language of its own accord can do nothing. It is neither born great, nor does it achieve greatness of itself. A speech is what its speakers make it; and in despising it, we are only despising ourselves. Remember, again, that language has a necessary function to serve inacivilised community; that with this function, neither the area nor the population of the country, neither its political nor its economical status, has got anything to do; and that for conscious and expansive civilisation apart from daily routine of business, it is absolutely essential that the language should be made efficient and the literature life-giving. So, instead of fouling our own nest and talking as if it were all the fault of the language that it is no nobler than it is, do not you think we should live better, think better, express ourselves better, until we have made it useful and good, even though we may never be able to make it great and unique? In the social transformation in which we are all interested, could we not employ it as a powerful weapon, and not the least effective, seeing that all sound change comes from within the mind and the heart, to which only language can appeal?

This work of developing our vernacular is therefore necessary not merely for patriotism and love, but also for social utility and philanthropic inspiration. It is the surest means of educating the great mass of people both liberally and technically. Education on general lines in school and outside can proceed with great facility and speed by a large output of good and stimulating books in Kanarese. English is here out of the question: I do not suppose we can afford the cost, and the time, and the strain, and the denationalisation. On the other hand, using Kanarese, we can impart elementary education to women and the populace and supplement it afterwards by self-education at home by bringing the University to their door in the shape of Kanarese books suited to the general reader. This will also lessen the intellectual cleavage between women and men in the higher classes, and help to close up the social gulf that now yawns between them and the lower classes. And those that have been able to advance in English only to a limited extent can turn to the vernacular and take in fresh knowledge with less study and effort. And lastly, as regards education for special callings, the vernacular can do a good deal to spread technical knowledge and inspire economic activity in the people at large.

It is thus clear that not merely patriotic feeling, but, even more urgently, the economic need of a general and speedy education of the common people and the want of that intellectual currency which should exist as a motive power in every refined community, require that we should improve our language and create in it a new literature and a new press filled with modern ideas and ideals and make them available to the common man. How is this improvement of the Kanarese language and literature to be brought about? The improvement of the language and the improvement of the literature are not wholly dissociated things the one involves the other. In improving the literature we will, of course, be improving language as well, and to develop the literature we shall certainly find it essential that the language should first be developed. Technically speaking, however, we can take up the two questions separately and discuss each in its own field.

A language like ours which is defective is improved when it is made capable of expressing all the thoughts of those that speak it. It is also improved when the words are not only there, like so many stones, but are drilled by being charmed into their places in the wall by the magical harp of the born man of letters. Development of language has thus two sides — the vocabulary or the words and the eloquence or style.

Let us look at our vocabulary first. Kanarese is not a merely spoken dialect but a language with an extensive and long cultivated literature. It has not been isolated in its history but has had the impact of foreign tongues — first, and for a long time, Sanskrit and Prakrit, then Mahratti and Hindustani, and latterly English, with just a sprinkling of Portuguese and French. The vocabulary has thus already been developed to a great extent and can efficiently cope with any amount of work that is purely of a literary character. One may even Say that for all subjects of ordinary importance, literary or social, our word-hoard is tolerably sufficient, But when the topic is scientific or technical, and even when, in literary and social topics, the ideas or objects to be mentioned are the products of the new civilisation, we shall find our vocabulary wanting. For names of new objects — things, countries, peoples, articles of commerce, inventions, comforts ; for names of institutions legal, political, social, religious; for abstract ideas concerning art, literature, science and philosophy, our vocabulary is undoubtedly defective. Addition of words is thus a clear necessity. But how do languages gain new words? The genius of some languages permits them to grow words by composition, but generally it may be said that the natural attitude of languages is to borrow whatever is necessary and rarely to invent or coin out of their own elements. People at large lack the energy, the intelligence and the love of elegance that are required for the latter task and therefore resort to free and extensive borrowing, Scholars and men of letters are naturally fastidious and conservative, and would like to show their ingenuity by composition and coining. Both ways there is danger. A glut of loan-words would spoil the purity and propriety of the vernacular; free and reckless coining would make it artificial and academic. Without going minutely into the question, I may state here my own opinion that a compromise should be struck between the claims of the purists and the borrowers and that, as a general rule, we should first make an earnest effort to analyse and compose the new idea in our own tongue, and when we do not succeed in hitting on something self-interpretive, we may add only such Hindustani and English words as are absolutely essential and are generally intelligible, exercising a greater freedom when we have to deal with scientific and technical topics.

