U.R. Anantha Murthy, our greatest living novelist?

In the mid-1980s, he stormed into the pages of The Illustrated Weekly of India as “one of the 50 most important people” in the country. But the trajectory of the Kannada writer, critic, academic and public intellectual U.R. Anantha Murthy has not always been smooth, consistent or ascendant.

In his home land in recent years, URA has been the target of revanchist right wing forces, many his compatriots, who can only spot opportunism behind his thoughts, words and deeds. His peevish unaceptance of S.L. Bhyrappa as a peer and/or equal, belying his 79 years, is now the object of media ridicule, at least from sections of it.

Yet, it will please none of Anantha Murthy’s detractors, indeed many of them might in moments of humility write this down as their biggest failure, that URA’s literary star continues to shine incandescently on the national horizon and that he is spoken of in the same breath as the very best and brightest.

Two Sundays weeks ago, in an interview in The Times of India, the Booker Prize winning Kannadiga, Aravind Adiga, was asked about the writers who excited him.

Adiga’s response:

“Many regard Professor U.R. Anantha Murthy as India’s greatest living novelist. If anyone has not read his novel “Samskara“, I urge them to do so.”

This week, Chandrahas Choudhury reviewing the new English translation of URA’s Bharathipura, in The Wall Street Journal online, writes:

“Ananthamurthy brings to his material considerable gifts as a technician. His deft segueing between third-person narration and the protagonist’s inner monologue allows us to experience the novel’s world simultaneously from within and without.

“Although Susheela Punitha’s translation is often uneven, it releases into English this work of formidable interpretative power by a writer who warrants the title, as much as Amitav Ghosh or Vikram Seth, of India’s greatest living novelist.”

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

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