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CHAT Girish Karnad's autobiography “Adaadata Ayushya” stands tall in the Kannada literary world

“N enapugalannu nevarisuvudu” is a beautiful, lyrical phrase meaning “caressing memories”; the dreaminess of this utterance can douse the past in a romantic haze. But, for Girish Karnad this poetic phrase is used as a disclaimer in his recently-released autobiography “Adaadata Ayushya”. One of the most definitive works of Kannada literature, “Adaadata Ayushya” is not merely a chronicle of events; it is a facing up to one's self. This unusual piece of literature sparkles with the bluntness of truth.

Unravelling of the self

“If Dr. Madhumalathi Gune had turned up at the hospital the day when my mother went for an abortion, I wouldn't have existed” Karnad writes in the very first pages, offering the book to the memory of the doctor. The moment of shock and how it quietly altered one's notion of life, in a way, sets the tone for how the “self” is unravelled in the rest of the narrative.

“I did not want it to be a tome of self-glorification,” says Karnad, among the most extraordinary screenplay writers. But tell him that rarely do Indian autobiographies glow in the truth of imperfections, and he says: “True. But, if you cannot state things as they happened, there is no point in writing an autobiography.” It was never meant to be a work of “settling scores” or pouring out “angst”. The greater thing for Karnad was to talk about all those relationships that mattered to him — those that shaped his emotions and intellect. “In the process, if I left out all the women who had a very big role to play in my life, it would have been very unfair. I had quite a few good women friends, who played a very important role in my life and left a lasting impact on me. I decided to write about them and my wife Saraswati did not have a problem with it.”

A marvellous era

So, while it is largely a record of the people he met and the influence they had on him — from Sirsi and Dharwad to Oxford, Madras and Mumbai — it was also a recounting of the experience of having lived through a marvellous era. “I was ten years old when India attained freedom. In the 1950s, it was Satyajit Ray, followed by the parallel cinema movement. When New India was emerging in the 1960s, I returned from a very momentous period in Oxford. I was lucky to return when I had no clue what the future had for me. But, doors kept opening, one after the other. The Academies came into existence and the National School of Drama was established, television came in the 1980s.... there were many firsts, and I was at the forefront of that experience. I wanted to capture the excitement of that era,” explains Karnad, who says that the second part of his autobiography will be a sociological account, which forms the backdrop of the first part.

Much of Karnad's emotional world is shaped by his family and relatives, and the Konkani language. But his intellectual world, in his early years, was largely shaped by the West and the English language. “Indian identity was a big thing in those days. I am grateful to the West for helping me come out of that hangover

Rich in emotion

Karnad's autobiography is rich in detail and emotion. It says things that public personalities would rather conceal, and manages to bring on its canvas an entire gamut of things between home and the world. The Saraswat community, women and their hardships (the beginnings of which can be seen in his foreword to Vasanthi Padukone's “Nanna Maga Gurudatta” 1977), his deep attachment to his parents and siblings and unswerving commitment to his friendships. Most importantly, it stands to question the manner in which we construct people.

“Adaadata Ayushya” shines with honesty, and by the end of the book your admiration for the writer has grown in leaps.

DEEPA GANESH

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