Following his keynote address on "Culture and Creativity" at the inaugural ceremony of the Centre for Creative and Cultural Studies at Manipal University in mid-2016, I asked Prof N Manu Chakravarthy what he wished to do with the numerous lectures he had been delivering at prominent academic centres, conferences, and film festivals. He said, "There are many fundamental questions which are deeply bothering me; I am trying to formulate a Third World theory. It is time that the Western world understood Third World cultures and societies as they express themselves, instead of compelling them to measure up to their standards. There is no need for Third World countries to globalize themselves. My theories are based on Arajakata Pragna inspired by the madhyama marga, the middle path of Gautama Buddha." After a moment of silence, he added, "You could think of editing them and publishing them in the form of a book."
This is how the book originated.
The essays for this anthology have been selected from several lectures delivered over the past two decades and are being published for the first time. They are compelling, challenging, surprising and provocatively distinct, revealing his commitment as a public intellectual, culture critic, a teacher, and a profound thinker.
Prof N Manu Chakravarthy has been recognized as a prominent culture critic and is known for his critical discourses on culture, literature, cinema, and philosophy. His ideas and criticism on cultural theories have influenced several acclaimed film directors, authors, teachers, and thinkers. Several of his books have received critical acclaim. He is the recipient of the prestigious Swarna Kamal, The President's Gold Medal as Best National Critic, 2010 for film criticism, the Karnataka Sahitya Academy Award for his works on cultural theory and the V M Inamdar Kavya Vimarsha Prashasti for his book Madhyama Marga.
He has authored six books, four monographs and edited six books (including books by U R Ananthamurthy), for which he has also written introductions and forewords, besides 21 book reviews with forewords, more than 50 articles, 12 interviews with prominent authors, film directors and thinkers, seven translations and more. A large number of his essays have been published in newspapers, magazines and media archives. Prof Manu's essays in academic publications have contributed invaluably to the debate surrounding the notions of contemporary India.
The fact that Prof Manu was invited to edit the extraordinary works of U R Ananthamurthy, K V Subbanna and D R Nagaraj, needless to say, only goes to show the great faith these eminent scholars had in Prof Manu's scholarship, intellectual maturity, and critical thinking. It is not just merely a testimony of his skills as an editor, but also of the complex nature of his intellectual thinking and feeling that have contributed towards defining the identity of Indian literature and culture, especially the debate on basha gnana. We read about Prof Manu's close intellectual relationship with these three scholars in the book.
Particularly insightful is Prof Varadesh Hiregange's interview with Prof Manu on late Prof U R Ananthamurthy, beloved teacher, mentor and guru to all three of us, which was planned and executed in 2017 when Prof Manu was in Manipal to inaugurate the Centre for Creative and Cultural Studies. I was fortunate that both agreed to the request for an audio-visual interview on U R Ananthamurthy, just a few months after his demise. In fact, in a sense, this interview answers several questions about U R Ananthamurthy's works and intellectual stances, which had to be addressed. Who better can ask and answer them than his own students?
It is significant to note that U R Ananthamurthy consulted Prof Manu on several occasions. One such incident is mentioned in U R Ananthamurthy's autobiography Suragi. It refers to the period when his health was critical, and he was undergoing dialysis at a hospital in Manipal. Whilst trying to recall T S Eliot's Midwinter Jpring is its own season, in an intensely emotional state, he calls Prof Manu Chakravarthy and asks, "What is the second line, the third, the fourth? In what context does it appear?" As he listened to Prof Manu reciting, he says, "It occurred in a flash that a new energy was rising in my body, like 'Midwinter spring is its own season'..." I quote this incident only to illustrate that U R Ananthamurthy has particularly relied upon the scholarship of Prof Manu with utmost faith on several such occasions. I have also been lucky to be privy to U R Ananthamurthy's opinion during a conversation with him, that Prof Manu is, "definitely, one of the best writers, thinkers and teachers that we have..."
A particular statement by Prof Shiv Vishwanathan establishes Prof Manu's significant role as a culture critic. In the book Community and Culture on the essays of K V Subbanna (page no: 379), Prof Shiv Viswanathan says, "I have not lived in Subbanna's village. In fact, I knew of it first only as a rumour. D R Nagaraj would talk about it, counterposing our research institute to this village. A few weeks before he died, he extracted a promise that I would go there soon. My encounter with the village was an encounter with five people, each of whom taught me something precious. The first was N Manu Chakravarthy who always insisted on the big questions, who treated texts as precious beings but was much more ruthless with critics."
Prof Manu does not fall under the broader category of the right, left or the centrist position, usually espoused by the intellectual world. He established his position of intellectual and political Arajakata' with his critically acclaimed work Madhyama Marga. He asserts his theories/positions through rigorous methods of construction, reconstruction and deconstruction of ideas, similar to the classical Indian philosophical approach of neti-neti meaning 'not this, not that', akin to the Western concept of Classical Anarchism. He describes this process as a 'holistic, intellectual churning'.
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