Anil Dharker, director of Mumbai LitFest, said on Saturday he was taken aback by playwright Girish Karnad’s attack on Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul, who was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the event.

“After all, we had invited him to speak about his journey in theatre, and Naipaul had nothing to do with that,” Mr. Dharker said in a statement. “Even the packed audience had come to listen to Karnad’s talk about theatre.”

Mr. Dharker said he was all for free speech but free speech pre-supposed a dialogue, not diatribe. “Karnad’s two objections to [Mr.] Naipaul getting the Landmark Literature Live Lifetime Achievement Award are demonstrably false. Naipaul is of Indian origin, so we are not rewarding a foreigner. As for Naipaul being anti-Muslim, his wife Nadira is Muslim and her two children are being bought up as Muslim. Naipaul writes about how Muslim rulers and invaders of the past destroyed temples, monuments and so on. That’s historical facts, and who can argue against that? That does not make V.S. Naipaul anti-Muslim,” he pointed out.

Mr. Dharker also resented the implication that the organisers were somehow not secular. “I am a trustee of the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), led by Teesta Setalvad, and we have been fighting over 200 cases in court against [Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra] Modi and his government over the 2002 violence.”

On Friday, at a session on ‘His Life in Theatre,’ Mr. Karnad unexpectedly took on Mr. Naipaul and his contribution to understanding India. Criticising him for his silence on Indian music, Mr. Karnad said: “Given that music defines our daily existence, you find it in streets, in restaurants, in hotels and so on. You would expect an exploration of India to comment on that. Now, Mr. Naipaul has written three books on India, three very big books, and if you read them, you will find that not one of them contains any reference to music. He has gone through the whole of India without responding to Indian music. Now, I think that this only means that he is tone-deaf. That’s my reading of the situation; but then, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be tone-deaf. It is a constitutional right we all have.”

Mr. Karnad said one had to understand different strains of music. The Bhakti and Sufi movements often overlapped. If one had to understand Indian culture, how Hindus and Muslims and the whole historical process reacted, one had to know music.

“If you don’t know music, you cannot understand it, and I think this is, let me state right away at the beginning, this is one problem with Mr. Naipaul’s analysis of Indian culture.”

Referring to the analysis of Indian culture and music by certain Indologists, Mr. Karnad said the whole matrix was already there — the foreigners came, they looked at Indian culture, they saw pristine Hindu culture, they saw that it was corrupted and it was corrupted by Muslims. “Anyone who has read Naipaul’s books will immediately recognise this matrix, which, he claims, he arrived at himself but it is already there in any Indological study long before Naipaul, nearly 200 years before he wrote his books… He writes, for instance, India was ravaged by the Muslim invaders. They ruled it severely, ravaged it for five or six centuries, and they left nothing and they brought poverty to India and so on.”

Mr. Karnad went on to say Naipaul had no music and therefore no conception of what the Muslims contributed to Indian history.

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