UR Ananthamurthy passes away…


Bangalore: Jnanpith awardee and renowned Kannada writer UR Ananthamurthy today died at a hospital in Bangalore, where he was undergoing treatment for kidney failure.

The 82-year-old was said to be in critical condition and was on multi-monitor support. He was hospitalised for infection and fever 10 days ago.

“….Anantha Murthy has been unwell for a while, he had multiple problems including kidney disease for which he had been on dialysis for the last few years……,” Manipal Hospital Medical Director & Chairman – Medical Advisory Board H Sudarshan Ballal told reporters earlier today.

According to doctors, Mr Murthy’s “condition had deteriorated in the last day or so.”

Mr Ananthamurthy was a new voice in Kannada literature. His novel Samskara questioned established caste conventions and caused controversy when it was published in the 1960s.

12 Responses to “UR Ananthamurthy passes away…”

  1. RIP
    But there have been BJP workers celebrating in Chakamagalur. I was wondering why? I think it must be for the book Samskara.


    • that’s because Ananthamurthy was staunchly and publicly against Modi even going to the extent of saying that he’d have to leave India if Modi won. Well the latter happened and the Modi brigade promptly sent him a travel itinerary. After the elections the author appeared on one of the news shows and said that while he might have indulged in some overstatement there his feelings towards Modi were still the same. He was then asked whether he might not give Modi a chance and he said he couldn’t because the trauma of Gujarat still weighed too heavily on his soul.


      • I see. Thanks. I will not condemn them because though I’d not sing or dance or distribute sweets, I would greatly rejoice in my heart when * that * person dies.


  2. All his novels have been controversial one way or the other. While I do not support his politics, like the ludicrous ‘I will leave India if Modi is elected,’ I have the greatest respect for him having interacted with him at close quarters when my grandfather used to have meetings with him to translate some of Ananthamurthy’s novels/essays into Marathi. I was young and didn’t understand much of the ‘heavy’ debates but learned a lot as I grew up. His knowledge of English and Kannada literature was outstanding to say the least.

    There is always this interesting thing about Kannada writers/poets. Almost all of them, starting from Kuvempu to Gopalkrishna Adiga to Ananthamurthy to Girish Karnad started their careers/professorship either teaching English at Universities or writing in English! It is only later that they switched to Kannada and that explains their mastery over both these languages.

    Almost all his books have been translated in English too. One can visit them and they are highly recommended.


  3. **One of his last detailed interviews: a great mind**

    Arvind: So, when you studied literature formally, you must have had another kind of exposure that transformed your worldview.

    URA: Yes. That’s because we had some great teachers. One of them was a very intelligent man. And then, he introduced us to Elliott and Keats. The Romantics were read by other teachers, but we read the non-Romantics with him. And also, that led to many debates. For instance Miltonic language did not allow Anglo-Saxon English. So it became very Latinized. So Keats wanted to give up. And immediately we connected it with a statement made by our first poet, a thousand years ago, Pampa. Pampa says there are two things: one is desi and another is marga… Desi is the indigenous. Marga is the great path and for him, it was Sanskrit. He said that a good poet combines the desi with marga. And that made a lot of sense as I was growing up, any Kannada writer who could mix a right kind of Sanskrit and Kannada became our ideal. So, I developed my prose like that. Not giving up marga, not giving up desi. And that is the greatness of South Indian languages, whereas in Hindi, you won’t be able to see when it is too Sanskritised. In Kannada, I can see it immediately when it is Sanskritised. When it is Sanskritised, it looks pompous. It looks like the words of a very egotistical man. Like you know, in English, anyone who Latinizes English is known as a pompous man. So, we were taught in English schools. Don’t say “I purchased an umbrella”. Say “I bought an umbrella”. I purchased a car. But when it is an umbrella, you must not purchase it. English made us look into our own language for similarities.

    Arvind: I also wanted to know your view on literary criticism in India. In fact, once Vladimir Nabokov, whom both of us have a lot of respect for, in his famous lectures on Russian literature [when he was teaching at Cornell University], stated that “my advice to a budding literary critic would be as follows: learn to distinguish banality.” Would you agree with Nabokov?

