Writing from local roots, URA reached the world

Writing from local roots,  URA reached the world

Dr U R Ananthamurthy, Jnanpith award-winning Kannada writer, English teacher, Kottayam University vice chancellor, who played multiple other roles during his illustrious career, was one of contemporary India’s outspoken, fearless and expressive writers.

Having consciously veered away from writing in English and started writing in his mother tongue Kannada, he declared, “It is not possible to be so rich in English. If I had started writing in English, I would have lost my childhood. Writing in English takes you further away from your past, your relatives your friend, from your roots.”

His village town Theerthahalli was his world. He says, “In effect, when I was growing up, I could read a Bernard Shaw play (thanks to Srinivas Joshi’s radio and the BBC News and exposure to the English world), hear about the Bhagwad Gita at school, and discuss dvaita/advaita philosophies at the mutt (thanks to his traditional, conservative Brahmanic upbringing and the knowledge of Sanskrit). I became a writer because so many worlds commingled in little Theerthahalli.”

Padma Bhushana Udupi Rajagopalacharya Ananthamurthy was born in Melige in Theerthahalli taluk in the Shimoga District. His education started in a traditional Sanskrit school in Doorvasapura and continued in Theerthahalli and Mysore. After receiving a Master of Arts degree from the University of Mysore, he went to England for further studies on a Commonwealth scholarship. And earned his doctorate from the University of Birmingham in 1966 for his dissertation thesis titled ‘Politics and Fiction in the 1930s’.

He began his career as a lecturer in English in 1956 and continued till 1963. During the period from 1970-80, he served as the Reader in English at Mysore University. He has served as a visiting professor at a number of foreign and Indian universities such as Cornell University (2001), the University of Hyderabad (2001), the University of Iowa (1975), Shivaji University (1982), Kolhapur, the University of Tubingen (1992) Germany, the University of Pennsylvania (2000) and many others. During the period 1987 to 1990, he served as the vice chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam. Besides, he has also served as the chairman of the National Book Trust of India at Delhi in 1992-93, the Indian Institute of Social Sciences in 1998 and the Film and Television Institute of India at Pune in 2002. He was the president of the Sahitya Academy from 1993 to 1998.

Ananthamurthy’s works have been translated into several Indian and European languages. Most of his works deal with psychological aspects of people in different situations, times and circumstances. His writings supposedly analyse aspects ranging from challenges and changes faced by Brahmin families of Karnataka to bureaucrats dealing with politics influencing their work.

Most of his novels are on reaction of individuals to situations that are unusual and manmade. Results of influences of socio-political and economic changes on traditional Hindu societies of India and clashes due to such influences – between a father and a son, husband and wife, father and daughter and finally, the fine love that flows beneath all such clashes are portrayed by Ananthamurthy in his works.Ananthamurthy, an Inspiring and thought-provoking orator, could write and speak with remarkable insights on the poetry of Tao and Yeats.  

He has always been vociferous in voicing his political views. His multifaceted personality and command over language have contributed to the mass popularity that he enjoys.

A lesser-known fact is that Ananthamurthy had a successful stint as an interviewer for Mysore Radio when he interviewed greats like Field Marshal K M Cariappa and Shivaram Karanth. He was highly sensitive to the world around us and its happenings. He was deeply rooted in the native culture and he proposed the idea to rename the cities of Karnataka, including Bengaluru, by casting away the colonial past.

Ananthamurthy was childlike many times. Even to the severest critics, he would not nourish any rancour. He spread love and new insights on the people around him. He was a true human being and in the words of Aadi Kavi Pampa – ‘Nijada Maanisa’. A true Kannadiga and Indian who belonged to the entire world.

(The writer is an educationist)

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