Poornachandra Tejasvi (1938-2007) came out of the shadow of his illustrious father Rashtrakavi Kuppalli Venkatappa Puttappa (Kuvempu) very early as a youth. He established himself as a pre-eminent Kannada writer and one of the sharpest thinkers of his times.
Besides Kuvempu, Tejasvi was deeply influenced by socialist thinkers Ram Manohar Lohia and Shantaveri Gopalagowda. A farmer, an environmentalist and a photographer all combined within him to make him a multi-faceted personality. Though he was a contemporary of Navya (modernist) writers P Lankesh, UR Ananthamurthy, Chandrashekhara Kambara, and KS Nissar Ahmed, he strode a different path, as he lived amidst common people Maara, Pyaara, Mandanna, Kariyappa, Baira and Yengta out of his farmhouse in Mudigere in Chikmagalur district. His writing depicted his rootedness.
Tejasvi neither took up teaching nor sought a government job. Wider interests in photography, painting, and music also shaped his sensibilities. He captured the life events just as a photographer would do from behind the camera, without exaggerating, but putting it in a frame from a different angle. His interests and writings covered areas such as economics, politics, farmers' struggles, religion and culture, abolition of caste and environmental concerns among others. A series of his articles were published as a book entitled Hosa Vicharagalu (New Ideas), by Pustaka Prakashana in 2012.
His views on Kannada language and literary criticism offer interesting insights on how to treat Kannada in Karnataka, and they have a deeper significance for school education and all native languages.
Blind chauvinism towards one's native language and unreasonable fascination towards other languages are both detrimental, asserted Tejasvi. While the former pushes one towards becoming emotional, the latter places undue importance on foreign languages like English. The middle path of using the language as a means to think, communicate, transact, acquire and transmit knowledge from one generation to another is what he strongly believed in.
Given this rationale, he was a votary of mother tongue being used as a medium of instruction and English to be taught as a language at the primary education level.
Tejasvi was pragmatic in his view on how to ensure Kannada's survival. Despite its rich literary tradition of nearly 2000 years and having the second highest number of Jnanpith literary awards in the modern era, much depended on how Kannada was used in the day-to-day administration and economic sphere. Interestingly, he recommended development of Kannada software for e-administration on the lines of how China, Malaysia, South Korea and Brazil had adopted linux operating system.
Another revolutionary idea that he came up in the mid-1980s was to start a cooperative movement for publication of books in Kannada to encourage young writers disseminate their works. He also impressed upon the government authorities to study the model from neighboring Kerala.
The Karnataka government had undertaken the publication and sale of Kannada books at affordable prices in a massive way during the first Vishwa Kannada Sammelana held at Mysore in 1985. Such laudable efforts were more meaningful for the preservation of language and culture than merely celebrating the language in showy annual Sahitya Sammelanas. This was the way he believed society ought to work systematically on a long term basis to preserve its language and culture.
Tejasvi's observation that a meagre number of well-meaning small-time publishers were struggling to make ends meet, and that the government ought to do a lot more in reaching Kannada publications widely to masses through its large network of libraries is relevant even today. He disagreed with the notion that the interest for reading was waning among people. He advocated bringing in several language promotion and cultural academies under one umbrella and utilizing the government grants thereof towards meaningful purposes like publication.
He was of the view that the honorarium given for writers must be enhanced substantially. This was not merely for instilling confidence among younger writers that a full-time career in writing was feasible, but to support their own development and expand their horizon by procuring books, magazines, periodicals and travelling widely to attend relevant seminars and conferences.
He advocated common schooling system for the rural and urban, rich and the poor alike as he had seen that the disparity in quality of education between the two was not on account of medium of instruction alone.
Many of Tejasvi's ideas are yet to be implemented till date. A big hurdle in terms of vacating the Supreme Court order of May 2014 - entrusting the onus of choosing the medium of instruction for the children's primary education onto the parents - seems to be an uphill task. This has a bearing on the Centre and the states consensually working towards bringing in a constitutional amendment to ensure primacy to state languages in primary education.
However, an even bigger challenge is in terms of doing much more meaningful work on the ground to promote the state languages. For instance, we are still heavily dependent on English as the sole language of intellectual discourse in science and technology. By not encouraging original thinking in the native language, we are not only stifling intellectual leadership but also undervaluing learning and intellectual enterprise in our society.
In a recent article, Vijayaraghavan, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology has highlighted the importance of making bi-lingual professional education in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) attractive and economically viable. This implies that we should start generating meaningful discourse and production of literature in these subjects (and in social sciences) in Kannada too. This can happen only when an organic farmer, a school teacher, an anthropologist, an architect or a jurist in any part of our country is able to wield his own native language on ground zero just as the Germans, the French or the Dutch do.