So Girish Karnad is back again. In style. And with a fury I scarcely expected he was capable of. It’s really a monumental pity that a fine actor like Girish Karnad can nary control his itch to mouth inanities.
On Friday afternoon at the Tata Literature Live! festival in Mumbai, playwright Girish Karnad surprised audiences with an unexpected and elaborate criticism of author V.S. Naipaul. Naipaul was awarded the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award on Wednesday night.
Even if I’m tempted to attribute Karnad’s outburst to professional jealousy, good sense advises me that it’s bad form to put Karnad and Naipaul in the same basket. One rotten apple spoils the entire basket etc. Perhaps Karnad still retains the delusion that he’s equal to Naipaul, perhaps that’s the reason for his incoherent fulmination, perhaps this is how this out-of-work, out-of-limelight playwright seeks a return to glory…actually there’s a simpler reason: politics.
Karnad’s politics is one that we’re all familiar with—that which Ayn Rand encapsulated in a single word: mooching. From that Mint report, Karnad was invited to the Tata Literature Live! festival in Mumbai to do a masterclass (whatever that means. He’s neither any master nor has he any class as we shall see) “where the playwright would talk about ‘his life in theatre.’” But what did he do? In true mooching style, he
…spoke instead about Naipaul’s mis-characterizations of Indian history and the politics of giving him an award in spite of his widely quoted remarks about Indian Muslims, especially in light of Mumbai and India’s recent history.
So the audience who were eagerly anticipating to partake in the drops of theatre wisdom that were supposed to drip from Karnad’s mouth were instead treated to toxic abuse of the only surviving legend of English literature in the world. In other words, Karnad abdicated from his duty to do what he was called upon to do and cheated the audience, the organizers and the sponsors.
But truthfully speaking, it’s not Girish Karnad. It’s V.S. Naipaul, the Prime Target of Secular Hatred in India, post the Babri Masjid demolition. Karnad quotes Naipaul thus:
“Ayodhya,” [Naipaul] said, “is a sort of passion. Any passion is creative. Passion leads to creativity.”
There. The only reason that unites the entire Indian secular cosmos to rain torrents of abuse. The rest is mere details.
Just a little more than two decades ago, these selfsame worthies hailed Naipaul variously as the “greatest living litterateur of Indian origin,” “worthy of a Nobel,” etc. But that one Masjid-dent was enough for these toads to go turncoat. Naipaul became Evil Incarnate. His writings were reexamined to unearth hidden evidence of his Fascism. Needless, plenty such evidence emerged—if you look for filth, you will find it everywhere. Naipaul’s speeches were minutely dissected. New parameters were designed overnight to “analyze” his intent. One such parameter is that of his non-Indianness. Karnad speaketh:
….the National Centre for the Performing Arts, coyly failed to mention that Naipaul was not an Indian and has never claimed to be one. But at no point was the question raised, and the words Shashi Deshpande, the novelist, had used to describe the Neemrana Festival conducted by the ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations) in 2002 perfectly fitted the event: “It was a celebration of a Nobel Laureate…whom India, hopefully, even sycophantically, considered an Indian.”
So Shashi Deshpande suddenly becomes a quotable quote: She of the Shrill Feminist Trash-writing, she whose books are slightly better-presented than Ekta Kapoor’s chewing-gum soap operas. If Karnad objects to Naipaul’s award based only on nationality, will he have the courage to ask the Indian government to rescind the Bharat Ratna given to Nelson Mandela? Hell, does he have the courage to return the Honorary Doctorate awarded to him by the University of Southern California, L.A?
Karnad is entitled to his subjective opinions that two of Naipaul’s novels set in India are abysmal but in the context of his anti-Naipaul ranting, this abysmal remark sets the tone for, indeed reveals that Karnad is a shameless communalist. In this, he’s no different in character or candour from say a Mulayam Singh Yadav. Speaking the historical truth about Islamic atrocities on the Hindus invariably results in grand performances of hate-filled contortions from the likes of Karnad. Exhibit 1:
…what strikes one from the very first book, A Wounded Civilization, is their rabid antipathy to the Indian Muslim. The “wound” in the title is the one inflicted on India by Babar’s invasion. Since then, Naipaul has never missed a chance to accuse them of having savaged India for five centuries, brought, among other dreadful things, poverty into it, and destroyed glorious Indian culture.
