Posts Tagged ‘Girish Karnad’

If the Mahatma could rethink his xenophobia…

8 October 2012

Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

R.K. Narayan did not write in Kannada, but his works sensitively portray the people, culture and landscapes of the state of Karnataka. His 1938 book, Mysore, remains a classic of travel-writing; still valuable for anyone who seeks to know about, or visit, the shrines, towns, and water-falls of the southern part of the state.

The Malgudi of his novels was almost certainly based on the town of Nanjangud, on the banks of the river Kabini, some 15 miles from Mysore. The name, Malgudi, was made up from the names of two venerable Bangalore localities, Malleswaram and Basavangudi.

The restaurant-owners, printers, shopkeepers, teachers, housewives and students who people Narayan’s stories are as authentic Kannadigas as one can get. Which is why the television serial, Malgudi Days, was such a hit in Kannada and among Kannadigas. And it continues to be watched, 30 years after it was first made, available in DVDs that can be downloaded from the internet.

I hope the Kannada writers [who claimed Narayan was, so to say, a ‘foreigner’, have the good grace to withdraw their protest after this necessary intervention by Girish Karnad and U.R. Anantha Murthy. To admit that one was wrong, or mistaken, is in the best traditions of writing and scholarship. Besides, there is the example of Gandhi; if he could rethink his impulsive xenophobia, so can the rest of us.

Read the full column: Good Kannadigas and bad Kannadigas

Also read: Four reasons why R.K. Narayan deserves a memorial

What Kannada racists can learn from a Raja-rishi

How can Bhyrappa & Co be the same as Yedi & Co?

One law for man, another for our Godmen?

10 June 2012

B.S.NAGARAJ writes from Bangalore: Watching the sensational developments in Swami Nithyananda‘s “ashram” over the last couple of days and his “escape” to an undisclosed location, you wouldn’t be wrong in concluding that there is a republic within the republic of India.

And that republic is less than an hour away from Bangalore in a town called Bidadi.

Here the laws of India don’t apply. Just like the Vatican. You and me have to seek an appointment to get inside. Government officials have to wait at the gates before they are escorted in through the various layers of security by Nithyananda’s minions.

Yesterday when a scuffle broke out between Nithyananda’s thugs who call themselves brahmacharis and brahmacharins and a few Kannada activists who went there for a press conference posing as journalists, the police were forced to register a case.

Nithyananda was named accused no.1.

The police go there reluctantly looking for him. A couple of hours later, the DC and SP emerge from inside to say they don’t know where NIthyananda is but add they have advised his associates that it is better for him to return to the ashram only “after the storm dies down.”

So, did they facilitate his escape?

More than 60 hours later, there is still no word on Nithyananda’s whereabouts. But a minister, as well as the DC and SP, are said to have called on him at a resort nearby where he has taken refuge, even while they continuing to say with a straight face that that they are not aware where the self-proclaimed God-incarnate is.

Meanwhile, one news channel carries on with its relentless coverage of the horror that is Nithyananda. Claiming to be victims of his sexual exploitation, people recount the gory details of the abuse to which they were subjected to by Nithyananda and his gang on Suvarna television.

Parents of victimised young men and women weep.

There is a welter of support and sympathy for the victims from viewers, many phoning in from the US, Singapore, Poland, Dubai, etc. Angry protesters burn his effigies across the state, demanding that he be externed to Tamil Nadu, his home state.

The government is unmoved. Chief Minister Sadananda Gowda is busy signing MoUs with investors in Bangalore. Home Minister R.Ashok and Law Minister Suresh Kumar make some feeble noises about taking action.

Little else.

On the other hand, the government moves in quickly to quell any potential violence during a planned protest march in Bidadi on Sunday by taking custody of many activists this evening.

Curiously, most newspapers and television channels are pretending as if what’s happening in Bidadi isn’t news-worthy. Reportage of Nithyananda-related events, if at all, is cursory. Opposition political parties are no better either in their response.

Other religious heads, save a few, don’t appear to be bothered. One mutt head has the gall to say that Nithyananda, whose devotees list include actors Malavika Avinash and Juhi Chawla, is the target of a conspiracy.

Ditto for pro-Hindutva outfits.

Not a murmur from our rent-a-quote intellectuals either. No Ananthamurthy, no Bhyrappa, no Girish Karnad, no Devanooru, no Rajkumar fans’ association.

The leading lights of the IT industry who have an opinion about everything in the IT capital may think it is none of their business, though many of the sex swami’s victims are sterling techies.

A few weeks back, the Sadananda Gowda government took control of the 15th century Sosale Vyasaraja Mutt in Mysore on the charge that the pontiff was misusing mutt property for personal benefit.

No tears need be shed for Sosale but if the government is sitting ostrich-like over far serious charges against Nithyananda, there is surely room for suspecting its motives.

Victims have told the channel that the swami used to brainwash them into believing that he was God, and that having sex with him would enlighten them. Apart from sexual battery and physical violence, they have charged the “Paramahamsa” of keeping them in the ashram against their wishes, making them part with their money, and much else.

Also read: Just vonne one question I want to ask Ranjitha

Girish Karnad: J.P. Nagar to China via Singapore

8 May 2012

Girish Karnad in the Daily Beast:

“Only 20 years ago, when my wife and I decided to move to Bangalore from Bombay, we could visit a new suburb, buy a site of our choice, and then sit down with an architect to design the house we wanted. No more.

