Dr. Vishwanath Bite: Will you tell us something about yourself (place of birth, school and anything in between)?
Basavaraj Naikar: I was born in Naragund of the then Dharwad district in Karnataka on August 1, 1949. I was educated in the Practising School of Government Training College for Men, Dharwad from the first standard to the fourth standard, i.e. 1956 to 1960 under the care of my maternal grandmother and grandfather. Then I studied in the then Municipal High School at Naragund from the fifth standard up to Matric or SSLC from 1960 to 1966 under the care of my parents. During this period I lost my father in 1963, which came as a blow to the entire family and landed us in deep financial crisis. I was trained in classical Hindustani vocal music by Sri Dattubuwa Thakurdas at Naragund and passed three examinations in music conducted by Gandharva Mahavidyalaya of Pune. My father wanted me to be a professional musician, but my music teacher advised my father to continue my education first and then think of a musical career. But the unexpected death of my father upset all our future plans. Then we shifted our family to Dharwad, where I completed my Bachelor of Arts with English as my major subject and Sanskrit and Kannada as minor subjects at Karnataka Arts College in 1970 and Master of Arts with American Literature and Indian English Literature as my optional subjects.
Bite: What motivates you to write? And why did you choose the historical genre?
Naikar: I wish to be known as a creative writer as I am rather disillusioned with the world of criticism, which is ever growing stale and dated. I choose the genre of historical novel or drama because I feel that we Indians have very little historical consciousness as compared with our vast and variegated history. I wish to write about the historical celebrities of my area i.e. North Karnataka and get national and international recognition for them.
Bite: Which books did you find yourself reading whilst growing up and which are you currently reading?
Naikar: Right from the beginning of my childhood I was nourished on religious and spiritual literature. My maternal great-grandfather initiated me into the mellifluous religious poetry of Nijaguna Sivayogi during my primary school days. Then my father initiated me into the religious literature of Allamaprabhu and Basaveswara during my High School Days. During my College and University days I was reading philosophical books, although I was not formally trained in philosophy. Now also I divide my reading time between secular literature and religious/philosophical literature.
Bite: Which writers have influenced your writing?
Naikar: I admire writers like Kuvempu, Karanth, B. Puttaswamayya, S. L. Bhyrappa, Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Jawaharlal Nehru, Swami Vivekananda, Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao, Nirad Chaudhuri, Khushwant Singh and Chaman Nahal among others. All these writers seem to have influenced me directly and indirectly. But it is for the critics to study this aspect of my creativity.
Bite: When did you begin your literary writings?
Naikar: I began my creative writing as early as 1970, when I was still an M.A. student. In fact I wrote my first story entitled “Fulfillment” at that time, but did not publish it until I was fifty years of age, simply because I could not receive any guidance or encouragement from any senior writer due to a variety of reasons.
Bite: How would you describe your stories and your writing?
Naikar: I believe that my stories are basically realistic but are inbuilt with philosophical and symbolic dimensions.
Bite: How do you see the Literary Scene in India? Is it progressing or retrogressing?
Naikar: Nowadays the writing scene is very encouraging and inspiring with so many publishers coming forward to publish the budding writers. There are also a number of small and big prizes and awards instituted for Indian English writers. It has been growing very fast quantitatively but rather slow qualitatively.
Bite: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Naikar: I consider Rohinton Mistry and Amitav Ghosh as very interesting writers from India. Of course I admire the enfant terrible of letters, Salman Rushdie whole- heartedly.
Bite: Did you learn anything from writing your books and what was it?
Naikar: By writing my books I realized the Baconian dictum that writing maketh an exact man. It helps me to make my ideas clear to me.
Bite: Where do you get information or ideas for your books?
Naikar: I keep on reading vastly both in Kannada and in English; not merely literature but history, religion and philosophy. The new ideas begin to germinate in my mind for a while until I decide to write about them.
Bite: What are the most important elements of good writing? According to you, what tools are a must-have for writers?
Naikar: A good command over the language and clarity of thought combined with poetic, symbolic and philosophical dimensions are the important elements of good writing according to me. Good writing should have a rich texture of cultural details and it should not be bald and colourless.
Bite: Shall we expect any more books from you in future?
Naikar: Definitely, yes. I do not know how many books I may write in future. Bite: Tell us something about your translations
Naikar: I have translated both ways, from Kannada into English and vice versa. I have translated the plays of J. M. Synge, Tagore, Terence and Breckt, some French stories, Beowulf and Epic of Gilgamesh into Kannada. Right now I am busy translating Dante’s The Divine Comedy into Kannada prose. Similarly I have translated some plays and epics from Kannada into English, like Fall of Kalyana, Sangya: Balya: A Tale of Love and Betrayal, The Vacanas of Sarvajna and The Frolic Play of the Lord (Prabhulinga Lile). I believe that translation is of enormous importance in our multilingual country. If every Indian teacher of English had translated at least one regional classic into English during these sixty years of Independence, most of our rich literary heritage would have been available in English and reached the world. But our English teachers have been criminally wasting their time in parroting the Western critical theories without enriching the global literature with the local literature.
Bite: Many critics found that your translation of Kalburgi’s Fall of Kalyana is culturally richer than Karnad’s Tale-Danda, What do you think?
Naikar: I am happy that many critics have noticed this truth. I felt deeply disappointed by Karnad’s Tale Danda. When Karnad showed the Kannada version of it to the famous scholar, Dr. M.M.Kalburgi, the latter did not like it and suggested to Karnad to change it, but Karnad did not wish to make any changes to the play. Dr.