So much for the need of adding to the vocabulary. I must now draw your attention to a process of rejection which, to my mind seems as important as addition, if indeed, it is not more important. It is well known that the Kanarese vocabulary in existing literature has a large portion of words borrowed from Sanskrit. Many of these have never been borrowed by the people and are not now current; they have been displayed by Pandits and are pedantic book-words. If we keep steadily to our object of instructing the average man in Kanarese, we must mercilessly apply the knife to all duplicate forms and synonyms and fling overboard all the Sanskrit lumber that smells of the lamp and adds neither to the grace nor to the strength of the native tongue. Indiscriminate and wanton borrowing from Sanskrit has made our books unreadable by even educated men and we may learn by this sad experience the need to restrain the eager borrower of today and caution him to borrow carefully, and soberly, and only when absolutely necessary.

But after all, language is a communal and historical growth, and the effect of individual talent on the vocabulary does not amount to much. A great writer can set words like gems in gold and leave them rich with lustre for later usage. He can occasionally widen the meaning of a word, give it a shade, a delicacy of meaning which filters down at once into common parlance. He can happily coin a new word which might be a possession for ever, but this is rather rare. Not to manufacture diamonds but to cut and refine them, not to mint coins but to gather and organise them to great ends—that is the work of genius in the mine and the treasure of language. It is to drill the language in style. Graceful forms of speaking, happy expressions of feeling, sublime audacities of thought, all that makes it easy for any one read in its literature to speak and write the language with dignity, with fluency, with eloquence, derives from this discipline administered to language by men who have the sense for style. In this discipline Kanarese seems to me to be specially weak: it has been lisping and prattling all along and has very rarely attempted the nobler and manlier flights of style. Development of Kanarese seems to me therefore to lie more in the direction of a cultivation of style by gifted writers than an addition to its stock of words. We must gradually acquire for educated men in general a sufficient amount of literary Charu and felicity which will enhance the value of the books they will write in the vernacular.

Let us now turn to the production of these books, to the improvement of literature. What is the kind of books which we stand urgently in need? The present industrial awakening of the State might predispose us to answer —scientific and technical books. That is not my view. It seems to me that the great work that has to be done in our language just now, is the awakening of the mind of our community, the refinement of the heart and the purification of the soul, not so much assisting worldly man in material comfort and aggrandisement. I am speaking here of literary and not of social activity which, of course, is wider. A nation must at all times be energetic about its economic development and if it is a nation like ours that has ignored or neglected that part of normal social activity, caring more for literary and moral improvement, it may even have to lay the latter aside for sometime and concentrate on the former till the balance is restored and the healthy and harmonious play of faculties on all sides can be secured and pushed on. One way of stimulating these economic activities is of course the writing of books and pamphlets in the vernacular, but let us not call them literature, Newton’s Principia, Darwin’s Origin of Species, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations are great books that have had a lasting influence on nations, but they are not literature. And I am to-day speaking of work to be done in one branch of social activity, that is, in literature. Have special and technical books in plenty, manage somehow to convey your meaning as you do in life, help yourself with any language you can lay hold of, pure or impure, eke it out with gesture, demonstration, personal supervision, apprenticeship, anything that will hand on to the pupil the special knowledge you wish to ground him in. Rather than coin Sanskrit words in which the various Indian vernaculars may not agree, which the learner may not easily understand, and which the shopkeeper will certainly not recognise, take the English words themselves where necessary and do not be fastidious about your vocabulary. In scientific and technical books no one will look for vocabulary and style: he looks for sound matter and substantial guidance. And books are only one, and that not the most important, medium of technical instruction.

More essential to our well-being than these special books are books that are literary and artistic, They are required to spread throughout the country the liberal knowledge imparted to us by the University and to appeal to the minds of our less fortunate brethren so that we may persuade them to reach after a higher and a saner life. In matters of religion and morality, in matters of art and literature, in matters of politics and social well-being, in matters of all kinds in which the condition of society requires to be sifted and transformed, those of us who are expected to be men of thought rather than men of action, can play the part of disinterested observers, suggesting ideals of action, stimulating the minds of the multitude and giving them anew temper and a broader outlook on the world, so that the intellect which has first been sharpened by a liberal education can afterwards easily adjust itself to any special calling or trade. Through liberal or artistic literature alone can we hope to do this missionary work of uplifting our people.

