Memoirs of a Public Intellectual: Siddalingaiah

Review Article by Chandan Gowda  “Ooru-Kéri: An Autobiography,” by Siddalingaiah. Translated from Kannada by S.R.Ramakrishna, published by Sahitya Akademi, 2003. 115 pages1 Rs.60.

 

Siddalingaiah is a rare figure in contemporary India. A writer, poet, folklorist, academic, founder of Dalit Sangarsha Samhiti and former member of the Karnataka Legislative Council, Siddalingaiah is an exemplary public intellectual. First published in 1996, his autobiography has already been translated into Tamil. It is fortunate that he has become accessible to an English audience at least now.   The autobiography presents, in capsule form, events from Siddalingaiah’s childhood to the start of his adult career. Dates are absent in this book; they do not matter for this meditative autobiography.  Siddalingaiah was born to a poor Dalit family near Magadi in Karnataka. Fortunate in having helpful relatives, his family moved to the Srirampura slum in Bangalore when he had finished his second standard in school.  He soon developed an interest in studies and also became known for his oratory in high school. His unforgettable miniature sketches of his family relations, his hostel, his friends, his schoolteachers and the various characters in the slum are suffused with light-hearted wit and moral seriousness. Siddalingaiah’s wit holds us in splits while also reminding us of the absurdity of social hierarchies.  

The book remarkably illustrates a political function of wit. An example: “A lecturer used to feel thirsty in class. He would give me the key to his Godrej almirah and ask me to fetch water. I would do as told. He was very orthodox. Why he still chose me to fetch water became a subject of discussion in class. He had mistaken me for a Lingayat. I was liberated from the task of fetching water after he came to know my caste (pg 76).” Siddalingaiah’s interest in poetry grew in high school. “For some reason,” he writes, he “liked the sprawling graveyard” near his slum where “lines of poetry came of their own accord.” He started taking an active interest in politics after he joined the Government Arts College in Bangalore. Skilled in public speaking, he soon became active in campus organizations. He also came into contact with political outfits like the CPI and CPI (M). Eventually, he along with Devanoor Mahadeva and B. Krishnappa founded Dalit Sangharsa Samhiti, the first statewide political organization of Dalits in Karnataka. It is delightful to read Siddalingaiah’s encounters with big political and literary figures of Karnataka at this time like Devraj Urs, P Lankesh, GS Sivarudrappa, Ki Ram Nagaraj, DR Nagaraj, Devanoor Mahadeva, among others.  

Ooru-Keri takes us into a world screened from the view of the urban middle classes in India. The Dalits’ vulnerabilities amidst caste and class violence; their moral worlds; their gods and goddesses; the life-affirming acts of affection within their community: all of these are grippingly narrated in the autobiography. Transcendent values hold this book: a profound respect for life, faith in non-violence, and compassion. It is clear that Siddalingaiah, like Gandhi, conceives politics within a spiritual framework. The philosophical implications of this autobiography are profound and space permits me to only hint at them here. In a relation where one does not recognize the other as equal, are the dominated locked in struggle with the dominant? Frantz Fanon, the famous Algerian psychiatrist, thought so and argued that only a violent engagement would set the dominated free. Siddalingaiah offers a powerful, alternate perspective. He affirms his selfhood without a trace of resentment towards vicious social games while also quietly doubting the value of the very things prized in those games. A philosophy for a liberation of the self is present in the book in unarticulated form; it requires careful interpretation.

The autobiography is also a tacit consideration of the ethics and aesthetics of memory. It silently engages with two big questions: Why must we remember painful incidents? How should we remember them? A struggle for social justice is not complete if the hearts of the hardhearted are not changed. Always subtle, Siddalingaiah’s comments never offend. Addressing everyone as a member of a moral community, the entire autobiography is a gentle moral suasion. Siddalingaiah briefly describes events and situations, makes us see the pain in human relations and moves on without anxiety towards eliciting the “right” responses in the reader.  Ooru-Keri is without doubt a major work. The translation is awkward in some places; also, a few Kannada words sure to be unfamiliar to nonKannada readers have been retained without the support of a glossary. These are, however, minor distractions in an otherwise compelling read.  Last year, Siddalingaiah’ sequel to this autobiography was serialized in a Kannada weekly. Let’s hope it gets collected as a book soon. 

 

1. Though the book was published in 2003, it became available only in middle of 2004.

Courtesy:The Indian Express, 12/19/04 (Selected Works of Chandan Gowda)

 