“As the demand for housing overran the availability of land, the estate developers took control, eating into the villages surrounding the city, occupying farms and open spaces, razing houses to the ground, and installing multistory apartment buildings in their place, with little regard to the city’s existing infrastructure.

“The current joke is that the only buildings to remain unscathed by the onslaught may be Vidhana Soudha, the building that houses the legislature, and UB City, a complex that is a hideous combination of the Empire State Building and Internet kitsch, built by a liquor baron….

“Twenty years after we built our house in a residential zone, we have now been informed that the road in front of it needs to be widened to accommodate the traffic. Any day now an entire swath could be cleared from our front garden, and the wall of our living room knocked down.

“A city planner told me: ‘Every day 400 four-wheelers and 1,200 two- and three-wheelers are added to the roads of Bangalore. We have to compete with Beijing.’

“It was not so long ago that the city was competing only with Singapore.”

Read the full article: Karnad on Bangalore


BANGALORE‘A city whose soul has been clinically removed

C.N.R. RAO: If IT takes away Bangalore’s values, burn IT

PAUL THEROUX: Bangalore’s idiots who speak an idiolect at home

CHURUMURI POLL: Who killed Bangalore?

Bharat as seen from the City of Baked Beans

Has the IT boom quelled Bangalore’s tensions?

How China changed the face of Karnataka politics

Everybody loves his own Jnanpith winner

28 September 2011

The heat and dust over the selection of the poet, playwright and writer Chandrasekhar Kambar for the Jnanpith Award has subsided, but the self-inflicted sense of injury about S.L. Bhyrappa being ignored for the honour won’t go away so easily, now that the debate has been framed in ideology with motives being attributed to the jury.

Left versus right, secular versus communal, and so on.

Tough, says the wellknown theatreperson Prakash Belawadi in reaction to two pieces published on churumuri.

Bhyrappa, he contends, is less deserving of the privately awarded honour than U.R. Anantha Murthy, Girish Karnad or Kambar. And those who don’t like how the Jnanpith is being awarded can well get together for an Award that they can hand out to their ilk.



In the opening lines of Woody Allen‘s Annie Hall, the principal character Alvy Singer (Allen himself) says: “There’s an old joke – um… two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, ‘Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.’

The other one says, ‘Yeah, I know; and such small portions.'”

I think that sort of applies to the attitude of disgruntled Kannadigas about the Jnanpith Award. They want it for their favourite guy because it is such a good award to get, but when denied, they denigrate it as a lobby-picked sour grape.

Let’s take the piece which opens with the grand insult: ‘There are mole hills and snake pits and then there are “literary circles”.’ This observer declares that writers are “peevishly insecure,” “loudly backslapping their peers in public and quietly backstabbing them in private.”

This follows beneath a Girish Karnad letter to the editor, so one presumes that this is a snide address to Karnad. There’s something about “incestuous” too, which is positioned against “true intellectualism”, whatever that is.

There is a self reference to “ordinary mortal” – though ironically, I fear – and a claim to “observe the small minds, the giant egos, the juvenile jealousies, and the awfully sour grapes on display.”

Who has the smaller mind and the bigger ego, I wonder.

And then there is the post by the Editor who says a series of contradictory things:

He quotes a Patil Puttappa comment on Chandrasekhar Kambar and calls it an “extreme remark” and follows it up in the very next sentence with “I totally agree with Puttappa”.

Does he mean both “extreme” and “remark” when he says “totally”?

Then comes this bashful confession, “I may not be a Kannada professor or even one who has delved deep into the wonderful world of Kannada literature,” followed by a swanking: “But then I am no nincompoop either as I regularly read reviews and comments on importantl Kannada books and even read some of the books.”

And armed with the confidence of regular reading of “important Kannada books,” he declares: “Howsoever proper Kambar’s selection might be, he could not have taken precedence over S.L. Bhyrappa.”

Says who? The Jnanpith Selection Board may well ask. He then thunders on,”…In fact, out of the seven Jnanpith awardees so in Kannada, all were giants except the last two – U.R. Anantha Murthy and Girish Karnad.”

I too, like the Editor have “even read some of the books” and I disagree. But that’s not so relevant, because I am not on the selection board of the Jnanpith and not likely to be ever, given my ignorance and insignificance.

For the record, the Jnanpith Award is instituted by the Bharatiya Jnanpith Trust founded by the Jain family that publishes The Times of India.

The Editor now moves into weird zone: “It is now perceived that though the Jnanpith selection panel for some years in the beginning was free from political, caste, religious or any kind of bias or prejudice that influenced its selection, in later years it is seen as being subtly influenced by so-called secularists with leftist leanings.”

The Times of India is Leftist? And what about Kambar? If the ‘secularists’ are “backstabbing,” why would they choose Kambar? Make up your mind, dude.

Who are the “secularists”, for instance, that will “subtly influence” the following, all members of the present selection board? Dr Sitakant Mahapatra (Chairman), Dr. K. Satchidanandan, Gurdial Singh, Keshubhai Desai, Manager Pandey, Dr. Gopi Chand Narang, Dinesh Misra (Ex-officio) and Ravindra Kalia (Ex-officio).

Sitakant Mahapatra is a retired IAS officer, Oriya poet and critic (Jnanpith Award, 1993); Satchidanandan is a highly respected poet, playwright and critic in Malayalam; Gurdial Singh is a Punjabi novelist, the son of a carpenter and blacksmith who went on to win the Jnanpith Award in 1999; Keshubhai Desai is a medical doctor by profession and a highly acclaimed Gujarati writer, Manager Pandey is an eminent writer (who, alongside Satchidanandan, will perhaps fit the “leftist” label) and Gopi Chand Narang is an Urdu scholar and writer who was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2004.

