If the term ‘Renaissance man’ can be applied to anyone, the Kannada polymath Kota Shivaram Karanth would qualify. The man historian Ramachandra Guha aptly compared to Rabindranath Tagore and referred to as a ‘colossus’; the man critic CH Prahlada Rao called ‘an epitome of many lives, each rich and beautiful…’. A writer of novels, plays, popular science, works on culture and anthropology, children’s books; an environmental and political activist; a filmmaker; the reviver and re-inventor of the Yakshagana traditional theatre and so much more. Karanth (1902-97) was a man of an awe-inspiring range of talents.
Karanth has been the subject of various biographies, including his autobiography, Ten Faces of a Whimsical Mind. This book Growing Up Karanth, by his daughters Malavika Kapur and Kshama Rau, along with their brother K Ullas Karanth, is however along different lines. It is not merely a retelling of the life of Shivaram Karanth, but an insight into what it was to grow up with him as a father. Spread across 10 chapters, Growing Up Karanth begins with an introduction to the ancestors of Shivaram Karanth and his wife Leela, a way of explaining the background to these two people, who met when Leela was a feisty teenager and Karanth in his mid-30s. After describing their wedding (it was an inter-caste marriage with inevitable opposition), the authors go on to describe Leela, their amma, in loving and sensitive detail.
They create an interesting and very vivid picture of the environment at Balavana (the house near Puttur town in Karnataka, where they lived)—a place of creativity that encouraged thought, exploration and freedom. Not only do Karanth and Leela come alive through these recollections, so do the people who surrounded them. And so, too, do Karanth’s three offspring. Malavika Kapur, a psychologist who feelingly writes about her mother’s long and painful battle with mental health; Ullas Karanth, a respected wildlife biologist sheds light not only on his tata’s (the name by which the children addressed Karanth) love for nature but also on other, non-literary fields (such as politics and social activism); and Kshama Rau, the youngest and an exponent of Odissi dance, shows how Karanth’s love for the performing arts influenced her.
Growing Up Karanth is commendably honest as the authors do not shy away from discussing Karanth’s shortcomings, his volatile temper and his inability to judge human character. There is a refreshing candour to it all and dignity too. A memorable insight into not just the man Karanth was, but the family he was part of.
Growing Up Karanth
By: K Ullas Karanth, Malavika Kapur, Kshama Rau
Price: Rs 699