The utter boorishness of Girish Karnad's secularism
In the name of secularism, can Girish Karnad take his audience and hosts for granted?
Every now and then, card-carrying secularists have the need to wear their secularism on their sleeves. You may be called to officiate at a municipal tree planting ceremony, but you have to give the audience your robust views on the Ayodhya issue and Sufi music.
On Friday, Girish Karnad managed to do the same at the Tata Literature Live! festival in Mumbai.
He was invited to conduct a one-hour masterclass on his life in theatre. He did nothing of the sort, and abused his hosts' hospitality. He managed to convert the occasion into a theatre of the absurd and spent 40 minutes of his allotted time castigating VS Naipaul, who was honoured earlier with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the festival’s organisers.
From Naipaul’s alleged anti-Muslim bias to his supposed support for the destruction of the Babri Masjid by Hindu militants in 1992 to the lack of authenticity in some of his books (including India: A Wounded Civilisation), Karnad spoke about everything but the topic he was given.
According to a report in Mint, Karnad claimed Naipaul would never have been given a Nobel but for 9/11, which made the West wary about Islam. He said: “Naipaul won the Nobel Prize in 2001. In London in 2000, word was that Naipaul would never get the Nobel because of what he’d written about Indian Muslims.”
Karnad blasted the organisers and said they shouldn’t have honoured Naipaul in the city which saw many Muslims killed in the post-Babri riots.
The Indian Express quotes Karnad as saying: “Naipaul is a foreigner and he is entitled to his opinion. But why give an award to a man who calls Indian Muslims ‘raiders’ and ‘marauders’? I have Muslim friends and I feel strongly about this.”
Fine, he has Muslim friends, but did he have to make his point in an event unrelated to communalism? And if he had Hindu friends, would he have said the opposite? Aren't you supposed to be secular regardless of who your friends are?
Karnad was pulled up by the organisers for meandering off on his hobby horse. According to the Express, Festival Director Anil Dharker expressed his disappointment thus: “We gave you (Karnad) the chance to speak about your life in theatre, but you never spoke about it. Instead, you chose to go on about a writer who has won the Nobel Prize for literature.” Dharker justified the award to Naipaul saying it was for his entire body of work, and not just one or two books, which Karnad criticised.
To writer Farrokh Dhondy, who asked Karnad a question, the latter haughtily refused a reply. An angry Dhondy is supposed to have replied: “This is like a court where the prosecution has been presenting its case without giving any opportunity to the defence.”
The Times of India said Karnad didn't talk on his given subject— life in theatre — since the subject was "boring". One wonders why Karnad chose to accept the invitation in that case. Or was it just to demonstrate his boorishness?
There is possibly a simple conclusion one can reach from the unnecessary brouhaha: If you are a professional secularist, you can abuse your host’s hospitality just as easily as if you were a professional communalist.
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