S.L. Bhyrappa versus U.R. Anantha Murthy

S.L. Bhyrappa‘s latest novel Aavarana has thrown a sharp barb into the incestuous cesspool that is Kannada literature.

In one corner is U.R. Anantha Murthy, the Jnanpith Award-winning former chairman of the Sahitya Akademi. Murthy’s supporters, a band of people who freely slap themselves the label “progressive” to describe their every act and action, claim Aavarana dangerously advances the fundamentalist agenda by tilting at the windmills of history, and that it seeks to divide society on communal lines.

“Bhyrappa does not know either Hindu religion or the art of story-telling. He is only a debater,” says Anantha Murthy. “He does not go beyond his opinions. He constructs the plot and selects characters only to suit his opinions and end up as a debater, rather than a creative writer.”

“It’s a bad book,” says Chandrashekhar Kambar.

“Reject the book” says G.K. Govinda Rao.

In the other corner, is Bhyrappa and his supporters, the so-called knicker lobby, who take a vicarious delight in the characterisation of the book which leaves nothing to the imagination. They cite the freedom of speech and expression for Bhyrappa to write what he wants. They say the book’s popularity is testimony to Bhyrappa’s ability to feel the pulse of the reader. And they accuse the book’s critics of not answering the basic questions that he raises.

“How is it possible to agree with Anantha Murthy that Bhyrappa does not know how to write novels? Does it mean Bhyrappa is a muff (dadda) and lakhs of his admiring readers too are muffs,” asks Mathoor Krishnamurthy, the Sanskrit scholar and director of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bangalore.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that Bhyrappa has clashed with the so-called secular brigade. When Girish Karnad stood up to defend Tipu Sultan, when the latter was branded anti-Kannada by education minister D.H. Shankara Murthy, Bhyrappa responded in kind.

But in l’affaire Aavarana, it is Anantha Murthy’s easy labelling of Bhyrappa as a debator who doesn’t know how to write a novel that has the ordinary reader all irritated. Below are some of the letters to the editor of Deccan Herald, that show how Anantha Murthy has painted himself into a corner.

This refers to Anantha Murthy’s comments on novelist Bhyrappa. It is unfortunate that the common man cannot understand URA’s works. It is high time URA withdraws from public life and spends time with his grandchildren at home. It is rightly said that childhood recurs during old age. Go play with your toys.

Amritha S.G., Bangalore


One wonders whether URA is reviewing the book Aavarana or its writer Bhyrappa, the person. He would have done well to question any of the issues taken up by Bhyrappa in his book. If the author is a debater. Readers like his debates.

Anasuya Aswath, Bangalore


Anantha Murthy’s personal attack on Bhyarappa is totally unbecoming of a litterateur. When many book lovers enjoy reading Bhyrappa’s novels, it hardly matters what a political opportunistic like URA says. He could just write a critical review of Aavarana and let the readers decide whether the book is worth reading or not. After Samskara, has URA written anything worthwhile?

If anyone wishes to know what is bad writing one should read his Bhava. URA must introspect to know who is a political opportunist. He left Janata Parivar, and is now batting for the Communists as they had supported him in his unsuccessful bid to enter Rajya Sabha. But this is not to undermine his intellect and all that he has accomplished for his own glory.

Shanthu Shantharam, Ellicott City, MD, USA


How could a university professor make such a statement on Bhyrappa, who has written novels like Parva, Tantu and Mandra. This proves that URA is jealous of Bhyrappa. URA might have also noticed that his character is portrayed as a Sastry in Avarana. Hence he hates Avarana and Bhyrappa.

J Vasudevamurthy, San Jose, CA, USA


I am yet to read the novel Aavarana, but Anantha Murthy’s comments were unwanted. Even after winning the Jnanapith award URA is not as popular as Bhyrappa. I’ve read most of the novels of Bhyrappa, which are wonderful pieces of writing. There could be a few novels of him which are of bad taste, and that cannot reduce his credentials as a good story-teller. Also, Bhyrappa does not boast of his achievements. Whereas, URA, who pressed for the use of “Bengaluru” for Bangalore in English too, made it a big issue as if it was his discovery. It’s better for URA to make a reality check in the market on the popularity of Bhyrappa’s works, which sell like hot-cakes.

Raghavendra Udupa, Bangalore


This refers to Bhyrappa a debater, not a story-teller, says URA. This is nothing but professional jealousy. Bhyrappa’s Aavarana has reached record sales and this has upset Anantha Murthy. Apart from that, he takes pleasure in criticising anything related to Hinduism.

A Srikantaiah, Bangalore


As naturally as night follows day, Anantha Murthy has said he was quoted out of context by the media and has vowed never to speak at a literary meet where reporters are present. But a literary spat that splits writers, readers and the media diametrically is on.

The key questions of the debate are:

# What is a novel, and what is its function? Does a novelist have a social responsibility?

# Is there just one way of writing a novel? And if it doesn’t conform, is it necessarily a bad novel?

# Is having an “agenda” or having a point to convey a bad thing while writing a novel?

# Is a novelist wrong to write a novel that pleases his core constituents?

# Is popular appeal necessarily proof of the book’s greatness or gravitas?

May the better writer—or better debator—win.

Read the full text of Anantha Murthy’s speech