R.C. Hiremath, the great scholar of Vacana Literature also did not like Karnad’s play. Those, who belong to Basava’s religion, find Karnad’s Tale Danda to project a partial, reductive and prejudiced vision of Basava’s life and mission. He has totally ignored the mystic dimension of Basava’s personality and concentrated only on the social aspect of his life and even takes an anti-Basava and pro-Brahmanical stand in it. His intention is to highlight only the negative side of Basava’s life. That is why M.M.Kalburgi had to write his Fall of Kalyana as an answer and corrective to Karnad’s unimpressive play. Fall of Kalyana is definitely richer than Karnad’s Tale Danda as it highlights the central concepts of Basava’s religion and philosophy and offers a comprehensive picture of his life.
Bite: How will you differentiate your historical novels from those of other Indian Writers?
Naikar: This question has to be answered by Indian English critics and not by me. But I can say that I am impressed and perhaps influenced by the writings of Manohar Malgonkar, Khushwant Singh and Chaman Nahal. I would like to write as seriously as they have done.
Bite: What Challenges do you find whilst translating from Kannada to English?
Naikar: The main challenge in translating from my mother tongue, Kannada into English is that of transferring the culture specific values into an alien language and finding the equivalent terms for the Kannada technical terms. All the Indian scholars, who wish to translate from their regional languages into English, have to face this problem and solve it in an intelligent way.
Bite: Tell us something about your recent novel The Queen of Kittur.
Naikar: You may not believe me if I say that I have taken twenty one years to collect the relevant information, both written and oral; and to mould it into the structure of a historical novel. I started the venture in 1989 and wrote the first draft within a year, but there were several gaps in it to be filled in. The source material, which was available in print both in Kannada and in English, was rather scanty, fragmentary, unsystematic, i.e. anachronistic, exaggeratedly patriotic, sentimental and many times unreliable. I had to shift the chaff from the grain of truth, study the serious historical documents like the Persian documents (in translation), Government Gazetteers, authentic oral versions not available in print, and folk literature etc, and synchronize, systematize and present it sequentially or chronologically so that a convincing total picture of the rise and fall of Kittur kingdom may emerge. Dr. V.G. Marihal, one of the admirers of Rani Chennamma and the kingdom of Kittur, examined my manuscript in its formative sage and suggested many corrections, which I have incorporated into the novel. He was eager that I should publish the novel at the earliest. But I was not willing to publish it until and unless I was satisfied with it. I published it in 2009 only when I had cleared all my doubts and filled in all the gaps, but alas Dr. Marihal was no more to see it in print. I, therefore, dedicated the novel to him so that his soul may rest in peace and satisfaction in Heaven.
Bite: How will you judge the body of Contemporary Indian English Literature?
Naikar: I am happy to notice that the Indian English literature has been growing fast, as there has been a spurt in the publishing world with several awards and prizes being instituted by various firms to encourage the young and budding writers. The quantity of contemporary literature is quite impressive, although the quality is not up to the mark.
Bite: What message would you like to give to readers?
Naikar: I cannot give a message as I am not a messiah, but I would like to suggest to the Indian readers of Indian English literature not to be unduly influenced by the media hype extended to the diasporic writers, but to read and study the native Indian English writers and examine them from the truly Indian perspective without depending upon the white gods (western critics and their jargon) and develop an Indian idiom and critical tradition based on Indian sociology, psychology, philosophy, religion and aesthetics. The Western critics do not like our parroting their own jargon, but would appreciate our native concepts and ideologies if we apply them intelligently. The best way to overcome this intellectual slavery is to convert all the Departments of English in Indian Universities into those of Comparative Literature, so that we may study the eastern and western concepts comparatively and contrastively thereby developing a new synthesized outlook. We should not depend upon the Western appreciation for our survival and achievements.
Bite: Should we expect autobiography what are your plans about it?
Naikar: I have already started writing my autobiography, but it is rather slow. It may take one full year or so, as I have to ransack my mind meticulously for details.
Bite: What do you think of the publishing scene in India?
Naikar: I am happy to notice that several amateur publishers have been coming up and helping the young writers. But still the publishers are not free from their communal and regional prejudices. The so-called big publishers of India are very choosey, partial and amenable to political and other influences. They do not encourage the promising writers on an impersonal level. They need to be influenced through proper, but unmentionable channels, which is a sad affair. Most of the publishers exploit the authors by not paying them any royalty for their hard labour of years together or decades together. The Indian Government should make it mandatory for the publishers to print a minimum of thousand copies and pay the standard royalty of 25% to the authors failing which they should be punished with heavy fine and imprisonment.
Bite: What message would you like to give upcoming writers?
Naikar: I would like to advise the young Indian writers to study the Indian culture, religion, philosophy, sociology, aesthetics, regional and Sanskrit literature at least briefly( if possible deeply) before venturing into the writing career. They should study the techniques of classical and regional literatures and try to employ them in their writing rather than borrowing the western modes of writing. This is possible only if the Indian writers have a bilingual or multilingual knowledge. It is not possible for those who are educated only in English medium and therefore know nothing about Indian culture authentically.
Bite: What is the role of the Central Sahitya Akademi in popularizing the Indian English Literature?
Naikar: The central Sahitya Akademi has a great role to play in the literary realm of India.
Unfortunately now it has remained only as a bureaucratic centre. But it should be converted into a permanent research centre, where all the publications in all the languages of India including Indian English should be reviewed, annotated and compiled into yearly volumes and later incorporated into literary histories once in every ten years. This should be an ongoing and permanent project. The Encyclopedia of Indian Literature should be updated once in every ten years and compulsorily sold to all the educational institutions in India. Instead of one literary award for the Indian English writer, it should institute five awards for five divisions of India like north, south, east, west and central part so that the budding Indian writers will be properly encouraged.