Earlier this year, Udipi Rajagopalacharya Ananthamurthy (URA), the Jnanpith award-winning Kannada novelist, educationist and public intellectual, had declared that he would not live in an India run by Narendra Modi. This had provoked lacerating responses from right-wing Hindutva supporters. URA breathed his last on August 22, 2014, before the Modi government completed 100 days in office. Chandan Gowda of the Azim Premji University had interviewed the litterateur for an eight-part Doordarshan series, telecast in June and July. It is possibly URA’s last major interview. Excerpts:
What parts of the Gandhian legacy are important for you?
His suspicion of the modern world system is one. The modern world system will destroy the earth, will destroy the sky, will destroy the balance between nature and man because it is very greedy. Gandhi’s rejection was sometimes extreme. But extremes can open the gate of heaven, that’s what they have said. So Gandhi exaggerated at times, but in the main you know that. He used trains all the time. But he said we could live without trains. He rightly feared centralisation. Gandhi was also friendly towards nature. There are many valuable Gandhian ideas. The whole idea that small is beautiful comes from Gandhi. So he wanted such ideas to govern the whole country. He didn’t like big buildings.
How do you view Nehru’s legacy?
I can still say primary education should be nationalised and that the healthcare system should also be nationalised. Where do I get these ideas from? I get them from Nehru and, later, Indira Gandhi. We get something very wholesome from the Nehruvian tradition.
What has Ambedkar meant for India’s politics in the 20th century?
I think nobody can help the Dalits regain their self-respect as much as Ambedkar can. Gandhi makes them regain their self-respect, but when they regain it, you know, they will be softer than what they are. But with Ambedkar, they can be themselves and still get self-respect. Ambedkar was a socialist and had a legal mind. His becoming a Buddhist is very important for me. It’s not merely a political act. It’s a deep act of self-purification. So Gandhi and Ambedkar began with two different directions but they meet at one point, wanting spiritually enhanced visions.
Lohia has meant a lot for you as a writer and thinker. How do you evaluate Lohia’s criticism of tradition?
Lohia was able to produce more political leaders than Nehru did. Nehru inherited his friends from his party, but Lohia created a new leadership. You find it in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloo Prasad Yadav, for example, are products of Lohia’s movement. And Karnataka too has seen many fine socialist leaders. Unfortunately, the socialist leadership became populist in some places. Lohia himself was critical of these trends. He wanted some anarchy so that India kept thinking of alternatives.
How have you understood your relation with the Hindu dharma?
I am a Hindu, but that is an absurd thing to say. I mean, there is nothing like a Hindu. I should say I am a Brahmin, to be very exact. But that doesn’t describe me either, because I have given up the ritualistic part of the Brahmin religion. I am a Hindu in a broad way, in the sense that all of us believe that the Ganga is sacred, that the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, our two great epics, and the Upanishads have deep spiritual insights. All this I believe. I believe what my ancestors believed, that is, there is not one God but we can imagine several gods and describe them in different ways.... Hinduism is also difficult because it is based on hierarchies.
Has anything about Indian politics struck you as mysterious?
The fact that if you are an ascetic and if you have given up everything, you can go beyond language, religion, caste, and appeal to the whole country. You know when Gandhi emerged, it was a mysterious thing, because he was neither a Bengali nor a Maharashtrian. All great leaders until then had come from either Bengal or Maharashtra.
How do you understand the need for swaraj in thought in India today?
I an not too passionately involved in what they call the desi, because you will not find the pure desi when you search for it. It is based on Sanskrit; it is mixed with Persian; it’s linked with different rulers at different times. There is nothing pure even in our folklore. Therefore, I am more a follower of Pampa (the 10th century Kannada Jain poet), who wanted to combine the desi with the marga.
What are the challenges facing someone who chooses to write about India in English?
Anyone who writes in English should be deeply knowledgeable about at least one Indian language. I say this for all journalists too. You cannot be an English journalist in Karnataka unless you know Kannada. Similarly, for anthropological, sociological and other kinds of writing. I think it is very necessary to know how people think, how people feel. You should be able to grasp that. And an instinctive grasp becomes possible if you know the language of the people.
Does it matter very much to you that people like you?
I enjoy being liked. Though I am ill, I forget I am ill because of the affection and warmth I get from people who read me, who remember what I write, who write me letters. I like it very much.
Could you tell us how you would like to be remembered?
As a Kannada writer. For having made a contribution to Kannada through my works...that there are many younger writers who will get something from me, because I have brought whatever I could from my own past, from my Brahminical past, from the European world, from my various experiences, and from my probing of my own self into the Kannada language. It might be a threatened language in the modern world, but I have worked against the threat and that is an achievement. I would like to be remembered as a teacher, as a writer.
The late U.R. Ananthamurthy (‘Spirituality united Gandhi and Ambedkar’, Sep 8) was an anti-Brahmin throughout his life but finally his ‘samskara’ was done according to the Madhwa dharma to which he belonged. There’s a scene in the film version of his novel Samskara when the question of cremating a debauch like Narayanappa arises and the pontiff finally concludes, “Maybe Narayanappa denounced Brahminism, but Brahminism has not denounced him. So the body needs to be cremated as per dharma.”
J. Akshobhya, Mysore
URA’s last rites being performed as per Brahmin rites left his admirers aghast. Either his anti-Brahminism was a facade or his children did not care for his ideology.
D.R. Srinivasan, Bangalore
URA, in the interview, says Nehru couldn’t produce great leaders but Lohia did, and he points to Mulayam and Laloo as examples. Now if such corrupt leaders are the best socialism has produced, maybe we could do without it.
Ravindranath Ramakrishna, on e-mail
In all obituaries, few remembered URA’s animosity towards another Kannada intellectual, S.L. Bhyrappa. Ananthamurthy and Bhyrappa are the opposite poles of the modern Kannada novel, the former a left liberal with an exquisite body of work while the latter was prolific, unruly and suspect in his politics. URA may have been the better writer, but Bhyrappa inspires more affection among Kannadigas.
J.S. Acharya, Hyderabad
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
16 May 2014 Sickularism was cremated according to Hindu rituals.
URA had realised his own mediocrity in the field of literature. The only way to remain relevant in public domain was by way of indulging in politics and being in the thick of controversies. He has more awards and rewards than his literary works justify, thanks to the select group of 'like-minded' sickos with whom he could indulge in mutual back-scratching.
@SSNagaraj - "He never left a will to his family not to perform Brahminical rituals at his cremation,which was performed for hours on."
On the contrary, he expressed to his son the desire to have the last rites performed the traditional way. He was a hyppocrate to the core.
Here is a brief comment on this 'Great man,Anantha Murthy'.He never left a will to his family not to perform Brahminical rituals at his cremation,which was performed for hours on.His anti-brahminism is only for others.He could have written a will to donate his body to a research lab,not even his eyes were donated.he got sanctioned a huge site in the Dollars colony depite already having one.He never crticised the church in Kerala for it's dubious activities while he was vice-chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi University there.He spread falsehood and canard against Narendra Modi.He was extremely jealous of popular Kannada writers like S.L.Bhyrappa.Ofcourse he is still projected as a greatman.
UR ANANTHAMOORTHY - A FEUDAL UPPER CLASS BRAHMIN , like N RAM, like PANKAJ MISHRA etc who believes that his feudal elitist power and position and pseudo intellectual drivel should ensure his likes a permanent place in power structures, and someone who thinks that development must be only restricted to elite among all castes.
URA is dead and gone , but his phiosophy of hatred against the aspirational class and dislike for democratically elected leaders/parties continues and is a danger to India's society.
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