Other Related Articles

Affirmative action in workspaces – the tick box phenomenon
Thursday, 23 February 2017
  Dr. Sylvia Karpagam Large organizations working on human rights and development programs have a massive amount of resources and the luxury of separate departments for each aspect of... Read More...
ನಾಲ್ವಡಿ ಕೃಷ್ಣರಾಜ ಒಡೆಯರ ಕಾಲದ ಮೈಸೂರು ಸಂಸ್ಥಾನಕ್ಕೆ ಅಂಬೇಡ್ಕರ್ ಅವರ ಪ್ರವೇಶವಾಗದ ಕುರಿತು ಕಾಡುವ ಪ್ರಶ್ನೆಗಳು
Thursday, 08 December 2016
   ಡಾ.ಎನ್. ಚಿನ್ನಸ್ವಾಮಿ ಸೋಸಲೆ (Chinnaswamy Sosale) ಮೈಸೂರು ಸಂಸ್ಥಾನದ ಇಂದಿನ ಕರ್ನಾಟಕ... Read More...
The Janeyu in My News Story
Thursday, 01 December 2016
  Rahi Gaikwad Years ago, while studying journalism, a remark made by a foreign national classmate during a class discussion on caste has stuck in my mind till date. From what I remember, she... Read More...
The Making of the Region: Perspectives from a Non-Savarna Newspaper (Part II)
Monday, 28 November 2016
  P. Thirumal Continued from Part I Disciplinary axis From a certain disciplinary and a temporal axis, region has been studied as an objective entity in the form of center-state relations.[43]... Read More...
The Making of the Region: Perspectives from a Non-Savarna Newspaper (Part I)
Thursday, 24 November 2016
  P. Thirumal           Abstract This intervention concerns itself with elaborating the administrative category ‘region’. The federal units qualify as... Read More...

Recent Popular Articles

The Janeyu in My News Story
Thursday, 01 December 2016
  Rahi Gaikwad Years ago, while studying journalism, a remark made by a foreign national classmate during a class discussion on caste has stuck in my mind till date. From what I remember, she... Read More...
B R Bhaskar on Chalo Udupi: My Food, My Land
Friday, 28 October 2016
  B. R. Bhaskar Prasad was interviewed by Palani Samy and Nidhin Sowjanya for Dalit Camera before the Chalo Udupi rally. The text was translated from Kannada by Savitha Rajamani, Vinod... Read More...
When the Eye of Justice Is Jaundiced
Wednesday, 16 November 2016
  Gauri Lankesh Karnataka High Court Chief Justice Subhro Kamal Mukherjee is a man who proudly wears his belief on his forehead. While that might be his personal choice, what is problematic is... Read More...
ಎಬಿವಿಪಿ ಭಯೋತ್ಪಾದನೆ: ಪ್ರಸ್ತಾವನೆ
Saturday, 08 October 2016
  ಹಾರೋಹಳ್ಳಿರವೀಂದ್ರ (Harohalli Ravindra) ಉಗ್ರ ಹಿಂದುತ್ವವಾದಿ ವಿ.ಡಿ. ಸಾವರ್ಕರ್ "ಯಾರಿಗೆ ಭಾರತ... Read More...
ನಾಲ್ವಡಿ ಕೃಷ್ಣರಾಜ ಒಡೆಯರ ಕಾಲದ ಮೈಸೂರು ಸಂಸ್ಥಾನಕ್ಕೆ ಅಂಬೇಡ್ಕರ್ ಅವರ ಪ್ರವೇಶವಾಗದ ಕುರಿತು ಕಾಡುವ ಪ್ರಶ್ನೆಗಳು
Thursday, 08 December 2016
   ಡಾ.ಎನ್. ಚಿನ್ನಸ್ವಾಮಿ ಸೋಸಲೆ (Chinnaswamy Sosale) ಮೈಸೂರು ಸಂಸ್ಥಾನದ ಇಂದಿನ ಕರ್ನಾಟಕ... Read More...

Recent Articles in Hindi

पेरियार से हम क्या सीखें?

पेरियार से हम क्या सीखें?

  संजय जोठे  इस देश में भेदभाव और शोषण से भरी परम्पराओं का विरोध करने वाले अनेक विचारक और क्रांतिकारी हुए हैं जिनके बारे में हमें बार-बार पढ़ना और समझना चाहिए. दुर्भाग्य से इस देश के शोषक वर्गों के षड्यंत्र के कारण इन क्रांतिकारियों का जीवन परिचय और समग्र कर्तृत्व छुपाकर रखा जाता है. हमारी अनेकों पीढियां इसी षड्यंत्र में जीती आयीं हैं. किसी देश के उद्भट विचारकों और क्रान्तिकारियों को इस...

Read more

कृष्ण: भारतीय मर्द का एक आम चेहरा...!

कृष्ण: भारतीय मर्द का एक आम चेहरा...!

(कृष्ण की लोक लुभावन छवि का पुनर्पाठ!)मानुषी आखिर ये मिथकीय कहानियां किस तरह की परवरिश और शिक्षा देती हैं, जहां पुरुषों को सारे अधिकार हैं, चाहे वह स्त्री को अपमानित करे या दंडित, उसे स्त्री पलट कर कुछ नहीं कहती। फिर आज हम रोना रोते हैं कि हमारे बच्चे इतने हिंसक और कुंठित क्यों हो रहे हैं। सारा दोष हम इंटरनेट और टेलीविजन को देकर मुक्त होना चाहते हैं। जबकि स्त्री...

Read more

राष्ट्रवाद और देशभक्ति

राष्ट्रवाद और देशभक्ति

संजय जोठे धर्म जो काम शास्त्र लिखकर करता है वही काम राष्ट्र अब फ़िल्में और विडिओ गेम्स बनाकर बनाकर करते हैं. इसी के साथ सुविधाभोगी पीढ़ी को मौत से बचाने के लिए टेक्नालाजी पर भयानक खर्च भी करना पड़ता है ताकि दूर बैठकर ही देशों का सफाया किया जा सके, और यही असल में उस तथाकथित “स्पेस रिसर्च” और “अक्षय ऊर्जा की खोज” की मूल प्रेरणा है, यूं तो सबको...

Read more