An excellent example of what people who’ve been inoculated against logic and truth can accomplish. So Karnad’s school of logic interprets the historical truth of the long-drawn Muslim rule in India as an instance of antipathy to the Indian Muslim. And the wound that Karnad so derisively mocks is real. As is true the dreadful things, the poverty, and the cultural destruction that Islamic rule inflicted upon India. That wound was so ghastly that it resulted in a truncation. Today it’s called Pakistan. To deny all this takes only Karnadesque levels of deception, a deception enabled and fuelled by the extraordinary levels of historical quackery emanating from the foundations of the Romila Thapar School.
One of the biggest frauds perpetrated by the Marxist school of “discourse” happens to be the fact that there’s nothing like the truth but merely interpretation. This simple but evilly ingenious device has yielded a rich harvest to the Marxists. Thus, the thousands of temples destroyed merely become a matter of how history is interpreted: the truth, i.e. the act of destruction is itself ignored. Which is what arms frauds like Karnad to pompously declare as follows:
Naipaul accuses R.K. Narayan of being indifferent to the destruction and death symbolized by the ruins of Vijayanagar, which to him was a bastion of Hindu culture destroyed by the maurauding Muslims. But he gets this interpretation of the history of Vijayanagar readymade from a book by Robert Sewell called A Forgotten Empire, published in 1900.
And here lies an oft-repeated theme in the annals of Marxist “history” writing: glorify the Islamic period as one of benevolence, tolerance, and secularism and vilify truly glorious Hindu empires as oppressive, regressive, and intolerant. Where the sheer weight of historical record doesn’t allow this, adopt Plan B: minimize or whitewash Islamic barbarities and ignore or explain away Hindu glory. We see these vile principles applied to the Mauraya (except Ashoka), the Gupta, the Chalukya, the Rashtrakuta, the Vijayanagar and the Maratha periods.
It’s fascinating that Karnad accuses Naipaul for being in “awe of his colonial sources” because he uses Robert Sewell’s history of the Vijayanagar Empire. One wonders if an erudite and insightful writer like Naipaul relied only on Sewell’s work to form his impressions of the Vijayangar Empire. Even if that were so, I wouldn’t still fault Naipaul: Sewell’s work is seminal, and barring a few bloopers like the origins of Harihara and Bukka and some events, it is still authoritative. Sewell wrote at a time when he had none of the modern methods and had to rely on available sources. But the real reason for Karnad’s unfair criticism remains the same: his incurable love for the Religion of Peace. If Karnad accepts Sewell, he’d be forced to admit the fact that the destruction of that glorious empire was prompted by the Islamic ideology. And so, Karnad spins thus:
That historians and archaeologists working on the site during the last century have proved the situation to be much more complex and have shown that religion had little role to play in the conflict is irrelevant to him.
Notice that Karnad doesn’t mention a single finding of these historians and archaeologists. But that doesn’t stop him from spouting inanities like “situation [is] much more complex.” What these findings do indeed prove is just the opposite: the Bahamani Sultans got together under the banner of Islam and launched a decisive war against Ramaraya, the last king of the Empire. On this side, Ramaraya’s Muslim generals and soldiers deserted him on the battlefield and joined the enemy camp because they were called upon to serve the cause of Islam. Of course, these are interpretations. Just like the fact that Karnad eats food everyday is a matter of interpretation.
It’s also pretty rich that Girish Karnad accuses Naipaul of being enamoured by colonial sources of Indian history. If anything, it is Karnad’s generation that developed an incurable inferiority complex for everything Western—specifically, English. More on this after we examine a ridiculous observation by Karnad.
A point that strikes one immediately about [Naipaul’s] books is that there is not a single word in any of these books on Indian music. And I believe that if you cannot respond to music, you cannot understand India. Music is the defining art form of the Indian identity. Naipaul’s silence on the subject when he is exploring the whole of modern Indian culture proves to me that he is tone deaf—which in turn makes him insensitive to the intricate interweaving of Hindu and Muslim creativities—through the Bhakti and Sufi movements—that have given us the extraordinary heritage, alive in the heart of every Indian home.
If age is a barometer of measuring wisdom or accomplishment, it is equally one of measuring idiocy. There’s no other explanation to Karnad’s insane insistence that Naipaul should have written about music. By that token, should Naipaul also write about the non-existence (?) of pork shops to understand Saudi Arabia?
