LEAFING THROUGH Madhyama Marga, a collection of critical essays, is a book that offers unusual insights into literature and culture

Madhyama-Marga by N. Manu Chakravarthy

Akshara Prakashana, Rs. 350

N . Manu Chakravarthy, a professor of English by profession, belongs to a rare breed of critics in Karnataka, in that he writes with great expertise on music and films as on literature. His collection of critical essays, “Madhyama-Marga” (Media Path) contains 49 articles, of which 20 are on literature and culture, 12 on films, seven on classical music, five on criticism, and five interviews. It has been, very appropriately, honoured with the prestigious V.M. Inamdar Award instituted by M.G.M. College, Udupi, for the year 2010.

While the title aptly suggests that the essays here deal with different media like literature, cinema, and music, however, as Manu himself accepts, the title is also intended to allude to the famous Buddhist work “Madhyamika Karika” by Nagarjuna, which is shaped by a healthy scepticism towards all branches of knowledge including language. Through such an allusion, Manu suggests that he also opposes, or at least seriously doubts, established ideological positions. In his introduction, he tells us that “he accepts and practices the basic principle of literature that unless abstract theories and principles are realised as concrete experiences of real life, they do not convey either any meaning or any value.” This is, of course, the basic tenet of Leavisian criticism, but still relevant as it protects one from getting lost in abstractions. Consequently, he argues, today in India and elsewhere, alternative intellectual traditions which interrogate Western intellectual traditions are on the rise.The first essay, “Globalisation and India” discusses the views of many experts for and against globalisation, endorses the fact that it is too complex an issue to make simplistic statements, and argues that India's option should be towards strengthening economic-cultural-political decentralisation and fight for decentralised globalization. The essay on “Nation and National Power” argues that ‘nation' is only a ‘construct,' that ‘nationality' takes its birth in sin and inequality and hence breeds violence, and that those who oppose violence should, first, search for an ethical path that opposes the violence of authority. Most of the essays on contemporary issues take a similar stand that can roughly, be called ‘nativist-sceptical-liberalism.' Manu, after a scholarly discussion, takes a clear and ameliorative stand on these issues. However, the problem with such essays is the way he conducts the arguments –indulging in sweeping generalisations. Consider these statements: “Today, the ruling power, bureaucracy, the Police, Press, and Judiciary — when all these are working against the interests of the poor, the exploited, Dalits, and unorganised sectors, what position can a civil society take and act?” (p. 43); “Today, the English that the modern world wants is the English that imposes slavery on everyone” (p. 67). The articles on films, music, and the interviews are insightful and rewarding. Especially articles like “The marginalised made invisible,” “Manufactured icons and milieu,” and the two on Kasaravalli are worth reading and re-reading. Manu argues in the first article that while the ‘displaced' get due attention, the ‘marginalised' are totally ignored. All ‘texts' exhibit this attitude, he states, and then goes on to analyse Satyajit Ray's “Appu Trilogy” and Tamil “Adharmam” to justify his statement. The second article about the matinee idols (like Rajkumar) is more ambitious and analytical. He argues that the concept of a ‘mega star' is the product of a particular ethos, and that common people invest with the mega star all of their dreams, desires, aspirations, and even their willpower. Such a matinee-idol gets forcefully drawn into political and cultural debates as illustrated by the Kannada mega star Rajkumar.

Regarding the interviews, Manu does meticulous homework before an interview, and, sometimes, brings to light such points which might startle even the interviewee (Ustad Karim Khan's probable influence on Rajashekhara Mansur, for instance).

Despite the heat and dust generated by passionate arguments, “Madhyama-Marga” is a rare and notable contribution to Kannada culture-criticism.

C.N. Ramachandran