Sunday, March 04, 2012
Vijay P. Tambanda (Ed.), Kannada Vishwavidyanilaya Charitre, 8 Vols.
Prasaranga: Kannada Univ., Hampi, 2010
During the colonial period, histories of India were written by British historians like James Mill, Vincent Smith, and such others as part of the Imperial agenda of England. As a reaction to such histories, during the 20th century, there were many ‘Nationalist’ histories of India written by Indians, the most influential among them being the ones by Jadunath Sarkar and R. C. Mujumdar. Towards the latter part of the last century, there arose many scholars like Romila Thapar, Bipan Chandra, and R. S. Sharma, who owed allegiance to Marxist ideology. And then there were ‘Subaltern Histories,’ focusing on the those classes and communities that hadn’t found a place in ‘Elite histories.’ What these different histories tell us is that the narrative called History is the ‘construct’ of an ideology, influential and powerful at a particular period of time, which may tell us about what may have happened in the past.
The eight-volume history in Kannada, brought out by Kannada University, Hampi, ambitiously hopes to be different from all the histories mentioned above. The editors of these volumes have brought together articles of historians/non-historians of all ideologies and methodologies. While most are written, originally, in Kannada, a few have been translated from English. Also, besides the articles on ‘Elite histories,’ there are articles on Feminist and Subaltern histories and those culled from oral traditions. According to the Chief Editor, Vijay Tambanda, the present volumes “attempt to document the varied dimensions of the intricate systems, conflicts, co-existence and opposition of different traditions and communities,” existing in the Indian sub-continent and elsewhere.
Among these eight volumes, whereas the first volume is exclusively devoted to the theoretical discussion of historiography and historical method, Vol. VI is concerned with contemporary Karnataka, and Vols. II and III discuss the history of the Indian sub-continent. The other volumes deal with the ‘multi dimensions’ of the history of Asia (Vol.IV), Europe (Vol. V), Africa (Vol. VII) and America (Vol. VIII). Since this article intends only to introduce these volumes, I shall be content, in the rest of this article, to briefly consider only two volumes -- the first and the sixth volumes.
The first volume, completely theoretical in nature, contains articles on the ‘history of History’ by different scholars. The three long articles in this volume are: the beginnings of historical writing, by Ashwatthanarayana (pp. 80); the traditions of historical writing in Modern Europe, by H. V. Shrinivasa Murthy (pp. 65); and ‘the Subaltern History’ by Vijay P. Tambanda (pp.83). Other major articles are by Ashoka Shettar, B. Surendra Rao, Rajarama Hegde, and others; the volume also contains articles on Feminist History by Rachael Kurian (in translation) and three articles on Oral History by B. Shivarama Shetty, M. V. Vasu, and Mogalli Ganesh. All the 20 articles put together, this volume provides an excellent introduction to historiography and the new paths it has broken in the last four to five decades. All the volumes, at least in theory, are formulated by an ideology as argued by S. Settar at the time of launching these volumes: “ The notion that pre-colonial India had no sense of history or historical documentation is deeply flawed. . . . The Indian sense of history was different from how it was understood in Rome or Greece.”
When we approach the other volumes against this ambitious theoretical background, we are left with mixed feelings. For instance, the sixth volume on ‘contemporary Karnataka’ focuses, rightly, on ‘Movements’ and ‘Struggles’: Freedom Movement in Karnataka, Struggle for Unification, Gokak agitation, and Backward Class-Dalit-Peasant Movements in post-independence Karnataka. The problem with this volume (and perhaps with other volumes also) is that most of these essays aren’t written exclusively for this volume; they are the essays written, by historians and non-historians, in different contexts with different purposes. Hence, when they are brought together, inevitably, their quality varies in many respects: length, style, and approach; also repetitions become unavoidable.
Consider for instance the three articles on ‘the Struggle for Unification of Karnataka.’ The third article by Chandrashekhar, running to 44 pages, is a well-researched article on the topic: it documents the problem of Unification step by step, beginning with pre-independence period and ending with the unification in 1956; and it discusses the role played by a host of politicians and writers, literary and cultural associations, and major conferences, fairly objectively. The first two short articles on the same topic do not add to or qualify any material or statement of this article; hence the unavoidable question, why are they selected? It does not mean that there shouldn’t be more than one article on a topic; but each one should tell us something that others do not, and this is not the case with the first three articles.
The problem with the article on ‘Gokak Movement’ is of a different type. It is written by a non-historian, in a leisurely manner and in autobiographical mode, and it runs to 78 pages. Naturally, as its mode is autobiographical, it is centred mainly on what the author did and did not do; and there is no other article to present a possible different perspective on the movement. The single article on ‘Land Reforms in Karnataka’ by Valerian Rodrigues is full of facts and figures and it professionally documents the achievements as well as limitations of the daring legislation undertaken by the Urs government. But the same thing cannot be said about either the one on ‘Literary Movements’ or ‘Women’s Movements’; both are sketchy and casual. Again, contrary to the expectations raised by the theoretical first volume, there isn’t a single article on ‘oral traditions and oral literature.’ Also, dates and sources of articles aren’t provided; hence it is impossible to evaluate an article, objectively.
I do understand the problems and constraints which an editor of such volumes faces; most often, he has to make do with whatever is available. Also, these volumes ARE definitely useful as resource material, especially Kannada readers, as they make available some excellent essays which, otherwise, may not have been easily accessible to all. But I do want to make this point that a mere collection of all the available articles on one topic, generally, ends up as a ‘hold-all,’ without any overall ideological or methodological unity.
C. N. Ramachandran
Labels: Book Reviews