"In Satchidanandan, one notices great modernity, a simplicity of understanding, something on the lines of a non-rhetorical dialogue with himself and with the reader, a wealth of symbolism, a fascinating smoothness of verse, a subtle irony," wrote critic Carlo Savini, in an introduction to the Italian translation of Koyamparambath Satchidanandanâ€™s Malayalam poetry.
Ironically, this poet of international renown now finds himself mired in caustic rhetoric over his accepting a fellowship of the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies (IIAS) Shimla -a premier research institute funded primarily by the Government of Indiaâ€™s Ministry of Human Resource Development- close on the heels of quitting the Kendra Sahitya Akademi.
Former Akademi secretary and poet K. Satchidanandan had earlier in October this year resigned from all Akademi posts, thereby joining ranks with other intellectuals such as Nayantara Sahgal, Ashok Vajpeyi, Sara Joseph and the like, as according to him, the Akademi had failed in its duty to stand with the writers and to uphold freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution in the backdrop of the cold-blooded murders of rationalist MM Kalburgi,as well as that of anti-superstition activist Govind Pansare.
In an email interview for TNM, the eminent writer attributes the alleged controversy to just the figment of imagination of certain vested interests and nothing more:
Many view your quitting the Akademi in the wake of the Kalburgi murder as a protest against muzzling of creative and cultural voices by those in power. So does accepting the IIAS fellowship come across as a paradox at this juncture?
I resigned from the Akademi as I found its autonomy was being compromised. It was taking orders from the Government which it never did before, like holding a symposium on Swaccha Bharat campaign that has nothing to do with literature, or holding an event during PM Modi's visit to Banares. And my request as an Executive Board member to pass a resolution condemning Kalburgi's murder made on 12th September was never taken seriously, which later resulted in great embarrassment to the Akademi that I wanted to save it from. IIAS has so far retained its autonomy. We the Fellows of the Institute have passed a strong resolution against the growing culture of intolerance. On 30th October, we held a special function to protest the ban against Ghulam Ali, singing his songs and reading out poems of resistance. When the institution loses its autonomy, I will go back- I have come here on that condition.
The "Awards Whapsi" campaign is now being termed more of a politically prejudiced move than a genuine anguish over perceived artistic Talibanism in India. Your take on the same.
The awards were returned or resignations tendered by writers individually. They never met and took a collective decision and most even do not know one another. The reasons cited also were not always the same. There was absolutely no campaign before or after the surge. The writers belong to very different ideological persuasions and most are apolitical. They were responding chiefly to the indifference of the Sahitya Akademi to the murder of an Akademi award winner who was also once an Akademi member. They were responding to a call of conscience.
Many infringements on the freedom of expression took place even in the pre-Modi era. How then would you explain this sudden paranoia cutting across all spectrums, which Finance Minister Arun Jaitley terms as a â€˜manufactured rebellionâ€™?
Writers like me have always responded to the infringement on freedom. Several artists reacted when MF Husain was forced to leave the country. There were protests also, when there were attacks on Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasreen, AK Ramanujan, Wendy Doniger, James Lane, Habib Tanvir, Mallika Sarabhai, Ghulam Ali and others. I wrote poems against the Emergency and underwent interrogation by the CBI and faced censorship too. So did many others. I was active in the campaign following the genocide in Gujarat. But here it was not just a question of the suppression of freedom, but the daylight murder of three respected intellectuals. So there has been a paradigm shift and that required a more acute response.
A few critiques of those opposing "Awards Whapsi" have said that those who returned these had allegedly received them on payment in the first place. What do you have to say to that?
They are completely ill-informed about the Akademi award or are just mischievous. Having been once the executive head of the Akademi I know the process is transparent and incorruptible - each award involves 23 writers at three levels and it cannot be manipulated. It is the most credible award in India.
Your response to certain oblique references of a smack of opportunism in your acceptance of the IIAS fellowship.
I have already elaborated on this. I am now here for six months, and am ready to leave it the moment I find it succumbing to Government pressure. I have no interest here, except my intellectual interest.