Does the Editor seriously believe he knows better or, as he imputes, is more honest and independent than the above, all victims of “that venomous spider’s web?”

And if indeed the Jnanpith selection panel is yet to be “liberated from these shackles,” how is the award also the “the ultimate stamp of recognition?” Incidentally again, among the trustees of Bharatiya Jnanpith, the only non-Jain members are Sitakant Mahapatra and former bureaucrat T.N. Chaturvedi, who is now with the BJP.

He asks us, “could any reader of Kannada literature deny that S.L. Bhyrappa is less deserving or not at all deserving?”

Eh! Come again. OK, let’s allow that the slip is in subbing and not Freudian, but I, for one – though not a serious “reader of Kannada literature” – will offer that Bhyrappa is indeed less deserving than Anantha Murthy, Karnad and Kambar. (But nobody cares, dude).

And, finally, his disclaimer that he has “absolutely no intention to diminish the literary capabilities of either Chandrashekar Kambar, U.R. Anantha Murthy or Girish Karnad” seems ridiculous.

There are, I am inclined to wish and believe, many deserving writers in Kannada who must be recognized by awards of prestige, such as the Jnanpith, But the rules of the award stipulate that any language that gets the award must be out of the reckoning for the next three years.

I wonder what the mysterious ‘Lobby’ will do in the sit-out period.

Meanwhile, like the old women of Catskill mentioned in Woody Allen’s crack, disgruntled Kannadigas should stop looking for awards from places that offer lobby takeaways. Besides, it is a private award that is widely respected in India and nobody cares what you think, really.

Why should they?

What you could do, however, is get together in a group that is close to Bhyrappa and far from the “secularists” and hand out your own award.

I mean, you know best, don’t you?

Also read: Does Kambar deserve Jnanpith ahead of Bhyrappa?

Kambar and Karnad, Bhyrappa and Puttappa & Co

Does Kambar deserve Jnanpith before Bhyrappa?

21 September 2011

The selection of the poet, playwright and novelist Dr Chandrasekhar Kambar for the Jnanpith Award threatens to go the way of the previous two winners from Kannada, U.R. Anantha Murthy and Girish Karnad, who although deserving in their own ways were seen to have upstaged more deserving candidates.

While URA’s and Karnad’s choice was discussed sotto voce, in this media-saturated age, in the BJP’s “Gateway to the South”, Kambar’s choice ahead of S.L. Bhyrappa (in picture), has attained the loud edge of ideology with the growing feeling that Bhyrappa is being sidelined for his right-wing views.

K.B. Ganapathy, the founder-editor of India’s most successful evening newspaper, Star of Mysore, joins the debate and asks if the Jnanpith Award selection panel, like the Nobel Prize panel, might one day rue its choice, privileging ideology over literature.



Mahatma Gandhi was the strongest symbol of peace and non-violence in the 20th century. He was acknowledged then and even now as the greatest apostle of peace in a world split asunder by war and violence.

Such a man should have been the natural choice for the Nobel Peace Prize. But he never got it.

What happened? Why?

This disturbing thought crossed my mind as I read a news headline in The New Indian Express this morning that screamed “Kambar Doesn’t Deserve Jnanpith, says Papu.”

The report said that the veteran journalist Patil Puttappa, a former Rajya Sabha member and a sort of political catalyst acting like an oracle from his native Hubli, had taken serious exception over the selection of the folk writer Dr Chandrashekar Kambar for the prestigious award which is considered to be the Indian equivalent of the Nobel Prize for literature.

Puttappa is reported to have even made the extreme remark of calling Kambar as “someone with no ability”, and that he was pained over Kambar’s selection as there were several other more eminent litterateurs in Kannada than Kambar.

I totally agree with Puttappa, though I may not be a Kannada professor or even one who has delved deep into the wonderful world of Kannada literature. But then I am no nincompoop either as I regularly read reviews and comments on important Kannada books and even read some of the books.

Patil Puttappa has also openly said that when the renowned Kannada writer S.L. Bhyrappa should have been given this honour, it had been given instead to Kambar.

I agree with a caveat.

Howsoever proper Kambar’s selection might be, he could not have taken precedence over S.L. Bhyrappa.

In fact, out of the seven Jnanpith awardees so far in Kannada, all were giants except the last two — U.R. Anantha Murthy and Girish Karnad. And it is significant to note that of all the winners of Jnanpith award in Kannada, it was these two awards that drew flak from some quarters. But then in these days of sycophancy, winner is soon turned into a God and worshipped!

It is now perceived that though the Jnanpith selection panel for some years in the beginning was free from political, caste, religious or any kind of bias or prejudice that influenced its selection, in later years it is seen as being subtly influenced by so-called secularists with leftist leanings.

And it is here that our S.L. Bhyrappa got stuck — in that venomous spider’s web.

I am sure once the Jnanpith selection panel is liberated from these shackles, S.L. Bhyrappa too will be honoured with this prestigious literary award.

It is for this reason I mentioned in the beginning about Mahatma Gandhi not getting the Nobel Prize for peace even though he was nominated in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1947 and finally a few days before he was assassinated in 1948.

Nominated. Never awarded.

Strange. A paradox.

