Monday, July 28, 2008

Dharma Pareekshe by Rahmat Tarikere - Review by V.S. SREEDHARA

Friday Review Bangalore


Interrogating dharma

Some interesting reads

in Kannada…

Dharma Pareekshe


Rahmat Tarikere

Navakarnataka Prakashana, Rs. 140

Rahmat Tarikere is an important Kannada critic whose pursuit of literary studies is never divorced from an engagement with contemporary cultural politics. While most of the critics writing today do show an interest in the so-called ‘extra-literary’ issues, they ultimately tend to view and present their positions as somehow beyond any ideology, as if positing an avert ideological position would, in a way, sully their aesthetic perception and colour their literary judgement. That such a transcendental space is equally an illusion is quite a different matter. Though Rahmat brings into his critical gaze a broad spectrum of views, exploring an issue from different perspectives, he is equally wary of slipping into a loose liberal position which, while claiming to be holistic and comprehensive, ultimately ends up valorising a convenient middle-class aspiration. Large canvas The book under review, "Dharma Pareekshe", is to be read in this light. It is quite ambitious in its scope and tries to examine some of the burning questions of our time: religious fundamentalism, communalism and secularism in the age of globalisation. But what the book offers is not yet another dry treatise on these much debated issues, for Rahmat’s penchant for detail and anecdotal references to people’s lived experiences provides interesting insights, particularly the way in which political manipulations affect the private lives of individuals. The essays here demonstrate how politics worms its way into the ordinary life, displacing people from their belief systems and most crucially, altering the semantic field of concepts which once gave meaning to one’s existence. Nowhere is this more evident than in the realm of religion. Though the term dharma is loosely taken to mean ‘religion’, it has two other principal connotations: as right conduct and morality; and as nature or state of things. In fact, though the book is presented in four parts, the essays here can be conceptually classified as dealing with these three domains of meaning. The pen-portraits of various events, ranging from popular TV shows to news stories from a remote place, provide a critical analysis of the ‘state of things’. The one about the death of eight persons during Rajkumar’s funeral procession, for instance, stands out for the sheer sweep of connections it establishes. The ethical dimension of dharma is the central preoccupation of some of the essays in part three and most of part four, be they about the destruction of Buddha statue by the Taliban or a review of Manto’s stories. His much acclaimed piece on ‘Bababudangiri’ is a touchingly personal, yet a scholarly documentation of the ‘third tradition’, now under threat by a needless, but politically motivated, yearly bash in the name of Datta Peetha in Chikmagalur. However, dharma as religion seems to be the dominant motif of all essays. A majority of them, particularly those that deal with Hindutva communalism and Islamic fundamentalism, probe the various forms in which religion and religious experiences manifest in our society and their intricate relationship with cultural power politics. "Dealing with Dharma," he says, "is exposing oneself to a dharma parikshe." Just as a dry monolithic rationality fails to grasp the hold of religious imagination on people, a staunch belief in religion, blind to its sinister connection with power, can grow sterile in no time. Being acutely aware of his own location as a Muslim intellectual, Rahmat takes on the question of Islamic fundamentalism quite critically, without being apologetic about it (contrary to what some Kannada critics have said). While he points out to the all too crucial (but usually ignored) difference between majority communalism and fundamentalism, his essay "Choices before Muslims" underscores the need for Muslims to educate themselves and work in solidarity with other oppressed castes as a way of getting out of the clutches of religious fundamentalism. Interestingly, this book ran as one of the top-ten non-fictional works for several weeks. There in lies some hope!