It is an interesting idea, the public intellectual. I guess the word may be challenged as to whether there can be an intellectual in a domain other than public. But, I guess the use of this expression to refer to Ananthamurthy has something to do with the fact that he takes it upon himself to be a voice raising issues that concerns the public in a society that is increasingly turning introvert.
Once my friend Ashok Hegde, the story writer, and me were with Shantinath Desai. In our conversation Ananthamurthy’s later writings came in for a discussion. What Shantinath Desai said has stuck in my mind. He said that after a point some writers become public property. What they write, good or not, becomes important for the language community. Their writings become an example irrespective of whether they have a present appeal.
Another instance that comes to my mind about Ananthamurthy is what my favourite living Kannada writer Rasheed once wrote in his blog about him. I think Rasheed went to Ananthamurthy for the purpose of some podcast or some such thing. Anyways, he was accompanied by a friend. Ananthamurthy receives them cordially, seats them in the front room, makes a small talk and then insisting they have some tea proceeds to the kitchen to brew some. Rasheed is touched by the ready warmth with which Ananthamurthy plays host.
I have had the opportunity to talk to him only once. In IUCCA, Pune, he presided over a book relaease and after the do, there was a little tea and biscuits. Over the tea Pune’s own poet Dilip Chitre and Ananthamurthy were animatedly talking about the status of English and the Indian languages. I joined in with a contrary view. I still remember the intent look on his face which was as enthusiastic to listen to a rookie for a fine debate. He showed no impatience. He was keen to listen to the younger people and engage in a debate with them. I think that shows the public nature of his concerns.
If you are interested in reading Ananthamurthy, visit his website Rujuvatu at sampada.net