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Bhargavi Rao

Conversation with Girish Karnad

Girish Karnad is the seventh and the most recent writer from Karnataka to win  the Jnanpith Award. During his visit to Hyderabad to participate in the triennial conference of ACLALS (Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language studies), Karnad read out excerpts from his play Dreams of Tipu Sultan. Following is the English translation of an informal conversation Dr Bhargavi Rao had with him in Kannada.

Bhargavi Rao (BR): The themes that are being discussed in this conference–postmodernism and post-colonialism–do they form part of your plays?

Girish Karnad (GK): I don’t believe in these ‘isms’. No writer tries deliberately to bring them in to his works. He concentrates only on the content and the narration. The interpretations are the perceptions of critics and readers.

BR: What is your perception of ‘nationalism’–the theme of the conference in which you are participating now?

GK: Nationalism is nothing but national history in different colours. Man is migrating far and wide, seeking new experiences. This will definitely bring out new literatures. Literature is an eternal flow.

BR: Why did you choose drama as a genre?

GK: Because I don’t have the patience to write a novel and I couldn’t dabble in poetry. As a youngster, I was an ardent admirer of Yakshagana and the theatre in our village. They influenced me a lot. It was then that I made up my mind to explore its depth—but I now realize that I am yet to touch even the edge of it.

BR: You are a natural artist and an actor. Does that give you an advantage while writing a play?

GK: Definitely yes. I know how to write a play and to give it a slant from the production point of view. I carry a lot of goodwill with theatre groups and actors. I read out my plays and make a few suitable changes from the feedback I receive. But once I complete the writing, I don’t go back. I leave it to the Directors’ creativity. I don’t interfere.

BR: Do you make any effort to make your plays distinctly Indian?

GK: No. It is there in my personality and in my themes. Honestly, I don’t look for new themes. Indian literature has great lore. I don’t feel like inventing new ones.

BR: You have two types of audience–those who read your plays and come to watch the production, and those who just come and sit in the theatre to enjoy the plays. Your comment.

GK: They are there for all plays. My only interest is that everyone should enjoy my plays. But one thing is for sure: no playwright would be happy to have his plays only between two covers; it has to be staged.

BR: Theatre groups are now staging both Indian plays translated into English–your’s, Vijay Tendulkar’s, Badal Sircar’s–and plays written in English–Dattani’s and Manjula Padmanabhan’s. Is there a difference between these two types of plays?

GK: I don’t think so. Language is a personal choice. Every writer has his own emotional language. Ultimately the play should be good, then language will fall into place.

BR: This is my question as a fellow translator. You write your plays in Kannada and then take them into English. While translating, you take liberties with the originals and change a few expressions in English. But I don’t have to do that when I translate from Kannada into Telugu.

GK: It can’t be helped. English is not our language. A few idioms and expressions don’t exist in English. The changes are made to make the English readers understand the spirit.

BR: Why do you always choose themes from mythology, puranas and history? Why don’t you write message-oriented social plays?

GK: I am not a social reformer. I don’t believe in messages. I am only a playwright and my intention is to share my experience with my audience.

BR: You have been in the film industry for many years…

GK: Just to make money. I chose it as my profession, but my heart is in theatre.

BR: Tell us about your latest work.

GK: I’m working on a playlet based on the life of a woman writer. It’s something different ….wait and watch!