Girish Karnad is a multi-faceted personality. He is one of the few Jnanapeetha award winners of the country - he is one of the seven award winners from Karnataka. He is a popular playwright, movie director and actor. In fact, I don't think any of the Jnanpeeth awardees across the country is as popular an actor as Girish Karnad. He has acted in movies of several languages - including Kannada, Hindi, Telugu and Tamil. None can disagree with the fact that Girish Karnad is a really talented man. But, alas! He is human. To err is human and to show that he is human, Girish has erred! Not that he has not proved his erring er.. human credentials before...
Any man is entitled to his opinion and Girish Karnad deserves to have his. Several men of his age have been enamoured of socialism and Girish Karnad is no exception. However, those men were honest. I would not have written this blog had he held his opinions honestly. I thought the earlier incidents were exceptions - but this time he has shown that he is not an honest man and lives for his political ambitions only, whatever those may be.
Anybody in India in the last couple of weeks is sure to have come across the controversy courted by DV Shankaramurthy, the education minister of Karnataka when he said that Tipu Sultan was anti-Kannada and that he should not be celebrated as a national hero. I tend to agree with him and you can find my thoughts about the matter here.
Now, Girish Karnad could have kept quiet like several other litterateurs who did. But he did not. He called for an open debate with the minister and firmly contested that Tipu Sultan was a national hero. Of course Karnad had already written a play titled - "The Dreams of Tipu Sultan" in which he portrayed Tipu Sultan as a magnanimous character and national hero. Since these things did not go together, Girish Karnad had to protest. He was accompanied in this task by the usual "secular" suspects - BK Chandrashekhar and GK Govinda Rao.
But this time, Karnad had not counted on SL Bhyrappa, arguably Kannada's finest novelist, writing a piece about this in the popular Kannada daily Vijayakarnataka. Bhyrappa argued quite eloquently that Tipu should not be celebrated as a hero. The most important thing that Bhyrappa mentioned was in his last paragraph. He said that relationships between communities, (Hindu and Muslim in this context) should not be built on false foundations - but on solid truths. Calling Tipu a national hero basically attempts to whitewash the atrocities that he had committed in the name of religion. True attempts at reconciliation should focus on the truth, forgiveness should follow and only then could a real relationship develop. Bhyrappa, in my opinion, is right on the money here. He also provided good historical proof about Tipu's atrocities. He also castigated Karnad for making a hero out of Tughlaq in a play of the same name while history said something else. Bhyrappa urged Karnad to pay attention to history whenever historical characters were used in creative endeavors. He also accused Karnad of misusing art to serve an ideology whereas art ideally has to be beyond all -isms.
This piece begged for a response from Karnad and sure enough, there was one in the Vijayakarnataka published a few days later. But, unfortunately, Karnad's piece was not a real response at all. In his piece, Karnad failed to answer any of Bhyrappa's concerns. Instead, he accused Bhyrappa of becoming a "dhiDIr"(quick) historian overnight. About the liberties taken with Muhammad bin Tughlaq, Karnad replied that Tughlaq was just a figment of the writer's imagination. And since any writer had the freedom to do that, Karnad was justified in doing what he did.
Now, I ask Girish Karnad - if Tughlaq was just a purely fictional character, then why did Karnad have to call him Tughlaq? He could have called him Abdul Hasan or even Imran Khan!! The name Tughlaq has historical significance. So when people watch Karnad's play, they end up thinking that Mohammed Bin Tughlaq was actually a very kind and considerate ruler whereas history mentions the exact opposite! It then becomes obvious that Karnad wanted to get into the good books of Marxists and the Minority by pandering to their ideology and religion respectively.
Karnad also did not answer the important question of whether art should be subservient to any ideology be it religious or political. Art ideally, in my opinion, is above such ideological squabbles and is mainly for enjoyment by the connoisseur.
Karnad then resorted to hit and run and name calling tactics - typically employed by several left-leaning folks. This is known as vitanDAvAda in Samskrit/Kannada. When one cannot face an issue or argue well, vitaNDa is resorted to. Karnad had directed a couple of movies based on Bhyrappa's novels - "vamshavRuksha" and "tabbaliyu nInAde magane". Since Bhyrappa wrote against Karnad's ideas, the latter came out and said that those movies Karnad directed were Karnad's weakest creations. The fact that those movies won Girish Karnad a foothold in the parallel cinema circle and some awards were conveniently forgotten. Karnad used those movies when he wanted and now when he was confronted with something unpleasant, he resorted to name calling. This was just dishonest!
Shatavadhani Dr. R. Ganesh did a good piece refuting Karnad in Vijayakarnataka, which now has become a veritable battlefield for fighting several battles - minorityism vs non-minorityism, the role of art in ideology, literary vs historical portrayal and others. Dr. Ganesh brought focus back to the crux of Bhyrappa's article (the last paragraph that talks about how relationships have to based on foundations of truth and not otherwise) and showed how Girish Karnad had failed miserably to write a rebuttal to that.
Another point that is worth a mention here is that unlike Karnad, Bhyrappa is no "dhiDIr" historian. Having read several of Bhyrappa's works, I know the attention to detail paid by Bhyrappa to historical facts. Just read his "sArtha" and "parva" to understand that. Though there are a few debatable points in his novels, Bhyrappa tries very hard to portray the facts as they are. He studies a subject for several years before he actually commences writing. Bhyrappa's immense talent and creativity then lies in how he creates and manipulates characters in that setting.
Karnad, on the other hand, probably knows his history too. But, if he really feels that ideology is above art, he's probably OK with creativity being used to even distort historical facts. Evidence to this can be seen in how Karnad has twisted the stories of yayAti and yavakrIDa (I agree that is not "history" but still...) to suit his needs. But there is a big debate over whether history lies mainly in facts or solely in the interpretation of those facts. Karnad may just be reinterpreting the facts, albeit a bit too freely.
Even with all this, Karnad's criticism, unfortunately I feel, stops with the Hindu society and does not extend to other (deserving?) parts of Indian society (including Islamists and Christists). Is this because he knows that to get "rAjAshraya", he needs to pander to the Marxists and Minorities? It could also be because Hindus normally don't protest and when they do, they do a pretty crude job of it. So it is easy to malign the Hindus and get kudos whereas it is not the same with the other sections. There it is! It finally boils down to economics and incentives. Karnad has plenty of incentive to criticize the Hindu society and not otherwise.
Could it be possible to say that Karnad and his likes have sprung forth mainly or only because of prevailing conditions in society? In that case, it could be that Karnad has unwittingly chosen to do what he does!