Jayant Kaikini and his chemistry with lyrics6 min read
Having won his first Sahitya Academy Award at the age of 19, he then went on to win two more in his lifetime along with four South Indian Film Fare awards. Dr. Jayant Kaikini a famous poet, writer, columnist is also one of the most sought after lyricist in Kannada.
The passion that made him leave his work as a chemist got him a lot of praise and success but his struggle kept him a humble man who is adored by his followers not only for his writing but also for his joviality.
The 58-year-old writer who was one of the guest speakers for Article 19, a communication fest organised by Manipal Institute of Communication talked about his passion and his language in an exclusive interview to TMJ. Here are the excerpts:
You started off as a chemist. What drove the drastic career shift?
No, it was simultaneous for me. I have been writing right from my PUC days. I did my post graduation in biochemistry and even at that time I was reading and writing in Kannada. So my major writing happened when I was with science. After my post graduation, I went to Bombay in 1976 and worked there in a pharmaceutical industry called Procter & Gamble as a chemist for almost 23 years. Since then I have been writing. All my fiction, although I was based in Bombay, I wrote in Kannada. My writing, my short stories and poetry happened all together. Only this shift came very recently in the last 10 years because my factory closed down in Bombay. So I had to change, had to look for a new job. At that time I decided that I had enough of chemistry; let me try to live by my writing. Then I shifted to this line. I got a job as a content head of a television channel which was based on my credential as a writer. So ETV channel wanted to start a Kannada channel and I was their advisor. For that I shifted from Bombay to Hyderabad and then to Bangalore. But two years later, after I set that channel I realised again that it’s time for me to be on my own. So I left that job and I became the editor of a magazine called Avana – it’s a literary magazine in Kanada for arts and poetry and literature. It ran for around one and a half years then it also got closed. And then I didn’t know what to do and by then I had already come to Bangalore. I decided that I’ll now be a freelancer. Unfortunately, being a freelancer for a writer means doing things for free (laughs).
Being a Kannada writer do you think the English language and its literature acts as a barrier for regional languages to evolve?
That again depends and boils down to the fact on how long we’re going to have people studying in regional languages. Because most of the writers writing in regional languages are people who have studied in their regional language, till at least their 10th grade. Even I studied, till 10th in Kannada. Then I shifted into the English medium for chemistry. But whatever I did till then was enough for me to read and write for lifelong. Since now the regional languages are vanishing from the schools, this medium of instruction is vanishing from the schools, it’s a beginning of an end.
What about the decline in literature’s popularity as a subject people pursue and also how language is dumbing down?
Exactly! That’s because earlier, writers were looked up to. What a writer says or what some new thinker says – now the people in the parliament they don’t know who are writers, they just don’t care. The writing and writer has lost his position which is very crucial in a democratic society.
U.R Ananthamurthy, a great writer in Kanada, is nominated for the Man Booker International Prize. Do you see that as a great achievement or a big step for Kannada?
Good! But Anathmurthy is such a senior writer! It should’ve happened 50 years ago! The novel for which he is nominated, I think he wrote it in the 1970s! It’s a big cultural jet lag, if I can call it. It’s a good beginning, it should happen. These awards don’t matter much to me, but look at these Padmashri’s and Padma Bhushan’s. The senior most writers of regional languages don’t get it, but a young English writer gets it. If Sachin Tendulkar can get it at an age of 21, why can’t our Kannada major writer get it at the age of 70?
They say creativity doesn’t stem from nothing; you are always influenced by something or someone else’s work. So who are you influenced by when you write?
Influence has so many different ways, like you won’t like food until you taste it. I can’t write pages about how a Chinese food tastes. Or I can’t communicate in any way how music sounds. You have to taste it, you have to listen to it, and you have to read it. So for a writer, the guru is reading only. I became a poet because I read a good poem somewhere. You learn the skills by reading, but the vision is your own ultimately. The skills you earn by reading, and then you use it for your evolution as both you and the language evolve. And I always feel literature is like a relay race, earlier writers run and give the baton to the new. So you have to take the item from the last generation and hence reading is very important. In that way the influence in my writing there are three writers K. V. Thirumalesh, Gangadhar Chittal and A.K. Ramunajan. So the poetry of these three influenced me a lot.
Your work spans over a whole spectrum; you write short stories, you write poems, you write lyrics, you’re a film script writer as well. So which of these do you enjoy the most?
All of them! It’s like if you go to an ENT specialist, what the eye does, the nose doesn’t do. What the ear does the mouth doesn’t do. They collectively do. So what I can do in poetry, I can’t do in short stories. What I do in short stories, I can’t do in poetry. What I cannot do in both of these, I do in my nonfiction column writing. And I’ve written plays also. So all of this collectively is an enjoyable journey I’m seeking.
Sub-edited by Priyanka Sharma