Lankesh, P. (1935–2000) By Tharakeshwar, V.B.
P. Lankesh was a prominent Kannada novelist, short story writer, playwright, and essayist. A strong voice in the Kannada public sphere from the 1970s to the 1990s, he acted as a conscience-keeper not only through his writings, but also through Lankesh Patrike, a weekly he edited. Lankesh began his career as a teacher of English at Bangalore University, but soon shifted to filmmaking, then journalism. His short story collections Kereya Neerannu Kerege Chelli (1963), Nanalla (1970), Umapatiaya Scholarship Yaatre (1973), Kallu Karaguva Samaya (1990), and Ullanghane (1996) are landmarks in Kannada literature for the way they framed the debates in the respective decades. In his first novel, Biruku (1967), Lankesh used modernist techniques in writing, while his second novel, Mussanjeya Katha Prasanga (1978), shifted to the epic mode with episodic, multi-plot structure and a more realistic style of narration tinged with the comic. His third novel, Akka (1991), which depicts a woman of a slum through the eyes of her brother, was more pronouncedly political, reflecting Lankesh’s changed sensibility in the context of the Dalit and Bandaya (revolt) movement in Kannada literature, of which Lankesh was a vocal supporter.
Lankesh was also one of the most important Kannada playwrights of his time, alongside Girish Karnad and Chandrashekar Kambar. His early plays exhibit the influence of existentialism and the Theatre of the Absurd. The best examples are T. Prasannana Gruhasthashrama (1962), Nanna Thangigondu gandu Kodi (1963), Polisariddare, Eccharike! (1964), Teregalu (1964), Kranti bantu, Kranti (1965), and Giliyu Panjaradolilla (1966). His later works Sankranti (1971) and Gunamukha (1993) are historical plays that reverberate with contemporary significance.