What the great Shivaram Karanth said when he saw an earth mover & other stories


Bangalore’s English newspapers carry the usual dumb-ass features to mark Karnataka Rajyotsava, the state’s formation day.

Deepa Ganesh breaks the monotony in today’s Hindu with a well-deserved salute to Nagesh Hegde, the IIT Kharagpur and JNU Delhi alum who spurned the good life to popularise science, technology, food, farming and environment in Kannada.

Hegde has 40 books with his name on the cover, a newspaper column called Vijnana Vishesha in Praja Vani that has gone on for 35 years, and a slew of awards for educating people on the things that really matter.

Despite that—actually because of that—he wears his erudition and accomplishment lightly, and his interview in Friday Review is remarkable for its earthiness.

# “There were several movements—labour movement, consumer movement, farmers’ movement, theatre movement, environmental movement, students’ movement, even Kannada movement. Almost all those movements were silenced by the deafening sound of TV serials. Instead of pouring on to the streets with placards on Sundays, people were glued to the TV to watch Ramanand Sagar‘s Ramayana and Mahabharatha. Hum Log and Nukkad followed. That was the end of street shows.”

# “Ensnaring the people with the magic world of fun and entertainment continues even today…. TV and newspapers are competing and complimenting each other in enthralling people with the make believe world of advertisements, relegating the real issues. Even now newspaper industry is not serving what the people need. Most newspapers today are in advertising business. News is just a secondary product.”

# “Dr Shivaram Karanth while flagging off the ‘Save Western Ghats’ march thirty years ago in Bhagamandala, pointed to an earth mover and told: “These machines do thousand peoples’ work overnight. But they also take away a thousand jobs and the gap between poor and rich will be a thousand times wider.”

# “The word ‘local’ is looked down upon either as stale or unfashionable. Our own seebe kai (guava) cannot compete with kiwi fruit, our elneeru (tender coconut) loses the battle against bottled water. Soapnuts and Triphala are slowly regaining grounds thanks to Patanjali but again, they have to be marketed with gleaming package and enticing advertisement. Commodification and corporatisation is the buzz word.”

# “After 70 years of freedom, the rural India has lost many forms of freedom. They are made to depend on industrial society for everything — from baskets to animal fodder to roofing material. Rural citizens’ surrender is complete. Gram Swaraj of Gandhiji has become grim swaraj.”

Read the full interview: Speaking science from the Kannada stage (part I, part II)