And to anyone who has doubts whether all this literature can be so easily made to order, whether good and great literature is not something like the wind whichbloweth where it listeth and sweeps more freely over the vast expanse of a great and powerful nation rather than within the narrow room of one that is small and insignificant to him that has any such doubts let me say in all earnestness that in matters of intellect small nations must feed as well as great ones and what they cannot grow at home they must import from abroad. We may be a small people not owning colonies and dependencies that will take up our language and instal it all over the globe, but then have we no life of our own to beautify, no soul of our own to expand and elevate? Genius we, may not have the fortune and the pride to produce, but who have set bounds to the talent that loving and patient toil can acquire, in order to bring genius of whatever race or creed down to the door of the humblest of our fellow-beings ? We have no doubt been accustomed to look upon literature as arare inspiration, a gifted and chance product. Without denying, to a large extent, the truth of that sentiment, we can at the same time change our point of view and look upon literature as a modern manufacture for international possession. We can cheerfully admit that the great originals are born not made; and at the same time assure ourselves that excellent and faithful copies of them can very well be made deliberately and systematically. If we are dwarfs, we can get on to the shoulders of the giants and make them carry us. If we cannot ourselves produce great books, we can at least imitate, adapt or translate all the best pieces of literature that the nations can provide us with. The treasures of the whole world lie open to us—ancient and modern languages, European and Indian Literary history tells us that Latin Literature grew upon Greek, and that the modern literatures of Europe have in their turn fed upon both of them. Modern English, we all know, has been despoiling Sanskrit and Zend, and is in no hurry to finish its works of exploring in the field of oriental literature, gleaning whatever book is fresh, and sound and thought-compelling. In India, again, all the vernaculars have been nourished upon Sanskrit and at the present day, coming to Mysore itself we find Kanarese enriching itself from Bengali, Telugu and Maharatti. We have only to carry the same operations further into the field and appropriate quietly, steadily, judiciously, the finest art and thought of the whole world, for the purpose of delighting and humanising ourselves and our people.

It may perhaps be objected here that for art and for thought we have no need to go out of India at all; in Sanskrit and Vernacular we have enough material to refine and delight the mind with artistic and liberal literature. With pride I agree: thanks to our ancestors, not the near ones but the remote, of that golden age which has now become a dream, we are not a new nation just stumbling into the ways of thought. But many of you will not agree with me, I fear, when I go on to say frankly that there seems to be a good deal of the primitive and the crude, the technical and the tedious about Indian literature and that it is not, from a modern stand point, sufficiently artistic and liberal. It is not the production of a completely civilised and harmoniously humanised society. The Indian spirit has risen from the earth and triumhantly beaten its wings at the gates of heaven, but the soil, the mire, the weed is still clinging to the bird, and I should be all the more proud, ail the more patriotic, with a clear conscience, if the daring bird would dip down into foreign fountains and wash itself clean before it rises again to fly into the very heaven of truth and beauty. But even if it should already be all that some of us would desire, what need is there for us to go about with blinkers to our eyes? Why should we, if you will pardon the metaphor, insist on being frogs in the well, croaking with our own conceit? What harm is there in looking at the same problems and the same arts with the eyes of the whole world? There is gain, I think, not harm: we shall learn to be more sympathetic and less exclusive, more tolerant and less dogmatic, more refined and less tedious. We need not think it lost labour, then, to add to our Indian stores from the emporiums of the western world, and try, in spite of Kipling, to make the west and the east meet in fuller harmony than has yet been achieved by either. And all this literary labour I look upon as a kind of manufacture of goods, with the best material and skilled workmanship that we can employ. And if it will not be the rare gem of literature that crowns a nation’s life, it will indisputably be sound enough material for a whole people to feed upon, in order to strengthen themselves for the hard and perplex- ing journey of our life on earth.


