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December 9, 1997


Shivaram Karanth is dead

Dr Kota Shivaram Karanth, the renowned Kannada novelist and Jnanpith award-winner, died at the Kasturba Medical College hospital in Manipal this morning.

Dr Karanth was admitted to the hospital on December 2 where he suffered a heart attack and slipped into a coma. He was subsequently put on a ventilator.

The 95-year-old writer is survived by his son, Dr Ulhas Karanth, the wellknown conservationist, and two daughters.

Dr N R Rao, deputy medical superintendent of the hospital, said Dr Karanth had a sudden cardiac respiratory arrest on December 4.

He was immediately revived and transferred to the intensive care unit where it was detected that he had anoxic brain damage. He was later put on artificial respiration.

He slipped into a coma and did not regain consciousness despite medical efforts. Yesterday, his kidneys started failing and he developed severe acidosis and septicemia following which he was put on dialysis. He suffered further renal deterioration.

Dr Karanth was admitted to the hospital on December 2 with viral fever.

Before his hospitalisation, he had dictated his last article, sought by a leading Kannada daily from Manipal, on the growth of Kannada literature. The article will be published to coincide with the 66th Akhila Bharat Kannada Sahitya Sammelan at Mangalore on December 11.

Dr Karanth was to have presided over the Sammelan's concluding session on December 14.

Dakishna Kannada district deputy commissioner G Kalpana said Dr Karanth's funeral would take place tomorrow at his ancestral home in Kota in Udupi taluk.

His body would be taken to Giliyaru, near Kota, and kept at the Shambavi higher primary school, founded by his grandfather, till tomorrow morning to enable people to pay their homage.

A literary genius and humanist to the core, Dr Karanth was a colossus in the country's literary firmament.

He was a legend in his own lifetime, with a concern for the environment, literature, art and music. A rationalist and a revolutionary, Dr Karanth came out openly against the rigidity of brahminism and preferred an intercaste marriage.

Born in 1902 in Kota village in Udupi district, Dr Karanth had his early education in Kundapur and later joined a college in Mangalore. During his student life, he was attracted towards Mahatma Gandhi and plunged into the freedom struggle in 1921. He gained first-hand knowledge on rural life visiting numerous villages. Later, he settled in Puttur.

His range of interests were awe-inspiring. He spoke with authority on a wide range of subjects. Innovative and adventurous, he was an embodiment of talent, expertise and proficiency. He subjected himself to various experiments. There is hardly any literary form that Dr Karanth had not essayed at one time or the other.

Dr Karanth attracted people through his simplicity, clarity and vast knowledge on any subject both in his speeches and writing.

He wrote a series of novels in recent years, expressing his disenchantment with the way of life in the country since Independence.

Dr Karanth had an excellent command over both Kannada and English. He began writing in 1924 and soon published his first book, Rashtrageetha Sudhakara, a collection of poems. Vichitrakoota was his first novel. Subsequent works like Nirbhagya Janma (unfortunate birth) and Sooleya Samsara (family of a prostitute) mirrored the pathetic conditions of the poor. His magnum opus Devaddhootaru, a satire on contemporary India, was published in 1928.

Other important novels include Alida Mele, Bettada Jeeva, Chomana Dudi and Mukajjiya Kanasugalu.

While Chomana Dudi, which was made into a film, presented the tragic plight of a dalit in contemporary society, Mookajjiya Kanasugalu which won him the Jnanpith award in 1978, was a philosophical novel and a critique of traditional beliefs from within the culture.

His Huchchumanasia Hattu Mukhagalu was an unusual type of an autobiography, laced with humour. There was no attempt at self-glorification or self-justification.

His single-handed effort in preparing an encyclopaedia on science-related subjects with pictorial depiction (four editions) and Balaprapacha related to children (three editions) brought him laurels.

Yakshagana was another area dear to Dr Karanth. He wrote a book on this subject in 1957. The Swedish Academy conferred a literary award for his work, which was later translated into Hindi and English. His dedicated efforts in improving Yakshagana in various forms were recognised at the national level.

As a dramatist, Dr Karanth had carved out a niche for himself. By working in professional drama companies, he wrote several plays, highlighting social themes such as mangalarati and garabagudi. He also produced two silent movies -- Dovingo and Bhootha Rajya in 1932. After 45 long years, he directed and produced a Kannada film, Maleya Makkalu in 1977.

He also tried his hand at journalism by publishing the monthly Vasantha in 1924. He ran it for four years. He also wrote Kalaprapancha, a detailed study on various forms of art and vastu.

Politics, it appears, was not his cup of tea. He actively participated in the 1977 election campaign and bitterly criticised Indira Gandhi's Congress government. He had earlier registered his protest against the Emergency by returning the prestigious Padma Bhushan. In 1991, he unsuccessfully contested an election against actor Anant Nag from the Kanara constituency.

Dr Karanth opposed starting of big industries in both Dakshina Kannada and Uttara Kannada districts against the local people's wishes. He filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court against the Kaiga nuclear power plant and launched a movement against the project for some time.

In all, he wrote 417 books, including 45 novels, 31 plays and 231 literary critiques, besides an encyclopaedia and six travelogues.

Honour came to him without asking. He had to his credit more than 32 prestigious awards, which included central and state Sahitya Akademi awards, the Tulsi Samman and the Karnataka government's Pampa award.


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