Sahitya Akademi’s gimmick falls flat, embarrassed on its home turf

New Delhi: In a dramatic turn of events, the Sahitya Akademi was left embarrassed on its home turf as noted writer-poet Keki N Daruwalla, on whose works the Akademi presented a documentary Friday evening, clarified that despite being present at the Akademi, his views and stance remain unchanged and the question of taking back his Sahitya Akademi award, which he returned in 2015, does not arise.

“I must say that my views remain the same. And so does my stance. We still feel that enough was not done after the killings of rationalists and now (Gauri) Lankesh has been killed too,” he said in response to an IANS question at the Sahitya Akademi event here.

“The question of taking the award back never arose,” he said.

Daruwalla, one of India’s foremost writers and poets and a recipient of several national and international accolades including the Padma Shri, was among the prominent faces — along with writer Nayantara Sahgal — leading the “award wapsi” (returning of awards) in 2015.

The writers were protesting against what they called “rising intolerance and growing assault on free speech” in the country.

The spontaneous series of giving up awards had unfolded in October 2015 after Sahitya Akademi’s silence on the murder of leading scholar and rationalist Malleshappa Kalburgi and Govind Pansare.

Amid widespread protests and return of the prestigious literary honour by at least 36 writers, the Sahitya Akademi, 54 days after the murder of Kalburgi, finally broke its silence on October 23, 2015, condemning “the murder of Prof M.M. Kalburgi and other intellectuals and thinkers” and urging the litterateurs to take back their awards.

Daruwalla never took back his Sahitya Akademi award, which was awarded to him for his 1984 poetry collection, “The Keeper of the Dead”.

“I am returning my award not because of intolerance alone, but more for the fact that the Akademi kept silent and lacked the boldness to stand up for a murdered author,” Daruwalla had earlier told this correspondent on the day he returned his award in 2015.

What brought him back to the Akademi?

“Unhone kaha ki sahab aapki film hum screen kar rahe hain aap aaiye, maine pranam kiya aur main aa gaya,” Daruwalla responded from the Sahitya Akademi stage here.

“Woh desh ka mamla hai. Woh politics ka mamla hai. Uske baare main mere kaafi solid views hain aur main uske baare main likhta rahta hoon,” he reiterated, saying that his views have been consistent and that he has been writing about it.

The Sahitya Akademi, India’s national academy of letters, inaugurated a documentary film festival on June 11 and it reached its culmination Friday evening with Daruwalla’s tete-e-tete with the audience.

But what did the Akademi, which strives to promote literary excellence across languages in the country aim to achieve by playing a rather banal, mediocre and “at least 10 years old” documentary on the works of a writer who led the massive protest against the “autonomous institution” just three years ago?

The representatives of Sahitya Akademi at the venue denied requests for comments.


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