We shall now proceed to consider how this manufacture of books is to be organised and worked out, and what difficulties and problems are in the way. Let me state once again the object that we ought to have steadily in view. It is to produce good, stimulating books for the general culture of our people, written in the living idiom of the people themselves, raised to a literary standard, neither learned and hard on the one side, nor slang and vulgar on the other. To attain this object, it is essential to have the co-operation of a special class of writers, a general class of readers, and direction and help from an authoritative source. As for the writers, we can no longer help ourselves with amateurs and mechanical journey men; we must create an expert class of authors, who have a literary turn of mind and are content to lead the subdued life of a man of letters. These have to be trained and properly equipped at school so that they are made capable of learning more in that larger school of life where all school training matures, and are able to work with the ripe judgment and sound taste of a responsible artist in language. Next, as regards the position of Kanarese in school teaching, I believe most people concede that it has been unduly starved and needs to be more liberally nourished here- after. I cannot discuss the question here fully, but I should like to see Kanarese made compulsory for all boys up to the B. A. degree. That will give us a large body of intelligent readers who are brought up as young men to take interest and pride in their vernacular, who will encourage the writers with sympathy and patronage and keep them from hardening into a narrow and bigoted class and who will be centres of light for the mass of people who have just learnt to read, advising them and guiding them aright in their reading and appreciation. Lastly the various governments concerned with Kanarese will, as they have been doing already, encourage writers systematically and on settled principles, and may even see their way to establish a sort of Academy with power to lay down general principles to map out a course of production and to reward any work that is done in an excellent manner and to print and distribute it if necessary, among the people at large.

On the first point, I would like to lay a little more stress—that is, about the writers. Teaching up to the degree should be so arranged, I think, that a special set of boys, who will later become the captains of our book- making industry, can master along with other subjects, three languages—English, Sanskrit and Kanarese. A careful study of what passes for books among us at present has led me to that conclusion. Let us look at these books a little. First, there is the book by the Graduate. I am sorry to have anything ill to say of him- I have the honour to belong to the class myself—but I am here describing tendencies and results, not individuals. Well, the Graduate is mostly a man who is absorbed in some calling, salaried or independent, in which he turns out, let us hope, honest and substantial work for the country. He is pioneer in so many fields of social and political activity that it is idle to expect that he should, and absurd to charge that he does not, achieve great things for his vernacular. But surely he is not altogether without blame, or the system which trained him. Some- times one fears he has very little culture to pass on to his people, but even when he has it, how can he do that if he will not win their sympathy by keeping company with them and if he has not enough mastery over their daily speech ? Do we not hear people constantly saying that the educated are an exclusive set by themselves? The whole life and talk of the Graduate exposes him to the suspicion if not the contempt of his own people and he retorts with aloofness and severe disdain. He has no experience or impact of ideas in the society of his own people and no attachment to the past traditions of his own country. He lives, one might almost say, an alien in his own native land, and when he does condescend to write and improve his people, his book is rarely read. Then, there is the Pandit. My experience of Pandits is limited and of their great immemorial stronghold have not had glimpses of more than the bare wall. Still speaking from the Kanarese point of view, and also the modern, his position does not seem to be quite satisfactory. He is, no doubt, an indefatigable speaker and writer and his claim to have influence with the mass of people must generally be admitted. His themes and sentiments are to them as old wine and old friends, but his recommendation must stop there. The moment he meddles with the new movement, he is a child. Very often, it is not mere ignorance, but bitter antagonism and stubborn fe-action. And then his style! his sense of precision and dignity and correctness! How he despises the simple language of the people and will be nothing but an antiquated and spiritless pedant. Perhaps you will think that a criticism of this sort is unfair to the Pandit, or that it is merely to slay the slain. I am ready to admit that my estimate of the Pandit may be mistaken, but I cannot agree that his influence has been killed ; it takes, I am afraid, a good deal of killing. And I believe that the false Pandit must go and a true one developed. Lastly, there is the Popular Writer — often anonymous with whom nevertheless I have kept company many a dull hour, entering with zest into his vulgarity and levity and pompousness and aping of high style in lame metre. And how refreshing, but only as a contrast to the Pandit and as a token of the popular spirit, his folk-lore and ballad, his wild and absurd romance, his immoral morality and his rude jest and buffoonery; but then also, how dreary and profitless his discussions of Vedanta and the other philosophies, his allegories, his miracles, his superstitions, his fore-casts! And yet, he too has to be reckoned with. He caters to the common people and also to the women of the educated class. He, too, is a maker of books. The Graduate, the Pandit, the Popular Writer – these are our samples of authors today and what efficacy and virtue can you look for in these ? The Graduate, who has the key to all western learning but does not know Sanskrit and Kanarese, and is well-nigh a foreigner, not founded on the past, not rooted in the present, powerless to lead and to inspire; the Pandit, who possesses the ancient learning of the country but knows not English and despises Kanarese and is a dull pedant, an arrested intellect, with neither sympathy nor leading for the new life that the country ought to get; the Popular writer who keeps in touch with the folk and has vitality and humour but has neither English nor Sanskrit, and can neither tackle modern problems nor chasten his style under the touch of the sovereign masters—what, I say, can you expect from these partially trained and ill-balanced minds unless and until you decide to put the three into the cauldron and raise up a new man, not alien, not pedant, not rustic, but a full and varied spirit, choicely disciplined and broadened, nursed on the best literatures of the world, and passionately patriotic to do for his country what the great writers have done for theirs? If you will have the right sort of books and the right sort of press for the present need, you must agree to create this new Class of scholars—I shall gladly call them Pandits— knowing English, our cultural and political language, knowing Sanskrit, our spiritual and classical language, knowing Kanarese, our native and speaking language. Every man who wishes to labour in uplifting the mind of his countrymen must acquire the western ideas and spirit, assimilate them to Indian life and sentiment, and express his convictions persuasively in the living speech. This he can only do by equipping himself with these three languages – English, Sanskrit and Kanarese.

