He walks into another time

URA embodied several writers in him, and always referred to them to revise his own thought Photo: K. Gopinathan  

To bundle up everything into a single thought and say this is what captures U.R. Ananthamurthy’s personality seems an impossible task. He was different things to different people, but if there’s one thing that is uniform to all experiences, it is his warmth.

URA’s conversations were full of stories. In return, you told him stories. He took your story, interwove his, and as you listened overawed by what he created – at times a great idea, a stunning thought, or a deep insight – he would have made you an inherent part of his self. He drew you into his world, and made you feel that if you didn’t give him that story in return all those new exciting discoveries would not have been made.

We once had settled down for a chat. There was a bowl of garnished kadle puri (puffed rice), which was URA’s favourite. As the bowl went around, one of us told him a story. ‘My father too loves puffed rice. For many decades now, there is this puffed rice seller who comes home regularly and drops off his favourite variety,’ and then there was a pause in the story to discuss the various varieties of puffed rice. ‘Last week when he came, with the two sacks hung on either sides of his shoulder and stood at the gate, my father called out from the verandah – Jagannatha of Puri is here. My mother, wondering who had come, ran out, and there stood the dark skinned, slim and tall puri seller with his characteristic mandasmita (a gentle smile).’ URA was so excited by this story that he stretched out his arm, wound it around the shoulder of the storyteller, and said, ‘I am super thrilled by this!’

A few moments later he was speaking of how an Indian mind lives many time frames at once, and in these many time frames, childhood memories and mythologies collapse to constantly create new

metaphors. ‘He could see Jagannatha himself in the ordinary puri seller. It is not merely a pun on the word puri, but it is his looks, Krishna’s love of a form of puri...the Indian mind is constantly negotiating these boundaries of time, and does it so effortlessly,’ he had said. For URA, time, memory, and the manner in which they work in the present, was always a fascinating process. ‘We need mythologies even in the present,’ he had added.

URA was an embodiment of tradition and modernity -- both existed in him in very intense states. He had quarrels with both, but he used their strengths to find answers in the present. This was true about the way he looked at literary traditions too. ‘There is a continuum in me, in fact, in all Bhasha writers. There is Kumaravyasa and Pampa, as well as Bendre, Karanth and Kuvempu in the way I think and write. In fact, in my mind, I am always having a discussion with my friends K.V. Subbanna about many of these things,’ he often said, presenting yet another dimension of time and memory.

This incident is from a couple of years ago. URA wanted to meet this group of young, literary enthusiasts who were reading vachanas on that particular day. The previous night he had fallen off his bed, had a blue eye and a large bruise on his forehead. When he turned up with a huge bandage, the group was aghast. URA, however, was his usual lively self and spoke to the group charged with passion and enthusiasm. Later, I had asked him: ‘Why did you come in such a state...?’ He explained: ‘I had to tell them about Basavanna’s antaranga shuddi (inner purification) and bahiranga shuddi (external purification). They are not two different things that happen one after the other. Look at the remarkable leap Basavanna makes, he says that it should happen simultaneously. Your conscience and action are both equally important.’

URA always lived and worked with a sense of urgency. Whether it was a phone call, or sharing a feeling, or doing something – he believed in the now. He dragged you into everything that mattered to him, with the belief that it mattered to you as well. The times were not just a test for him, but for you too. Making a long journey to Basava Kalyana even in his illness, he had spoken about the importance a movement like Aam Admi Party at the Basava Utsav. All through the car journey he spoke over phone about the speech he was going to make, ‘I am saying the right things, isn’t it?’ He was constantly in the process of self-rejection (visarjane) and revision. I have never seen another man of his stature who could shed his greatness with such ease.

URA loved his ‘friends’ as he called them,

and took care to see that they constantly remained in his world. He gave you strength to be vulnerable and human. URA has left from here... and there is an unbearable silence that gnaws from within.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2022 11:19:54 AM |

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