A polyglot and an active patron of the arts and culture, Chiranjiv Singh who recently received France’s National Order of Merit award is a man of many interests In these times of sectarian strife and cultural conflicts, it is necessary to build bridges of understanding. This honour is a step in that direction,“ read lines […]
A polyglot and an active patron of the arts and culture, Chiranjiv Singh who recently received France’s National Order of Merit award is a man of many interests
In these times of sectarian strife and cultural conflicts, it is necessary to build bridges of understanding. This honour is a step in that direction,“ read lines from the speech Chiranjiv Singh gave after he was conferred the honour of Officer of the National Order of Merit on Wednesday by France’s ambassador to India Alexander Ziegler.
An eclectic man of letters, Singh received the award for his contribution to numerous cultural, intellectual, scientific and social causes, not only in Karnataka but nationally and internationally too. Singh, who joined the civil service in 1969, has been finance secretary , principal secretary to two chief ministers (Devraj Urs and S M Krishna) and an ambassador to Unesco in Paris. He retired in 2005 as additional chief secretary .“At this age, what do honours mean?
I am about to turn 75, and start the phase of life that’s known as sanyasa ashrama,“ says Singh, sitting in the warm confines of his home. A modest reaction is expected of Singh, one of the most respected IAS officers of the Karnataka cadre.His friends unhesitatingly call him `a Renaissance man’ owing to his multiple interests and knowledge of art, literature, music and languages.
“He knows at least 12 languages,“ says author and music composer Akumal Ramachander, who has known Singh for over 40 years. “He is wellversed in the works of Kannada writers like Kuvempu, Masti Venkatesh Iyengar, Karanth and UR Ananthamurthy . Some days ago when I visited him, he was reading Leela Chitnis’ biography in Marathi,“ he says.
An expert in Gurmukhi, French, Urdu, German, Gujarati, Kannada, Bangla, Marathi, Hindi and English, Singh’s love for languages began in childhood. “It came about naturally because my parents read Persian, Urdu, Punjabi and English, so there were books in all these languages at home.When I was nine, I spent my summer vacation inventing new scripts,“ recalls Singh.
He owes his continued interest in languages to literature. “I prefer reading books in the original. I wanted to read Tagore in the original so I learnt Bengali,“ says Singh who has been taking lessons in Tamil for the past few years.Singh, who prefers classic over contemporary literature, jokes: “I think Russian classics are the only books I have read in English translations.“ While he shrugs off the `Kannadiga among Kannadigas’ term that is often used to describe him, Singh says, “My parents came to India from Pakistan. My family and I moved from Punjab to Karnataka, and while we have lived here for over 40 years, I was recently called an outsider. And this made me question about who really is an insider and an outsider. It made me wonder where one really belongs.“
The answer to that hypothetical question may be subject for another story but Singh’s active patronage of the city’s cultural scene is not something to be sneezed at. From The Anad Foundation to Bangalore School of Music, Crafts Council, Dance DISCourse, Dance Heritage Society, Etymological Society, Film Club of India, Geological Society of India, Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee, Historical Research Society, IFA, Indo-French Cultural Centre, Singh is on more than 30 boards and committees.Evidently, culture is a subject that he takes very seriously .
“Culture should be the first thing on everyone’s mind. not the corrupt politicians, not the kind of politics we have. Whether it is art, literature or music, it will serve you more because society’s finest values are reflected in its culture,“ says Singh, who unhesitatingly admits that the culturescape of the city has declined over the years.“There is a coarsening of culture, a general coarsening of dialogue, and am appalled by the language used on the internet,“ he says.
So, when Singh interacts with young people, he focuses on the importance of compassion. “My mentor J C Lynn told me that `qualities of the heart matter than qualities of the mind’. That message stayed with me and I have, over the years, seen the truth of that statement,“ he says.
His wife Praveen Kaur says he’s an even-tempered man. “In the nearly 40 years I have been married to him, I have rarely seen him get angry . His tolerance is high. If he does not agree with something or someone, he just changes his path and lets the gods decide,“ says Kaur.
Looking back at his life which has had its share of ups and downs, Singh says, “It’s been a bit of bevu (neem leaves) and a bit of bella (jaggery).“
“It’s high time he sat down to write his autobiography ,“ says Ramachander.
OUR FRIENDSHIP STARTED WITH A FILM POSTER: SG VASUDEV
“I first met Chiranjiv Singh years ago when he’d come to my studio to select paintings for the government museum. He was the deputy commissioner of Belagavi and I still remember the conversation we had because it was amusing. He told me he had come across the poster I had done for Samskara outside a movie hall and liked it so much that he watched the film. He was instrumental in helping us set up the KK Hebbar Museum in Venkatappa Art Gallery. He is interested in arts and culture but I wish he’d been more assertive because he could have done a lot more,“ says artist S G Vasudev.