The want of such trained scholars is, to my thinking, the greatest obstacle at present to a speedy and large out- put of good vernacular books. Other difficulties — some of them of a very minor nature- may now be rapidly reviewed, with brief mention of such remedies, as easily suggest themselves to the mind.

First, the stress of secular and economic education has practically driven out Vernacular, as it has driven out religious education from schools and English reigns supreme. To a very great extent this is what we ought to welcome for we shall not exhaust in the near future all that we are receiving through English and all that English stands for at the present time. We certainly ought todo this, but we need not leave other things undone. We need not be studying English as though we were all English ourselves or were all going to be teachers and nothing else. It is a question whether we are not overdoing English, whether by better and more practical methods of teaching, and by fixing attention on what is cultural from the Indian point of view and cutting out what is merely pedantic and philological, we may not see our way to set free a certain amount of time and energy for Kanarese.

Secondly, the veneration we have for Sanskrit and the spell it has over us through our religious temperament, seem to me to have an excessively chilling effect on the study and development of the vernacular. Sanskrit scholars generally despise Kanarese; they have corrupted it with reckless infusion of Sanskrit book-words, and are disposed to hold it tight with the dead hands of grammar and rhetoric, and on the whole to treat it as a slave to be put only to menial tasks and not as a child that is one day going to be heir to the household. Then, in the curriculum of studies, Sanskrit is perpetually crossing the path of Kanarese and every suggestion to improve the position of the vernacular is saddled with a corresponding claim for the classical language. Again, a change from the narrow and dogmatic Sanskrit critical temper to English freedom and breadth of sympathy is absolutely essential to any literary progress in this country. Unless the Sanskrit Sir Oracle is dethroned and put in his proper place as only one of the advising Council, he will not let any dog bark while he speaks, and will not permit any writer to have native freshness when everything to the end of the world has been legislated for by him so cleverly and once for all, and Kanarese literature is not likely to go fearlessly forward with the modern movement.

I am aware that in my ignorance of the artistic value of Sanskrit literature, I may be minimising its importance too much. Modern prejudice may perhaps deny the liberal spirit of Sanskrit studies too vehemently. Still, it is within the limits of possibility, that Sanskrit is being overpraised. Sanskrit has not ruled the vernacular in the past so well that there is nothing left to be desired ; and people must be allowed to judge of the tree by the fruit—by looking at Sanskrit influence through the matter and style and spirit of vernacular books, making due allowance, of course, to the errors of bad imitation. It may also be doubted whether the right sort of Sanskrit books are being studied, the books that are peculiarly its glory, and whether they are being studied in the right spirit. method and proportion. How- ever, the question before us is not the exact value of Sanskrit studies, but what position it ought to occupy in moulding future literature in Kanarese and how far, if at all, it ought to compete with Kanarese in the curriculum of school studies. As between Kanarese and Sanskrit, and with respect to the school education of the generality of students, the question must be frankly faced and impartially decided whether the saving and nursing of Kanarese is not more imperative. I for one think that it is. But that does not mean that Sanskrit should be ignored; on the other hand, as a source of nourishment to the choice spirits of our nation who are to hand on the torch of learning, I hope I have sufficiently insisted on the great value of Sanskrit studies.