    URA: No differences with him at all. In the good old days, people wrote whatever they wanted to on a palm reed. And they used to be destroyed in 50 or 60 years. Some of them survived. When somebody died, when somebody married, there was a dhaan, gift, some Kalidasa, somebody, would get them to read it. That’s why we have all the manuscripts. In the whole process of time, all those banal things were rejected because it was impossible to keep them in circulation. So, time itself used to do that work. If we say that Kalidasa is a great playwright, I am sure there were a number of playwrights who were forgotten. Time did that work and the cleaning. And today, you can’t burden your students’ mind with a lot of nonsense. If you are a professor of literature, you go to the class. You have a young mind, you want to train that mind. And so you choose a great text over others because there is no time for others. And if you want them to be in touch with popular literature, you will allow some time for them to do that also, but make a list of the world’s great writers. “I don’t want my son to graduate without reading Tolstoy.” Any continuity in a culture happens because of a memory of the past, and if we don’t read Kabir, if we don’t read Tulasi, and don’t read our Hindi writers, what can we do? Take the Ramayan. It is not merely a poetical work. It is a collection of so much of wisdom. It is such a great work, you know. There is nothing like that. So you cant go to it with a strict view of what literature is. But you can read Kalidasa with a strict view of literature.

    Sudeep: You said that you got the inspiration to write Samskara after you went and saw the Bergman movie ‘Seventh Seal’.

    URA: Yes, yes. That was in England. I went to see it with Malcolm Bradbury (who was my teacher). It didn’t have subtitles. And I also saw this old Christian meeting a – what you call it… maybe – a villager, a simple man who is going in a cart playing little skits for the villagers. He is a nomad. He is not a Christian. And that nomad has a life which this Christian, who goes to fight the Crusades, is deeply affected. That was the moment I was thrilled. I told Malcolm. You in England or Europe in order to create the medieval ages, you have to go back to a library and collect all information. But the medieval times are already there in me. They are there in my mother. I can see and feel the 18th century in my mother and the 10th century in my grandmother. Different times in Europe are simultaneously present in India. As we walk the road, we are simultaneously walking the different times.



  4. RIP


  5. UR Ananthmurthy is among a handful of public figures whose death saddened me personally. I have met him only 4 or five times in various public functions. He was supposed to be the Chief Guest at one of our Odisha Day celebration s but could not make it on the appointed day due to ill health. I was touched by his mild manner and amiable personality. He was too genial for such a trenchant social critic. His love for humanity was palpable. His willingness to speak his mind regardless of public perception was admirable. I knew of his works from the films ‘ Samskara’ and ‘ Ghattashraddha”, and have read a few episodes of ‘ Bharatipura’ which appeared in Odia translation in the women’s magazine ‘Kadambini’. But what blew my mind and made me a big fan of his writing was the short story “Suryana Kudure” or “Stallion of the Sun”. I read a critical appreciation of the story by Ashwin Kumar A P which captures its essence very well.

    “Returning to his village, the litterateur-author-narrator, Ananthu, discovers his old friend, Hade Venkata, (the nickname indicating the urchin that he was and continues to be) in a state of utter disrepair – unmarried daughters, a suffering, complaining and cursing wife, an errant and wayward son and Venkata himself in the midst of all this strife in his splendid almost reckless disregard for his lot. The subsequent narrative is a slow and painful unravelling of the minute details of Venkata’s life and his moral failure as father, husband and above all provider of the family, occasionally interspersed with commentaries from the narrator now on the abounding ‘village idiocy’ of Asiatic proportions and now about his own dread at the precarious distance which separates himself from Venkata. The central drama binding the narrator and the narrated is an oil massage and a scalding hot-water bath given by Venkata to Ananthu, an art for which he is known far and wide, and the reason why Ananthu has come to Venkata’s house this time.
    Venkata is supposed to have the ability to take his clients to the heights of bliss through his massages: showing the full moon as he describes it himself. At this point the narrative shifts gears and we are no more in the familiar domain of the room-temperature social theory of Indian modernism with its well-worn antinomies: the alienated individual versus his rotting, self-amnesiac, non-modern counterpart, the dangers of urbane vacuity versus the ancient violence of ahistorical modes of life and formal knowledge versus native intuition.

    The massage slowly dulls the narrator’s consciousness; standing behind him is the expert masseur Venkata chanting rhymes, mantras, Yakshagana lyrics and affected extempore poetry even as he is kneading, drumming, squeezing and twisting the flesh of Ananthu and bending as it were the rigidities of both muscle and mind. Both the narrative and the narrator from this point onwards acquire a suppleness and intimacy that dissolves the hitherto intellectual bravado and moral certainty of Ananthu and his puzzlement about the ways of Venkata. A process of healing has already begun for Ananthu where what requires healing now is not only the decadent human condition petrified in an antediluvian Asiatic mode but also the rigid varicose of a historical rationality subsuming life to abstract and monstrous goals bypassing the dialectic of experience and reflection. “

    I remember the massage scene so well after so many years. It is the best of ‘stream-of-consciousness ‘in Indian writing that I have come across. And also stuck in my mind is the imagery of the insect Surya Kudure that carries the sun on its back.

    Have to find the collection somehow and must read the story again. It would be wonderful to have an audio version of it read by Naseeruddin Shah or someone like that!


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