If Dalai Lama could be awarded Nobel Prize for peace, was Mahatma Gandhi less deserving? On the same line of thinking, if Kambar, U.R. Anantha Murthy and Girish Karnad could be found deserving, could any reader of Kannada literature deny that S.L. Bhyrappa is less deserving or not at all deserving?

The lobby of the secularists, here in Bangalore and there in Delhi, apparently has worked overtime to deprive a deserving candidate, S.L. Bhyrappa, a rightful place in the world of Kannada literature adorned with the ultimate stamp of recognition — a Jnanpith award.

It is indeed sad.

It is believed that S.L. Bhyrappa is branded as one with rightist orientation or as being a pro-Hindu in his writings. If this is so, one can also brand U.R. Anantha Murthy, Girish Karnad and Kambar as those with leftist orientation and as being anti-Hindu.

Does it mean that being a rightist and pro-Hindu is a disqualification to deserve a Jananpith award while being a leftist and anti-Hindu is a qualification to deserve it?

No literature of creative kind should be evaluated on the basis of its ideology. It happens only in a totalitarian or a communist country. It should be evaluated on its pure literary quality — style, technic, use of language, rhetoric and above all, artistic merit.

Ulysses of James Joyce is considered literature for the same reason.

Further more, even if one takes into account the volume of works turned out by the last three winners of Jnanpith award, it is not comparable to other earlier winners and of S.L. Bhyrappa.

Having said this, I should hasten to add that I have absolutely no intention to diminish the literary capabilities of either Chandrashekar Kambar, U.R. Anantha Murthy or Girish Karnad. The last mentioned two are indeed intellectuals in their own right while Kambar has earned a niche for himself as a folk writer par-excellence.

Their contributions to enrich Kannada literature is no less significant but at the same time S.L. Bhyrappa’s contribution too is no less significant. In fact S.L. Bhyrappa’s is much more significant both for reasons of artistic merit and scholarship and therefore must be recognised.

I only hope that the Jnanpith award panel need not be apologetic one day in future for not giving its award to S.L. Bhyrappa, like the Nobel Prize committee which regretted its omission in not giving the award to Mahamta Gandhi at the time it gave the award to Dalai Lama saying that this award was “in part a tribute to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi.”

And as for Kannada readers, even if S.L. Bhyrappa, a resident of Mysore, does not get the Jnanpith award, it does not matter. Has not Napoleon Bonaparte, the Emperor of France, said the last word on such unrealistic decisions?

France was not recognised by some of the European countries following Napolean’s victorious wars.

And Napoleon said: The Sun need not be recognised.


Also read: U.R. Anantha Murthy,our greatest living writer?

Did Adolf Hitler fetch S.L. Bhyrappa‘s freedom?

The mahaan elastic buddhijeevi of the year is…

CHURUMURI EXCLUSIVE: S.L. Bhyrappa on Avarana

WHODUNIT?: URA, Kambar, HSS, Mystery woman?

Kambar and Karnad, Bhyrappa and Puttappa & Co

21 September 2011

There are mole hills and snake pits and then there are “literary circles”.

For all their bonhomie and camaraderie, for all their high ideals and even higher aspirations from humankind, poets, novelists, writers and playwrights are a peevishly insecure lot, loudly backslapping their peers in public and quietly backstabbing them in private.

Maybe, this is as it should be given the small, lonely, insular and egotistical world that true intellectualism is (when it is not incestuous, that is). For, what good is a wise thinker or wordsmith who doesn’t think he and he alone (or she and she alone) is the almighty’s gift to the world to crack all its problems?

The occasion of Chandrasekhar Kambar becoming the eighth Kannada writer to bag the Jnanpith Award provides a small window for ordinary mortals to observe the small minds, the giant egos, the juvenile jealousies, and the awfully sour grapes on display.

Make no mistake. On the whole, there is great cheer and jubilation at a non-polarising figure like Kambar bagging the honour. But scratch the surface and the cracks are all too visible.

There are the professional flame-throwers like Patil Puttappa. On Monday, he was welcoming the honour and on Tuesday he was openly saying that Kambar didn’t deserve it and that he won it only due to hectic lobbying. And that—no surprise, no surprise—S.L. Bhyrappa deserved it more than Kambar.

Then there are the wise sages like M. Chidananda Murthy who suspect a vast secular, liberal conspiracy behind every tree and lamp post to deny Bhyrappa his due.

And then there are the sophisticates like Girish Karnad, who, in simultaneous letters to the editors of Deccan Herald (above) and Praja Vani, manages to turn Kambar’s moment of glory into his, and artfully manages to sneak in an advertisement for himself a la Norman Mailer.

Image: courtesy Deccan Herald

Also read: Chandrasekhar Kambar on our sense of history

Tipu Sultan & the truth about 3,000 Brahmins

25 April 2011

Supreme Court judge, Justice Markandey Katju, has used the example of Tipu Sultan to illustrate the point that Hindu-Muslim relations suffer from the rewriting of history to project Muslim rulers as intolerant and bigoted, whereas there was ample evidence to show that the opposite was true.

From a news report in The Hindu:

“Justice Katju said the myth-making against Muslim rulers, which was a post-1857 British project, had been internalised in India over the years. Thus, Mahmud Ghazni‘s destruction of the Somnath temple was known but not the fact that Tipu Sultan gave an annual grant to 156 Hindu temples. The judge… buttressed his arguments with examples quoted from D.N. Pande‘s History in the Service of Imperialism.

