Inspired from an obituary & narration by Professor Ramesh Dutt

“People do not decide to become extraordinary.  They decide to accomplish extraordinary things!” - Sir Edmund Hillary

Life is full of mysteries and surprises and I believe that each one of us is born in a unique manner to unravel our own mysteries to carve a niche for ourselves in this world.  Some of us decide to do great things, think out of the box, be different, and create revolutions to achieve greatness and some of us live abysmally cribbing, complaining, and thinking negatively throughout our lives passing away one fine day.  Girish Karnad was the former, a visionary, a thinker, a rebel who decided to achieve greatness in a way that he found befitting.  He found his niche and he bulldozed his way through life doing everything he possibly could in a manner befitting his personality, which undoubtedly was greatness personified.  Yesterday, June 10, 2019, Girish Karnad, a banyan tree fell, leaving this world and hopefully on to the next where I believe, as I would envision, he will create another revolution and achieve greatness again.  May God rest his soul in peace.

I present to you this excerpt as a write-up on Girish Karnad, the legend, a phenomenon in his right inspired and motivated by a bayaar or narration by our very own, Professor Ramesh Dutt, Dutt Saab as I lovingly call him, a professor of History and English, a cinephile, an ardent lover of nature, travel, and anything related to performing arts, music, fine arts, and literature.  He is one human being, a wanderer, a wayfarer, a nomad of sorts who single-handedly has donned the mantle of preserving and promoting an era of forgotten personalities, along with fading arts, music, literature, and everything in between.  He presented a obituary for Girish Karnad Sir today expressing his condolences and his knowledge about this great personality who entered his name in the annals of theatre, arts, and literature in a manner that can only be expressed in one word, “Magnifique!!!” or Magnificient!

Girish Karnad was indeed a humanist who carved a path for himself on his own, a rebel who chose to rebel against everything related to injustice and an empathetic soul who carved a niche for himself and created a genre of his own.  He was born on May 19, 1938.  This was an amazing individual who was the recipient of the prestigious Rhodes scholarship in an era which was almost next to impossible, especially for an Indian.  The 1960s proved to be an era of Girish Karnad where he brought a revolution into the Kannada literature & performing arts industry just like Badal Sarkar in Bengali, Vijay Tendulkar in Marathi and Mohan Rakesh in Hindi.  He was aptly awarded the Jnanpith award in 1988.  He was one writer who had the privilege of having had the best of directors direct many of his plays.  A multifaceted and multitalented individual awarded with Padmashri and Padmabhushan, Girish Karnad was one of the finished connoisseurs and promoters of art, history, and literature. The Kannada film industry and Kannada literature got a brilliant boost due to this individual.  Starting with Yayati, which he says he just sat and poured out randomly one fine day was the beginning of his writing journey in Kannada, and this went on to be a classic.  He was the finest and rarest individual one could find.  Having graduated in Dharwad, he went to England, became the president of Oxford Union, came back worked for some time, gets the Fulbright Scholarship, then goes on to become Director of Film Institute in Pune.  He then became the Chairman of Sangeet Nayak Academy.

Girish Karnad wrote a play called “Tughlaq,” which was controversial, however, he was not a stranger to controversies and never cowed down or bowed down to any of these.  This play was received brilliantly and became famous. The NSD staged this for the first time where noted director of those times Al-Qazi Saab directed this play with Manohar Singh in the main role.  Tughlaq, an individual difficult to understand, interpret, and decipher was given a new dimension by Girish Karnad making Tughlaq immortal and created an identity of his own. Having smitten by the film bug, he acted in his first film in 1975 and proved his mettle announcing his arrival in the film industry winning the President's Award for this first movie of his.  Then came Malgudi Days, one of my favorite serials of my childhood so much that I gave the nickname, “Chaami” from that serial to my son. Although most of his films were in Kannada, the most amazing thing was that he gave a distinct and new dimension to every role he portrayed.  He also acted in Nishant, Manthan, Swami, Dorr, Sur Sangam, Iqbal, Ek Tha Tiger, and Tiger Zinda Hai, all Hindi films, the last of which was in 2017 when he almost was ending his career winning literally every award one could think of.

Girish Karnad’s existence itself is a very unique one.  As Dutt Saab dearly quotes, he had the spirit of the seagull just like the one in Richard Bach’s book, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.”  In 2012, he was invited to speak in the Literary Festival in Mumbai regarding his life in the theatre.  In this program, he spoke about the most acclaimed writer, V.S. Naipaul objectionably and this created a furor for the organizers as V.S. Naipaul was an internationally known writer across the world.  But Girish Karnad stood his ground and said what he had to.   He did not stop at that and then said Rabindranath Tagore’s plays are uncontrollable, and then said that the airport in Bangalore has to be named after Tipu Sultan.  This created a lot of problems for him.  Slowly, he became an activist trying to fight the divisiveness of the country and strength the secularism of this country.  The last film he did in Kannada is yet to be released based on our country.  He achieved the kind of success that one generally does not in one lifetime.  He was indeed a human being who strived to achieve success in multiple areas of life.  He also directed the famous movie, Utsav.  His passing away was indeed a shock but his name will live on.  Truly speaking, in Dutt Saab’s words, Girish Karnad was a seagull, an iconoclast who never tolerated any sort of hypocrisies. This led him to get into the wrong side of people being labelled in different ways, which unfortunately happened in the last few years before his passing away.  He was an actor par excellence who interpreted and presented every role with a dimension of his own.  His demise will be a great loss to the film industry, especially the Southern Indian diaspora.

Girish Karnad’s death is a sort of wake-up call to all of us bringing to fore the transient nature of our lives.  It brings us the harsh reality that today is a fact, tomorrow is only an opinion.  None can tell or predict what the next day or the future will have in store, which brings us to the most important learning one must realize and imbibe, “To achieve greatness one should live as if they will never die” as Francois de La Rochefoucauld aptly put.  The memory of the people might be short and they might be forget him, but his works will live on for generations becoming a guiding light for youngistan, the youth of the country a very valuable lesson in life.  Living life on one’s terms is an intoxicating feeling and if one can do it, they should do it.  One must always live and take the flight that one wants to for that is what we are destined for - to soar above the clouds like an eagle.  As the writer, Elbert Hubbard quoted, “Freedom cannot be bestowed, it must be achieved.”  Girish Karnad was one such individual, a man who fought for what is right irrespective of his bad health.  Death is a fact that none cannot deny or escape, it comes when it comes; but what we can do is live life to the fullest.  A handful of us can achieve what Girish Karnad Saab did and we bow down to pay respects to a great soul, a humanist, a visionary, and a free soul who was indeed a Jonathan Livingston Seagull in his right as Dutt Saab aptly describes him.  I end this with a poetry I wrote for him and hope that he shall live on in his words and writings forever and ever.

A writer, an actor, a playwright indeed
Also a humanist he was in every deed
A passing of this soul rocks this world,
In a world of souls that are stone cold,
May his passing remind us of greatness,
Leading us into light away from darkness.

May your soul rest in peace, Sir. May God give you a special place in his abode and make you our guiding star.....the end of a legacy, hopefully a beginning of conscience.

- Kay S
Author of Unfinished-A Woman's Tryst with Destiny


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