A few days back, I was at a Kannada book launch in Basavanagudi where two translated works were being presented. Had one of the two books not been mine, I would have never gone there, for the simple reason that the world of Kannada literature touches me only marginally.
My idea of Karnataka is largely about the wonderful, friendly people, the beautiful state outside of the urban chaos, great food and glimpses of her performing arts, but not her language and literature and the way they hold together the Kannadigas as a people.
At the book launch, I was in for many surprises. The publisher, Chanda Pustaka had done up the venue like a wedding, a far cry from any of my English book launches in any metro ever; the venue proudly showcased the who’s who of Kannada culture in black and white photographs, from Kuvempu to Raj Kumar.
People arrived quietly at the venue, elderly men and women, young folks and children, and soon there was no standing room. But know what? They had turned up only in part because I was one of the authors. They had come for another book: Mao’s Dancer, presented as a translation in Kannada.
The event lasted two hours in pin-drop silence. The audience listened to the involved talks by the two translators and then two eminent critics spoke at length. No cell phone rang and no one got up in the middle.
I was witnessing a Bengaluru I had not felt before; I realised I was in poverty for two decades even as I think of myself as a half-Kannadiga.
There are four similarities between the Silicon Valley and Bengaluru: both were fruit-growing places at one time, both have great weather, educational institutions of repute, and defence establishments of significance. And in both places, the locals are in minority. No wonder both places have emerged on the world map as symbols of the knowledge economy. Because, all knowledge is about displacement.
In letting Bengaluru happen, the immigrant was not marginalised like in Mumbai; nor was the immigrant culturally tolerated like in Kolkata. Bengaluru built a very equal relationship with the migrant. In the process, it has lost a few things for sure. But along the way, the migrant has lost more. Unlike me, who took two decades, the average migrant would probably not even know that ordinary people can come on a Sunday morning to listen to the translator of a book titled Mao’s Dancer and then go home feeling good about what the critic had to say and their own critique of the critic.
After years of relentless globalising, today I am asking myself, can I be in love with a beautiful woman if I do not know the language she thinks in and speaks; even as she speaks in it only sometimes?
(Subroto Bagchi is Chairman, MindTree Ltd)