Remembering Ananthamurthy

Rajvinder Singh | January 15, 2015 03:49 AM
Rajvinder Singh

What exactly are we left with when our near and dear ones leave us behind as they embark on a journey of no return? We are agonizingly left to console ourselves with mere impressions of a flight, like that of a bird which flies away through the visible winds onto an invisible, unseen world, behind the covering clouds of destiny. Their flight leaves behind the lasting impressions of moments we have shared with them which have now turned into residual memories to spread around us like sunshine, or engulfing us, at times, like ambient dark.

Provocative or not, his novels and stories though maintain the spirited, courtly manner of a seasoned scholar of Indian culture and society, yet Ananth was capable of showing his teeth, too, as in his passionate attack on the strenuous anti-humanism he perceived in rightist political agenda, and casteism. 

Such a light, now twinkling as a star in the dark sky, has been a doyen of Indian culture and literature, a mentor colleague, and a dear friend, U. R. 

Ananthamurthy. Unfortunately, the tacit and cherished hope of his family and friends that he would manage a few more years to be with us, in the same brave manner he has been coping in the last decade being on dialysis four times a week to make up for his renal failure, was shattered on 22nd August this year. What an unfathomable loss to Indian literature, to Indian culture! 

More than being an eminent Kannada writer, Anathmurthy was respected as a scholar and litterateur far beyond the borders of Karnataka and India. I have been blessed with many occasions of personal and intellectual exchanges with Ananth, so was he fondly called by friends, in Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Delhi and Bangalore and elsewhere. He had an astonishing array of scholarly capacities which would let his interlocutors placidly feel a serene sense of reverence towards him and his manners. I, too, was not to appear as an exception to that. 

To put things in larger perspective, I feel tempted to say, from my numerous meetings with him, that he was precise, succinct, not driven into making breathless pronouncements about his worldview. He rather preferred to show in his writings the way the world is, thereby causing disillusionment towards a social scenario that has plagued the Indian society for centuries. His novels, particularly Samskara and Bharathipura paved the way for modern Indian literature, not only Kannada literature, to be proudly presented on the international scene, which bagged him numerous awards at home, including the prestigious Jnanpith Award, and a lot of respect and fellowships abroad. Only last year he was nominated for the prestigious Man Booker Prize. In addition to his path breaking novel Samskara, a number of his main works, such as Bhava, Bharathipura and Avasthe, were translated into several Indian and European languages. However, the depth and quality of his work is yet to be acknowledged in its entirety. His books truly act as balm, not only for the troubled soul of India.

As a writer of lasting values, he wrote fiction with the authority of a scholar, and he wrote scholarly articles with the heart and mind of a precise poet. The reflective simplicity of his novels shows the watchfulness of a contemporary observer about life the way it is being lived and led. Whether he ventured to write novels or shorter fiction, or whether he wrote scholarly articles, Ananth’s erudition sparkled throughout. His powerful and succinctly distilled language, for example in Sanskara (I have only read it in English and German translations), tried to open a doorway into the caste-ridden and ritual obsessed Indian society which provoked some commentator to vigorously enter into a controversy. Indeed, a basic material fact of writing is that we indulge ourselves in lives which break us from our own time. He was full-throatedly a part of his time and place. 

Provocative or not, his novels and stories though maintain the spirited, courtly manner of a seasoned scholar of Indian culture and society, yet Ananth was capable of showing his teeth, too, as in his passionate attack on the strenuous anti-humanism he perceived in rightist political agenda, and casteism. He did believe in language as an instrument, but never in that of oppression or of intentional bewilderment, as is often the case in political arena on the right. He profoundly believed in, and also propagated, interpretive estimation of a writer’s craft based on his political awareness, intellectual competence, and social commitment. Hence, the warmth of his eyes could easily turn into the heat of his pen when it came to his aesthetic or socio-political views and vows. Consequently, the beat of his mind has always been coterminous with the beat of his heart. He was a sophisticated scholar, a fine teacher of literature, a minute observer of mankind’s transformation, a dauntless fighter for social and literary causes, so many befitting adjectives about him appear in mind when one thinks of the huge void that has been left in the landscape of Indian literature in general and Kannada literature in particular by his loss. 

As a player of the Indian literature team he had embodied the centre forward position, always ready to seize an opportunity to cast a goal for his larger team, or say, his fraternity and fellow Indians. In many a conversations we have had over the years, he had often lamented that Indian literature was not accorded the place it deserves on the global scene. He had rightly regarded Indian writers to be better equipped to depict humanity due to their upbringing in a multilingual, multi-religious and multicultural background than the Western writers who are limited to their monolingual, mono-cultural and mono-religious rearing. Although he would greatly appreciate the western cultural practice of toleratin

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