I have heard that when UR Ananthamurthy was a visiting prof at USA once, he used to have packed halls. This fame was due to his novel Samskara, apparently, whcih was translated into English by AK Ramanujan. Ericfromm commented on Ananthamurthy’s novel, whcih also contributed to his fame over in USA.
It seems that outside the Kannada circles, he is primarily known as the author of Samskara. Here is an extract on how he came to write this novel which some consider as one of the most important Kannada modernist novels. Please ignore my disagreement.
How I wrote Samskara
U R Anathamurthy
I was barely 13 years old when some momentous things happened in my little Agrahara… I was witness to actual death all round me. Four miles away was my high school, which was closed because of plague in the town. People began to die along with the rats. In my village only the pariahs died. That was because, I had realized, the orthodox doctor had not gone to inoculate against plague- they were untouchables. Although I was surrounded by all these people, something in me was stirred against all these superstitious beliefs. My father used to read Gandhi’s writings in Harijan which used to come to our Agrahara.
Just then another queer thing happened in my Agrahara. An orthodox Brahmin who had joined the army had come back and he used to gather all of us schoolboys and drill us upon a hill. He also talked to us of far away places and the battles he had fought and so on. He had greatly impressed me. I was also privy to a secret, which no other Brahmin in the village knew. This ex-army young man who spoke English had a secret romance with one of the loveliest dark girls from the untouchable huts, although, he came from an orthodox family. This was a secret of elemental importance, which had begun to shake my belief in the whole caste system.
When the Harijans began to die they set fire to whole huts for everyone had died in the hut. They were thatched huts with no belongings and the Brahmins in my Agrahara whispered to one another that they were being punished by god for having dared to enter temples somewhere in North India under the guidance of the Kali of our yug – Mahatma Gandhi. The beautiful girl I referred to, had seemed extraordinarily lovely to me- I had read the story of `Mathsygandhi â€˜; the fisherwoman with whom Parashara fell in love and instantaneously produced Vedavyasa, the Sathyojatha. I was living in the world of Purana and reality at the same time.
Such was my state when one fine morning the beautiful girl did not come to clean our cowshed and I was told that she had run away. That struck me: she ran because she was touched. In other words, I thought, however vaguely, that a new consciousness was aroused in her by her contact with an upper-caste man. This lighted up the meaning of the Parashara Purana in me. We, the boys of Agrahara, used to edit then a manuscript journal in three languages- English, Kannada and Sanskrit. I had friends who were doing their SSLC and so could write in English and the boys who went to Sanskrit Pathashalas could write in Sanskrit and I wrote in Kannada. I remember to have written a story on this metaphorically. Why metaphorically? Not because I felt like a poet, but because I wanted to hide the true story from my elders whom I feared. It was much later I realized that even Dostoeveski wrote metaphorically for similar reasons, to hide from the Czarist censors.
I don’ t remember how this story was received in the manuscript journal which I had named ‘Tharangini’. For many years later in 1964, when I was 32 years old, I went to see a Bergman film “The Seventh Seal” in England with my friend and guide, the famous novelist Malcolm Bradbury. Seventh seal is a film on a Christian facing a belief crisis. It was a great and symbolic film, but I saw it without sub-titles. I was stirred by it. Often creativity is aroused by imperfect understanding and even misunderstanding. I told Bradbury, “Look Malcolm, as an Englishman you have to create your medieval times through learning and knowledge acquired with hard scholarship. But the medieval times are part of my consciousness; centuries can co-exist in the Indian mind” Malcolm said that my writing must reflect such an existence.
I had to give my next chapter of my thesis on Marxism and fiction to him. What a boring and hard chapter to write and I wanted to evade it. What better ruse can there be if your teacher is a novelist? I told Malcolm that I have begun to write a novel and I did. I finished it within a week. Being away for nearly two years from my own land and people, the language Kannada with all its richness and the people whom I knew came back to me and I found myself rewriting the story, which I had written at the age of 13. But with a lot more in it than I could grasp in my tender years. This is how Samskara was born in England.