Girish Karnad remembered by Indian art and culture fraternity: 'His strong, unwavering voice will be missed'

Renowned playwright, actor and Jnanpith awardee Girish Karnad, who left his indelible mark in the world of literature, theatre and cinema over five decades, passed away at his residence in Bengaluru on Monday morning, 10 June 2019, after a prolonged illness, official sources said.

A multi-hyphenate personality, who often courted controversies for his vocal stance, Karnad, 81, is survived by wife Saraswathi, son Raghu Karnad, a journalist and writer, and daughter Radha.

A recipient of Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan, Karnad was one of the most important literary minds of the present era.

He wrote, acted in and directed several plays and movies that earned critical acclaim. His most well-known works include the plays Yayati, Tughlaq and Naga-Mandala, which have been translated from his Kannada to English and other Indian languages.

 Girish Karnad remembered by Indian art and culture fraternity: His strong, unwavering voice will be missed

Girish Karnad. Image via Wikimedia Commons/Pushkar V

He was also a well-known face in Kannada and Hindi movies ranging from parallel films such as Samskara (based on a novel by U R Ananthamurthy), Nishant, Manthan to commercial outings such as Tiger Zinda Hai and Shivaay.

Karnad was born in Maharashtra in 1938 as third child to Dr Raghunath Karnad and Krishnabai. The family later shifted to Sirsi and Dharwad in Karnataka where he spent his formative years and the family's inclination to dramatic arts laid the foundation for his future in the literary world.

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He was known to be a part of "Navya" literary movement, which was influenced by the renaissance in Western literature.

Noted Indian personalities from the field of arts and culture expressed their grief over the loss of Karnad.

Jerry Pinto, writer:

The world today is a little darker. Girish Karnad represented the perfect blend of the modern and the cosmopolitan with the ancient and the traditional. He brought to us the magic of myth but he interrogated it relentlessly so that we could be proud to sit there in those darkened halls, revisiting mythology and magic. I think specially of Naga-Mandala, of Hayavadana and of Tughlaq, such masterworks of theatre; not just Indian theatre, but theatre of the world. I think also of a liberal rational humanist. We do not ask today for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for all of us.

Lillete Dubey, actress:

With the passing of Girish Karnad, an era is over. The giants of the Indian stage who brought their enormous passion, talent, intellect and insight to understand the sociocultural and political world around us and illuminate it for us, have sadly sadly gone... Men who were outspoken and forthright, who cared about the world around them, who were not afraid to speak their minds. I will always remember Girish as a passionate lover of theatre, who loved it purely for itself and its enormous magic and influence. I was proud and honoured to have associated with him and lucky enough to have known him personally. He gave freely of his talent and was wonderfully encouraging and involved with the growth of theatre. His legacy is the great body of work that he has left behind. The best way to remember him is to continue to stage his plays for future generations; that is what would have made him happiest.

Ammu Joseph, journalist and author:

I first came across Girish Karnad when I was in college in Chennai, and he used to drop in to help his friend and Madras Players colleague, Ammu Mathew, direct our college play in the early '70s, Ashad Ka Ek Din. A few years later in Mumbai, I had the privilege of watching a stunning performance of his own unforgettable play, Tughlaq, with Kabir Bedi in the title role. But it was only in the early '90s that I got to know him and his family personally. Apart from his outstanding intellect and creativity, what I have always admired is his firm and fearless commitment to the idea of India as a secular, pluralistic, multi-cultural country with a long and complex history, a society and culture enriched by diverse influences. His strong and unwavering voice will be sorely missed.

SG Vasudev, artist:

I met Girish in Chennai in 1963, when I was a student at the College of Arts & Crafts. He had come back to India from Oxford and joined the Oxford University Press as Assistant Manager. We became good friends and he exposed me to the best of literature, especially in Kannada. It is through him that I got to know brilliant writers like AK Ramanujan, UR Ananthamurthy, Chandrashekhar Kambar and many others. We worked together in two award-winning Kannada films, Samskara and Vamsha Vriksha. He inaugurated my retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Bengaluru, in September 2018 — one of the last public events he participated in. Today I have lost a very dear friend.

Arundhathi Subramaniam, poet:

I still remember the admiration I felt as a student when I first encountered Girish Karnad’s plays — Yayati, Tughlaq and Hayavadana, in particular. The quiet self-assurance and effrontery with which they journeyed across Indian myth and history, across existential enquiry and current affairs amazed me. I don’t think I have ever encountered anything else quite like these in Indian theatre. These are difficult to match in their sweep of mythic and philosophic reference, especially because they never turn mannered or self-consciously political. These will remain among the classics of 20th century Indian literature, and stand testament to a man of great intellectual curiosity and exceptional versatility. Girish Karnad leaves behind him a legacy of both breadth and depth — a rare combination. The Indian stage loses an iconic presence.

TM Krishna, classical musician:

Girish Karnad was the quintessential creative being. The word 'restless' has often been used to describe serious thinkers and artists. Used in this context it does not mean disturbed; rather, it refers to a state of acute sensitivity. Every word, frame and action of Girish Karnad was a thoughtful response to that muddle we call human, civilisational, societal existence. By collapsing myth and reality, time and distance he imbued his work with a transcendence. Especially during times like these when the ugly face of religious bigotry is governing our every breath, losing him is difficult. Even if did not say a word, his very presence was reassuring.


Karnad's longtime publishers, Oxford University press also issued a statement.

Niko Pfund, global publisher — Academic Division, OUP, said, "We were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Girish Karnad. We were privileged to have published his works and he had many admirers at the Press. His association with OUP dates back to his time as a Rhodes Scholar, included a period in the 1960s when he worked at the Press, and saw the publication in 2005 of his collected plays. His contributions were many, and he will be missed.”

— Additional reporting by Aishwarya Sahasrabudhe

— With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Jun 10, 2019 18:23:23 IST