But by admonishing Naipaul, Karnad exposes his finely-honed hypocrisy by defining Indian music only in terms of Bhakti and Sufi. A crass case of reductio ad absurdum. Yes, music is a defining aspect of India but Bhakti or Sufi music is not music in the Indian musical tradition. They were offshoots and tiny branches of an extraordinary heritage that existed hundreds of years before Bhakti and/or Sufi. The Bhakti movement was known more for its literature than music. And in true cloak-and-dagger style, Karnad conceals Sufism’s bloody record, which enabled wholesale slaughter of Hindus in Gujarat. Every work on music in India invariably traces the origins of Indian music to the Vedas or to the Sama Veda, specifically. And from there to Bharata’s Natya Shastra, which was composed between 200 BCE—200 CE. Natya Shastra was the defining text that music composers, theorists, scholars, and commentators alike used as the foundation for their own work until the 13th Century, which was when Indian classical music was bifurcated into the Hindustani and the Carnatic streams.
And I don’t believe that Karnad isn’t aware of this fact given that he has in various places, held the Natya Shastra in high esteem. Which is even even more duplicitous because in his overwhelming love for going Green, Karnad glosses over the key fact that music is haraam, it is forbidden in Islam. Why did music flourish only in India and not in other nations decimated and conquered by Islam? I leave it to the intelligence of the reader to figure out the reason. But the reason has nothing to do with the mythical tolerance of Muslim rulers. Here’s a clue: why did Aurangzeb forbid music in his court?
But who does Karnad quote to demolish Naipaul and thereby to prove his fantasies of fancy?
Naipaul borrows a great deal of his theories of Indian culture from the British musicologists of the 18th and 19th centuries, like William Jones. These scholars were acquainted with many other ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptian, the Greek and the Roman. But they were intrigued by the fact that while with these civilizations, their musical traditions were entirely lost, the Indian musical tradition was alive and thriving. They concluded that this once pure-and- pristine music must have been, at some point during the course of its long history, corrupted and mauled—and they found the villain in the invading Muslim. So, according to them, once upon a time there was a pristine Indian musical culture, which the Muslims had molested.
Calling the polyglot philologist William Jones a musicologist is akin to calling Girish Karnad a historian. And the fact that Indian music survived the barbaric Islamic period is simply because of its intrinsic appeal and not due to any other reason. It appealed so much to the savage, extortionate and decadent Sultans that they took to it despite their religion’s strictures against it.
But things become clearer once we look at the record of musical compositions produced during that period. As I noted in my piece on Hindu temples, North India lost the classical tradition thanks to protracted Islamic rule. And so even today, there are few compositions set in the classical mould in Hindustani music compared to its Carnatic counterpart. One wonders where Karnad would place the blame for this. And so these British scholars weren’t entirely wrong in holding the invading Muslim for said cultural despoliation. And if Naipaul is tone deaf, Karnad is willfully blind and deaf, and selectively dumb.
Girish Karnad then trains his poisonous pistol against Naipaul on the subject of the Taj Mahal. Naipaul characterizes the Taj Mahal as wasteful, decadent and cruel among other things. Which is consistent with the alleged playwright’s effluent love for tastelessness. In his upside worldview, the Taj is a “beloved” monument—beloved to whom? Why doesn’t Karnad mention the tragic fate of the poor artisans and labourers whose fingers Shah Jahan chopped off so that they wouldn’t build a rival monument? Indeed, the Taj Mahal is simply an exaggerated architectural monstrosity that follows the pattern set by most Muslim Sultans and Nawabs. Almost every “contribution” to architecture by medieval Muslim rulers comprised Mosques and personal monuments in the memory of a wife or concubine, which we are supposed to admire as some great symbol of love. It contributed nothing productive to the state and/or society by way of enhancing culture or inculcating a superior value system. On the contrary, these monumental aberrations are architectural expressions of Sultan-sized egos and vanities of power-drunk tyrants. Why doesn’t the arch-secularist Karnad comment on the real and colossal waste of taxpayer money that went into building these “monuments?”
After desperately trying to whitewash the brutal medieval Muslim rule in India, Karnad returns to the present. In the process, his idiocy descends to lower and lower depths. Sample this:
As for Naipaul’s journalistic exploration of modern India, mainly in the form of a series of interviews conducted with Indians right across the board, one must confess they are supremely well written and he is a master in drawing sharp and precise visuals of the people he talks to and of the places he visits. What begins to bother one after a while, however, is that he invariably seems to meet brilliant interviewees whose answers to his questions are expressed with a wit and elegance that match his own mastery of the craft. Even half-literate interviewees suffer from no diffidence in their expression.
