BANGALORE: Udupi Rajagopalacharya Ananthamurthy or Ananthu, as I affectionately called him, was one of the Bards of Indian polity. He commented on events, ridiculed fundamentalism and mocked authority. From his deeply embedded socialist convictions he examined modern times through the lens of democracy.
He questioned all things and analysed all motives in the belief that it would lead to a deepening of democracy. On January 26, 2014, he said,“...everything is politics. In a democracy, one has to constantly respond...it is not about what is right in the eternal sense. We'll have to do some things that are right at the moment. But that is politics and we'll have to do what is right.”
Our paths first crossed in 1967. I was 15 and though my parents were not in politics, they had many friends in the Socialist Party that shared their political beliefs, but also their love for art, music and literature.
One day over lunch at our home Shantaveri Gopal Gowda, a long time friend of Ananthamurthy’s and the one who introduced him to Lohia Socialism and shared his passion for Kannada literature, told the story of Ananthamurthy’s novel, Samskara. As is known, Ananthu had been struck by Bergman's The Seventh Seal and had ‘experienced’ the film and could relate to the plague, the atmosphere of death and the indecision of the protagonist. There had been a plague in his hometown and he remembered how the upper castes were treated by the doctor while the Dalits were not.
As Ananthu said: “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. Different times in Europe are simultaneously present in India.”
A very great part of the novel reads like a film script. The book created a literary sensation in Karnataka in 1965 and when the film was banned by the Censor Board, it sparked a major political controversy. It was finally released in 1970 and won the National Award for Best Film and several International Awards including the Bronze Leopard at Locarno.
Samskara brought both Ananthu and my father together, not only on the artistic plane but politically as well. Ananthamurthy is considered one of the pioneers of the ‘Navya (new) movement’ in Kannada literature that began with Samskara, a scathing attack on decadent Hinduism and critique on Brahmanism, its superstitions and hypocrisies.
My father is considered the father of modern Telugu poetry as he rebelled against the sweet, rhythmic poetry of Tagore under whom he studied at Shantiniketan.
They both fell in love with and married Christians. We, even as their children, were never conscious of the fact that our parents did not belong to the same religion.
In a TV interview Ananthu had stated that, “We should not be politically correct. If there are enough people who can swim against the tide, then democracy is safe. Hence political correctness which places all value on the majority is a wrong thing. Even one voice is enough, because ideas have a way of living. We should be able to say whatever is unpleasant..”
Just before Indira Gandhi promulgated a State of Emergency, we saw a lot of Ananthu. Then my mother passed away after eight months in jail. Ananthamurthy wrote in her obituary; “It is hard to believe that Snehalata is dead at the age of 44. By her manner of life and death she has redeemed us who have had to live in a state of sin, because of our quietism and indifference in the face of evil.”
The Emergency strengthened his convictions and he became the most vocal secular, socialist voice Karnataka has seen in recent years. After the Emergency during the Chickmagalur elections where I campaigned against Mrs Gandhi, Ananthu had been campaigning too and when I was beaten by the police and lay in a semiconscious state he visited me.
He was the person who accompanied me back home from the hospital to Bangalore at night, shining a torch on my face so the crowds that had gathered could see me.
Many people create controversies, some unknowingly, some to stay in the news and most out of stupidity, not so in Ananthu’s case. The controversies reached a new height during the recent elections, when in a telephonic interview to CNN-IBN from his hospital bed in Bangalore, he said: “I won't live in a country ruled by Narendra Modi. When I was young, I used to criticise Prime Minister Nehru. But, his supporters never attacked us. They always respected our views. Modi supporters are now behaving like Fascists.”
Ananthu was gracious enough to attend a screening of Samskara just three weeks before he passed away. On the dais he whispered,“I have a feeling that we are slowly losing our democratic rights or civil rights, but much more than that when there is a bully we become cowards.” That was the last time we met.
The day he died, I went to visit him in hospital, not knowing that a few hours later he would be no more. The doctor’s prognosis was positive but by the time I reached home, he was no more. Esther was inconsolable and I was at a loss for words. What can you say to a partner of more than 50 years? Despite her ailments, she guarded him zealously.She was his strength and foundation. Ananthu could not have done what he did without her. Now Ananthu is in good company - my father and mother, Lohia, Gopal Gowda, Madhu Limaye, Karanth and many others with whom I am sure he is debating our predicament here in this world.