The singular talent named Anupama Niranjana (the pen name of Venkatalakshmi) who would go on to enrich Kannada literature was born on 17 May 1934 into a traditional family of weavers.
The recipient of an MBBS degree, Anupama’s growing maturity, her objectivity, and her scientific temper allowed her to analyse society with keen eyes. The result was the emergence of a woman writer who combined a concern about the status of women in society with a sympathetic sensibility.
A secret love story
Anupama first met Niranjana (the pen name of the writer, Kulakunda Shiva Rao) in 1950, when she was still a student. At the time, Anupama had already begun to take an interest in literature and had even written some short stories that she hoped to get published.
Soon after getting to know each other, the two of them soon developed a close relationship, based on their mutual interests and matching temperaments.
A few years later, in 1956, the litterateur Niranjana and doctor Anupama became husband and wife. An “intercaste marriage”, their wedding was conducted secretly — they did not divulge the matter to their parents or relatives and were helped by some of their friends.
A writer whose worldview was influenced by her profession as a doctor
Her “love marriage” to Niranjana, who came from a “higher caste” and the opposition she faced from family and friends made matters difficult for Anupama. However, Niranjana helped her maintain self-belief and even constantly encouraged her to write.
As it turned out, these troubles she faced, the many different experiences she had firsthand as a doctor, and her engagement with the literary world allowed Anupama the chance for experimentation in her writing, a process that served to broaden the literary world she was creating.
Outside of ‘Madhavi’, which is a mythological novel, most of Anupama’s novels, including ‘Anantageeta’, ‘Shwetambari’, ‘Himada Hoo’, ‘Snehapallavi’ were what used to be called ‘social-conscience novels’.
Madhavi, Anupama Niranjana s mythological novel
Despite ‘Madhavi’ being a novel set against a pauranika (~ mythological) backdrop, it is worth taking a look at how the novel deals with the many struggles in a woman’s life.
For most of recorded history, women have been powerless, helpless, and oppressed. This applies to women from royal families too. Given the prevalence of polygamy in royal households, women married to the king were forced to share him and his love with their co-wives.
In case the king had a particularly favourite queen, his other queens might go days, months, and even years without seeing him. This kind of behaviour was all too common in royal households of previous times.
But let that be; instead, imagine the child a mother has carried in her womb and birthed after going through labour pains is snatched away from her forever, physically moved to a faraway part of the world, and she is forced to live with this knowledge — this is not a punishment one would wish even on their worst enemy. That this could happen to the only daughter of a wealthy king is virtually unimaginable. ‘Madhavi’ is a novel that tells such a tale.
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A feminist writer who brought a new sensibility to the Kannada novel
Among her other novels, ‘Himada Hoo (Snow-flower)’ is a singular, haunting story. It is a moving novel about a sympathetic female teacher with a social conscience and a student suffering from blood cancer (leukaemia).
A theme common to all Anupama’s novels is their social conscience and the nuanced delineation of the challenges faced by women. Additionally, there is no doubt that Anupama’s exploration of the different strands in human relationships introduced a new dimension to the Kannada novel.
Besides being able to construct deeply thought-out novels with large canvasses, Anupama was also a sensitive short story writer. Her short story collections include ‘Kanmani’, ‘Ruuvaariya Lakshmi’, and ‘Pushpaka’.
Like in her novels, her experiences as a doctor are a significant presence in Anupama’s short stories. Her play ‘Kallola’ is another example of her drawing on her experiences in the service of a finely detailed depiction of life.
Anupama’s memorable contribution to Kannada children’s literature
Anupama’s special claim to fame is making the stories of the puranas easily accessible to young children. Niranjana’s encouragement played a significant role in this project. Her series of books, titled ‘Dinakkondu Kathe (A story a Day)’, is a compilation of 365 stories, based not just on Hindu mythology but also on Indian and foreign folktales.
Stories like ‘Satyavan Savitri’, ‘Nachiketa’, and ‘Krishna-Kuchela’ became available to children of all backgrounds on account of Anupama’s gift for telling these stories in an engaging and easily understood style.
The ‘Savitri’ to Niranjana’s ‘Satyavan’
In his middle age, Anupama’s husband, Niranjana, experienced a tragic accident that exceeded both the dire poverty of his boyhood and the struggles of his early adulthood. In 1971, Niranjana, who was a member of the senate of the University of Mysore, spoke at a gathering of the senate.
No sooner had he finished his speech and sat down than he had a paralytic stroke that caused him to collapse.
In later days, Niranjana was wont to narrate the incident with tears in his eyes, always adding that “Anupama saved me [from death] in the same way that Savitri saved Satyavan”. Indeed, Anupama can be said to have found realisation in her married life too.
Anupama Niranjana’s contribution to popular medical writing
‘Snehayaatre’ and ‘Angaiyalli Euro America’ are Anupama’s travelogues. Her novel, ‘Runamuktalu’ was made into a movie by Kannada’s famous director, Puttanna Kanagal.
Her books ‘Kelu Kishori’, ‘Aarogyadarshana’, ‘Shishuvaidya Deepike’, and ‘Aarogyabhaagyakke Vyaayama’ were Dr Anupama’s contributions to popular medical writing.
A number of Anupama’s stories and novels have been translated into other Indian languages. Among the awards Anupama received for her writing were the Sahitya Akademi award and the Soviet Land Nehru award. She also served as the president of the Kasargod Mahila Sammelana and the Mumbai Sahitya Sammelana.
Found her own voice among Kannada’s several literary movements
Dr Anupama’s novels are an interesting meld of the various Kannada literary trends that she lived through, from the progressive attitude of the Pragatisheela movement in literature to the revolutionary fire of Bandaya literature to the self-reflection and introspection of the Nayva movement.
In addition to being influenced by the attitudes of these literary movements in 20th-century Kannada literature, her novels and stories are also built on her experience as a doctor and her keen psychological insights. Looked at in totality, this makes her writing stand out among the other writers of her time, both men and women.
As has been observed before, the objectivity, psychological delineation, rationalism, revolutionary attitude, and depiction of human relationships found in Anupama’s novels increased the scope of the Kannada novel. It is on account of this that Anupama gains a distinctive place as novelist within the Kannada literary tradition.
Dr Anupama Niranjana passed away in 1991, after doing important work in the fields of literature, women’s health, and social work. With this essay, I offer my respectful salutations to a woman who possessed a rasika attitude and a deep human sympathy, and was a combination of a number of talents.
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(This article is a translation by Madhav Ajjampur of a Kannada essay by Bhuvana Hiremath.
Bhuvana was born in 1984 in the village of Somanatti, Bailahongala Taluk, Belagavi district. Having obtained her MSc in Physics, she is currently a high school mathematics teacher. Her poems, stories, and articles have appeared in several newspapers across Karnataka. Bhuvana’s debut poetry collection, ‘Trial Roomina Apsareyaru’, published by Pallava Prakashana, won several prizes including the ‘Kaajana Yuva Puraskara’ and the ‘Amma Prashasti’ for 2019. Her second poetry collection, ‘Matte Matte Martyakkiliyuttene’ was published in 2021.)