On Intellectual Arrogance

Patrika Logo for Website

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

e-mail:  ThePatrika@aol.com

In all cultures, there is always an undercurrent of tension between wealthy patrons and the recipient honorees receiving their patronage. This is simply because the recipients of the patronage — typically poets, painters, musicians, sculptors, and others with creative minds — are temperamental people to begin with; they are also conscious of their creative talents, and the lack of it among their patrons. The patrons, while aware of their limits, are sometimes genuine to help these artistes. But more often, they want to tell the world that they patronize artists. They also know the recipients need their support much more. In all sophisticated cultures, this patronage is expected of wealth and power. In the Krishnadevaraya’s court in the Vijayanagara Empire, he had eight poets of great talents, called  Ashta-dig-gajas, literally, “elephants in eight directions.” Allasani Peddanna and Nandi Timmanna are the famous two.

Both the patrons and the recipients need great skills to negotiate their mutually dependent transactional interactions. Otherwise tension spills over in public. I have heard these stories in 20th century India:

♣  Sahir Ludhianvi, a great Hindi/Urdu poet went with idealism to Pakistan on Partition in 1947. Once in Pakistan, he saw that the literary ambience there was not what he expected. He was even jailed for his leftist writings in Savera, the Urdu daily. In disgust he returned to India, never going to Pakistan even as a visitor. In India he was a star lyricist.

♣  Veteran Hindustani vocalist Bade Gulam Ali Khan too went to Pakistan during Partition hoping for better patronage. He was disillusioned with the condescension he got from the bureaucrats running Radio Pakistan. He returned to India in revulsion. He too was a star in India.

♣  Closer to our time, I’ve heard that there was some bad blood between the Andhra-born Telugu-speaking Balamuralikrishna, the veteran Karnatic vocalist based in Chennai, and N.T.Rama Rao, the founder of Telugu Desam Party and the powerful chief minister of Andhra Pradesh. Balamuralikrishna never performed in Andhra Pradesh as long as N.T.Rama Rao was the chief minister.

♣  Poet Kannadasan was a legend in his own life as a lyricist dominating Tamil cinema in the 50s, 60s, 70s; and well into the 80s. In the Tamil Cinema dominated by superstar heroes, MGR ruled the roost in this time. There was a disagreement between MGR and Kannadasan. Kannadasan felt slighted in the exchange between the two. Feeling slighted, Kannadasan simply refused to write lyrics for MGR films for years and years and yet dominated Tamil cinema as a song writer.  That is how self-assured the poet was.

Finally, MGR recognized his mistake, relented and invited Kannadasan to write lyrics for his film.  The very fist song he wrote for MGR after this invitation was a great hit.

♣  O.P.Nayyar, a well-known music director never used Lata Mangeshkar when Lata dominated Hindi cinema, because of personality clash. Nayyar went on to become a celebrity music director without Lata.

There is nothing new in the intellectual arrogance of people with talents. As a matter of fact, this is very old. Here is an example from 5th century India of a Sanskrit poet responding to the perceived arrogance of his patron king (source: Vairagya satakam by Bhartrhari).

Bharthari ArroganceHere is the non-poetical Translation:

You’re a king; [but] we too are self-assured of our wisdom acquired from teachers we served;

You’re celebrated for your wealth and grandeur;  our fame [too] is known in all quarters spread by our peers.

Thus, there is a divide between us both. If you are cold towards us,  we too are perfectly content to be indifferent towards you.

In the 10th century Tamil Nadu lived Kambar, a great poet, who rendered Ramayanam in 10,000 Tamil verses that goes by his name, Kamba Ramayanam. His patron was the Chola King Kulottungan. Due to some unknown reason — unknown to me in any case — Kambar felt insulted by his Chola patron.

He left Kulottungan’s court in disgust, writing his resignation letter in a four-line verse (in the style of veNbaa) dripping in anger and sarcasm.

Here is the Tamil original:

Kambar Resignation

Here is a free translation of the above sarcastic verse dripping composed in rhetorical flourish:

And you too are a king?  And yours is this prosperous kingdom?

I nurtured Tamil [here] knowing you as well as I do [now]?

Is there a king who will NOT eagerly take me into his court?

Is there a bough in any tree that will not accept a monkey?

I hope I succeeded in bringing out in the English translation the rhetorical flourish in the Tamil original.  This is perhaps the only instance of a resignation letter in verse form conforming to all the rules of grammar, rhyming, and alliteration, dripping in anger borne out of a combination humiliation and intellectual arrogance.  And written in supreme self-confidence.

When the patrons and recipients know both of them need to nurture their  symbiotic relationship, both gain. Even the outside world gains. After all, true artists are kings in their own right.  But when this does not happen, there is always potential for hell breaking loose.

  1. No comments yet.

You must be logged in to post a comment.