Wide eyed I enter Manipal. The University town is shrouded in a thin sheet of rain and I see umbrellas dodging about over white lab coats. I am here for the Summer school of Philosophy and Humanities on the ‘Idea of Justice’. Sundar Sarukkai , the master mind of this school, is on his fresh new venture , a new post graduate degree in interdisciplinary Humanities at Manipal . I am here on self probation, with my antennae receptors , alert and ready to catch on to fresh piece of knowledge that comes floating by. Apprehensive about finding myself without a firm grounding in this field, I am immediately put to ease after my first encounter with Sundar Sarukkai. He makes sense. And when philosophy makes sense, I doubt if anyone can resist its pull.
The first session is on Ideas and concepts. I enter the class thinking I am ready to take the ‘Ideas and concepts’ of justice. Instead, I am faced with the question, What is an idea? And what is a concept? So obviously, I am now realizing , words are taken very seriously here! The discourse is tentative yet firm, extremely inquisitive yet firmly basic. There are no answers. Only questions. Sarukkai flings the word ‘justice’ about , bouncing it haywire, shaking it up, rattling it empty of its preconceptions, and beginning from the basics. Up there on the podium , he seems like a magician juggling very precariously with his oranges , yet with an innate charm. Ah, ‘innate’. The word is to be noted.
I am struck in my seat, paralyzed by the speed and clatter with which a million window shutters of my brain are opening up. I am reveling in the tickle of a new kind of confusion. The feeling that you are getting it , yet, you are not getting it, yet ,you feel sure you got it, when in fact , there is no way of getting it, is exhilarating. I have not understood something as a whole number, and this fractional non-understanding has motivated positively.
What is the meaning of justice? What is the synonym for it? Is the feeling of justice biologically or socially innate, if at all? Is it a personal concept or a social concept? Is justice a primal instinct or is it subordinated by ‘guilt’? Is justice the concept or is ‘Injustice’ the seed concept for justness to exist?
There is room for thought and reaction in class. Sarukkai flings sincere and inquisitive questions at us ; to which he seems to want the answers from us, and we feel responsible in some way, to get him out of his seemingly perplexed position of unknowing , only to find that he is probing us to probe more. He is trying to make us use our mental mechanisms in a novel way to think, and not telling us what to think. Unsettling, is the order of a Sarukkai class. Just when things seem to get ordinary, an exotic string of words are flung at you , which light sparks. So there comes up a question of, What is the Idea of a Chair? And What is the Concept of a chair? And then we go on to essentialise it into a ‘Chairhood’ that ultimately makes a chair a chair, a treehood that makes trees trees, a red(riding?)hood that makes red the red it is. Not to forget, the ‘theory-theory’ of the theory of concepts, and that a concept cannot have a definite definition except in terms of other concepts! So its all really a circle, pointing out successively only to lead back to itself. Back to square one, we could say, but it’s a square with a larger dimension now, and now it will take longer to get back to point A .We are in fact, getting ourselves a Kurukshetra built around us! Then there is Leibniz at point A, saying “Will we ever know, if the world doubles in the next instance?”