ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Bilingual Intellectuals in Karnataka

This is a brief response to Ramachandra Guha’s “The Rise and Fall of the Bilingual Intellectual” (EPW, 15 August 2009). Guha has written with that lucidity and felicitous tone which he has accustomed us to expect from him. But, I think, a couple of points in his paper invite comment. And they relate essentially to Karnataka and Kannada both of which I belong to.

Guha states that R K Narayan was “equally fluent in Tamil and Kannada”. I fear this is not so. Narayan, whom I had the honour of knowing, although not as intimately as some others in the city of Mysore, spoke Kannada with a distinct and unmistakable Tamil intonation, leaving you in no doubt that it was a Tamilian at work in an “alien” tongue. Also I believe he could not read/write Kannada and this I have ascertained from a few junior contemporaries of his. As far as I know, he hardly ever ventured to speak in public in Kannada (to be fair he was a reluctant public speaker anyway!). At best, therefore, Narayan’s bilingualism must stay confined to English and Tamil. Indeed his relative unfamiliarity with the world of Kannada did provoke, off and on, critical reaction from the “locals”.

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