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URA and the Pursuit of Vision

Chandan Gowda

In his literary career, which spanned over six decades, U.R. Ananthamurthy (URA from here onwards) wrote extensively: five novels, six collections of short stories, thirteen volumes of essays, four volumes of poetry, five volumes of poetry translations and a play.   Major Kannada novelists from the early twentieth century like Kuvempu and Shivarama Karanth [the writers of the Navodaya (New Dawn) phase] mattered greatly for URA in his teens. His writerly efforts how-ever sought to evolve a style distinct from that of the Navodaya writers. In the 1950s, the lyricism and the political idealism found among the latter seemed not to suit the writers who witnessed the difficult aftermath of India’s Independence and the Cold War hostilities in the world.   URA was among the foremost writers in the Navya (modernist) phase in Kannada, which took root in the 1950s and persists till this day, albeit having undergone a series of self-renewals. The other distinguished Navya writers include the poets Gopalakrishna Adiga, Ramachandra Sharma and the novelists Yashwant Chittal, Shantinath Desai, P. Lankesh and Poornachandra Tejasvi.  In an essay titled, ‘The Future of the Kannada Novel’ (1968), URA argued that writers ought to avoid the extremes of being inward-looking and of producing realistic ‘reports’ of the external world. He observed that, ‘Only a writer who can grasp the changing external realities and the consequent struggles for the human mind in his times can create newness in the world of the novel’ (translation mine). Most of his writings indeed embody an active engagement with the forces of history alongside non-historical concerns.  URA wrote his first novel, Samskara (A Rite for a Dead Man) in 1965, while doing his doctoral research in English literature at the University of Birmingham. He had already published a book of critically acclaim-ed short stories by then. Samskara, which invited instant controversy in Karnataka for its frank portrayal of the decadent aspects of brahmin society, remains his most widely discussed work. The existential security of Praneshacharya, an austere, self-denying scholar and arbiter of orthodox morality, comes under threat with the death of a fellow-brahmin who had violated chief caste taboos. Did the rebellious deeds of the dead brahmin make him undeserving of the traditional funeral rites? Seeking a response to this question sets Praneshacharya on a tortuous path of self-awakening to sensory pleasures and the world outside the confines of the local brahmin community. The novel raises large questions ...

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