BENGALURU: Girish was many things to many people – friend, mentor, ally, collaborator, public intellectual, drinking companion – and although we have come together to share the appreciation of him, we will all remember him separately,” author-translator Arshia Sattar said at an event held to pay tribute to playwright-director Girish Karnad. The sentiment was shared by the scholars present at the venue, including historian-writer Ramachandra Guha, theatreperson Arundhati Nag, and writer Vivek Shanbag.
The event, held at Bengaluru International Centre on Tuesday, also featured recorded videos by actor Naseeruddin Shah, filmmaker Shyam Benegal and artist S G Vasudev. It began with a screening of Scattering Golden Feathers, K M Chaitanya’s documentary on Karnad.
Many recalled their long association with Karnad. Shah, for instance, recounted, “I first saw Girish in a suit commercial, trying to pull off the cool guy look. I couldn’t believe he was the person who wrote Tughlaq. That impression changed when I heard him at National School of Drama. He embodied kindness and courage.”
Guha too talked about his first “live glimpse” of Karnad at Delhi’s Indian International Centre (IIC) in the 1990s. “The dining hall was always bustling with writers, politicians and artistes. However, Karnad would eat alone,” Guha said. “No one would dare to disturb him. I compare this to the dinner thrown by John F Kennedy when he became US president. Several Nobel laureates, musicians, poets and others attended it. After that, somebody wrote that it was the greatest collection of talent at White House, since Thomas Jefferson dined alone. This was Girish to me at IIC. He embodied everything that is remarkable about Indian culture,” Guha added.
Nag also recalled her first interactions with Karnad, saying she was exposed to his work as a child in Delhi. “Tughlaq was being staged in Kannada. Little did I know that I would come to Karnataka and do a Karnad play,” she said, adding that while she struggles to read Kannada, she understands it well, thanks to Karnad. “No other actress has had the privilege to getting directed by him,” she added, remembering how he would come to her house with notes and a water bottle, and watch her rehearse. “I have caught him smile to himself as he would appreciate his writing when certain lines came about. We will try to do things the way he would’ve liked,” Nag added.
Sattar too talked about the time over 30 years ago. “I was on my way to being a snotty little intellectual when I was struck by a thunderbolt, a movie star was moving across the street from I was living in Chicago,” she said. Girish had joined University of Chicago, and they had offices on the same floor. “I put a paper recycling box outside my office, and Girish would throw sheets into it. I would rummage through them and find his scripts, written in Kannada,” Sattar said, pointing out that he wrote with a “sense of largesse”, and left space for second thoughts. Sattar collected them, and discovered the early drafts of Nagamandala. “I have been a part of parties and arguments in the Karnad household. It didn’t matter who you were when you were in their charmed circle, everyone was treated with the same respect,” she said.