Dr. Suryanath U. Kamath (not to be confused with Dr.
Krishnanand Kamat, the principal creator of this website) is one of the foremost historians of Karnataka. He served as the
Director of Karnataka State Gazetteer and was responsible for many a new research on
the history of Karnataka. He is currently the Director of Raja Ram Mohan Roy
Library in Calcutta.
A simple and upright man, Dr. Kamath's own life's story is an eventful saga of struggle and achievement.
Vikas Kamat caught up with Suryanath Kamath in Bangalore. Excerpts:
Interview conducted on Dec. 21, 2000
Page Last Updated: April 04, 2014
Vikas Kamat: On numerous occasions, people have mistaken you to be the husband of my mother
(due to the same last name and common fields of study) and I have a hard time explaining
that we are not related. Do you also have similar experiences?
Suryanath Kamath: Ha ha ha!! Your mother wrote a very funny story about that once... and your
father complained that people only mistake him to be me and never vice versa! Exactly one
week after I heard this story, I got an official letter at the Department of State
Gazetteer. It was addressed - Dr. Krishnanand Kamat, Director - Karnataka State Gazetteer
VK: You have worked as a teacher, a journalist, have written novels, researched history,
developed volunteer institutions like The Mythic Society, directed large government
organizations, and are now heading the largest scholarly library in India. What would you
consider to be your forte?
SK: History is my area. Be it economic history, social history, history of Karanataka
or of the freedom movement; Indian history is my passion.
VK: How did you become interested in history?
SK: I was interested in learning since my childhood. Actually I was a student of
Economics in Dharwad and came under the influence of such great teachers like Prof.
Saletore. I was greatly inspired by the history of Karnataka and by the fact that nobody
had undertaken its study on a broad basis.
I encourage you to read my autobiographical essay "In Retrospect" (Hindirugi
Nodidaga in Kannada), where I have listed the various bends and turns of my life that
pushed me towards the field of History.
VK: I have read your essays on the history of the Konkanis, the freedom struggle,
royalty. Do you have any favorite topics within history? And also tell us something about
your approach to history.
SK: I'd have to say the field that interests me most is the history of India's freedom
movement. This is because India's freedom movement was a movement of the common
man. Literate, illiterate, rich and poor alike participated in liberating our country.
For my research, I interviewed hundreds of satyagrahis (soldiers of non-violence) which
was truly fascinating.
Many historians only rely on inscriptions and great literary works of the period to write
history. I have found history unfold in most common of the sources like temple
newsletters, household documents, and through oral history passed from generation
generation. In my research, I try to find out what causes social change.
VK: So what causes social change Dr. Kamath?
SK: The circumstances do. Political suppression, economic hardships, or even
economic prosperity for that matter, causes the society to change. Great leaders are
required to herald those changes, but voluntary participation of common man is the driving
force behind dramatic changes.
VK: What is the future of study of history in India? Is there interest among students
in the history of India?
SK: The interest is limited to getting through the competitive examinations for civil
services and entrance tests -- so the interest is shallow.
Indian history as a research field is in a pathetic state being infested with caste
politics, attempts to distort history to please a ruling class or caste. In terms of
numbers, we are producing a number of Doctoral theses, but most lack scholarly depth
and are worthless.
VK: Why is this so? and what can be done?
SK: When I grew up, we were poor. But there were so many peer mentors and elders for us
to look up to. Mentors with great character and devotion to learning who loved to share
their knowledge and encourage the young minds. I feel this is lacking for the present day
youngsters. I agree that there are new tools in the form of electronic media, but this
human mentorship is missing.
We need to strengthen our academic institutions like The Mythic
Society. The volunteers of organizations such as RSS need to rise to occasion to influence young minds into
greater values of life. The school teachers can play an important role too.
VK: Thank you very much. Namaskaru.
Suryakirti -- Suryanath Kamath Felicitation Volume, P. V. Krishnamurthy and K.
Vasanthalakshmi (Editors), 2000