My Homage to Girish Karnad: G. N Devy

Is it perhaps that when Girish Karnad was with us until recently, we did not have a measure of his greatness, we did not entirely give him his due? I think so. The literary world often makes mistakes about the contemporaries. Decades after our time, how will the world think of Girish Karnad?

//G. N. Devy//
Since Girish Karnad’s death, so much has been written and said that there is probably nothing more that can be said.  Newspapers devoted pages of their space to carry obituaries. Personal blogs were filled with anecdotes and affectionate comments. Condolence meetings were held in many cities, Bangalore, Dharwad, Shimoga, Pune, Nashik, Bombay, Bhopal, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Delhi, and even London. Very rarely has a Kannada writer received such glowing tributes across the country and outside? Sivaram Karanth and  U R Anantha Murthy are probably the only other writers whose death generated such glorious tributes. Is it perhaps that when Girish Karnad was with us until recently, we did not have a measure of his greatness, we did not entirely give him his due? I think so. The literary world often makes mistakes about contemporaries. Decades after our time, how will the world think of Girish Karnad?

Here is my take:

He will be remembered as an exceptionally versatile genius who straddled across several fields of creativity—theatre, drama, publishing, film-direction, and acting. He also will be seen as a perpetual outsider—a Konakni speaker writing in Kannada, a mathematician breaking into theatre, a dramatist entering the silver screen and an experimental cinema artist patronizing commercial films. He did all of this with ease, grace, and elegance which became synonymous with Karnad’s name over the last half-century.

 He was a master of narratives. When Tughlaq was first presented, it was immediately read as a comment on Nehru’s India. Hayavadana, like URA’s Samskara, was instantly interpreted as an incisive reading of the post-colonial Indian modernity. Neither had anything in their plots that explicitly spoke of the contemporary; yet, he became the master story-teller who could make us sit up and think about the ‘here and now’ without sliding down to any simple ‘thesis’. Karnad knew his theatre with as much clarity as he knew his mathematical theorems.

 

All of his magic with words and stagecraft, his charm with the camera lens, his grace and sharp intellect were more than enough to make him a class by himself. But added to them, he had in him courage and a conscience that normally elude many greats in cinema and literature. He spoke out when it was most necessary. He did not get caught in petty literary politics and cinema gossip. While he was around, it was almost impossible for the world to associate him with any ‘group’. He remained himself, a free spirit, unfettered, indomitable and with unfailing compassion. Since Rabindranath Tagore, he was the only Indian whose creativity knew no boundaries of genres and whose work– because it was written in his native tongue–and attracted a worldwide audience.  He is no more. All that we have with us is the plays he produced and the institutions he created and, yes, the message of being courageous in the face of dire threats.

The author is a Cultural Activist and Literary Critic. He is best known for the People’s Linguistic Survey of India and the Adivasi Academy created by him. 

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