Thursday, September 6, 2007


A bubbling enthusiast in English I joined the department at Manasa Gangotri, Mysore for a masters in English Literature in the early eighties having given up studying science enervated by its mathematical formulae, physical equations and to say the most chemical bonds which had tested by perseverance for three years though I came out in the end graduating in science with a good degree.

Prof. CDN had retired a couple of years earlier. But the ambience there was so agog with his aura as to make one feel the professor’s presence with greater fecundity and fullness. Most of my teachers had been his students and the influence was obvious. He was still every inch a professor in the department.

Many years earlier, Prof.C D Narasimaiah was instrumental in inaugurating a literary club which with its weekly meetings had created a platform particularly for us, a host of literature savvy megalomaniacs who thought literature was everything, bread and butter nothing. Impoverished by my three year degree course, I was sedate and languorous in the beginning what with my mates tickling my rustic English to do the fine tuning job and enabling me not to look back since.

The road became easier. I trudged along nicely with my frequent visits to Dhvanyaloka - the brain child of the great professor and an epicenter of modern English renaissance. The aura in the department had ebbed, but transported to a different space that was large enough to include Professor’s ever enhancing domain of literature and culture.

Having a humble and modest social and cultural background, Prof.CDN to the envy of many went on to become one of the most reckoned teachers of English Literature. At Cambridge, he was Leavis’ direct student. He brought back to Mysore Leavis’ legacy of the sacrosanct of the text and its cultural and social derivatives. He stuck to Arnold – Eliot – Leavis line of modern literature till the end with the theory oriented critical jargons of European thinkers such as Derrida and the like, making no dent in his literary perceptions. The new way of looking at literature wasn’t just there.

Prof. CDN is remembered today for many things, two being most striking. Introducing English studies in Indian universities and elevating Indian English writing far beyond its known territorial and cultural limits. The latter was a little too much done to regard Indian ‘Bhasha’ literatures as also equally important. The Professor was a man of unwavering faiths as also prejudices which were not too many though.

Prof. CDN considered literature a homoginising tool which is why he preferred Indian English literature to literatures in Indian languages. He perhaps didn’t like the rusticity of our languages used in literature for he had gone beyond to imbibe overwhelmingly the elitist and sophisticated tools of English language and to undo the backwardness of his upbringing. Going back to the roots meant reliving and retrieving the past from which he wanted to release himself. Not to feel inferior has always been a cultural phenomenon. It was a wrong political act , but culturally, he was rigid perhaps!

He revered Nehru beyond a limit who too thought of homogenising heterogeneous Indian identity through modern methods of development. He could think of Gandhi as only a writer, but not as a social reformer who would in any case not dismantle Indian diversities.

Prof. CDN without exception stood his ground when he was to assess the impact of European theories on literature. He was an extreme rightist in this context. He always relieved as Leavis did, a literary text was sacrosanct and it embedded a meaning that was interpretative as also decipherative at the same time. He would not agree with Derrida or in that matter a host of post-structuralists who maintained, a literary text per se did not exist and the meaning each time it was thought to represent something kept deferring. The text was not the text. The text did not refer to the bounded words on the page to quote Leavis. The text would lie elsewhere. For the whole of Wordsworth’s poetry industrial revolution was the text and for Eliot’s, modernity.

Prof. CDN did not even wink at these concepts. Literature for him was the ultimate. He looked at the post modern theorists rather disdainfully and with little sympathy. He hegemonised literature over other discourses. This was largely the Professor’s undoing. But then, he was a true meditative saint of literature and as one of my teachers who was CDN’s student put it, ‘Prof. CDN epitomized all English sophistication’.

Talking of CDN, two personal sketches, one in which I was myself involved and the other, a friend’s account, would not be out of place. An international seminar held at Dhvanyaloka when I was still a student at Mysore was an opportune moment for me to deconstruct the Professor. The discussion was on English studies in colonial and non-colonial contexts. I interjected during a session with a view that English literatures to our students should be taught in their mother tongue as English, as a language, would pose social and cultural problems. Prof. CDN was aghast and furious. He asked satirically whether all English departments in the country should be closed down! For the first time I thought the Professor was a live wire! Dr. Ananthamurthy who was present later told me, ‘yes! What you said was right, but …’. The Professor bore no ill will towards me for expressing what he thought was a very uncomfortable and unconvincing view point.

Every year towards the end, the Professor would invite final year students to his residence for a toast followed by dinner. He would personally make an offer of toast to students. After the dinner, he would move to each student and offer cigarettes. It was an English bonhomie of a party which the students regaled and enjoyed. The Professor could not have been more amiable.

The Professor died in his sleep at his daughter’s residence in Bangalore where he had gone to renew his passport. Remember, he was 80-plus and had plans to go to Sri Lanka. Literature was always a pilgrimage for him. He undertook it, lived it and died for it.

Prof. CDN may not be amidst us today. But we remember him for all his courage and conviction. He was a single man who became colossus for generations of students and authors. It was hard not to disagree with him, but then he could improvise our differences into a creative phenomenon. Such was the man and his legacy not to be just preserved, but to be sustained only to enliven ourselves by constant questioning and disagreeing for many many years to come.


vishnu said...

it's hard to miss....the charm in the writings... the ends up bringins a smile,a warm one at that..even though some of the contentions r still touches.....

Thejaswi said...

Really nice tribute Sir, I too share similar thoughts on Prof.CDN and his"english"literary world, though some of the contentions are arguable as Vishnu said. please keep it going.

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now. Keep it up!
And according to this article, I totally agree with your opinion, but only this time! :)

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