Aesthete, mental, stressed storyteller. Wanting again at Girish Karnad within the gentle of his newly launched memoirs
He was our personal Forrest Gump. At all times on the proper place on the proper time. His was one of many fingers that minimize fashionable Indian theatre’s umbilical twine with conventional varieties similar to firm nataka in Karnataka or Parsi theatre in north India.
When Kannada cinema staked its declare on neorealism with the movie model of U.R. Ananthamurthy’s searing portrayal of Brahminism in his novel Samskara, Girish Karnad not solely performed the lead, he was additionally a key mover within the making of the movie. When Hindi cinema had its ‘artwork’ second within the early 70s, Karnad was within the midst of it as actor and author. When tv took off and have become an everyday function of city center class life, there was Karnad as Swami’s father in Malgudi Days, and because the subtle host of the science present Turning Level.
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However he was not a bystander witnessing — or unintentionally influencing — historical past. He was very a lot a participant, who formed that historical past actively.
He wished to be a poet, and was dissatisfied when he discovered he was truly a playwright. However having made that discovery, he took the shape by the horns, and made it do his bidding. Together with Dharamvir Bharati (Andha Yug, written in 1952 however produced solely a decade later), Vijay Tendulkar (Shantata! Courtroom Chalu Ahe, 1967), Mohan Rakesh (Ashadh Ka Ek Din, 1958), and Badal Sircar (Ebong Indrajit, 1963), Karnad’s Yayati (1961) and Tughlaq (1964) reset the sector of recent Indian theatre.
In passing, one may point out the opposite Forrest Gump who related all these dots, Satyadev Dubey. In a technique or one other, Dubey was a key determine within the profession of all these playwrights. It was Dubey who first recognised that Karnad’s Yayati was not only a piece of literature, it was eminently stageworthy; Andha Yug got here to Ebrahim Alkazi courtesy Dubey; Hayavadana was first directed by Dubey with Amrish Puri and Amol Palekar within the lead.
Karnad was at coronary heart a storyteller whether or not on stage or on movie — who was, nevertheless, dissatisfied with how tales had been instructed as much as then. He was impatient, stressed, passionate, searching for his voice. He retained his inventive restlessness until the tip — his final three performs have hardly something in widespread along with his first three.
There may be a lot in his memoirs, This Life at Play, about his life as a creative pioneer. There may be additionally the stuff that folks search for after they learn the memoirs of well-known artists — his affiliation, interplay, and collaboration with fellow artists and different notables. There may be that smoky whiff of a derisive comment right here; the wealthy aroma of a full-blown argument there. There may be even the cherry on the cake of an overture from the mom of probably the most well-known feminine cinestar of the 70s to marry her daughter.
However what makes the memoirs stand out are the opposite narrative arcs embedded in them. One is that of his mom, who was widowed, was keen about studying and writing, and lived for 5 years with a person earlier than marrying him. Karnad, the consummate storyteller, is barely too conscious of the ability and drama of his mom’s life, and rightly opens his memoirs with it.
Then there’s the query of language. When Karnad started writing, Kannada was a form of rustic cousin of the extra cosmopolitan Marathi, which had a flourishing literary scene. By the point of his demise, Kannada had undergone a renaissance, and had extra Jnanpith awardees than another, the final being Karnad himself. Satirically although, as he admits, he struggled with the language at the same time as he selected it as the first automobile for his creativity.
Karnad’s first job was as an editor at Oxford College Press. He was a little bit of a Forrest Gump right here too. He was there when OUP started publishing Indian authors. One of many best, A.Okay. Ramanujan, was his shut buddy and mental mentor. Karnad was additionally among the many earliest Indian playwrights whose works had been translated and printed in English. Opposite to his personal expectation, the books offered extraordinarily nicely.
One other arc in Karnad’s memoirs is how a small-town boy escaped provincialism and the slender bounds of his caste to change into a classy aesthete, a totally cosmopolitan public mental, and artist. Karnad’s descriptions of his Konkan-North Karnataka Gaud Saraswat Brahmin upbringing — the place his father’s choice for security over journey mirrored his caste’s dominant view — and his battle to interrupt out of the straitjacket are fascinating.
He gained a Rhodes Scholarship and arrived in Oxford at an attention-grabbing, transitory second. The empire was roughly gone, and Oxbridge was not the ready lounge for future colonial directors. Now, girls and boys from the center and dealing lessons had been coming in too, and, with out safe futures assured by their lineage, they needed to work to make one thing of their lives.
Karnad returned to India in 1963. What if he had gone there half a decade later, when Might 1968 shook Paris and radicalised a whole era of scholars on both aspect of the Atlantic? Would he have change into an Indian Tariq Ali, a lifelong firebrand and revolutionary? However he didn’t. He was the provincial Indian boy who turned a person about city, who selected to carry his sherwani to Oxford Union debates, not a quantity of Trotsky.
Karnad’s radical flip needed to wait 1 / 4 century. He recognised the demolition of the Babri Masjid as a watershed second, and from then on, he was outspoken in his opposition to fascists. They attacked his views on Tipu Sultan, his defence of the shrine of Baba Budan Giri, his opposition to the assassinations of intellectuals. He acquired demise threats, his home was attacked. However Karnad was to not be cowed down. He knew he was a large, and he was decided to make use of his privilege and stature to combat again.
The picture of him with a placard round his neck proclaiming ‘Me Too City Naxal’ at a public perform whereas respiration by an oxygen cylinder nonetheless provides goosebumps. Karnad’s life journeyed with the lifetime of our newly impartial, secular, democratic nation, by all its trials and tribulations. He performed a stellar half in shaping its public tradition. Hindutva’s bigotry stepped on the tube that provided the nation oxygen. It threatened the very basis of his liberal, syncretic, pluralistic, and rational worldview.
As theatreperson, filmmaker, actor, rationalist, public mental, Karnad had performed a dialogue with India for 50 years. Now, dialogue itself was underneath assault. And that was insupportable for certainly one of India’s most outstanding playwrights.
The writer and theatreperson is the creator of Halla Bol: The Dying and Lifetime of Safdar Hashmi.