‘A Horse for the Sun’, by U.R. Anantha Murthy

I read this story when I was studying with Amit Chaudhuri – who edited the anthology it comes from – at the University of East Anglia, and I found it moving then, as I find it moving now. It’s an enquiry into modernity and authenticity, and into the possibility of ever ‘going back’. The narrator is an Indian writer, thoroughly urbanized, who visits his childhood village and bumps into an old schoolfriend, Venkata. Always a clown as a youngster, Venkata has grown into a holy fool, a village idiot who acts as a herbalist, amateur nurse to the ungrateful sick, and butt for his exasperated wife and volatile son. His forte is the oil bath, an intense Ayurvedic massage, which the narrator submits to with embarrassment. “Is he a madcap or a hypocrite or a scraggly-bearded saint?” he wonders, as Venkata dances around him, anointing him and drumming out intricate rhythms on his head and body. As with Simpson’s story, the epiphany is minor key, and doubtless temporary, but it is enough to make the reader squint anew at their own assumptions. The title refers to the Kannada name for a grasshopper.

(read in The Vintage Book of Modern Indian Literature, where it is translated from the Kannada by Manu Sherry and A.K. Ramanujan.)

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