“Dr Pande came upon the truth about Tipu Sultan in 1928 while verifying a contention — made in a history textbook authored by Dr Har Prashad Shastri, the then head of the Sanskrit Department in Calcutta University — that during Tipu’s rule 3,000 Brahmins had committed suicide to escape conversion to Islam.

“The only authentication Dr Shastri could provide was that the reference was contained in the Mysore Gazetteer. But the Gazetteer contained no such reference.

“Further research by Dr. Pande showed not only that Tipu paid annual grants to 156 temples, but that he enjoyed cordial relations with the Shankaracharya of Sringeri Math to whom he had addressed at least 30 letters. Dr. Shastri’s book, which was in use at the time in high schools across India, was later de-prescribed. But the unsubstantiated allegation continued to masquerade as a fact in history books written later.”

Read the full article: Muslim leaders deliberately projected as intolerant

Also read: ‘Tipu Sultan left his last meal unfinished’

Did the ‘Tiger of Mysore’ really tame tiger?

CHURUMURI POLL: Tipu Sultan vs Kempe Gowda?

External reading: Girish Karnad, S.L. Bhyrappa, Tipu Sultan and others

Should NRN open world Kannada conference?

28 February 2011

The letters to the editor of Kannada Prabha carries this epistle from the Kannada writer, Baragur Ramachandrappa (translated):

“I am writing this letter against the backdrop of reports that Infosys chief mentor N.R. Narayana Murthy has been invited to inaugurate the Vishwa Kannada Sammelana (world Kannada conference), to be held in Belgaum from March 10 to 12, 2011.

“If there is any truth to these reports, my humble request is that the honour should instead go to Kannada cultural personalities or to VIPs like the President, prime minister or vice-president.

“I do not have anything personal against Narayana Murthy. He is a Kannadiga entrepreneur and we are justly proud of him. But that is exactly why we must be getting him to inaugurate the global investors’ meet, not the world Kannada conference.

“Outside of his entrepreneurship, what is his contribution to Kannada? Not even a Kannada font has come out of his multinational company. On top of it, he has been a vociferous champion of education in the English medium from the first standard itself. It is to be noted here that learning English and teaching in the English medium are two different things.

“It is also to be remembered that he had lobbied with the S.M. Krishna government to change the State education policy to open English medium schools to help children of his employees, and had even had a discussion with me when I was chairman of the Kannada development authority in this regard.

“Besides, the income-tax department has only just slapped Infosys with a demand for Rs 450 crore for wrongfully claiming tax exemption.

“Instead of Narayana Murthy, the invitation could have been extened to poet laureate G.S. Shivarudrappa, Jnanpith Award winners U.R. Anantha Murthy or Girish Karnad, veterans like Patil Puttappa, D. Javare Gowda or M. Chidananda Murthy, renowned poets like Chandrasekhar Kambar, Chennaveera Kanavi or Nissar Ahmed, etc.

“Or we could have called upon a folklore artiste.

“On the other hand, by calling upon somebody who is just a entrepreneur to inaugurate the Vishwa Kannada Sammelana is an insult to Kannada culture, literature and folklore. If the invitation cannot be revoked at this juncture, it is best Narayana Murthy is invited as a ‘guest’ to the inauguration.”

File photograph: N.R. Narayana Murthy watches and Infosys CEO and MD, ‘KrisGopalakrishnan, speak at a conference organised by the all India management association, in Bangalore in October 2010 (Karnataka Photo News)


Also read: Narayana Murthy and the Netaji Bose fixation

The Mahatma, Narayana Murthy and information technology

Who’s U.R. Anantha Murthy? What is his contribution?

CHURUMURI POLL: Will you vote for Hema Malini?

27 February 2011

The BJP’s decision to nominate the former dancer-actor Hema Malini as the party’s nominee for the Rajya Sabha polls from Karnataka is now a fait accompli. In itself, appointing an “outsider” is neither unprecedented, unconstitutional nor unwelcome. Parties and politicians have their own requirements (seemingly political, but usually financial) and there are other institutional and individual dynamics at play.

The lawyer Ram Jethmalani has represented the Janata Dal, Shiv Sena and BJP from three different States, because his legal eye was required by parties and personalities in them. Moneybags like the stud farm owner M.A. M. Ramaswamy and the mobile phone operator turned media baron Rajeev Chandrasekhar get in because, well, they can afford to. The Kannadiga owner of Garuda mall (Uday Garudachar) tried Bihar but failed.

Another reason is that many politicians stand no hope in hell of being elected given the role cash, caste, community and other imponderables play in our politics. Prime minister Manmohan Singh represents Assam because South Delhi, a prime beneficiary of his reforms, didn’t think the great reformer was worthy of their vote. The Kannadiga Jairam Ramesh represents Andhra Pradesh; Venkaiah Naidu, a Telugu, represents Karnataka.

However, Hema Malini’s candidature doesn’t sit so easily in such silos. Au contraire, it raises some fundamental questions about the kind of candidates parties push through the back door; about the track record of candidates and their ability or lack thereof to shoulder the expectations of the people they represent; about how the hands of legislators are tied by the whip in what is supposed to be a democratic setup. Etcetera.

For starters, is a rich dancer-actor, who has previously represented the party in the RS, the only “artiste” the BJP could think of for the State? The playwright Girish Karnad says the ‘Dream Girlhadn’t asked a single question in her earlier term. Words like “dud, daddi, buddi illa, inefficient” have been freely used by Kannada “buddhijeevis” to describe the BJP candidate. Plus there are murmurs that her candidature doesn’t have the backing of all BJP legislators and that has she been imposed on them to quell the dissidence.

