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Sunday, December 3, 2023
HomeEditorialGirish Karnad - A fearless socio-political activist and actor

Girish Karnad – A fearless socio-political activist and actor

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When intellectuals were attacked and their freedom of speech was chocked, there was one man who voiced strongly against the ruling government of India. He said, “Me too Urban Naxal, arrest me as well…this is time to kick out the RSS govt, otherwise we have to sacrifice lives for the freedom it may take 300 years again.” Well! This very statement made a lot of impact in the hours of silent struggle in India. Girish Karnad was also one of over 200 writers who issued an appeal to Indians in April to vote out hate politics in the Lok Sabha elections and vote for a “diverse and equal India”. He was a voice that championed the freedom of expression, used his stature to stand and fight for what he believed in despite failing health and numerous threats to his life. Girish Karnad carried a placard that read ‘Me Too Urban Naxal’ at an event organised to mark the first death anniversary of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru. With a tube in his nose, Girish wore the placard around his neck. Speaking to the gathering on the first death anniversary of Gauri Lankesh, Girish Karnad had spoken up against the house arrests of activists across the country. He was later charged for wearing the placard around his neck at the event. He was a very bold writer, good actor and a strong voice of India.

Karnad was a very famous personality with a low-key average life. He never liked extravagant stardom. His funeral will be a low- key affair. Honouring his last wishes, his family has decided to avoid any sort of processions or public viewing. Karnad is said to have suffered multiple organ failure and breathed his last. His cremation will not include any religious rituals; will be held at an electric crematorium. Karnad was known for his secular voice that championed the cause of freedom of expression.

Karnad was born in Matheran, Maharashtra, in 1938. A Rhodes Scholar in Oxford, Karnad has written several plays in Kannada and is considered one of the most prominent playwrights in Kannada literature. While at Oxford, Karnad wrote his first play, the critically acclaimed Yayati in 1961. His other acclaimed works include Tughlaq (1964), Hayavadana (1972) and Nagamandala (1988).

The Jnanapith Award recipient made his acting and screenwriting debut in the Kannada movie Samskara in 1970, based on a novel by U.R. Ananthamurthy and won the first President’s Golden Lotus Award for Kannada cinema. He made his directorial debut with Vamsha Vriksha (1971), based on a Kannada novel by S.L. Bhyrappa. Other popular films in Kannada include Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane (1977) and Ondanondu Kaaladalli (1978). He was also a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, in the 1960s that earned him his Master of Arts degree in philosophy, political science, and economics. His plays, written in Kannada, have been translated into English and several Indian languages. Karnad was one of the most prominent artistic voices of his generation.

He was a part of the parallel film movement and acted in movies such as “Swami”, and “Nishant”. His TV credits include “Malgudi Days” in which he played Swami’s father and a hosting stint in the science magazine “Turning Point” on Doordarshan in the early 1990s.  He predominantly worked in South Indian cinema and Bollywood. His rise as a playwright in the 1960s, marked the coming of age of modern Indian playwriting in Kannada, just as Badal Sarkar did in Bengali, Vijay Tendulkar in Marathi, and Mohan Rakesh in Hindi. For four decades Karnad composed plays, often using history and mythology to tackle contemporary issues. He translated his plays into English and received acclaim. He was active in the world of Indian cinema working as an actor, director, and screenwriter, in Hindi and Kannada cinema, and had earned awards. He was conferred Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan by the Government of India and won four Filmfare Awards, of which three are Filmfare Award for Best Director – Kannada and the fourth a Filmfare Best Screenplay Award. As an activist, Karnad has a history of making outrageous and untrue statements.

He once on a mainstream English news channel said that a man, who killed 3,000 Muslims, has become the Prime Minister. The death toll in the Gujarat riots was 850 Muslims and 250 Hindus, which the seculars usually feel free to round up and convert to 2,000 Muslims. This is, of course, apart from the question of exactly how Modi “killed” the Muslims. Karnad severely criticised VS Naipaul for saying that the invaders from Central Asia looted, killed, plundered and, yes, forcibly converted people to Islam. He felt that this was an attack on today’s Muslim population in India. Yes, it is true that several invaders like Ghori and Ghazni right up to the Mughal rulers like Babar and Aurangazeb did some of the above, but that doesn’t mean that Dr. Abdul Kalam is being held responsible for these actions. There are some of us who are able to separate the two, but Karnad seems unable to do so.

Even in this instance, he has denounced Kempegowda as a “feudal” chieftain. What was Tipu Sultan, a member of the proletariat? Without agreeing or disagreeing let’s concur why Girish Karnad’s remark bizarre.

Consider Kolkata airport. It is named after Netaji Subash Chandra Bose. Now, Ravindranath Tagore also belonged to Kolkata and is also an integral part of the Bengali identity. Why not name the airport after him? Can you really compare the two giants and decide? Now, you may say that Tipu is no Tagore. He is indeed a controversial figure. And no point going into that debate, but it is not like there aren’t roads named after him and not like he hasn’t left a strong mark on the Mysore area including Bangalore. So, in the end, these decisions are primarily political. Why is it that the most vocal opposition to this suggestion came from Vokkaligas? Why was the name changed to Kempegowda in the first place (it happened a couple of years ago – before that, it was simply Bangalore International Airport)? So, it is perfectly fine if we do not agree with Girish Karnad. However, he was not saying anything particularly bizarre. It is just lame when the right wingers let no chance in trying to belittle him by calling his literature substandard. How many times do you wonder about the same thing about those writers whose opinions you agree with? After all, they were also awarded by the same political dispensation. Let’s keep the politics aside and mourn for the loss — RIP Girish Karnad.

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Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with three Honourary Doctorate in Journalism. Vaidehi has been an active journalist for the past 21 years, and is also the founding editor of an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, and The Democracy digital video news portal is her brain child. Vaidehi has three books in her name, "Sikhism vs Sickism", "Life Beyond Complications" and "Vedanti". She is an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, OSCP offensive securities, Certified Security Analyst and Licensed Penetration Tester that caters to her freelance jobs.
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