Friday, October 06, 2006

Girish Karnad, SL Bhyrappa, Tipu Sultan and others

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!


December Stud said...

I have not read the originals (I have been trying hard to get them all), but if I just read your post, it seems too one sided.

Don't get me wrong, I am all on your school of thought, per se, I dislike the "intellectual" movement. But, whatever information I have got until now (your posts, conversations with my parents etc.) all seem too biased.

Let me try to get my hands on the original. I will read them and comment more here.

This post is an excellent read. Very well thought out, and neatly explained. If written in Kannada, I don't see why Vijaya Karnataka wouldn't have published it. Nice job !!!

nIlagrIva said...

The originals can be seen on VijayaKarnataka. Now that you have the epaper on - you can read all the articles (only if you hurry, though) I have referenced in this piece.

And about Tipu Sultan, read Dr. Chi. Mu's piece (second part concluded today in Vijayakarnataka). He has said all of whatever I said in my original post on Tipu Sultan and more.

BTW, by one sided, are you referring to my reaction on Karnad or Tipu Sultan or both?

December Stud said...

Well, I was under the impression that the articels were on the front page. So, I ahdn't bothered to check the editorial page on ePaper. thanks for the info.

I did read all the articles from Oct 3rd (VK has archives only for 10 days).

I know I said I will come back tow rite more. Hmmm...not sure what I want to write here. For starters, I think I should just comment on the individual articles.

The first one was from shatAvadhAni Ganesh. I was totally impressed by his aShTAvadhAna (who isn't ?). Weel, as for his writing...Man each sentence is so complex. Every sentence is so long, it never ends. And the words he uses are so complex that a "commoner" like me has to read and re-read and re-read and get the point. So, even though I got the gist of the article, I was totally unimpressed by the writing. Other than the "intellectual" class like Bhyrappa, chi mU and you :), I am not sure how many people can really appreciate it. I certainly could not.

And, next was Dr. SL. Bhyrappa's article which occupied the whole page. Well, there HAS to be a reason that he is such a great writer. Not only was the article full of information, but it made you want to read more. He was brilliant in that piece !!! Simple and straight to the point.

Dr. Chidananda Murthy's two articles were excellent source of information too. Very well written and obviously very well researched.

Dr. NSL's writing is simple. It was essentially a rebuttal to Kranad.Dr. NSL ahs sued the right words and done a good job. I would think any other person with a good grip on the language could ahve done an equally good job. Nice writing indeed.

Now back to the controversy....

I had heard and read about Tipu's "other side" long before this controversy erupted. It just cemented my theories. And, since I am a person who prefers to go by facts more than fiction, I tend to agree with almost all the points raised by DR SLB, Dr. chi mU and you.

There were two things in Dr. chi mU's articles which, I thought were more of his "opinions"t han facts. Why should we dismiss the fact that he gave "dENige" to Sringeri ? Now, we come up with a reason that he did that just to appease people. I am NOT ruling that out. It's just that, should we give him a benefit of doubt ?

Well, Chalukyas did the same thing, for that matter. Being Vaishnavas, they built the Shiva temple first (or is it the other way round ? I suddenly got confused). So, eseentially they were politicans, making sure people are appeased. So, with that argument, Dr. chi mU may be right on Tipu Sultan as well. But still....:)

Now the real question is. Why the raging controversy ? Is it really required at this day and age ? Is VK just creating more readership playing the Hindu / Muslim card ? Or is this requried ? Do you know why the eductaion ministrer started off this debate ? Was it because he wanted to change some text books which depicted Tippu as a "hero" or was it just another statement which VK caught hold of ? If it is former, then yeah it makes sense.

Anyway, interesting read.....

~rAGU said...

This post is amazing, very clear and useful. I agree with you completely. When I heard Karnad's reaction I was dissapointed. Keep posting. Thanks.

Gamma Pegasi - उत्तरभद्रपादः said...

Long live S L Bhairappa :)

anita said...

I have read all the plays of Girish Karnad. According to me he is superb.He has dealt grave issues with great skills. He has justified with historical and Mythical figures.

Fashion with Compassion said...

Wow I was googling Dr. Bhyrappa and accidentally stumbled upon your blog. Very very well written. And yes, I completely agree with what you said.

Karnad did himself no favors by attacking such a great person as Mr. Bhyrappa is such a cheap manner. An individual always shows his true character in times of stress, and Mr. Karnad has shown his. Humility Mr.Karnad, you should try practicing it sometime.

Well now that I have found your blog, you can be assured Iam going to read all of it and comment.

Madhu said...

It is important to understand, preserve and be proud of ones history.
I have seen this in several great nations
For karnad, it may not be that important looks like

santhu said...

I would just say this article is superb with complete information.
I liked the way you did not "attack" girish karnad directly, but with complete information.

keep up the good work.

historybuff said...

Are the articles you reference
(by Shata... Ganesh, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. Chji Mu & others ), available online in English ?

Are there any blogs on Korati Srinivasa Rao's novels about Tipu ?

If so, can you provide the links ?

I am in complete agreement with you
about truth in history.