He could walk alone

Dr. U.R. Ananthamurthy  

I had just learnt to drive the car in 2000. My cousin Srinivas used to be a driver with the late chief minister J.H. Patel. U.R. Ananthamurthy, during one of his visits to the chief minister’s residence, mentioned that he too wanted a good driver. My cousin summoned me, and I became his driver in 2001.

I had no clue about this person whose driver I was going to be. I am a ninth standard drop out and don’t know much about literature, though I had an engagement with politics. When I returned home that evening and told my friends I had a driver’s job with some U.R. Ananthamurthy, they were elated. They told me he was Jnanpith award winner and a very big man. It made me very happy.

My initial days with him were difficult on me. I was trying to understand this man I was working for, and often ended up being confused than I already was. ‘Why does he oppose to everything?’ I often asked myself. But as days passed, I began to see that things turned out to be the way he had seen them coming. I recognized his sense of intuition and foresight, and over a period of time, came to respect and love him a great deal.

During Vajpayee government, he was made chairman of FTII and Sushma Swaraj was minister of Information and Broadcast. He was criticized for taking up the post because the BJP was at the helm of affairs, but he never stopped speaking about their mistakes. At the same time, he even wrote a letter to Vajpayee praising him for some positive actions he had taken. He could always sieve the good from bad, and never hesitated to speak out.

Several times I had quarrels with the positions he took. For instance, his pro-Muslim position. ‘Why do you support them, when they are indulging in so much violence…?’ I had asked. “They are not only killing others, but they are killing their own people. We need to find out why they are doing this. For that we need to be sympathetic and not resort to killing,” he had explained. Gandhi and Ambedkar were very dear to him, and the dalit cause was uppermost on his mind. I was deeply influenced by him. And during the ten years that I spent with him, I decided that I am going to live the values he believed in. I now have a government job, but I continue to live in my Slum Board house. I don’t want to lead a stylish life. I want to be honest, truthful, and empathetic to human kind -- the values that he cherished.

He was neither anti-Brahmin, nor pro-Christian as people think. He had refused to go to America when Bush was the president.

He used to say the Christianity that Bush believes in is as dangerous as rabid Hindutva. For very long, I had lied to him that I was a Kuruba while I am a Dalit. I broke the truth to him when the girl I loved deserted me and I was on the verge of suicide. For the next 20 days, he planned tours all over Karnataka and made sure that he never left me alone. If I am alive, it is because of his concern for me.

I would often wonder why no one addressed him in singular. I used to be overjoyed when K.V. Subbanna, his uncle Ramu, Kagodu Thimmappa and his friend Gangadhara from Teerthahalli would talk to him in singular. It is important to have friends from your pre-greatness days and nothing can measure up to that affection.

The whole world knew him, and hundreds of people came to him seeking advice, favours, this, that and the other. He was warm to everyone and extended help. But the people he trusted and loved dearly did not come from high and affluent places.

It was a small band of young and trusted friends with whom he conversed regularly, and even sought advices from them.

If he felt strongly about something he made sure he voiced it. He did not take 100 followers with him, he did it alone.

He was an institution by himself. He came to my modest home, and even ate what we cooked for him.

Those ten years that I worked for him, I felt I was living with truth itself.

As told to Deepa Ganesh

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 7:04:01 PM |

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