In Memoriam: UR Anantha Murthy

We are deeply saddened by the passing of Katha Board Member U R Anantha Murthy (1932 to 2014) – philosopher, writer, and much-cherished friend – whose deep wisdom, astute advice, and genuine concern we at Katha could always count on. A member of the Katha Editorial Committee, and himself a Katha award-winning short-story writer, Professor Anantha Murthy was a significant and highly-regarded voice in the field of Kannada literature whose political beliefs were as strong as his views on life. We will miss him greatly.

Extracted below is an excerpt from his short story “Akkaya”:

A real essay was shaping up in me in response to his theoretical sadness, to the mental distress underneath it, and to his worldly success. But remembering the mischief and fun the two of us had in those days when he used to pick pockets, and looking at his long, shoulder-length hair, I saw him as a visiting Bhagvata and enjoyed the thought of it. There were, in his library, four topis made from the fronds of areca palm. I put one of them on my head and seeing Srinivas’s eyes light up mischievously, put another on his. The clothes he was wearing together with his topi, turned him into a metaphor of me.

There was a ghatam in the library. I picked it up, went in front of the heater and sank into a bean bag that softly hugged my contours, backside and all. Beating the ghatam I started singing whatever came to my mind. Srinivas also began to sway to its rhythm.

Those of you who are reading this story, you too may wish to add your own lines and join in. But for this it would be necessary to mutilate and shorten some English words that have served us well, words that may have been the cause of our misery as well as our success.

Sensitivity, for instance. A word that has been the cause of our international success may be modified thus:

Sensiti sensiti
Sensiti vity vity
Born to a minda
Sensiti vity vity

I can-neither-be–here-nor-there book
What sort of book?
I-am-that book
Who-am-I book
Hari Hari book
Hara Hara book
A chaste book,
Though born to the minda …

… Aiyyo I can neither be here
Nor go back there.

We hugged each other and laughed and laughed. I looked up and suddenly liked the sentimental picture of Akkaya that Srinivas had painted. And I said to Srinivas – both of us in the topis made from areca fronds, in our trousers and jackets and middle-age gravity, dancing like clowns – (dear readers please note that I could say the following to my friend only in English):

‘You see, it is precisely because your painting and talking of Akkaya is awkward and absurd, that it also feels authentic.’

Excerpted from “Akkaya”, by UR Anantha Murthy (1932–2014)

Translated by Narayan Hegde

Katha Prize Stories, Volume 5

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