English Writings of D V Gundappa - 12

This article is part 12 of 12 in the series English Writings of D V Gundappa

DVG was deeply rooted in the philosophical tradition of India. Dharma as a concept was of absorbing interest to him. It engaged his energy throughout his life. In a sense, he was wedded to dharma. It is so constant a feature of his writings that we may consider it his idée fixe, albeit in a positive sense. His exposition of dharma alongside kindred concepts such as rta, satya, sattva, rajas, and tamas is a worthy contribution to Indian philosophical thought.

Rta is a self-existent instinct of man … It acts in us on the instant, as a sudden flash, lighting up the shape of the true in any situation. It is our inner witness and usually our first witness. Satya is rta confirmed … or action-worthy truth. And satya in action is dharmaDharma […] based upon a rational appreciation of the relative values of things of the body and of the soul, is justice or due satisfaction of the claims of each entity in a conflict. It is generosity or willingness to share the good things one has with those who have them not … It is harmony in relationships and grace in behaviour. It is not the suppression but the regulation of desire. It is the introduction of a rational order into the chaotic promptings of the body and the mind. It is in life what balance and proportion are in a picture. (pp. 49–51)

               If one would obtain a clear and steady vision of the True, which is the indispensable key to the Good, one should find a way of eliminating the two corrupters of understanding and judgment (sattva), — namely excitement (rajas) and apathy (tamas). The central purpose of ethics properly so called should be to secure the release of sattva from the hold of rajas and tamas which keep it prisoner. It is for this that all disciplines and all rules of conduct are designed. Law, social code, morality, manners — all these aim at facilitating the full expression of the sattva implicit within and its prevalence over rajas and tamas. So does the ethic of democracy. (p. 49)

On the practical side, this insight into philosophical concepts led him to aver that we should first observe our duties before asserting our rights:   

The origin of the right is a part of morality … and fitness is another part of that same morality. It is the latter part that has gone neglected in the career of democracy. Its prophets from Rosseau downwards have over-emphasized the “rights” aspect and under-toned the “duties” aspect of the democratic ethic. Herein has been the root of the trouble. (p. 53)

Taking up the problem of linguistic states for analysis once again, DVG offers a comprehensive picture in an essay contributed to The Indian Yearbook of International Affairs in 1954. Here are a few of his pointed observations:

Linguistic homogeneity is not necessarily and not always the same thing as cultural homogeneity. For example, while Mysore and Dharwar are both Kannada areas, Mysore is more akin to Madras, and Dharwar more akin to Bombay, in matters of music and the fine arts, and to some extent in habits of food and dress. The living affinities of a people are inevitably complex in their make-up and their working; and while they are too subtle and intricate for analysis, it would be taking serious risks to ignore them. (p. 94)

               It is unjust to speak of linguistic demands as though they were independent of the demands of national integrity. (p. 95)

               Can an average Mysorean with just a smattering of a book-learnt Hindi hope to beat a Lucknowallah in an oratorical contest in Hindi? If the answer is not a ready and definite “Yes,” then the Mysorean’s knowledge of Hindi is to him nothing more than a nominal accomplishment. Instead of that, he could have more usefully studied his own Kannada a little better. (pp. 107–08)

               North India on the whole does not seem to have appreciated the force of popular sentiment in South India. This is a great danger to our national unity. (p. 108)

Responding to people pressing for educational reforms, DVG emphasized on inculcating the basics – memory; pronunciation; Sanskrit, various Indian languages and English; science and mathematics:

The three R’s [reading, writing, and arithmetic] are still the staple of education, and all the rest are of secondary importance. And in the higher ranks, I plead for the old ideal of a liberal education, — “everything of something and something of everything.” It is in the High School that the foundations should be laid for the second part of the maxim, — “something of every worthwhile thing”; and it is in the University that the other part of the ideal, — “everything of something,” — should be cultivated. My plea in short is thus for no more than the repairing of the old foundations which have suffered neglect and damage through the ascendency of both amateurs and fanatics during the last two or three decades. (p. 121)

He gave an earful to activists who made a hue and cry about drastic readjustments. Well thought-out action — not noise — is what counts. He remarked with succulent effrontery:

