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'Samskrithi Kathana' by D.R. Nagaraj
Reviewed by Dattathreya Subbanarasimha
Title of Book: Samskrithi Kathana (Kannada)
Author: D.R. Nagaraj
Editor: Agrahara Krishnamurthy
Year: 2002
Publisher: Kannada Pusthaka Pradhikara (Kannada Book Authority), Pampa Mahakavi
Road, Chamarajpet, Bangalore -560019.
Price: Rs. 200.00
The book under review is a collection of essays written by the late Kannada literary and cultural
critic D.R. Nagaraj over a period of more than twenty years, from around 1975 till the time of
his early death in 1998. Most of these essays have previously appeared in regular columns that
Nagaraj wrote for such newspapers/magazines and journals as Kannada Prabha, Lankesh
Patrike, Shudra, etc. In addition to these essays there are also transcripts of many lectures that
Nagaraj
delivered
at
important
seminars
and
conferences.
Those readers of English who have known or have heard of Nagaraj only through his one
published collection of essays in that language "The Flaming Feet: A Study of the Dalit
Movement in India" (Bangalore: South Forum Press, 1993) would have little clue about
Nagaraj's prolific output in Kannada. His primary audience for most of his life was of course the
Kannada reading people of Karnataka. It was only towards the latter part of his life that Nagaraj
began to realise his full potential as a pan-Indian and post-colonial/Third-World thinker.
Nagaraj's writings in newspapers and magazines was marked not only by his characteristic
courage, conviction and passion but also by an in-your-face honesty seldom found among the
political and social commentators delivering staid homilies in Indian English language
newspapers. The intellectual power that stamped his social commentary had seen through
India's middle classes and the limitations of their radicalism. Although his essays in Lankesh
Patrike may sometimes have lacked the bellicosity characteristic of some of the other features
that run in that magazine, he made up for this with an intellectual and erudite frame of
reference that won the more discerning reader over to his side. Nagaraj was that rare public
intellectual who had the cultural confidence to think through his positions and present his
analyses and criticism in the most popular magazines and newspapers of the land.
The book under review has nearly a hundred essays ranging from fairly detailed and longish
essays on cultural themes to book reviews and brief contemporary newspaper pieces on events
of political significance. There is a series of valuable reflections on Ambedkar, Gandhi and Marx,
three of the most important historical figures that Nagaraj's political sensibilities had to engage
with for most of his life. As was evident in Nagaraj's book in English "The Flaming Feet", Gandhi
had begun to occupy an increasingly important role in Nagaraj's thought in recent times. But as
someone whose intellectual and political life had initially been shaped most crucially by the
figure of Ambedkar, the admiration for Gandhi had only come gradually and not a little
grudgingly. It is this drift in Nagaraj's recent thematic concerns that necessitated the invocation
of Gandhi in many of the essays in this book. In a beautifully crafted essay on Gandhian
conceptions of violence, non-violence and counter-violence, ('Tibetan Naayi, Mauni Sadhugalu
Mattu Champaran Raitharu"), Nagaraj likens Gandhi to a psychologist and points out that for
Gandhi the source of human violence was fear. Gandhi's social intervention in history through
non-violence was predicated upon a seemingly implausible syllogism: intervention in history is
to be non-violent, non-violence requires renunciation, but renunciation rejects/denies history.
Gandhi's solution was to forge an 'activist' renunciation that drew on the intellectual resources
for renunciation available in Indian traditions (Hindu, Jain, etc.) while simultaneously
disavowing the institutional forms of renunciation in those same traditions. The full historical
might of this 'activist' renunciation was then directed at the colonial British Government in India

in

the

form

of

the

doctrine

of

non-violence.

Nagaraj's investigation of Periyar Ramaswamy Naicker's political and cultural position (in
"Periyar Pattu: Kelavu Sandehagalu") points out that Periyar did not see any major difference
between culture and religion and, moreover, completely trusted the discourses of modern
science and development. Criticising Periyar's total rejection of India's cultural traditions
Nagaraj states "A cultural revolutionary needs cultural memories ('smritigalu') to support his
revolution. A revolution without memories may look very attractive for a brief moment; but the
effects/consequences of such a revolution do not last for long." (p.219).
In the two interviews included in the book Nagaraj explicitly reveals the direction in which his
thought was moving in the late 1990s; "I am trying to move towards an area of learning that is
neither (Hindu) conservative nor Orientalist, and to which I can contribute as a native socialist."
(p.584). Nagaraj had clearly seen the limitations of the traditional Marxist and secularist
understandings of Indian society: "(Their) analyses did not comprehend India's pluralistic
cultural sources. … Barring a few exceptions, the traditional leftists of India are scared of India's
culture. This is because they have been consenting to the values of the colonialist and
modernising
structures
in
Indian
society
all
along."
(p.585).
These are but a smattering of the bountiful critical insights that one may obtain from this book.
This book represents one of the most thoughtful attempts in recent years to come to terms with
the meanings of our social and cultural worlds and our exigent political responsibilities as
members of this society. We are told that Nagaraj's writings in Kannada are currently being
translated and prepared for publication in English. Fortunately for those who can still read
Kannada the collection of essays in this book should provide important clues to re-activate the
founts of intellectual and social creativity in our society.

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