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The king of kings is 150


The grand-old Maharaja's College of Mysore has turned 150. Any attempt to comprehend its symbolic value has meant conflating memory with real experience

Kannada sensibility found its strong bearing with Kuvempu's coming


THE MANY TRANSITIONS Maharaja's College, by the mid-70s, was no longer a great intellectual centre, but a melting pot that, in its own way, democratised human consciousness.

It is not mere sentimentality that makes generations of people regard some institutions as symbols of enduring value. In fact there is a collective cultural memory, if not actual experience, that continues to breathe life into the very being of old institutions, which, otherwise, would have remained dead structures with no meaning or significance to the present. This is very much true of an institution like the Maharaja's College, which is now 150 years old. While writing about Maharaja's college one, quite unconsciously, becomes nostalgic and glorifies the institution or tends to pile up facts and figures in a mechanical manner that records the institution's achievements. Neither of the tendencies helps in actually looking at what the institution means, or signifies, today. Any attempt to comprehend the symbol that Maharaja's college was, has always meant conflating memory with real experience; an integration of many aspects of what was purely oral in nature with one's own concrete, lived experience.

As one of a generation which walked into Maharaja's college in the mid 70's, and, as an individual, who went back to it as a teacher for a while in the mid 80's, I find it essential to correlate my direct experiences with the memories and experiences of those - which includes my father, my teachers, friends and a huge number of students - whose consciousness was shaped by the institution in diverse ways. For this very reason Maharaja's college, as an institution, still looms large in many of us as a rich symbol, signifying altering intellectual, social and political attitudes and values. The word "institution" figures more than the word "college" in this piece of writing because the college went far beyond mere academics, at least till the mid 80's. An overarching account of Maharaja's - shaped by several oral narratives, impressions and many personal experiences - is perhaps the only sound way of imaging the multi-dimensional spirit of the institution, and that precisely is the attempt here.

Maharaja's, for many who were students during the pre-independence era, upheld the discipline and punctuality of the English. One consistently heard of the great value of the teaching of J.C. Rollo, Eagleton, A.B. Mckintosh (to name a few) and the meticulous manner in which they imparted education and social values to native learners. Accounts of this period, project Maharaja's as a centre of modern learning guided by the systematic approach of Englishmen, and, as an institution that brought great rational scientific knowledge and liberal ideas as well as values of the West to the doorsteps of those who were bound to rather outmoded traditional structures. What manifests itself, as oppressive colonial education these days was then, experientially for many, a source of progressive liberal education - a paradox that continues to confront us even now.

Overlapping this phase was the period when Maharaja's, for those steeped in classical Indian scholarship with strong cultural and traditional roots, disseminated conceptual categories that established an intellectual encounter between the East and the West. It was Indian scholarship coming to terms with Western epistemology without any inferiority complex overriding it, even though one could trace shades of a certain kind of humble reverence to the West. Eminent scholars and writers were, fundamentally, teachers who shaped the lives of many at Maharaja's. The range of scholarship was truly astounding and covered aesthetics, philosophy, literature and history. M. Hiriyanna, S. Radhakrishnan, D.L. Narasimhachar, B.M. Shri, T.S. Venkannaiah, Ti.Nam. Shri represented the range and depth of this universe of teaching and scholarship that were absolutely organically related.

A file picture of the 1959 batch, which has stalwarts like D.L. Narasimhachar, Ti.Nam Srikantiah, G.S. Shivarudrappa, as also Poornachandra Tejaswi

It is at this juncture that one must turn particularly to K.V. Puttappa for what he symbolised as a writer and an administrator. Not going into details about Kuvempu as a writer, it is however necessary to place on record the strong movement towards local cultures and knowledge systems, through studies in aesthetics, philosophy and literature that began around this period. Kannada sensibility found its strong bearing at this stage, and it would not be wrong to argue that through Kuvempu, with of course the depth of scholars mentioned earlier, the Kannada consciousness registered itself with great conviction. What supplemented this in an excellent manner was the new range of critical sensibility ushered in by Prof. C.D. Narasimhaiah through the critical idiom shaped by F.R. Leavis at Cambridge. It is most important to remember that modern Kannada criticism owes a tremendous lot to the analytical tools that Leavis, and the new critics, gave young students like K.V. Subbanna, U.R. Ananthamurthy and G.H. Nayak, G.S Shivarudrappa, Poornachandra Tejaswi and Lankesh, who later on emerged as the pioneering figures of the modernist movement in Kannada.

Maharaja's did have a strong political and ideological tradition too. We were told of how the nationalist movement produced outstanding student leaders, many of whom became prominent politicians later. Old timers refer to the fiery M.V. Krishnappa who would inspire his fellow students to develop an understanding of politics at great ideological levels. No story of Maharaja's is complete without a specific reference to the social and political transformation it underwent between the late 60's and the mid 70's. New social forces lent Maharaja's a political dimension that extended the boundaries of scholarship and learning. Young students from different social strata (Dalits, backward caste/class groups) entered the institution unleashing a radical political energy that the academic world could not ignore or insulate itself from. Maharaja's, for the right historical reasons, became a political centre too, and inculcated new political and social values in students who were predominantly from the upper caste groups. I personally believe a true democratic process was initiated by this change and a new radical social energy filled the minds of young students who came into Maharaja's. That this led to a lot of politicking and caste war in the mid 70's (because of the manipulations of the university administration controlled by dominant caste groups trying to outsmart each other) is a different matter altogether. One must refer to the new energy brought into the academic world that Maharaja's had always been by individuals like Devanooru Mahadeva, and Ummarabba (again to name only a few) who carried with them strong ideological positions that were different from those held by upper caste/class teachers and students.

For us, in the mid 70's, Maharaja's was no longer a great intellectual centre, but was a melting pot that, in its own way, democratised our consciousness. There was nothing intellectually outstanding during this period. But truly Maharaja's stayed afloat as a socio-political arena that helped many like me transcend our caste/class interests. There was a real secularisation of consciousness thanks to the different secular/democratic socio-political understanding we gained through our very personal relationships with our fellow students who came from very dehumanising, oppressive conditions. It was Maharaja's, the institution, that gave many of us a democratic understanding of our society and its times.

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