Several things here. Is there a rule that forbids Naipaul from presenting his interviews in a language he deems fit? Two, how does Karnad conclude that an interviewee is half-literate? Even if he/she was, would Karnad rather have Naipaul reproduce incoherence verbatim? Three, why shouldn’t Naipaul meet interviewees who match him in wit and brilliance? Oh wait! The world Karnad inhabits has a prominent signboard: ADMITTANCE ONLY TO FAWNERS AND FLATTERERS. In doing this, Karnad exposes a standard of pettiness that’s unrivalled and one that increases both in frequency and intensity in pace with his diatribes. He quotes from a private email he exchanged with a certain Dr. Chatterjee where the latter disses Naipaul. It’s funny how Karnad slyly criticizes Naipaul on the grounds of “the Nobel Prize has given him a sudden authority.” He conveniently forgets the fact that but for the Jnanapith that he (undeservingly) got, he wouldn’t have had the nerve or the platform to froth in this undignified manner. Reproducing private conversations in public is a trait of behaviour that’s beneath contempt.
And then, almost towards the end, we get to the real reason, nay, we get to see Girish Karnad the politician, we get to see the kind of vile politics he has been playing for the best part of his politico-literary career.
One of the first things Naipaul did on receiving the Nobel Prize was to visit the office of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) in Delhi. He who had earlier declared that he was not political, “that to have a political view is to be programmed”, now declared that he was happy to be politically “appropriated”.
THE visit to the office of THE party. Enough to obliterate every good thing Naipaul has done in the course of his long life. I don’t understand the insistence of the ilk of Karnad that a person must have only one view throughout life. This childish insistence of being consistent throughout one’s life stems from cowardice. It stems from a fear of speaking truth to our own selves, of admitting that we were wrong at some point in life. No wonder Aldous Huxley said that the only truly consistent people were the dead.
After Shashi Deshpande, Karnad ropes in Salman Rushdie, who once called Naipaul a “fellow-traveller of Fascism.” The wife-chasing Rushdie is entitled to his views. But did it occur to Karnad, in his temporary endeavour of Rushdie-ass-kissing, that he was bounden to defend the right of Rushdie to attend that Festival of the Politically Correct Sissies earlier this year? More so when Karnad was also one of the “distinguished” dignitaries at that Sissy Festival.
Now any mention of the BJP would be in vain if Ayodhya and/or the Gujarat riots is not mentioned. Karnad obligatorily speaks about the 1500 Muslims slaughtered in Bombay but as is his wont, omits mentioning the hundreds of Hindus also slaughtered by Muslims. Hindus don’t matter whether they’re alive or dead. Read how this works in Rajeev Srinivasan’s brilliant piece on the value of a Hindu life.
Almost every commentator about secularism and communal violence including Karnad has never witnessed a real riot in their entire lives built by preaching lies about love and brotherhood and tolerance from comfortable confines. It’s also an eloquent testimony to how their minds work. Avowed secularists and humanists and liberals that they are, they are the first to affix a communal identity to a name. Instead of simply saying “editor,” Karnad objectifies the person with “Muslim editor.” Instead of simply stating the name “Fayyaz,” he finds it compelling to refer to her as a Muslim. And those who call this bluff become communal in his eyes, forcing him to characterize Naipaul’s note on Ayodhya as “socializing” and the man himself as inhuman.
But Karnad’s toxic tantrums are unstoppable. After Naipaul, he directs his petty ire towards Landmark and Literature Live! He questions the completely democratic right of Landmark and Literature Live! to give an award to any person of their choice.
It is significant that this part of Naipaul’s sociologizing was not mentioned in the citation of the award…Landmark and Literature Live who have announced this award have a responsibility to explain to us where exactly they stand with regard to Naipaul’s remarks. Do they mean to valorize Naipaul’s stand that Indian Muslims are raiders and marauders? Are they supporting his continued argument that Muslim buildings in India are monuments to rape and loot? Or are they by their silence suggesting that these views do not matter?
Landmark and Literature Live! have absolutely no responsibility to explain their choice or the reasoning behind choosing Naipaul to anybody, least of all to Girish Karnad. It is a private entity and is perfectly within its rights to give the award to anybody it likes and is not bound to offer reasons for the same. If Karnad has a problem with it, too bad. Would he say the same things if say U R Ananthamurthy criticized Landmark for giving the award to Karnad?
