Noted playwright Girish Karnad, who courted controversy by terming Rabindranath Tagore a ‘third rated playwright’ at last year’s Jaipur Literary Festival and calling V.S. Naipaul ‘anti-Muslim’ at the Mumbai Literary Festival, held forth with his sharp tongue at the Bangalore Literature Festival on Friday, this time critiquing his contemporary U.R. Ananthamurthy as a ‘critical outsider’.
A podium to pay tributes to the departed writer turned into a platform for a critical analysis of the writer, which many felt went overboard.
Mr. Karnad said Prof. Ananthamurthy was not a great original thinker and instead described him as a ‘good absorber of ideas’. He credited writer, poet, translator A.K. Ramanujan of being a great thinker, who influenced many, including him and Mr. Ananthamurthy. “It is because of Dr. Ramanujan that Samskara got global recognition,” he said.
Mr. Karnad added, “Except Samskara , novelette Suryana Kudure and some of his short stories, all his later works were unreadable.” He said the writer ‘lost it and even Ananthamurthy had come to know of it’.
He also refused to accept Mr. Ananthamurthy as the leading public intellectual the Kannada cultural spectrum has seen. “Writers, including Shivarama Karanth, Kuvempu, Lankesh, Tejaswi, have also played vital roles as public intellectuals. It has been a tradition in Kannada,” he said.
However, he did not mince words while appreciating the stand taken by Prof. Ananthamurthy on various occasions and his contribution as a teacher. “He was firm and bold in his stand on issues such as the cow slaughter bill and introduction of Bhagavadgita in school curriculum.”
Mr. Karnad was equally critical about Ananthamurthy’s alleged ambition to become a member of the Rajya Sabha. “He even enjoyed the many threats he received,” he said.
Instead of portraying him as flawless personality, it is better to speak about grey areas in his life span, he said. “All of us have contradictions. Why gloss over them?”
Despite his reservations about Samskara , Mr. Karnad said, “My life changed the day I read Samskara . I learnt how to exploit the possibilities of Kannada.” He added, “Ananthamurthy has left a blank space and I miss him as a friend.”
Noted painter S.G. Vasudev also criticised some of Mr. Ananthamurthy’s views on caste.