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The forgotten double?

Prithviyallodagida Ghatavu: Karnatakada Ninnegalu is an important book presenting an interesting history of Karnataka


Prithviyallodagida Ghatavu: Karnatakada Ninnegalu

By Manu V. Devadevan

Akshara Prakashana, Rs. 115

P rithviyallodagida Ghatavu presents an interesting history of Karnataka: interesting for both the new findings and the flowing, accessible style of writing. Devadevan looks critically at earlier historians and their work and contemplates the process of history-writing. He sees each period of time as marked by a certain ideology under which we function, which then needs to be probed into by the historian: we must do this to know how we have come to be, what we are. All chapters provide such theoretical clarifications keeping the reader interested. Good story-telling skills allow for a smooth transition from one chapter to another and sometimes even manage to keep us on the edge.

Devadevan's expertise in several languages has been put to good use in this book: he makes some interesting connections with words across several south Indian languages and their etymological origins and draws conclusions about the relationships they indicate. But one doesn't know how seriously the presence or absence of words should be made to stand as evidence for an interaction between regions and their languages.

Devadevan historically traces the relationship between kavyaand power (Pg 49). This is a very redundant reading. It simply assumes that all of history was a quest for power and excludes any notion of the everyday. While a lot of scholars use texts like the “Manusmriti” to show India's past as degenerate, Devadevan uses them to draw very mundane conclusions. While that is a surprise, in itself there is no particular virtue in approaching these texts in a value-neutral way. I say this, because the greater problem persists: how do we know that these texts represented the life and society of their times? How can the complex relationship between life and literature be overlooked? It is as of every piece of text is ‘evidence' for the historian. What I see in Devadevan is a proud belief (which is true of many historians) that whatever relics or texts are available today are enough to write a history of India; and this, even when we know that thousands of texts have been lost to us forever. Have we become like the West, ignoring the virtues of forgetting that we once practiced, as Ashis Nandy reminds us in his essay, “History's Forgotten Doubles”?

Devadevan offers an interesting take on the vachanas when he says that they are part of a deekshatradition and only therefore do not care for caste or gender. The question that remains however is: who gives deekshaand how, and what knowledge is it that one is being initiated into? But this does not seem to be of interest to him at all. For all practical purposes, he is writing a secular history of Karnataka. So how does deekshafit in, how do the related miracles and prophecies fit in? These questions remain unanswered and I am not sure if Devadevan even sees them as valid questions. Devadevan tells us that the Vijayanagara Empire was hardly the golden period in Karnataka's history; he says it was the worst because it forced people to be constantly on the move. These are new and valuable findings that other historians specialising in the period should respond to. He is right in showing the flaws of the subaltern studies group of historians.

This is a critique that was long-anticipated and has reached the Kannada reader effectively through Devadevan.

‘What is history', and such other basic questions about the discipline of history are things that Devadevan can clarify, which is a prerequisite to being a good scholar and writing a work of significance, which is what this book is.

SUSHUMNA KANNAN

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