To be sure, Karnataka has been through this debate before, when businessman Rajeev Chandrasekhar was pitted against the literatteur U.R. Anantha Murthy. Then, too, similar questions had flowed forth. But it tells us something about the worldview of Basanti of Sholay when she promises to take special interest to develop Ramanagaram. Was the BJP incapable of finding a writer, dancer, intellectual who could earn the legislators’ vote other than Ayesha Bi?

It’s easy to blame our woes our legislators, the party whip, and the system, for these infirmities.

Here’s a straightforward, counterfactual question: If you could take part in a Rajya Sabha election, if you weren’t bound by the party whip, would you vote for an outsider, “dud, daddi, buddi illa, inefficient” celebrity like Hema Malini, party affiliation notwithstanding? Or would you back a home-grown intellectual, a drama and theatre expert with his ear to the ground like Dr K. Maralusiddappa, party affiliation notwithstanding?

What can a statue at Rs 25 crore do for Kannada?

21 February 2011

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Ajji applauded the Kannada Sahitya Sammelana president G. Venkatasubbaiah for his forthright remarks.

Kaddi thundu mado haage helidrallo on corruption. He didn’t mince any words.”

Ajji, at his age and wisdom, he doesn’t have to hide behind niceties. In fact, being a lexicographer, he could have chosen any number of synonyms to drive home his point.”

“I am happy Kannada ruled in the City even if it was for only five days. People seem to have woken up after a deep slumber,” replied Ajji.

Howdu Ajji. I thought they did a mistake in not having a sammelana for nearly five decades in Bangalore. We had almost lost Bangalore for Kannada.”

Adu seri, Ramu. Bhuvaneshwari statue maadtharanthallo. They should erect ‘bhoomi thayi’ statue considering the enormous love and obsession our leaders have for bhoomi that is site-u, especially in Bangalore.”

Ajji had bowled an unexpected doosra, just like Bhajji.

Ha, ha adu nija, Ajji! Bhuvaneshwari statue will be similar to the Statue of Liberty in New York. Our CM has announced Rs 25 crore for it.”

“Your brother Suri had sent a picture of that long back.  A lady wearing a crown which had horns.”

“Horns alla Ajji, she wears seven spikes representing the seven continents and the seven seas.”

“Anyway, kannadakke kombu bandilva… that will represent our present seven Jnanpeeth winners: Kuvempu, Da Ra Bendre, Shivarama Karanth, Masthi Venkatesh Iyengar, V.K. Gokak, U.R. Anantha Murthy, Girish Karnad.”

Sariyagi heLde Ajji, it is indeed a great pride for us.”

“They will start with 25 crores and end up spending  somewhere near 250 crores.”

“That is a distinct possibility, Ajji.”

“Later, all sorts of temples will spring around this. Before you say Yenappa -Hogappa, duplicate temples of Shani Mahatme, Mookambike,  etc would have sprung up in the vicinity making it another centre for agni pareekshe and dosha parihaara. It should be a centre for Kannada and only Kannada here.”

Howdajji, there is always that danger.”

“Why can’t we have a  good Kannada library? Or a mini-theatre for watching art movies and documentaries in Kannada? Or a research centre for development of Kannada.”

Nija Ajji, this will help promote Kannada arts.”

“By the way, Ramu, how will outsiders and foreigners learn Kannada? Namma software Seethamma helthidru, in France, they use only French for all their daily transactions, it seems. She spent six months visiting her daughter, a software engineer. Seethamma rattles some kind of ‘butler French’ now.”

“Almost like your ‘Butler English’!”

Ajji ignored my comments.

Namma Airport-galalli, gandasara picture haaki ‘Gents’ antha bareethare. Naavu Englishinalle ‘Gandasaru’ antha yaake bareebaardu? Haage hengasina picture haaki, ‘Ladies’ antha bariyo  badulu ‘Hengasaru’ antha Englishinalli bariibahudu. After sometime I am sure they will start using the term.”

Howadjji! This can definitely work.”

Haage ‘push’, ‘pull’ baagila picture baredu arrow haaki ,  ‘thalliri‘,  ‘eleyiriantha Englishnalli bareyabahudu. Hanigoodidre halla. A drop finally becomes an ocean. We can start slowly and innovate. We can indicate by picture and write Kannada words in English alphabets to start with. Once people become familiar with lots of words, we can introduce Kannada letters. We all learnt Hindi after mastering Hindi songs!”

Nija Ajji.”

“Bangalore has great artistes and young enthusiastic students and engineers. They can create Kannada words through symbols in malls, cinema theatres, railway and bus stations, traffic signals etc. The Rs 25 crore should go for such initiatives. That is what Karave, Kannada rajya koota, AKKA, Thamma, etc should be doing to promote Kannada.”

Ajji, you are now hitting sixers like Sehwag for Kannada. Wonderful.”

Hodeebeku kano. If we don’t make efforts to spread our language, who will”

Noorakke nooru nija, Ajji.”

A cloud that passed through hell and came back

16 September 2010

"If you strip off all your material possessions, you are nothing but the sum total of your thoughts. You need something in life you have nurtured and watered with time or else old age will be a curse."

Arundhati Nag has been doing theatre for 35 years, but it took one successful Kannada film (Jogi) and one successful Hindi film (Paa) for Shankar Nag‘s wife to become everybody’s favourite celluloid-mom.

