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Honouring our Heroes

Honouring our Heroes

THE World Wide Web is a global and universal technology, but not necessarily a globalising and universalising one. To the contrary, the Web can and has been used to promote local pride and the appreciation of local themes, processes, institutions, and individuals.

In recent weeks, I have made the acquaintance of two websites that focus on the history and lore of two of the loveliest towns in India. The first site is located in the town I was born and raised, Dehradun. The Doon is known to some as a home of elite public schools, and to others as a military centre. But to the more sporting minded, it is known for having produced a stream of outstanding footballers. The site I speak of (www.dehradunfootball.com) focuses on them, on men such as Ram Bahadur and Bir Bahadur, Shyam Thapa and Bhupinder Singh Rawat. Yet, its promoters have also shown an interest in other aspects of their valley's history, in its association with the freedom movement, for example.

The second site is more catholic by definition. This is churumuri.wordpress.com, which is run out of Mysore by a bunch of very talented, if somewhat obsessed Mysoreans. The town was once the capital of one of the two most progressive princely States in India (Baroda being the other one). The colleges that its Maharajas founded and funded produced a stream of outstanding graduates, who went on to play a prominent part in the history of modern India, in the fields of science (say Raja Ramanna), social science (say M.N. Srinivas), literature (say C.D. Narasimhaiah and A.K. Ramanujan), photography (say T.S. Satyan) and music (say Doreswamy Iyengar).

"Churumuri" pays equal attention to Mysore's somewhat glorious past and its sometimes troubled present. It also seeks to link past and present, as in a campaign it has launched to honour the writer who made Mysore known throughout the world, R.K. Narayan. The site mournfully notes that in the city where he long lived, and whose streets and characters he memorialised in a series of stories, there is no recognition of Narayan — no circle, cinema, hall or hostel named after him.

"The issue", writes the editor of "Churumuri", is "about how we remember our icons and legends. And how we remind them to those who will follow us. The issue is about how we perpetuate their memory to all those who enter and pass through our city".

Different views
By honouring R.K. Narayan, the city of Mysore will only be honouring itself. Not surprisingly, the website's campaign has attracted much interested comment. As one reader notes, what was distinctive about Narayan was "the simplicity of his writing. Nothing too complicated. Very few words that assault the brain so much that you need to assault the dictionary". How best can Mysore remember him? The suggestion to name a road after him is quickly, and I believe rightly, rejected. "The problem with naming roads after individuals", writes a Mysorean, "is that over time, the road and the surroundings develop character(istics) contrary to the values of the person after whom it is named. As an example, take a look at all the M(ahatma) G(andhi) roads in India — I am sure even the ashes of this honourable man must be squirming at what goes on along these roads".

One proposal, which I believe might find wide acceptance, is to convert the house that Narayan lived in Yadavgiri — this, I believe, is still in the possession of the family — into a library, reading room, and conference centre. Museums tend to museumise, to render a legacy still and lifeless. However, this scheme would permit the writer's own home to yet be a place where words and ideas are discussed and debated. Another suggestion which caught my fancy is for a train to Mysore to be named (what else!) the "Malgudi Express".

The "Churumuri" campaign is motivated by a proper sense of history, and a proper respect for one of the city's most remarkable residents. But, I am glad to report, it is also motivated by a sense of competitive local patriotism. Karnataka's other great cultural centre, the twin towns of Hubli-Dharwad, has a private bus service named after the poet D.R. Bendre. How then can Mysore treat its singular literary jewel any different?

My reasons
As a regular visitor to Mysore, I support the "honour Narayan" campaign for two reasons. The first is my admiration for the man. (My favourite Narayan novels are Swami and Friends and The English Teacher, these written in two entirely different, and opposed, registers, the comic and the tragic.) The second reason is that I have myself long argued that Indians must do more to remember their artists, writers, scientists and musicians. For what "Churumuri" writes of Mysore is basically true of all our towns and cities: to wit, "If all we have to show to the world are roads, circles, memorials, halls, localities named after two-bit politicians, three-bit goons and four-bit operators, what a pathetic city we will turn out to be". ramguha@vsnl.com

Source: The Hindu


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