The man who had refused to live in Narendra Modi’s India has gone to a better place. UR Ananthamurthy, who towered over modern Kannada letters, passed away on Friday in Bengaluru, where he was being treated for renal failure. He died in the city he had named. Ananthamurthy had originated the campaign to rename Bangalore in an effort to decolonise the Kannada mindscape.
Ananthamurthy will be best remembered for Ghatashraddha, a short story, and the novel Samskara. The former was filmed by Girish Kasaravalli and represented India in the 2002 centenary celebration of cinema in Paris. Pattabhi Rama Reddy’s rendering of Samskara launched the parallel cinema in Kannada.
Cinema acquainted global audiences with Ananthamurthy’s work, but Samskara the novel marked an important phase of modern Indian letters. Ananthamurthy was the foremost novelist of the Navya movement in Kannada literature, one of the many new waves which were crashing on the worn coastlines of Indian literary languages in the 1950s and ’60s. In Karnataka, this period saw the rise of powerful literary figures. P. Lankesh and Girish Karnad were Ananthamurthy’s peers in Kannada poetry and theatre, for instance.
Ananthamurthy has been president of the Sahitya Akademi, chairman of the National Book Trust and the FTII, and chancellor of the Central University of Karnataka. An old hand on the conference and festival circuit, he has spoken for Indian literature all over the world, from Jaipur to Frankfurt. His honours include the Jnanpith Award, the Padma Bhushan and the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship. Apart from the loss to literature, his death removes from public life a critic who was never afraid to speak against the motion. Without Ananthamurthy, India will be a quieter and less interesting place.