Nagarajan: A Versatile Scholar of Philosophy and Religion Today

By Word for Peace Edit Desk
An esteemed and much loved friend Nagarajan Sir is not an easy person to write about. One important reason for this is his extremely eclectic personality and many-sided intellectual make up. In this society we have certain stereotypes. One such is about Marxists, please note Marxists not communists. A Marxist is not expected to be a person who can take part with expertise on issues relating to religion and philosophy. We do not expect him/her to be well versed with literature relating, for instance, to the Alwars. All this Nagarajan is. His scholarship is as deep and profound in Marxism as it is in philosophy and even religion. Nagarajan is as comfortable talking about doing Sankalpam as he is discussing the Marxian concepts of alienation and surplus value. This reminds me of an illuminating incident. In a letter tome decades ago he wrote If I am asked to explain surplus value I would say it is the material equivalent of alienation, but I am aware this will not satisfy the pundits. Here is an explanation of surplus value which is not technically complete but at the same time shows us its essence and compels us to think of its implications. It is this quality in him that makes Nagarajan such an appealing character. He challenges beliefs which are held often without critical thought. Let me cite a different example. Years ago when I was working on decentralisation I posed a question which was disturbing me, namely, the tendency among some proponents of decentralisation to take it to such heights so as almost to deny the necessity of a centre. And to my amazement I found the answer from Nagarajan who, to my knowledge, had not worked on the question academically. His answer was stunning: the relationship between the centre and decentralisation is like what obtains between Bhagwan and Bhakta. Without Bhagwan there can be no Bhakta and if there is no Bhakta there cannot be a Bhagwan.. I have often used this metaphor after acknowledging Nagarajan as the source while lecturing on decentralisation to students and indeed even other specialists.
The inferences to draw from the examples given above are important. It relates to the ability which only a gifted few have, and Nagarajan is an outstanding figure in this sphere, to make connections which would not suggest themselves to most people. He has told his friends that his own capacity to comprehend biology came from his knowledge of Marxism and philosophy. He has this ability to paint on a large canvas and once the big picture is ready the smaller pieces fall into place effortlessly. A common friend of ours who studied zoology with him now deceased, Gopinath often remarked to me if Nagarajan ever wanted to write a doctoral thesis it would take him no more than a few months because he had the essential fully at his command.
It is for this reason that Nagarajan has constantly attempted blend Marxism with an eastern sensibility. A common theme that occurs in his analysis of Marxism is the dimension of love. This may be described as his effort to inject the feminine element, that of love and care, into doctrinal Marxism which in his view lacks this dimension. And this is why those who know him will recall how very frequently Nagarajan speaks of love the people, serve them. Much of his strong criticism of modern science and technology stems from the absence of the core value of care in these disciplines and techniques. This explains why he refuses to praise several modern scientists and indeed criticizes them because he finds them wanting with respect to loving, caring and serving. If I may be so bold as to interpret him I would say that Nagarajan has little time for those who are basically technicians not having a comprehensive vision of life and society. One of his favourite expressions while criticizing scientists, indeed he would not call them by this name, is: Poovukku,pooshnikaiku vyatyasam theriydava,iva enna science panna pora. No wonder he admired J.B.S.Haldane and would narrate what happened when a scientist in a university complained that his research work was hampered because he had no electron microscope. That was in the days when an electron microscope was the height of technical progress in equipment. Nagaraj would laughingly recall Haldanes response: you have not yet exhausted the uses of a simple microscope.
Nagarajans breadth of vision is not limited to his reading of science but extends to literature too. I cannot resist giving one example. He argues that Goldsmith in his Deserted Village writes with empathy for those who have been affected, his sense of sympathy is apparent. To him this is evidence of the element of love. Similarly unlike Shakespeare who wrote of the Taming of the Shrew, Goldsmith spoke of She Stoops to Conquer. Not many literary specialists may agree with him but that he has opened up a new way of looking at the works cannot be doubted.
Nagarajan is a firm believer in action motivated by service and therefore he advocates Kainkarya Marga. This action is to be seen as an essential ingredient of his approach action based on love.
Mention of this brings me to his fascination for the Alwars and how much we have to learn from them. My own introduction to this came from what he told me, possibly three decades ago and because of its impact I feel it was only the other day he spoke of it. The story is that an upper caste wealthy educated man went to one of the Alwars seeking enlightenment and the reply he got was the following: You must first give up the arrogance of birth, then that of wealth and finally the arrogance of education, only then will you be ready for enlightenment. These teachings find a strong echo in Nagarajans own philosophy and work.
Another area where Nagarajan has taken my breath away is in relation to the methodology of social sciences. Many years ago a prominent social scientist working on a global model of development and change gave a lecture in the university in Mysore. After his presentation there was an embarrassed silence since hardly anyone in the audience had followed it closely enough to pose a question. Fortunately there was Nagarajan who asked: Every model must have a component dealing with prediction? What does your model offer in this respect? Again I want to impress on the listeners this singular ability to approach the core of a subject through his philosophic acumen. It is in relation to such issues that he has drawn attention to the three functions which theoretical formulations, models and the like can and ought to perform. They are the explanatory, predictive and operational modes or dimensions. Is it any wonder that Nagarajan can and does subject the most recent of social, economic and political trends to incisive scrutiny.
I would like to conclude by saying that many of us have differences with Nagarajan with regard to his formulations but in my view that itself is a tribute to him. He has influenced us to think afresh on social questions all the time and therefore differing with him is a compliment we may dare give him.

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