[Education] must need cleansing and renovation now and then, even as our bodies need bath and nourishment every new day. But such renewal is not anything drastic; it is part of the ordinary routine of life. No one makes any fuss about his morning toilet. (p. 118)

DVG spent a good amount of his time in thinking about how the past can coalesce with the present to serve as a lamppost to the future. This was a recurring theme in his writings. When the government introduced the Hindu Intestate Succession Bill in 1954, he wrote an article titled Right to Patrimony Among Hindus, explaining the historical background and far-reaching consequences of the inheritance issue. Incidentally, this lucidly written essay showcases his mastery over the foundational Dharmashastra works.

            In the same year, he wrote a longform titled Industrial Technology and Indian Society. Although he was not against scientific progress, he argued that technological development should not result in the mechanization of life. The pursuit of physical comforts, he observed, should not mask our innate idealistic proclivities. DVG’s perspective has come to be known as ‘alternative economics’ after the 1970s. Here are a few excerpts:

Mankind is for the ordinary man a concept too vast and too remote and too impersonal to kindle intimacy of emotion. It is the magic tie of concrete kinship and fellowship that can convert that abstraction into a thing material and available for living relationships. The family, the caste, the sect and the State divide humanity into little bits and present to the eye a bit at a time as though it were a photograph fixed in a frame. The man who, sitting in his room, would gather a surface view of the whole of the terrestrial globe must need look at one sectional map after another in a series and then at last piece them all together in his own mind. Similarly, to the man of but average power of imagination and understanding, the customary divisions of humanity are so many part-pictures, each presented in a convenient frame so that he could easily recognize it, of an immense body of reality of which he is a tiny speck, and which therefore would otherwise be inaccessible to his comprehension. The essential point is that when looking at the parts, one should be careful not to forget that they are but parts and that there is a larger whole in which they are all to be seen joined as one. This in brief is the philosophy of Hindu social organization. Its central purpose is the facilitating of the soul’s education in shedding the narrowing instincts of self-concern and blossoming by stages into life universal. (p. 139)

               Life for the factory man becomes a treadmill routine and lacks spontaneity. It knows no outburst of joy or enthusiasm. From dawn to dusk it is an unceasing round of prescribed duties that can offer no scope for personal initiative or the unfolding of talent. Even pleasures become mechanical like Saturday cinemas and Sunday picnics. (p. 149)

               Life is to the factory hand no more than animal existence alternating between labour and languor. He has no psychological time in which to seek and enjoy the things that can refresh the mind and renovate the spirit … The milieu that can induce the mood for self-cultivation can be created only by conditions of natural and habitual mind-contacts among equals of kindred tastes and common aspirations. (pp. 149–50)

The quality and consistency of DVG’s journalistic labours were matchless. No significant development – regional, national, or international – escaped his attention. His comments were biting, jocular, laudatory, or disapproving befitting the occasion; but were always worth making. When the five-year plans were being touted as harbingers of all-round transformation, DVG made an incisive comment to bring the panegyrists back to ground:

So much fuss is being made by party propagandists about these plans that it is possible that young people may be persuaded to think that something very original and prodigious has been set on foot. In sober truth, all decent governments in the world including India have always “planned” for their States. What is an annual budget if not a “plan” for the year on view? The budget falls roughly under two heads: the Routine and the Capital. The former relates just to the ordinary work of the year and the latter to works of more lasting benefit to the State. When the needs of the people are studied ahead of the five years instead of for one year, it becomes a Five-year Plan; if for ten years, then a Ten–year Plan. Sir M. Visvesvaraya as Dewan gave Mysore a ‘plan’ forty years ago (1913–1919), long before Russia produced hers; and before him his predecessor Rangacharlu had a plan seventy-five years ago. They had no drums to beat or conches to blow in those days. If anybody had flaunted the phrase ‘Welfare State,’ Rangacharlu would have asked — “What else is a State for?”  (p. 222)

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Shashi Kiran B N holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a master's degree in Sanskrit. His interests include Indian aesthetics, Hindu scriptures, Sanskrit and Kannada literature and philosophy.

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