Born in Malaysia in 1960 to a South Indian Brahmin father and a Hakka Chinese mother, Venkatesh was brought up in England and studied English literature at Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he obtained First Class honors. He subsequently did research for over four years on Shakespeare at the University of Muenster, Germany. From 1986-89 he taught literature and philosophy at Shanxi University, People’s Republic of China. Both his personal and academic background make him well suited to being a “bridge” between various traditions.
Since 1989 he has taught at St. John’s College, Santa Fe, both in the two Western Great Books programs (for which the college is most famous) and was one of the shapers of the unique Eastern Classics Master’s program, in which he has taught for over 20 years. The program involves close study of the classics of China, India and Japan, as well as rigorous immersion in Classical Chinese or Sanskrit for the sake of greater intimacy with the texts. Venkatesh has taught in all areas of the program, including Chinese and Sanskrit. From 2003-2008 he was the dean of graduate studies at the college.
With Socrates in the Phaedrus, he is skeptical of the value of writing and therefore of publication, and believes strongly in conversation as the most powerful mode of learning – the “writing in the heart.” St. John’s College has been an ideal academic home for him because of the shared belief in the power of discussion within a sincere community of learning.
In the last decade he has spent a total of about two years in India. His recent areas of work have included the Pali Canon of the Buddha, the Japanese philosopher Dogen, and the mathematical books of Johannes Kepler. The lifelong companions at his bedside include Montaigne, Chaucer, Thomas Hardy the poet, Blake, Wordsworth, Zhuangzi, Chekhov, Tolstoy, Austen, Balzac, and Laxness — a beautiful fellowship. Shakespeare is always close at hand.