U R Ananthamurthy: The Activist Writer (cont’d)3 min read
Don’t you want to be a writer who is popularly read, who is read by a common man who maybe cannot speak your tongue?
No. No. I want serious people to read me. I would gladly want every Tom, Dick and Harry to read my books but not every Mr. Tom, Mr. Dick and Mr. Harry. There is a difference between Tom, Dick and Harry and Mr. Tom, Mr. Dick and Mr. Harry because the latter have acquired degrees. People writing for a market are not serious writers. English is a very great language. But nobody can write a great book in the English of CNN and BBC. You can write essays using it but not very serious writing. You need to have English used idiomatically.
So that comes only if you are native speaker of English?
Not necessarily. Even in India you can do that if you are almost a native speaker. There are many Englishes – English of Australia is different from English of Canada. There is also an Indian English. So, one can write in English. I am not against it. But it doesn’t mean that only if you write in English, you have a large audience. You may have an indifferent audience. But if you write in your native tongue, you may have a concerned audience. It is better to have 1000 readers who are concerned rather than 5000 readers who just read and throw away. So, the number of readers is not important. Those who invest into their reading are more important. When Shakespeare wrote, hardly few people in London knew him. Greatest writing came when number of readers weren’t even a thousand. So English doesn’t get enabled into the greater literary language because many people speak it. It was a very great language when very few people spoke it.
You wrote Samskara when you were in England. Was it easy or difficult to write something on India when you were away from India?
When you are away from your place for a long time, you see your place more beautifully. When you are away from your own language, there is a delight in speaking it. One gets fatigued speaking a foreign language. So I was fatigued in English.
So wasn’t there a problem of cultural imagination because you are withdrawn from the land you are writing about? Sometimes authors like to derive their writing from their immediate environment.
As a matter of fact, it became clearer. The immediate environment becomes immediate only when you are away. In a sense because it is imagined. Fully imagined. This also depends on the kind of person you are. I can reconstruct something that has happened 10 years ago much more vividly than something that happened yesterday. That happens to all of us, as we grow older. But you can’t rationalise it easily.
You are both a writer and a critic. Writer always have a problem that critics misunderstand them. What has been your experience?
As a matter of fact, writing is in itself a critical act. If you are writing – you choose one word over other, this phrase over other phrases. This is a creative faculty. Actually critical faculty is not very different from creative faculty because you reconstruct a text in your own imagination. For the reader it becomes an authorship – reading the signs or reconstructing it. So, this dichotomy between the critic and the creative person is sometimes not a very meaningful dichotomy. But by criticism, if you mean only analysis, analysis of a very scientific kind, then it is very different from creativity. There is another type of critique and that is responsible critique. Very great critiques don’t even pretend that they know the text very well. They instead explore with you the quality of the text.