|Fr. Henry D'Almeida|
Fr Henry D’Almeida SJ is a professor of Indian Philosophy and Religion at Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth, Pune. His philosophical expertise is as well known as his command over Kannada language and literature. Every year, he makes his way to our Novitiate to give Kannada course to the Novices. This year we thought it good to know more about the Kannada guru’s personal interest in Kannada. This interview was taken precisely for this reason.
Father, what urged your deep study in Kannada Sahitya? When did it begin?
Kannada has a rich history of 1500 years. The earliest record goes back to Halmidi shasana of 450 CE. This language abounds in literary and spiritual beauty. The early interest nurtured during my high-school days urged me to cultivate a deep personal interest.
You spoke about auto-formation in the course. Is your fascination and expertise in Kannada a result of auto-formation?
Though I studied as a Kannada medium student till my SSLC, my present interest and knowledge to a great extent are a result of personal study. A crash course given by Fr Jerome D’Souza SJ during my Juniorate also contributed towards this end.
Can you tell how the study of Sahitya (literature) enriches one’s spiritual life?
Sahitya or literature means life. Kannada literature has rich religious literature belonging to Jainism, Veerashaivism and various traditions of Hinduism like Dvaita, Advaita and Visistadvaita. Even Christian literature is quite much. One can mention two recent epics on Jesus Christ – Siribhuvana Jyoti by B. S. Talwadi and Yesu Mahadarshana by Lata Rajashekar. I strongly believe that the study of Kannada literature can enrich one’s spirituality.
Which Kannada literary figure approaches closest to Christian thought and faith?
The compositions of Basavanna and his followers strongly advocate the values of the Kingdom of God i.e., equality, classless society, dignity of women, work as worship, human being as the temple of God, etc. The Dasa Sahitya celebrates the love of God and servant spirituality in the Kirtans.
What does a person lose if he/she fails to at least become familiar with the literary treasures of his/her culture?
We cannot be abstract human beings. Our identity is formed by a particular socio-cultural milieu. If a person fails to acquaint oneself with the local literature, I would say that he/she has become a less of human being.
What is the greatest lesson you have learnt in pursuit of your Kannada studies?
It has broadened my view of other religions and given me a greater sense of belonging to my land and my people.
Thank you, father.