Puttappa Siddalingappa Patil or better known as Patil Puttappa or Papu to all his readers, admirers and a vast fan following was not just a towering personality in all the fields he came in contact with but also a unique legendary figure during his lifetime. He was known for his penchant for communication on a variety of subjects he dealt with in his public speeches and the articles he penned in his publications. At one time, he was editing and publishing seven publications and that too simultaneously!
Puttappa was the editor of Sangam, the first Kannada digest although, on record, Navayug was the first Kannada daily he took over as the editor in Hubballi. He had started contributing to many English periodicals published from the then Bombay.
Born in Kurabagonda of Haveri Taluk on 14-01-1919 in the then undivided Dharwad district, Puttappa had his Primary education in Halageri village and higher studies in Byadgi, Haveri and Dharwad. He obtained his law degree from the Belagavi Law College with a desire of becoming an advocate and landed up in Bombay. However, seeing his keen interest in journalism, Sardar Vallabbhai Patel suggested him to continue in journalism.
Puttappa started contributing to the Free Press Journal and Bombay Chronicle by writing on the ongoing movement for the unification of Kannada-speaking regions. In fact, K Sadanand, then editor, offered him to join the Free Press Journal. However, he decided to join the new newspaper that KF Patil, a freedom fighter, and his friends were planning to start in Hubballi.
Some of Puttappa’s milestones include his arrest during 1930 for raising slogans “Nahi Rakhana Nahi Rakhana Angrez Sarkar” while picketing the liquor shops. Since then, he became a religious wearer of Khadi clothes throughout his life. He was also influenced by Jawahar Lal Nehru when the latter visited Hubballi.
In 1934 Mahatma Gandhi happened to visit Byadgi and patted the lad Patil Puttappa, then a young volunteer. Incidentally, he also campaigned for the Indian National Congress during the first General elections in 1934.
Puttappa the journalist
Probably Puttappa was the first and foremost Kannadiga to pursue a course in journalism from the University of California in 1949. During his student days there, he met Will Durant, Robert Hutchins, Justice Felix Frankfurter, Albert Einstein and a host of many others. On his way back from the US by ship, he interviewed Sir Anthony Eden, a British conservative politician who served as Foreign Secretary for three terms and as Prime Minister from 1955 to 1957. On his return back home during March 1954, he started the Prapancha Kannada weekly with the only investment, his pen! Then in 1956, he began publishing Sangam, the first Kannada digest and in 1959 Vishwavani, Kannada newspaper.
In 1961, Puttappa became the Senate member of Karnataka University while he was elected to the Rajya Sabha for two successive terms beginning from 1962. Till date, he remains the only journalist to be elected to the upper house of the parliament from the state.
Love for Kannada
Puttappa was a household name in the state when it came to raising voice against any moves by the state and central governments contrary to the interests of Kannadigas and the state.
The Gokak agitation during the early eighties seeking primacy to the native Kannada language in Primary education evolved into a mass movement involving writers, artists and film actors. The language movement along with that of farmers’ movement became a catalyst in unseating the R Gundurao-led Congress government and thereby paving way for the first-ever non-Congress government led by Ramakrishna Hegde and an era of Janata Party, Janata Dal governments for a couple of decades later. It goes without saying that Patil Puttappa was the man and brain behind the Gokak movement which is now part of the glorious history in the annals of Kannada development.
Puttappa was a powerful orator in Kannada and English just like his terrific writings. The local scribes in Hubballi had a difficult time whenever he addressed press conferences in English to cater to the upcountry press. Many had to approach the seniors and dictionaries to find out the exact meaning of the English words used in the press conference.
He’d brook no disrespect
Puttappa was a very interesting storyteller with vast knowledge on men and matters and spared none when he felt the interests of Kannada and the state were in jeopardy. He also happens to be the only journalist in the history of the more than a century old Kannada Sahitya Parishat to don the role of its annual conference president.
It also so happened that then Chief Minister SM Krishna was found leaving the stage midway when the president of the conference Patil Puttappa was delivering his presidential address. On noticing the sudden development, he called back the chief minister and ensured that the latter remained seated till his address was over.
Puttappa was fierce in the usage of words and terms while condemning the political personalities and men in power. At the same time, his knowledge about the literary, art and cultural personalities was amazing and the same was very well reflected in his writings and speeches.
In 1967, Puttappa became president of the Dharwad based Karnataka Vidyavardhaka Sangha, a Kannada protagonist institution founded in 1915 much before the Bengaluru based Kannada Sahitya Parishat came into being and remained in that position for a record number of 53 years till his end!
Throughout his life, Puttappa maintained an anti-INC stance after being associated with the Congress (O). He was vocal all along against the family dictatorship of the Nehru and Indira Gandhi family in the country’s power politics. But he never felt clinching to the presidentship of a cultural organisation for more than half a century had any connection with dictatorial leanings!
Shankar Halagatti, former general secretary of the Karnataka Vidyavardhaka Sangha, sums it all: “Whether someone agreed or disagreed, Patil Puttappa had his own way in all issues pertaining to the interests of Kannada and the Kannada land. No one can ever think of questioning his integrity and commitment to the cause of Kannada.” However, he remained a lone tusker forever in surging ahead. Unfortunately, like many stalwarts, he became one of them in being unable to produce a successor!