Honoured with a national award for “best supporting actress” yesterday, Arundhati’s name is synonymous with Ranga Shankara, a space devoted to theatre in Bangalore that she set up in the memory of her husband.

But it wasn’t always so.

When Shankar vanished from her life one night in 1990, debtors were lining up. She became the last parent paying her daughter’s school fees. Her friends handed down clothes for her to wear. She stopped cooking. She stopped doing anything. She was going to seed.

Till she picked up the pieces….



In the serene, early hours of the dawn of the new millennium, Arundhati Nag was silently mulling over an unfulfilled dream.

As she sat alone in her home in a farmhouse in  Bangalore, waiting for her daughter Kavya and her friends to wake up after a New-Year party the night before, she suddenly decided to set this decade-old dream in motion.

She plucked the courage and called up the chief minister’s office, requesting an appointment. Half-an-hour later, the office returned her call asking her to come right away.

Arundhati grabbed her files and drove to the Vidhana Soudha.

She had not met chief minister S.M. Krishna before, but she confidently placed before him the file of a project conceived by her late husband, the film actor Shankar Nag.

“This proposal has been lying with your government for the past two years,” she told him. “If you think Karnataka deserves this project, do something about it. I’ve tried and have not been able to raise the funds.”

The CM quickly released Rs 20 lakh, another Rs 30 lakh a year later, and also requested the Jindal industrial group to provide the cement. Thus began Arundhati’s labour of love—building Ranga Shankara, an exclusive space for theatre in Bangalore.

She did not know then that it would take her another four years to raise funds to the tune of Rs 3.5 crore to complete it.

She recalls clearly the day she watched the earthmover drop the first claw into the 10,000 square feet plot of land which would house what is now the haunt of ardent theatre-goers.

That is when she said to herself: “Aruna, you have relinquished the right to abandon this project. You have to see this through, whatever it takes. You cannot run away now.”


Back in the early 1970s, when 17-year-old Arundhati feverishly ran from one theatre practice to another and simultaneously attended BCom classes in a college in Bombay, her father nicknamed her ‘Cloud’.

It was difficult to pin down this wildflower child of his, he would say.

Enchanted by the “timeless world of theatre”, she would leave home at 6.30 in the morning only to catch the last local train back home.

Arundhati, who was picked up by the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) by chance, soon became the toast of the theatre world. Being a polyglot she acted in Hindi, Marathi and English plays, and also grabbed a role in a popular Gujarati TV serial.

Those were heady days for this volatile young girl from a middle-class Maharashtrian background. Her parents, who usually went by the book believing that girls should return home before the street lights were switched on, did not somehow blanch at her lifestyle.

They were worried, but like all true Maharashtrians they also loved theatre and would eagerly join the snaky queues outside Shivaji Mandir to watch the plays of the late Marathi actor Kashinath Ghanekar. And it helped when theatre veterans from IPTA dropped by her house to convince her parents about their daughter’s safety and of her prodigious talent.


It was in theatre that she met and fell in love with another actor, Shankar Nag.

This larger-than-life actress was attracted to the quiet, rugged-looking actor, who would sit by himself in a corner solving crosswords and reading Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre.

He was so different from the sons of rich businessmen she knew.

Shankar quickly recognised Arundhati as his soulmate, but she held back yielding space for them to grow as individuals. After all, they were caught up in the high of youth, in the whirl of an exciting awakening of Indian theatre in the ’70s.

Together they discovered colour, texture, multiple layers of life and a different way of doing theatre, in a milieu which bristled with intellectual questioning and uninhibited criticism of false values.

It was the time of Vijay Tendulkar’s political satire, Ghasiram Kotwal, and his sexually charged Sakharam Binder that shook up middle-class morality, Shambhu Mitra’s Raja Oedipus and Putul Khela, and Oxford graduate Girish Karnad’s attempt to stoke the larger truths of life in plays like Hayavadana.

Those were the heyday of Uptal Dutt, Vijaya Mehta, Dharamvir Bharati, Mohan Rakesh, Sulabha and Arvind Despande’s Chhabildas movement, and more. These were the stalwarts who had transformed the face of urban theatre in post-colonial India.


Shankar Nag’s destiny was not to remain in the backseat as a struggling amateur theatre actor hanging around his star-girlfriend. He moved to Karnataka to act in the epic Kannada film, Ondanandu Kaladalli, directed by Karnad and based on Akira Kurosawa’s famous Seven Samurai, for which he bagged a national award.

Shankar went on to become a king in commercial Kannada cinema but his passion and his lady love belonged to theatre. The actor started an amateur theatre group, Sanket, and continued to stage plays. During this time, he sent Girish Karnad’s script, Anjumallige, a story of incest and an immigrant’s struggle, to Arundhati in Bombay asking her to come down to Bangalore to act in the play.

Based on a true story, the play compares the pressure on Indians in foreign lands, uprooted from their familiar milieu, to perform or perish, to the ripping out of a mogra plant from its roots to show it to the sun and frighten it into flowering.

The incest angle in the play involves a possessive sister who loves her brother to distraction and makes his life miserable by following him to Oxford, and ends up committing suicide. Arundhati essayed this powerful role brilliantly, and subsequently figured in all the lead roles in plays directed by Shankar Nag, like Sandhya Chaaya, Barrister and Nagamandala.


All this while, Arundhati and I have been seated in the sprawling wood, brick and steel interiors of Ranga Shankara that strongly remind me of the avant garde ambience at Prithvi theatre in Bombay.

