Let us take my marriage to understand our yugadharma. A hundred years ago, if I had given up my caste and married outside, the maths would have boycotted me. This continues till date but not as often and is not as cruel as before. (However, the situation hasn’t changed for the Dalits: they still suffer in a pathetic manner.)

I remember a Brahmin in our village who had been cast out by the math in Bheemanakatte. I forget the reason. No one would invite them to a community lunch, or have any relationship with the family. He tried hard to rid himself of the stigma. I remember my father speaking in his favour and arguing the boycott had no grounds. He conducted rituals and brought him back into the community. If widows become pregnant, they are ostracised. In my story “Ghatashraddha”, Yamunakka suffers because she is thrown out, and thereby cut off from all relatives and relationships.

A woman had suffered this way. After being ostracised she had grown her hair back and worked as a mid-wife. Since she was an outcast she was served her meals in the backyard or in front of the house. But times have changed now. No one boycotted me when I married out of the caste. I was not harmed physically. Of course we had psychological difficulties. If we had married in a village, the story might have been different.

Even if we marry within our caste, problems of compatibility remain. When we marry out of caste, we are not obliged to attend other weddings. In India a love marriage could be a trick to beat poverty. The couple doesn’t have to host a poor sister’s daughter who wants to study. These days some marriages within the caste also turn out this way.

In a so-called love marriage or a nuclear family, a couple lives for itself, true. In such a set-up one can simultaneously follow one’s convictions as well as one’s selfish ways.

Words cast a spell. When nuclear families talk about their success they generate envy, and seem to be believe everything they say. On the other hand, a marriage within the security of caste provides the couple the strength to pay donations for their children’s engineering seats. Vermilion and turmeric appear on mango-leaf festoons made of plastic. But the magic of true love evaporates in such a marriage. Everything is showy, dismissive, and meant to create envy. Here is something that anyone we like could be saying. What speaks here is love burnished by money:

My father has always been independent. But he cannot live without mother. We take them out to a homestay in Coorg when we have a long vacation. Father loves a drink when he is not at home. You know the secrets of the orthodox. He is happy that I chant the Gayatri mantra every day. He still wears his old college tie at his official functions. And mother never misses the Gowri festival. My wife never forgets to buy her a traditional sari, which she wears only for the festival.

In the absence of bad faith, speech becomes forthright and cutting. When I said I would marry a Christian girl I recall my father’s first reaction. “If I come to your house at an odd hour, you will fetch stale food from a hotel and serve me, won’t you?” he said. Eyes welling up, he turned his face away. It was mandatory at home to make cucumber huli and serve a meal to our guests. As hosts we would bring a pot of water for the guests to wash their hands and feet and refresh themselves.

Initially my mother was hurt for material reasons as well: the eldest son, who earned well, was lost to an infatuation.

This comes from a personal, family perspective. She was the sort to spice up her talk with tales: as she had done about a man in Basrur who had married a girl recommended by his elders but also kept a mistress. She would gossip about the design of the gold chain he had gifted the mistress. While pounding rice, after she was done with singing Purandaradasa songs and talking about the glory of god Venkateshwara, she would take up these local stories. My father was not bothered about such things. My mother used to save the extra money I earned as an NCC officer, something my father wouldn’t touch.

I was anguished that I had to go against the wishes of my parents, and afraid I was stepping into a world whose ways I could not understand. I was caught between my love and my secular convictions. My loathing for the inhuman caste arrogance of Brahmins was growing. I had come under the influence of Gandhi because of my father. I couldn’t tell what made me stand firm: my ardent love or my egotistic pride in my convictions.

The moment he learnt of Sharat’s birth, my father drew up his horoscope, smeared it with vermilion and turmeric, sent it to me, and then called me over. I took Esther and the suckling Sharat to our village. My mother and my sister Kumari performed an arati and welcomed us. In later years, my father grew close to Esther.

This is today’s yugadharma. My brothers accepted my relationship. My children didn’t have to face any caste discrimination. My daughter fell in love with a Gowda Saraswat Brahmin and married him. My son-in-law Vivek’s conservative grandmother did say, “How are you compatible? She is born of a Brahmin and Christian, isn’t she?” But all this was just conversation, and didn’t translate into major suffering.

I have been a socialist since my college days. Several friends were similarly inclined.

When we decided to wave black flags as the Mysore maharaja went by in a howdah mounted on an elephant, we sought police protection. In those days we had to suffer a bit for our socialist struggles. Protesters were jailed but released soon. That involved some suffering. These days things are much easier: it is not so difficult to obtain bail...

My rebellious friends have acquired cabinet-rank positions. The connection between our words and our inner lives is broken. This was not so a hundred years ago. People went to jail for their convictions and lost their homes and properties. In our times few have paid so dearly. Some made token gestures, that is all. Karanth gave up his Padma Bhushan but that didn’t affect him.

People did face injustice at the hands of Indira Gandhi’s son Sanjay. He evicted the poor. He thought it was essential to curb population growth among the Muslims, who believe children are their wealth. But people of my class were not affected; such fears don’t bother our class. We abort foetuses so that girls are not born at all.

I believe if we must respond to the times, we must experience “intellectual suffering”. This is way different from the physical suffering our ancestors experienced.

Many of us had invested our faith in the Soviet Union, believing it was a good system of governance. For the Leftists it was the ideal. One day it just crumbled. But people who called themselves communists didn’t suffer.

They didn’t introspect why and how this happened. When the Europeans sent their tanks and occupied Hungary, many communists in Europe I knew opposed it and quit the party. They became orphans. For them the Communist Party had been like a caste. All their relationships and dealings took place within it. Quitting the party was a difficult act.

Edward Upward, whose work I had researched, was among those who quit to oppose the occupation of Hungary. He remained a Marxist though. Such people suffered intellectually. The incredible book The God that Failed (1949) was published against this background. In it, major writers have written about how the God they had trusted was defeated.

Bhisham Sahni was in the Soviet Union when it collapsed. He didn’t write a single word about its wretched system, or about Stalin killing people. I once said, “But why? Why didn’t you write about what you saw with your own eyes? Writers in Europe have written so much about it.” He didn’t reply. His wife called me aside and said, “Don’t ask him such questions. They cause him pain.” His suffering was confined to such pain. Many who visited the Soviet Union came back without writing a word about what they saw.

When Darwin’s theory of evolution was published, faith in Christianity was eroded. The major writers in England were in a dilemma. Doubts arose about the Bible when it was said that the world had evolved not from Adam and Eve but from the apes. Matthew Arnold said we should read the Bible not literally but as a work of poetry. His reasoning was that it would survive if we read it as poetry but become a lie if we read it literally. Eliot responded that, if read as poetry, the book would not influence us as profoundly as it had as a religious text. So how do you read it? Literally or metaphorically? A comprehensive debate took place about whether what was said in the book was right or wrong. This is what I call intellectual suffering.

Excerpted with permission from Suragi, UR Ananthamurthy, translated from Kannada by SR Ramakrishna, Oxford University Press.