M. K. Naik is a familiar name in criticism of Indian Writing in English . When we think of criticism in Indian Writing in English, the names of K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar, C.
D. Narasimhaiah and M. K. Naik flash in our minds. Naik is more than a critic. He wrote, criticized and translated a bulk of Indian Writing in English. Besides, the people of Indian Writing World know that he (Naik) is known for his wit and humour. One can really enjoy the sparkling dialogue with him. One never gets fatigued with him.
The interviewer has good fortune of meeting Naik in Pune on 7th June, 2009 at his residence, and recording an interview. Given below is the transcription of the interview which may be useful to the lay reader as well as the tribe of students and researchers engaged in meaningful research.
Q. If you are asked to choose one of your books, which book would you choose?
Ans. The answer is very clear that the book is A History of Indian English Literature, published in 1982 by Sahitya Akademi. I say so not because the book was published into several editions and hundreds of copies are sold, but because it costs me a great deal of labour. The grant of a National Fellowship by the University Grants Commission enabled me to work on a project, which had been at the back of my mind for a number of years viz., A History of Indian Writing in English. A regular systematic history like this had not been attempted earlier. My History, therefore, flourished beyond the expectations of both author and publishers.
Q. What are the influences on you?
Ans. I stood first in English at the B. A. examinations. I got an opportunity to meet Barr. Balasaheb Khardekar. I spoke to Khardekar that I wanted to study Marathi Literature. Khardekar said No. Marathi is your mother tongue. So, you should study English literature because after independence of the country we need English teachers and English researchers.
Bertrand Russell impressed me for his simple, lucid and elegant style.
The large family of my uncle and a good library at home influenced me. There was the public library in the town one of the best of its kind.
- You seem to specialize in Fiction- Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao,
- K. Narayan, Somerset Maugham and T. S. Eliot. Is there any specific reason?
Ans. That is very interesting question. I grew up with my uncle who had at home with six daughters. These children play themselves. I isolated myself from them. The house has a good library; there are copies of a couple of newspapers, and there a number of magazines. So, I grew in this atmosphere, and inculcated reading the novels.
Q. There is often the mention of the Indianness or Indian sensibility in Indian Writing in English. Do you think this to be a valid approach? How would you define the concept of Indianness?
Ans. We have to study Indianness. We are to ensure that our authors are rooted in their soil. “Our aesthetic can not be divorced from our roots.” The last thirty pages of Azadi is a good example.
Q. There are a few translations also to your credit. What made you do them?
Ans. My mother tongue is Marathi. I am a bilingual. Translated- both ways: from English into Marathi, my language, and vice versa, had always interested me. My wife is B.A. with Marathi and she used to help me in translation.
Q. What makes you to write novel Corridors of Knowledge at the end of your career. What do you want to tell your readers through your novel?
Ans. I tried to put my memories of the last thirty years that I spent on the campus of the University. The readers may find what they want. I do not want to say anything to the readers.
Q. You do not seem to subscribe any of the theories currently in fashion- Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, Deconstruction etc.
Ans. Two answers are possible. The new theories are applied to language and not to literature. Criticism becomes one sided. We must learn from all the disciplines.
Q. In light verse, you not only reveal yourself as a poet but also as a critic. It is a rare combination of a poet’s vision and a critic’s authority. Do you agree?
Ans. I can only say that I am fascinated by light verse; I have read E. C. Bentley and Edward Lear. Light verse naturally came to me and applied the technique to Indian light verse.
Q. How do you react to the title. “Big Three” of Indian Criticism in English? How do you compare yourself with K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar and C. D. Narasimhaiah? In what way are you different from them?
Ans. Label-sticking is a pastime. There is no meaning. Iyengar and Narasimhaiah are stalwarts. Indian Writing in English was the result of
Iyengar’s lectures that he gave at the University of Leeds. He was a pioneer in the field. Narasimhaiah introduced Indian Writing in English in most of the Universities of India. Narasimhaiah introduced Kanthapura at the university and college levels. I have tried to be a balanced critic of Indian Writing in English.
Q. It is not fair to ask you about the main features of your style of writing. Shyamala A. Narayan has written much about your style. Do you want to say anything about your style, that Shyamala A. Narayan has missed in writing?
Ans. Shyamala A. Narayan has inevitably done a thorough job. My style is lucid, clean, brief and to the point. I am influenced by Somerset Maugham, B. Russell and Lukacs.
Q. It is said that there is always a woman behind the great man. What is the contribution of your ‘captain’s captain’ in your academic career?
Ans. The contribution of my ‘Body guard’ is in two ways – I am a kind of academic person. She never disturbed my work, nor do I in her. She pursued her own ways, her own inspirations. Second, she is a student of Marathi literature. She helped me in the translation work.
Q. Do you feel the sense of fulfillment now?
Ans. I have a sense of fulfillment. I am reminded of an apple-picker in Robert Frost’s “After Apple-Picking”. The apple-picker has done the day’s job, yet he has by him an empty barrel and there is a bough he has not picked upon. But he is tired completely. The scent of the apples is heavy on him and he must now run home and drowse off. My sense of fulfillment is similar to that of the apple-picker.
Q. What message would you like to give to the budding critics?
Ans. I admonish the budding critics to put their findings in a very useful and remarkable manners.
Q. What are your plans of writing now?
Ans. Now I am 84. I look forward and not backward. I have done a lot in fiction, criticism. I have not done much for short stories. Now I am planning to write short stories. I have already written seven short stories, based on Indian legends and mythologies. My stories are historical and mythological.
The interviewer concludes his interview with these words : Sir, you are now 84 years; God bless both of you and prolong your life.