The years of my academic life and work with the Adivasis were spent in Gujarat. When Gujarat emerged as the Hindutva laboratory, the thoughts of moving out of that state started haunting me. About a decade ago, I had more or less decided to take that step. It was but natural that I should think of taking residence in Karnataka. My wife is from Karnataka; and my teacher for literature Shantinath Desai was from Karnataka.
But apart from these personal reasons, there was a far more compelling reason for me to think so; and it was to seek intellectual depth and ideological strength from some of the great sons of Karnataka who were alive at that time. My wish-list of persons I would like to meet if I ever moved to Karnataka included U. R. Ananthamurthy, Girish Karnad, Gauri Lankesh, S. Setter, M. M. Kalburgi, Roddam Narasimha and H. S. Doreswamy.
It was a great irony of fate for me that I could not make the move before Dr. Kalburgi (1938-2015) was assassinated. I had met him twice before he was killed and naturally felt drawn to him for his impressive scholarship. However, we could not get down to any long conversation. My decision to move to Dharwad in response to Dr. Kalburgi’s murder was partly a result of the wishful apology for the conversation that had not taken place.
In 2016, when I took residence in Dharwad, I knew that a significant part of ‘my idea of Karnataka’ was already missing as some eighteen months before my arrival, U. R. Anantha Murthy (1932-2014) had died in August 2014. In his troubled last months a little book was published, almost as his last testimony, a hurriedly written warning the world of the rise of Hindutva. Though I had known him for about four decades, the possibility of holding conversation no more existed.
Soon after Dr. Kalburgi, the sanatani went after Gauri Lankesh (1962-2017) and killed her. I had met her the first time during the 1990s. The second time I met her was outside the then Sidramahaih’s residence, where—independent of each other – we had gone to ask him to expedite investigation of the Kalburgi murder case. The joy in discovering a long forgotten friend was mutual for both of us. Little did I know that she would be killed just a few days after that chance meeting. Another comrade was lost.
In the case of Prof. Setter (1935-2020), I had conversed with him over telephone and discussed convening a series of conferences on re-visiting the history of Karnataka, and the South. He was greatly excited with the idea. I was thrilled that a mighty scholar as he was, was ready to put his weight behind the idea. But, before the idea took any concrete form he was gone. I was not similarly fortunate in the case of Roddam Narasimha. I had heard about him from friends like Shiv Visvanathan and URA, but had no direct contact with him. I admired him from a distance, but my admiration for him was absolute, for he was among the very few thinkers in the country who had worked so keenly on ‘the Indian way of thinking.’
I have always believed that the fight with neo-fascism in India can be fought successfully if it is grounded in one of the many Indian ways of thinking. From that angle, Narasimha’s work is of great importance. Alas, Karnataka and India are without him today.
With Girish Karnad (1938-2019), I had previously developed a friendship in our meetings outside Karnataka and outside India. I met him twice after coming to Dharwad. When he came to Dharwad for Sahitya Sambhrama, he came home for dinner. Ramachandra Guha was with him too. Our conversation on many topics was a joy. The next time I met him in a public meeting in Bangalore where he came wearing a placard which read ‘I am an urban Naxalite.’ But, sadly, soon afterwards he had gone.
It was H. S. Doreswamy (1918-2021) whom I met for more times than the others in my wish-list. I had first heard of him from my elder friend in Gujarat Narayanbhai Desai, Mahadev Desai’s son. Therefore, when I first met Doreswamy , it felt as if I was meeting a relative or a friend known for long decades. The Gauri Memorial Trust meetings created further occasions to meet and exchange thoughts. The last time I met him was at his residence about three months ago.
It had pained me to see that some of the anti-nationals in Karnataka had tried to depict him as ‘anti-national’. He was characteristically unconcerned about it. In that meeting he talked at great length on why land distribution is necessary for improving the lot of the poor classes in Karnataka. I had no words to admire enough his passion about social justice and his political acumen.
Recently he was COVID positive, but had managed to fight the virus and survived. That was great news, a powerful idea fit for headlines; ‘a 104 year survives COVID’. My heart sank when I learnt earlier this week that the legendary HSD is no more. The last remaining part of my ‘idea of Karnataka’ has gone. The void is benumbing. How and where will Karnataka find again such great bhoomi-putras, such mighty leaders of thought and taste living in the same time and space?