The life story of Dr Manu V Devadevan, who won this year’s prestigious Infosys prize, is as thrilling and full of surprises as a blockbuster movie.
Dr. Manu (42) who is an assistant professor in the department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the IIT campus in Mandi, Himachal Pradesh hails from Cherukol in Pathanamthitta, Kerala. He was awarded the Infosys prize which carries prize money of Rs 71 lakhs for his extensive research on the cultural, literary, economical and political vividness of South India. The jury commented that Manu’s in-depth knowledge in the literature and inscriptions in the various South Indian languages was impeccable. However, not many know that Manu, who is now one of the leading academicians in the country, had an eventful academic past. His circumstances had forced him to give up his academic dreams to take up a job. But, later, he quit his job to continue his passion for studies.
Manu grew up and studied in Bengaluru as his father worked there. In 1996, he dropped out of his degree course to take up a job as a railway clerk in Hubbali. However, he was not ready to give up on his education and enrolled for the BA sociology, as a correspondence student, at the Annamalai University.
Using the free passes that he got as an employee of the Indian Railways, Manu regularly traveled to different places. These journeys played a pivotal role in igniting an interest and curiosity for history. In 2001, he quit his job with the aim to secure an admission for MA History at one of the top central universities. However, this wasn’t very easy for Manu as he hadn’t studied history in his previous courses. This didn’t deter him from working hard and in 2003 Manu got admitted at the famous Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi to study history.
He returned to Bengaluru, in 2005, after he won the central cultural department’s fellowship to study about Kannada literature. Soon after completing his PHd, in 2011, from the Mangalore University, he got appointed as a professor at the IIT.
Mastering 12 languages
What makes Manu’s researches unique and interesting is that he dares to tread new and different paths. His thesis published both in Kannada and in English, analyses the social and economical backgrounds of each place. Some of his papers are in fact included in the school curriculum in Karnataka. Manu has also written the history textbooks for the Karanataka pre-university courses.
Manu is fluent in Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Sanskrit, Odia, Hindi, Urdu, Pali, English, French and German languages. As a kid, Manu loved listening to his neighbours, who hailed from different parts of the country, speak in their mother tongue. This is how he learned most of these languages which had eventually him in his research.
Manu who published two poetry collections in Kannada is also a well known translator. He translated the works of Sree Narayana Guru into Kannada and also the works of great Kannada social reformer Basawesvara into English. In his book ‘A Pre History of Hinduism’ Manu introduces his findings about the religious and social history of South India.
Manu’s father MR Vishnu Namboothiri was an engineer at the Bengaluru Bharat Electronics Limited. His mother PK Kanakambika Antharjanam was a teacher. His wife is Leena Parvathi and they have a daughter Prarthana.