Dissent, Diversity Run Deep in Karnataka and in Indian Philosophy: A Conversation

Rahamath Tarikere and Chandan Gowda talk about philosophy, culture, resistance and syncretism in some traditions in Karnataka. Tarikere worked as professor of Kannada literature at Kannada University, Hampi from 1992 until his retirement in 2021. His extensive publications, which include literary and cultural criticism, travel writing as well as short essays on wide ranging matters, have earned him the Central Sahitya Akademi Award (2010) and the State Sahitya Akademi Award (1993, 1998, and 2000). Gowda is Ramakrishna Hegde Chair Professor at the Institute of Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru. His areas of interest include social theory, modern Kannada literature and Indian political thought. Apart from academic writings, he has translated numerous Kannada fiction and non-fiction works into English. He is a columnist with Deccan Herald.

An English translation of the conversation, abridged and edited, is below.

CG: You’ve recently started working on an autobiography. What kind of an effort is it? What are you trying to create?

RT: As you know, ‘I’ plays a very important role in autobiographies. So I’ve been thinking of how to dispense with it. And, by doing that, I want to bring to the forefront the environment that moulded me. When a Muslim or Dalit writes an autobiography, readers expect to find the distinct experiences of the community in it. But mine wasn’t a very distinctly Muslim family. I grew up with different communities. I learnt my first lessons of secularism from my father, from the streets where I lived. I grew up among people who spoke different languages and the Muslim community was blended with the other communities. Kannada came to us as naturally as Urdu. I want to convey that environment in my book.

CG: Your father was a blacksmith and he also had a farm. Your mother did embroidery and also taught the Quran to girls. How did your interest in Kannada literature evolve in this milieu?

RT: My mother would go to people’s homes and teach the Quran to children. And she also loved to watch the films of MGR and Rajkumar. She knew Tamil and her friends were Tamils. They weren’t two separate worlds, they went together. Since my father was both a farmer and as well as a blacksmith, he had ties with different kinds of farmers. My mother was a very good story teller. I was the first to learn the alphabet in our family.  If anything came wrapped in newspaper, I would read from it. And my wonderful school teachers cultivated an interest in literature. Also, there was a library in front of my high school. It had all the books I needed. My interest in literature didn’t evolve purposefully.  I think it grew naturally in that milieu.

CG: Most of your research and writing happened at Kannada University, Hampi. How was its institutional environment?

RT: When I had to move to the university, I did wonder about moving to a new region. To add to it, there was no teaching work there. It was wholly a research job. And the year I moved… it was the year 1992, chaos and agitation were everywhere in the country. And when I went to the university, there were no buildings there, not even a chair to sit on. But there were big dreams all around. The first VC, Dr. Chandrashekhar Kambar, had sowed those dreams. Going to Hampi made me less ignorant. Because some of the most amazing cultural worlds of Karnataka are found in North Karnataka. My professional research obligations and the institutional aim to create knowledge inevitably took me to North Karnataka, which became my karma bhoomi from the point of research…..