Kannada literature's best known figure, Jnanpith and Padma award winner UR Ananthamurthy died in Bangalore on Friday evening after a prolonged illness.
The 81-year-old writer, a die-hard socialist till the end, was hospitalised 10 days ago after he developed an infection in his lungs and bloodstream. He was on dialysis over the last three years after both his kidneys deteriorated.
His nephrologist Dr Sudarshan Ballal told HT that his condition suddenly deteriorated early on Friday morning. "He could not breathe and his blood pressure suddenly plummeted." He was on life support during his final hours.
Ananthamurthy's main works included Samskara, Bhava, Bharathi Pura and Avasthe works were translated into several Indian and European languages and were awarded with important literary prizes.
These awards and accolades, including a Booker nomination last year, stand testimony to the quality of his work. But to many in Karnataka he was also a conscience-keeper and a guiding light.
He had associated himself with several people's movements over the years and became something of a celebrity activist who used his fame to bring attention to issues concerning the marginalised sections of society. He often railed against big industry, casteism and communalism.
Known to always speak his mind, Ananthamurthy rarely backed down from an intellectual fight.
He courted controversy before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections when he said he would leave the country if Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister.
His comments evoked a vicious backlash from right wing activists. After Modi became PM, he was sent air tickets by Modi supporters in Mangalore, asking him to leave the country. He also received several threats during that time prompting the police to provide him with round-the-clock protection.
Although Ananthamurthy was a deeply political person, he rarely cast himself within any strict ideological framework. If the Hindu right despised him for his criticism of their politics, the Left never quite accepted him as one of their own since he was not an atheist and was severely critical of the Stalinist and Maoist models.
His most famous work, Samskara, which is a trenchant treatise against caste and brahminism, alienated him from the Brahmin community into which he was born. His claim in later years that Brahmins too consumed beef a few centuries ago only widened the chasm between him and many members of his community.
But Dalit groups, whose cause he often championed, always maintained a measured distance from him as they could not separate the identity of his birth from the man he chose to become. Much to their chagrin, he openly called himself a Gandhian and not an Ambedkarite..
When asked by this reporter during an interview whether he was politically amorphous, he had said , "Political ideologues deal with reality. A writer dreams of utopia."
And on his criticism of Modi going viral he said, "People from all ideological shades have criticised me at some point or other. I must have done something right."