The audience at the Tata Literature Live! festival held in Mumbai on November 2 was surprised, when playwright, actor and director Girish Karnad spoke angrily about the presentation of an award to Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul.
Karnad was supposed to talk about his own work, but used the time instead to criticise the festival's giving of a Lifetime Achievement Award to Trinidadian-British author Naipaul, who Karnad accused of being anti-Muslim.
Deepanjana Pal was at the event, and wrote a post entitled “And Girish Karnad went Boom!”:
It was supposed to be an hour-long “masterclass” by playwright Girish Karnad and ended up being 45 minutes of fireworks at the end of which Tata Literature Live!’s festival director Anil Dharker was fuming and author Farrukh Dhondy’s red face made it clear that he was not amused. Instead of speaking about his plays, Karnad presented a lecture that attacked Nobel laureate VS Naipaul for being anti-Muslim, tone deaf and unreliable writer of non-fiction as far as India is concerned. Karnad asserted that Naipaul “has no idea of how Muslims contributed to Indian history.” He questioned the authenticity of Naipaul’s non-fiction writing in India and said Naipaul’s ideas are simplistic.
In his talk, Karnad said:
Apart from his novels, only two of which take place in India and are abysmal, Naipaul has written three books on India and the books are brilliantly written – he is certainly among the great English writers of our generation. They have been hailed as a continued exploration of India’s journey into modernity, but what strikes one from the very first book, A Wounded Civilization, is their rabid antipathy to the Indian Muslim. The “wound” in the title is the one inflicted on India by Babar’s invasion. Since then, Naipaul has never missed a chance to accuse them of having savaged India for five centuries, brought, among other dreadful things, poverty into it, and destroyed glorious Indian culture. [...] To Naipaul, the Indian Muslim remains an invader forever, forever condemned to be condemned, because some of them had invaders for their ancestors.
Deepanjana Pal commented:
The fact that Naipaul can indeed write exquisite sentences – sharp, precise and filled with images – is well-known and endlessly repeated. No one is debating that. The question that, to my mind, is worth asking is whether his “contrary” opinions are provocative or offensive. Contrary to popular usage, the two are not interchangeable. They have very different meanings. To be provocative is to provoke, which means to stimulate a strong reaction. It’s the basis of most great art (novels, films, paintings; the jing-bang lot of them) – they seek to engage the audience in a debate and leave them wondering. To offend, on the other hand, is a far blunter, cruder act. You’re simply annoying or hurting someone. If Tata Literature Live!’s powers that be believe Naipaul’s “contrary” views are provocative, then bravo, because Naipaul has (as usual) sparked a debate. Whether by design or accident, this festival deserves a big cheer for giving space to conflicting opinions. Karnad, however, is of the camp that believes that Naipaul is simply offensive.
On Twitter, feelings were mixed. Jaaved Jaaferi sided with Karnad:
@jaavedjaaferi: BRAVO Mr. Girish Karnad for being analytically vociferous about the blatantly communal V.S.Naipaul at the Lit Fest in Mumbai
Oldtimer felt Karnad had behaved badly:
@auldtimer: Ethics of Girish Karnad: At a felicitation function he was invited to, he attacks the person being felicitated to grab attention for himself
The Bad Doctor joked that Karnad spoke so poorly, he could be a politician:
@doctoratlarge: Girish Karnad was so illogical and ribald in his speech that he can make a brilliant Congress spokesperson.
Shiv Mishra pointed out that Karnad had been silent when Salman Rushdie was forced to withdraw from the Jaipur Literature Festival in January, after protests from some Muslim groups and an apparent threat to Rushdie's life:
@mishrashiv: Was Girish Karnad suffering from bad throat when Rushdie was not allowed to enter Jaipur?
But Naresh Fernandes suspected that all those on Twitter defending Naipaul had never read his work:
@tajmahalfoxtrot: Astonished to find how many twitfenders Naipaul has. I wonder how many of them have actually read him.