About the Book
Suragi, Ananthamurthy's autobiography, is a simple and straightforward telling of his life and times. It brings alive his childhood in an orthodox family in a little central Karnataka village, his academic life in Mysuru and Birmingham, his Role in shaping premier literary institutions such as the Sahitya Akademi and National Book Trust, and his distinguished tenure as the Vice-chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi University.
Ananthamurthy also talks intimately about the celebrated writers and politicians he mot, the controversies that dogged his life, his run- ms with ultra-nationalists, and his dream of an India defined by a diversity of languages and experiences.
Back of the Author
U.R. ANATHAMURTHY’S stands out in glittering letter in the history of modern Indian literature. As teacher, writer, and critic. he inspired and challenged his peers, influenced cultural policy, and defined the role of the public intellectual as the criticalinsider.
His novels in Kannada, Samskara, Bharathipura. and Avasthe are now aarranged as classics. Writers across the world, including Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul and psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, have responded to his fiction, gleaning from it insights into India and its psyche.
Samskara has been translated into a host of languages, including English, French, Russian, and Hungarian.
All his life, Ananthamurthy was passionately involved in public debates, providing perspective, influencing cultural policy, and expressing dissent. When he was not actively participating in a movement, he would still contribute to it as an ideologue, a commentator, or a critic.
When he started writing his autobiography, he was eighty and ailing. He was unsure: should he write it at all? Over the years, his fiction had drawn on his personal experiences and obliquely commented on them. His apprehension now was that he would unwittingly assume a tone of self-righteousness and present a persona.
The foremost Kannada writers of our times, beginning with Kuvempu, have documented their lives in their autobiographies. Around the time Ananthamurthy was contemplating this book, his contemporary Girish Karnad came out with a candid, warts- and-all autobiography. Thus, in the world of Kannada letters, Ananthamurthy's autobiography was long overdue.
Writers across India, many of them dear friends of Ananthamurthy, have drawn inspiration from his works. Elsewhere, Eric Erikson and V.S. Naipaul were among those fascinated by his characters and their dilemmas; they critiqued his novel Samskara to glean insights into Indian society. In 1977, the novel became his first to be made into a film. Other films followed, and he watched Prakriti, based on one of his early stories, just weeks before his passing.
While addressing the many conflicts of our times-for example, between the emotionally nourishing world of Indian languages and the pragmatic, rational world of English; the non-violent, gentle pride of Hind Swaraj and the aggressive nationalism of HindutvaAnanthamurthy helmed prestigious academic and literary institutions, rubbed shoulders with powerful politicians and literary giants, and even took a shot at electoral politics.
When he finally decided to write this book, he provided the backdrop to a panorama of events, personal and public. Suragi, as his autobiography is called in Kannada, brings alive his memories from Thirthahalli, a town in the heart of the lush Western Ghats, and cities as diverse as Shivamogga, Mysuru, Bengaluru, Delhi, and Birmingham.
Ananthamurthy expounded on the writer-intellectual's role as the 'critical insider'. In this respect, Gandhi and Basavanna, the twelfth-century poet and philosopher, were his role models. They remained rooted in their cultures and at the same time rebelled against their practices. For criticism to be genuine and worthy of acceptance, Ananthamurthy argued, the critic had to live within a community, and not assume the tone of one who had abandoned it. For him, Nirad C. Chaudhuri and Naipaul fell in the second category; they were outsiders who stood on a Western pedestal and lectured down to their own people.
Ironically, in his last days, a political campaign painted Ananthamurthy as one alienated from his people, an outsider who saw little value in this faith. Readers of this book will realize how far removed from the truth that portrayal was: Ananthamurthy talks about his struggles with custom and ritual, but it is apparent he never completely rejected what he had inherited from his religion. On many occasions, he stands up for its intellectual traditions.
By the time he got down to writing this book, at the insistence of his wife Esther and a legion of admirers, Ananthamurthy was on dialysis. It was painful for him to write more than a couple of pages. He was among the first in Kannada to write on the computer and took delight in gadgets. But he was now writing in longhand. At this juncture, [a Na Tejashri, Kannada poet and professor, volunteered to be his scribe. He began narrating his story to her. Initially, he wanted the book to be conversational and informal. When he saw the first few transcribed pages, he found the style difficult to read and called for a more formal approach.
Eventually, Tejashri helped him find a balance he was comfort- able with: she recorded him, scribbled notes, touched up her transcriptions, and rearranged the episodes in chronological order. Ananthamurthy was keen to see this work published in English translation. I had translated some excerpts. When he asked me to do the full book I was flattered, but also daunted. As a journalist working long hours, tackling a 4S0-page book seemed beyond me. I requested to be excused.
He passed away a little later. A year and a half went by, and Vivek Shanbhag, novelist and Ananthamurthy's son-in-law, again asked if I would take up the book. I saw sleepless nights looming, but I couldn't refuse. I had translated Ananthamurthy over the years. His novella Suryana Kuduie, with its culture-specific evocation, had posed a host of translation problems. Suragi had to be trimmed here and there, and the uneven syntax deciphered, but the prose was relatively easy to render into English. Kinship, religious, and cultural terms posed the usual problems. We decided against endnotes, and I have tried to explain most terms within the narrative.
Once I began work, many dear friends pitched in: they read out from the Kannada while I typed out my translation on the computer. B.V. Shivashankar and K. Kariswamy, both journalists, and Ramesh Hunsur and Anand K. Gowda, journalists-turned- restaurateurs, set aside time to help this project along. My son Tejas read out some chapters, and marvelled, as I did, at many aspects of Ananthamurthy's life. I am grateful to all of them. Thanks are also due to Sensei Avinash and my friends Baloo, Shilpa, Shivani, Sugandhi, Suresh Kumar, Mukesh, and Aviva, who encourage and support me in everything I do.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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