Swati Chandra | January 25, 2017 | New Delhi
Sahitya Akademi award winning poet Ashok Vajpeyi returned his award in 2015 supporting “the right to dissent”, and was instrumental in the protest against the murder of writers. Vajpeyi, also a retired IAS officer, is not very happy with the Akademi’s style of functioning.
As an author, what do you expect from the Sahitya Akademi?
The Sahitya Akademi should actively, dynamically and imaginatively work towards making space for dissemination and better accessibility of literature in our time and society.
What do you feel about the autonomy of the Akademi? Is there a need to restructure or rewrite its constitution?
Amongst the three national academies, the Sahitya Akademi has the most autonomous structure. Unfortunately, this autonomy has also promoted mediocrity to take over the Akademi, both in terms of its membership and crucial office-holding personnel. It should be, and some decades ago it indeed was, a national body of excellence with outstanding writers both as its members and office bearers. Today it is dominated by the mediocre, academics of low distinctions and lacking in courage, imagination and dynamism. A restructuring is overdue and should aim at inculcating excellence and creativity rather than get mired in mediocrity and shallow academia.
Should the Akademi be decentralised?
There are state akademies of language and literature. They are at various levels of decline and irrelevance like the Sahitya Akademi. They are being constantly interfered with the politicians in power of all colours and hues. Our political system, as a whole, has no respect and concern for writers, languages and literature and their autonomy. It is an awfully depressing scenario. Most significant writers in Indian languages have nothing much to do with either the Sahitya Akademi or the state Akademis.
Should the award process be simplified?
The process is quite elaborate and involves many readers. It should be retained but steps should be taken that the jury has persons of proven integrity, sound knowledge and adequate stature. At the moment mediocrity breeds, promotes, awards, and nourishes mediocrity!
The Akademi was silent when awards were being returned and also when renowned writer MM Kalburgi was killed. Is the author fraternity of the country angry with the role Akademi played during that time?
The Sahitya Akademi was supposed to stand by writers, to protest, strongly and publicly, against the murder of writers. Instead, it took the role of a shameless sycophant of the government, and belatedly met and passed a resolution. Such shameful behaviour of a national academy of letters made it lose all credentials before the creative community. It, incidentally, invited the head of a TV channel [Subhash Chandra], whose knowledge of Hindi is doubtful, to address the Hindi Day in 2016.
(The interivew appears in the January 16-31, 2017 issue)