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Kannada writer-activist Champa passes away

A proponent of Kannada medium education, Prof. Chandrashekhar Patil, better known by his pen name Champa, was one of the rare writers who could say all his children and grandchildren studied in Kannada medium

Noted Kannada writer, activist and public intellectual Prof. Chandrashekhar Patil, 82, better known by his pen name Champa, passed away in Bengaluru on January 10. He was suffering from age related illnesses for the past two years.

“He fell ill two years ago and was mostly confined to his home. He developed fever two days ago and was rushed to a hospital where he passed away on Monday morning,” his wife Neela Patil told The Hindu.

Known for his acerbic wit and employment of irony and his anti-establishment ‘bandaya’ stance throughout his life, Champa was an important voice in the public discourse of Karnataka for over half a century. He was the only Kannada writer to be arrested during the Emergency for his street play Jagadambeya Beedinataka, a satire on then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. He was one of the founders of the Bandaya movement of Kannada literature, a strand that took a radical stance in both literary form and view of society.

Born in 1939, Champa taught English at the university, but was a passionate proponent of the Kannada cause. He was one of the key leaders of the Gokak Agitation in the early 1980s, arguing for making Kannada the mandatory first language in school education across Karnataka. He played a key role in convincing matinee idol Dr. Rajkumar to join the agitation, which gave a fillip to the movement. A proponent of Kannada medium education, he was one of the rare writers who could say all his children and grandchildren studied in Kannada medium.

He started his literary career as a poet in the early 1960s. His literary achievements were perhaps overshadowed by his activism and other works. He was also one of the early playwrights to explore absurd theatre with his plays Kodegalu, Gurutinavaru, Appa and Tingara Buddanna.

He edited the magazine ‘Sankramana’, which he launched along with two of his friends in Dharwad in 1964. Though his friends Giraddi Govindaraj and Siddalinga Pattanashetty later disassociated themselves from the venture, Champa single-handedly edited and brought out the magazine for over half-a-century, an achievement few others could match. Neela Patil, also a writer, was a long-time collaborator in this endeavour. He also published a unique directory of Kannada writers, with editions every year.

What also set Champa apart from other Kannada writers was how he wore Kannada activism on his sleeve. He never fought shy of wearing the red-and-yellow shawl that is a symbol of Kannada activists.

A strong critic of ‘Brahminism’ and ‘divisive communalism’, he returned the Pampa Award, the highest literary honour of Karnataka, in protest against the assassination of his close friend and scholar M. M. Kalburgi in 2015. He was also on the ‘hit list’ of people who were responsible for the murder of Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh, police investigations later revealed. The government had provided him round-the-clock armed security since 2017.

In later years, he became chairman of the Kannada Development Authority and president of Kannada Sahitya Parishat. He was the president of the 83rd Kannada Sahitya Sammelan held at Mysuru in 2017.

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