With the death of the famous Kannada writer and public intellectual Chandrashekhar Patil (1939-2022), the career of Sankramana, the oldest Kannada literary magazine, has also come to an end.
Chandrashekhar Patil or Champa as he was popularly known, founded Sankramana with his fellow writers around 1965 and edited it until 2019.
The journey of Kannada literary magazines, which have shaped different phases of Kannada literature, started a century ago. In 1924, 22-year-old Shivaram Karanth started Vasantha, “just to be an editor”, as he would later write. The monthly contained stories, articles and “poems as fillers”. AN Krishnarao, 20, started Kathanjali in 1928 “to publish the best news from Kannada”.
In 1933, Da Ra Bendre and his friends started Jeevana, which came to an abrupt halt when the British government imprisoned Bendre for publishing Narabali (Human Sacrifice), a poem that criticized the establishment. Masti Venkatesha Iyengar took over Jeevana who published stories, reviews and poems. The famous cultural debate involving Masti and Kuvempu over Kuvempu’s play ShudraTapasvi was published in Jeevana.
While academic publications like Prabuddha Karnataka, sadhan, Sahitya Adhyayana have served their academic purpose, literary magazines have tried to establish literary standards and to develop new modes of criticism from time to time.
Gopalakrishna Adiga Saakshi defined Navya poetics, published Navya (modernist) writings and shaped the tools of the New Critique. Socialist writers like Champa, Poornachandra Tejaswi and P Lankesh moved away from the Navya movement, redefining the role of their writers.
Tejaswi and his friends published Lahari, while Lankesh published panchali, a literary special, the success of which prompted him to later launch his own weekly.
Sankramana was arrested for a year, when Champa was imprisoned in 1975 during the emergency for his protesting expressions. But it revived soon after and became an ideological companion of the Bandaya (rebel) literary movement.
In 1974, socialist writer Shrinivas began Shudra and became known as Shudra Shrinivas thereafter. Shudra turned into a liberal-oriented monthly, welcoming writers of communist, dalit, bandaya and feminist origins.
Shudra also published intellectual essays by social scientists and art critics before it closed around 2016. panchama, published by Dalit Sangharsh Samiti, has defined and published new Dalit writings, as well as being a forum for asserting Dalit rights.
Samudaya Varta Patra edited by S Malathi and others had Marxist leanings and was part of the Samudaya theater group. Presenting articles and reviews on theatre, he also shaped the tone and tenor of committed theater which firmly believed that theater could be an instrument of social change.
RG Halli Nagaraj Anveshane provided ample space for future Bandaya writers. A beautiful mix of art, culture and literature, Anveshane continues to reach its readers at least once or twice a year.
achala edited by N Gayathri, and Manassa edited by Rajeshwari were not strictly literary magazines, but they have earned a place in the tradition by defining Karnataka’s working class feminism. Sukanya Kanaralli ran the first Kannada web magazine, Gelathi, forum for feminist reflections, for a few years, and the latest in the series, Hitaishini (http://hitaishinimag.com), edited by R Purnima and N Gayatri, is a fine blend of feminist ideas, analysis and creative writing.
In the mid-1980s, UR Ananthamurthy began Rujuvathu, a quarterly that publishes literary and cultural essays and redefines Navya’s critical tools. ankana, edited by PP Balaga, became a multidisciplinary journal that redirected the critical tools of the time.
Meanwhile, the arrival of Lankesh Patrike, a political-cultural weekly, marked a turning point in Kannada literary culture, as the tabloid spread the kind of writing that literary magazines would have, in a more engaging way. Like his political writings, his literary judgments and book reviews were also ruthless and also set a new standard for small magazines.
Kannada literary magazines have always nurtured new talent and helped create a vibrant literary culture. There were days when even the writings of P Lankesh, Vijaya Dabbe, DR Nagaraj, N Gayatri and Devanoora Mahadeva which would not find a place in daily and weekly newspapers were published in literary journals. Siddalingaiah’s hard-hitting poems were first published in Shudra. Long, dense poems, criticism, cultural theory, and long, complex essays would not have found a greater readership without these magazines.
The impulse of writer-editors to wield literary power and establish the legitimacy of their schools of thought also played a role in the making of these magazines. Many of these writer-editors provided intellectual leadership in Kannada literary circles.
Readers could often glean the ideological leanings of the authors who contributed to these magazines. The modernist Gopalkrishna Adiga then aligned with the political right, while Champa, Shudra and Ananthamurthy remained Lohiaites.
by Ravikumar Abhinava, from Prahlad Sanchaya and that of Vivek Shanbhag Deshakaala moved away from ideological leanings and found a middle way. Yet they shaped the poetics of the new generation and presented the best new writings of their time. Deshakaala also stood out with his looks, thanks to Channakeshava’s artistry.
Kannada literary magazines have often redefined the changing role of the Kannada writer. Sankramana, Shudra and Anveshane, envisioned the writer as an interventionist street fighter, while Saakshi, Rujuvathu and Raghavendra Patil samvada intended for an introspective intellectual with strong literary values.
The 21st century has seen new additions like Samahita who has published comprehensive academic essays. DS Nagabhushan Hosa Manushya and Indudhara Honnapur samvada continue to focus on theoretical issues related to culture and society.
The latest addition is Akshara Sangatha, a quarterly, edited by TS Goravara, a Deccan Herald Changemaker. Another edited DH Changemaker Rajendra Prasad Sankathana, featuring a galaxy of next-gen writers, for a while.
Next generation writers have done Sangatha an interesting mix of creative writing and cultural criticism. Maintain its periodicity, Sangatha encouraged new writers, otherwise happy with their FB posts, to write critical essays.
Over the years, the apathy of subscribers and the literary community in general has caused the untimely demise of several literary magazines.
Yet committed publishers who press on relentlessly, ardently soliciting articles, meticulously reading proofs, relentlessly hauling their magazines through post offices are some of the true cultural warriors who fight against all odds, forge ahead.
(The author is a Kannada novelist, poet, playwright and critic)