Thirdly, the rapid extension of Kanarese books is handicapped by the waste of energy due to a section of writers preferring old Kanarese or a peculiarly stilted and high-flown modern Kanarese. If our true aim is to popularise sound learning, then we must once for alj make up our minds to choose a free and natural modern Kanarese and develop it on the lines of Modern English, handing it down to later ages as a continuous literary dialect and preventing it from hardening into a petrified speech by keeping it in daily touch with the living idiom. Whether old Kanarese should altogether be abandoned, or how far we could use it in new books, is not the business of this paper to discuss.

Fourthly, the great mass of people are absorbed in vulgar literature and have no taste for anything higher. By a patient and sympathetic study of this literature, we can dive down into the mind of the populace and build afresh from there. A vigorous democratic spirit can thus be grafted on to the polished but effete aristocracy of life in letters.

Fifthly, the want of political unity among the KanareSe-speaking people has prevented cohesion and split up the language into dialects. We can minimise this evil by social and literary union with the men across the border and by means of conferences and agreement to use common text-books and grammar, which may secure a common standard of writing.

Sixthly, it is a common complaint that there isa spirit of indifference towards the language in the educated classes as well as the general public. Authors grumble that their books do not fetch even the cost of printing. But then authors are so apt to exaggerate the value of their books; and the educated and the general public have so many calls on their time and money. With the present social and literary awakening, however, things are sure to mend; and a supply of decidedly good books will be certain to create a large demand.

Finally, we are sadly in want of good editions of old classics, with introductions and notes on the English plan and a critical appreciation from the new standpoint. The interminably long books require to be abridged and stripped of their garrulities, conventionalities, absurdities and obscenities, and made handy, easily readable, concentrated and effective. Kanarese books very largely lend themselves to this treatment. These editions will serve to keep up continuity with the best of the past and afford a good training ground for future writers.

And now, gentlemen, I have laid before you an account of what I consider to be the difficulties in the way of improving our vernacular, and the methods by which, in spite of discouragement and scoffing, we might make an attempt to meet the great need. In this patriotic and ennobling work all educated men have a duty to discharge. Let me once more remind them of the great example of Milton, with his high ideals, his long and arduous preparation, and his splendid achievement in a life of whole-hearted devotion to his mother-tongue. Those of us who have dreams of leading a literary life can have no better model than Milton to fashion our lives upon. Seek character first, be a heroic poem first, Milton keeps on saying; out of character comes noble thought and noble deed. Let us lay that to heart—for everything, including literature, bases itself on character. Next, let us see if we have any talent. Should we in all sincerity and humility, think we have, let us keep out hot-handed ambition and dedicate ourselves to the service of society. Let all the ends we aim at be our country’s, our God’s and truth’s, Let us form the high- est ideals and begin work only after we have had the best training. If our call is to action we will leave our dearest schemes and go. If our call is to spread thought in the country, we will not waste ourselves, unless on business, in writing in English, where we cannot be tenth nor yet twentieth, but turn to our dear mother-tongue and be content like Milton to take our little province as our world.

Professor B. M. Srikantiah

Portrait of B.M.Srikantiah

Prof. B. M. Srikantia (1884- 1946) was the leading light of the renaissance in Kannada literature during the early decades of this country. His ‘English Geethagalu’, a bunch of about 60 lyrics translated from English into Kannada heralded what is now known as the Navodaya school of Kannada poetry. Though he was a Professor of English, he took to a serious study of classical Kannada poetry. With a view to creating a class of modern Kannada scholars, he got introduced Post-Graduate studies in Kannada when he was Registrar of the Mysore University. Besides English, he was proficient in Kannada, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu and Greek. Besides enriching Modern Kannada literature by his plays (‘Aswatthaman’ is his masterpiece), original poems (‘Honganasugalu’) and stimulating addresses, he strove for the cultural unification of Karnataka. His earliest address, ‘How Kannada can rejuvenate itself’, delivered at Dharwar in 1911 served as a blueprint for the development of Kannada literature. The present lecture, ‘The Improvement of Kanarese,’ is similar to the Kannada address in its thematic intention.

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Pradeep Gowda

Feb 23, 2024