A tireless revisionist

Dr. U.R. Ananthamurthy along with late actor Vishnuvardhan and Shivaram with URA. Photos: Murali Kumar K. and V. Sreenivasa Murthy  

I still remember the day I saw Dr. U.R. Ananthamurthy, one of the tallest writers of India, who shaped the sensibility of the Kannada intelligentsia for decades. Nearly thirty two years ago, I was listening to Ananthamurthy for the first time in a short story workshop held in Shimoga. I was twenty and had read almost everything Ananthamurthy had written by then. I was an admirer of his fiction writings, but was sceptical of his public stance at times. During the interactive session I asked him: “Sir, budding writers living in small towns like me hold you in high esteem and follow what you say. But you seem to misguide us by praising Pejavar swamiji who visits dalit colonies for publicity.” Ananthamurthy meditated for a while and said: “I may not agree totally with the seer, but I feel that if he makes an attempt to transcend caste by visiting the dalit colonies, there could be a positive impact of it on those who respect him. For instance, old timers like my mother who respect him might shed their rigid attitude towards the untouchables.”

I was not convinced but later continued to notice that Ananthamurthy always took an ambiguous stance towards caste system. Caste was at the centre of his early creative works and, in fact, many of my fellow writers were fascinated and even influenced by the Brahmin rebel Naranappa in Samskara, one of the finest Kannada novels ever written. The novels that followed later, Bharathipura and Avasthe, continued to examine traditional and feudal India. K.V. Subbanna, a cultural theorist, rightly described Ananthamurthy’s first three novels as trilogy. Ananthamurthy seems to have presented all his major concerns in Samskara and examined them from several angles in his career as writer. Jagannatha, the protagonist of Bharathipura, broadens the scope of the questions raised by Naranappa and tries to lead a temple entry movement. By then, Ananthamurthy had drawn inspiration from the great socialist thinker Dr. Ramamanohar Lohia, and had attempted a metaphorical representation of some of Lohia’s views on segregation of caste and gender in India. Ananthamurthy, in his youth, was also inspired by the Kagodu movement, a movement which brought to the fore the rights of the tillers. The movement was led by Shantaveri Gopalagowda, the fire-brand socialist politician of Karnataka, and his mentor Lohia also took part in it. Later, Ananthamurthy created Krishnappagowda, a socialist leader, as the protagonist of his third novel Avasthe. In this full-fledged political novel, Ananthamurthy examined the ups and downs of the socialist politics in post-independent India. When the novel was made into a film by Krishna Masadi, a deformation suit was filed against Ananthamurthy by Sonakka, Gopalagowda’s wife. Ananthamurthy defended his creation by saying that the socialist protagonist Krishnappagowda was not a replica of Gopalagowda, but a combination of many idealist politicians of India. Though Ananthamurthy wrote two more novels later, Bhava and Divya, re-examining tradition and modernity, they lacked the rigour of his early novels. But Ananthamurthy continued to write poems and short stories till his late seventies and his last story Pacche Resort still retained that lyrical intensity which he had when he wrote his wonderful stories like Navailugalu or Akasha Mattu Bekku.

Having taught English literature and the best writers of Europe for several years in the university, Ananthamurthy introduced the best critical sensibilities to Kannada. He could offer truly original analysis of the literary works he dealt with, no matter which part of the world they belonged to. He would always have something new to say about Brecht or Yeats or Shakespeare. In Kannada, he wrote some of the best pieces of criticism when he did a textual analysis of Gopalakrishna Adiga’s poetry or Devanoora Mahadeva’s novelette, Odalala. He would be equally bright when he theorised or when he appropriated terms like ‘Jeernagni’ to highlight the vital strength of the Indian culture to digest diverse influences. His critical works Prajne mattu Parisara and Purvapara would definitely have a place among the best of modern Indian criticism and cultural theory. Besides being a writer and a thinker, Ananthmurthy was also one of the most meditative and fascinating public speakers Karnataka has seen.

Rammanohar Lohia, whom Ananthamurthy admired, realised in his mid forties the need for a people’s organisation without which a leader would become shallow. But, somehow, Ananthamurthy never realised that kind of a need for a people’s organization. Though he was friend of the dalit movement, he was not too sure of the need for a massive organisation. He perhaps believed in building a small group of independent intellectuals which was evident in the cultural workshops he guided at Heggodu or in the little magazine, Rujuvatu, he edited for a few years. He remained an independent, secular, public intellectual who wanted to retain his freedom to say and write what he felt strongly. With the exit of Ananthamurthy, one suddenly starts realizing the need for such fearless, independent intellectuals who are an ‘endangered species’ in our times.

Ananthamurthy who longed to examine the truth from several angles contradicted himself at times. He would not hesitate to change his positions as he always retained some space to re-examine his ideas. He responded to day to day political developments as well as the developments which had larger socio-cultural implication. He took part in the agitation against the mining lobby in Karnataka organized by several social and political organizations. He boldly took on the Modi euphoria and supported the ‘positive anarchy’ of Aravind Kejriwal during the last Lok Sabha elections.

Ten days ago, when I last spoke to him, Ananthamurthy had just returned from the hospital and enthusiastically started talking about his last work which he wanted to title as “Hindutva v/s Hind Swaraj”. He was sad that the communal forces had come to the forefront again and longed to explore new ways to combat them. What struck me was the rigour with which he argued about these things even when he felt that death may not be too far.

Till his end, he retained his curiosity about new Kannada books. We had spoken about the complete works of G.H. Nayak, the most conscientious Kannada critic, and he immediately asked me to buy a set for him and spoke at length about the rare objectivity in Nayak’s criticism. I sincerely bought the volumes but could not reach it to him.

I really feel sad that I could not fulfil an unselfish last wish of a great writer I respected so much…

Our code of editorial values

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jan 21, 2022 2:49:51 PM |

Next Story