But Karnad reserves his best punch of pettiness for the last.
If the givers of this award are deliberately keeping silent about their opinion of this outsider’s criminalization of a whole section of the Indian population as rapists and murders…Of the award itself, one can only call it shameful.
Karnad’s choice of words is extremely telling. Naipaul is an “outsider.” So what is Karnad to that University of Southern California which gave him the honorary Phd? What is he to the University of Chicago where he served as the Fulbright Resident Playwright? What is he to the Guthrie Theatre at Minneapolis which let him stage Nagamandala? By sticking the Outsider label, Karnad has revealed that he’s an accomplished practitioner of yet another wretched art perfected by the Marxists. Aside, this was a facet of Karnad that I hadn’t known existed.
Which brings us to Karnad, the self-proclaimed hater of colonialism and everything associated with it. Ever since he set sail to England as a student and wrote the appalling Yayati on the ship, Karnad’s career was shaped by and spent on colonial shores. He earned his fame there by mauling Indian epics, folklore, and history to please the very colonials he faults for giving a biased narrative about India. He wrote all his plays in his native Kannada, a language over which he has substandard command. His plays violate every known rule of classical Indian dramaturgy. Till date, they have been commercial failures considering the fact that the long-deceased T P Kailasam’s plays still sell enormously well. Considering all this, non-literary factors must explain his success as a litterateur. And these factors aren’t hard to find: they relate to the degrees and fame he earned, most of them in England. His theatre work in India count for a little more than political theatrics. One needs to remember that he quickly latched on to the Marxist bandwagon at the time it dictated the political discourse in India and reaped rich rewards. He has been regularly appointed to important positions in government-funded institutions like the Film Institute, the Sangeet Natak Akademi, the National Academy of the Performing Arts, the Nehru Centre, and as Minister of Culture in the Indian High Commission in London. As anybody can tell, these positions don’t come without intense lobbying, and that’s putting it mildly. Karnad’s rise to literary and theatre stardom owes everything to the accolades he got from the erstwhile colonists. The deception is phenomenal: deride colonists for tarring India but seek fame and fortune from the selfsame people in return for painting India dishonestly. Faced with these realities, Karnad either has defiant guts or a complete absence of moral fibre to fault Naipaul for supposedly relying on colonial narratives.
And so what we have in the final reckoning is this: Girish Karnad gets it wrong on every count. No. He doesn’t get it wrong, he’s dishonest on every single count. The story of whitewashing the brutal Islamic rule in medieval India has been comprehensively demolished long ago by far capable people like Ram Swarup, Sitaram Goel, Koenraad Elst, K.S. Lal, and Arun Shourie among others. Only a few surviving Marxist relics like Karnad consider Romila Thapar a historian. The last time Karnad spoke about history, he received a two-round thrashing at the hands of S L Bhyrappa more than three years ago in a Kannada newspaper. One wonders why he left out that bit in his outburst against Naipaul.
On the other side, Naipaul too has been consistent in being honest. His India a Wounded Civilization was a shoddy work by his standards but his explorations have been honest and that has shown up in all his subsequent works including the prophetic books that emerged as a result of his travels into Muslim lands. As far as India is concerned, Naipaul’s books are marked by one feature: they demonstrate and reflect the yearning of millions of Indian people who are rediscovering and questioning every received wisdom about their own land and culture with a confidence and zeal and in numbers that was absent even 20 years ago. If Karnad wants us to discard colonial versions of Indian history, what prevents us from questioning the provenly-tainted version of Indian history his ilk spouts? This questioning is why the truth-hating Karnad is mightily upset.
Indeed, this was a job that Karnad’s generation should’ve done. What it instead did was to simply substitute the Eurocentric version of Indian history with the neo-colonial Marxist one. What was worse about this version was that it retained all the lies of the former and embellished them with wholesale distortions, which continue to be taught to our children. Karnad’s Tughlaq is itself an outstanding example of this deceit: it completely assoils the brutal record of the homicidal madman-Sultan and portrays him as a misunderstood genius who was ahead of his time.
V S Naipaul at least has the courage and the conviction to tell the truth of his explorations however disagreeable they may seem. Lacking in both talent and honesty, the best Girish Karnad can manage is to abuse such truth-tellers in a level of perfidy matched only by his plays.
Hope he gets well soon.