He contributed a lot to Kerala's cultural fabric

He contributed a lot to Kerala's cultural fabric

When Professor U R Ananthamurthy came to Kottayam to take charge as vice chancellor, the intellectual and literary community in Kerala was delighted.

He was no stranger to the reading public in the state, nor did he feel as an alien, as all around the place, he had friends and literary acquaintances.

He came as the second vice chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi University (MGU) which was established in 1983. His eagerness to develop a young university into a multi-faceted academic institution faced many challenges. The lack of teachers to infrastructure to academic bodies to a campus of its own did not hamper his spirit. It was his personal charisma and his name that helped MGU in the task of getting the University Grants Commission recognition.

He had vision of interdisciplinary academic departments that break the conventional boundaries of knowledge. He established the School of Letters as a centre of learning for Malayalam, English and other South Asian and Southeast Asian languages and literature. The wider Asian dream did not materialise. But learning languages, literature and theatre under one umbrella did take root. He brought in intellectuals like G Sankara Pillai and R Narendra Prasad to head it.

The School of Social Sciences took shape with Prof Rajan Gurukkal being brought back to Kerala from Jawaharlal Nehru University. He appointed teachers of calibre in the various departments, which provided the basis for the University’s growth in the fields of International Relations, Chemical Sciences, Materials Sciences, etc. He put some of the best academics in the country in the Boards of Studies of various knowledge fields. All these steps contributed to the MGU earning a name for itself in the academic community.

Internationally known scholars like Sheldon Pollock and Richard Sorabji came and spoke in makeshift campuses. In-depth debates on traditions and modernities happened in the local institutional spaces of a municipal town of Kottayam. Ideas did make the locality global. Prof Ananthamurthy contributed a lot to the cultural fabric of Kottayam in particular and Kerala in general. His own international experience in the academic realm and his creative mind contributed immensely to novel ways of institution-building.

For students and teachers, he was an accessible vice chancellor. I remember many occasions when we teachers and our students used to pull him away from the drudgery of files to a picnic at the Kumarakom Lake or a chat over tea, invitations for which he happily obliged. He had his share of problems from the pushes and pulls of highly polarised political atmosphere of Kerala.

He threatened to resign from the post many times. Ultimately, he was able to complete his term as vice chancellor. Whenever he returned to MGU after his term as vice chancellor, he received a warm welcome even from his former opponents. His passion and love for life made him embrace into his fold people of different persuasions. That human quality of a writer and a public intellectual stood out. There is no doubt that Kerala will also miss him a lot.
(The writer is a professor at the Centre for West Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi).

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