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Meaningful encounter

One of Balagangadhara's most important works, “The Heathen in his Blindness…”, has been translated into Kannada


Smriti-Vismriti: Bharateeya Samskruti

Translated by Dr. Rajaram Hegde

Akshara Prakashana, Rs. 415

B alagangadhara's “The Heathen in his Blindness…Asia, West and the Dynamic of Religion” …has indeed prompted an intellectual revolution of sorts and those who have engaged with the questions he raises in the book cannot escape engaging with the answers he provides as well. To put it strongly — any scholar in the field of cultural studies and its related disciplines, will have to respond to his work. The answers in “The Heathen…” are methodically derived and lucidly explained. The book shows how, “in the name of science and ethnology, biblical themes become our regular stock-in-trade…” (226-7). It traces the history of the two encounters of European culture with other cultures and empirically shows that the existence of religion was assumed both these times. It argues that the ‘universality of religion' is a falsifiable assumption and that religion is not a cultural universal. While a lot of people assert that Hinduism is not a religion, this is the only book that proves the same theoretically. And so, the consequences of such an argument are unlike what has followed from the assertions others have been making; the book makes available new research problems. “Smriti-Vismriti” is a simple translation of “The Heathen…” by the scholar-historian Rajaram Hegde and should help the many eager Kannada readers who were awaiting it. Hegde's short introduction to the “Smriti-Vismriti…” gives the reader a good idea of how the book should be received and also discusses issues of translation. Hegde notes the interesting, but complex phenomenon of borrowing between languages and the usage of different words for different purposes within a language. He brushes off the oft-spelt complaint, which sees the usage of English, very simplistically, as ‘polluting' Kannada. He shows that within Kannada, we use Sanskrit words in spiritual discussions and Persian, Arabic and Marathi for administrative purposes. Hegde says that to this extent “Smriti-Vismriti” does contain English words but that it will not deter the reader in anyway and will only serve as another way of learning the subject-matter.

Hegde talks of the importance of retaining some words in English, because otherwise communicating the arguments of the original would be, according to him, impossible. This is because words are steeped in their conceptual frames and carry the baggage of the culture they come from, shorn of which they cease to make meaning. Some words simply cannot be translated into Kannada, asserts Hegde. Religion, doctrine, secular, faith and belief are examples of such words. His usages of some words however, he indicates, acquire a certain degree of translation along with the varying usages in the argument of the book. He asks the reader to watch out for such differences. Hegde, in the very beginning, tells the readers of translation of certain words that remain consistent throughout the book. Additionally, he offers the translator's footnotes that lend even more clarity.

Hegde insists that he anticipates the reader of “Smriti-Vismriti” to refer to the English original wherever necessary. This forthright and honest introduction indeed helps the first-time reader of the book; the English version itself is known to require many readings before it is fully understood, for it introduces several new concepts. “Smriti-Vismriti” is a must-read for those who feel the need to read between Indian and western cultures.

SUSHUMNA KANNAN

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