Raptly listening to this veteran actress’s narration of her life story, I am enveloped in her warm personality. Wearing an ethnic cotton saree, Arundhati brims with life, with a can’t-stop-me attitude, full of dreams, like a dam waiting to burst.

Keen to leverage the success of Paa, the recent Hindi film which won her awards and accolades, to attract more people to theatre, she is willing to patiently answer inquisitive queries from journalists.

“I’ve been doing theatre for 35 years and nobody knows me, but one Paa makes me famous nationwide,” she says wryly. The role came to her without her actively seeking it. It was director  R. Balakrishnan (aka Balki) who called her for a screen test.

“I agreed, but once they picked me I asked them to send me the script before I finally agreed. I assessed the length of the role first. I also decided to charge them handsomely. If they want me in the film, they have to pay for it,” says this actress who has also acted in Mani Ratnam’s film Dil se and the superhit Kannada film Jogi, and assisted David Lean in the direction of A Passage to India.


Theatre always comes first, however.

“Theatre is my sanity, my mantra and lifeline, and something I hold very dear. It’s a space where you can keep discovering yourself through impersonations, a zone where nobody wants to know who your parents are, how rich or poor you are. You are only as good as you are,” she strives to explain her love.

It’s also a zone in which she never ever fools around, she points out.

Her “on-off” relationship with Shankar did the final flip when he convinced her to marry him. Then 23, she was at the peak of her theatre career and her move to Bangalore must have dented her career in Marathi and Gujarati theatre. But after knowing him for six years Arundhati decided this relationship deserved more and felt that she could contemplate a longer life with him.

It is another matter that in the end she never really had that luxury of time with him.

“I’m not ambitious,” she says, “but since I worked with an oneness of purpose in theatre, it has paid off. It’s not as if TV or movies don’t come my way. But something had to be done for theatre. I’ve seen generation after generation moving to movies and not coming back. This is an Indian phenomenon, because in the West even a Meryl Streep returns to the stage once a while.”

Even when Arundhati took a break to have her only child, she returned to the stage with a 28-day-old baby to act in the lead role of the runaway popular comedy Nodi Swamy Navirodu Heege. She paid a tribute to her husband on his first death anniversary not with a shraadh or pooja but by staging a play he had discussed with her before his life rudely ended in a car accident in 1990.

She says, “The last conversation Shankar and I had in the car before the accident was whether I would do Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage. So when I was discharged from the hospital after nine months, our theatre-friends and I staged the play as a tribute to him. We had lost a central pole in our lives and this was the only way we could remember him.”

Her relationship with her husband was an equal one based on mutual respect.

It was with him that she had taken her first steps towards intellectual thought. “I discovered Fyodor Dostoevsky and Albert Camus with him. He had a high regard of me as an actress. He was my compatriot. In the 17 years I was with him, I know people will not believe me, he never once raised his voice with me even to say, enough! If I was angry, he would say, ‘Jaani, you are angry, we will talk later’,” she relates.


The hardest part was coming to terms with the physical annihilation. Accepting the unfairness of it all took time.

“You cannot understand when you are so young, why someone sitting next to you should go and not you. I did not see him after that.” She herself was badly injured in the accident with broken bones, and had to fight hard even to be able to walk again. Her sister never left her side even as her mother and theatre friends rallied around to help her recuperate.

Her mother-in-law managed to bring a sense of calm to their daughter, Kavya, then just five. But life took an even more difficult turn when she realized she had inherited her husband’s projects and the debts linked to them.

“It’s not like Shankar was foolish with money. Nobody expects to die before turning 35,” she says. “Shankar had great ideas. He had borrowed money to set up the Country Club project, a garment unit, and he had done the survey for an underground railway project in Bangalore. All he had earned was scattered among these projects but his dreams were arrested mid-air. All his projects boomeranged when he died.”

Worse, Arundhati was totally in the dark about what he charged for a movie, and sans any written documents she was staring at the prospect of a seriously depleted bank account.

The anguish dulled with time. Stoking long-forgotten wounds might be painful but she gamely carries on.

“I just had to learn quickly what was happening around me, and take strong decisions. People were changing around me with Shankar gone. In a flash, I had to learn, literally, to live life all over again – from walking, talking and understanding money.”

She took up the reins of the Country Club for five years with money borrowed from the market, and finally sold it off to pay debts worth crores. It took her ten years to get rid of all the liabilities.

“I was broke. I was the last parent paying the fees. My friends gave me hand-me-down clothes. I had just enough money to put petrol and drive my daughter to the bus stop,” she recounts.

“I guess once it hit me I had no choice, I had to pick up my life,” Arundhati continues. “I could not collapse because I had a young daughter who should not see me as a dependent and broken woman. I had to bring up a healthy, normal child. Anything for that!”

So, she filled her farmhouse with robust laughter, music, painting, flowers and books. A Mallikarjun Mansur tune would put a spring in her step. She learnt vegetable dyeing. She plunged into cooking, rustling up different flavours.

Kavya, whose greatest fear was to see tears in her mother’s eyes, never did anything to make her cry even as a teenager. If her school bag or shoe was torn she would reassure her mother that they could wait for the next term. “The child was completely sensitive to the situation. She knew her amma was in a tough spot.”

At one point, however, when the financial mess got too hot and she was constantly on the phone reassuring people she was not going to flee Karnataka but pay up her debts, she realised this was not an environment for a child to grow up.

“That was a difficult time. I stopped cooking, stopped doing anything around the house and let myself go. I would sit in office till 10 pm, not eating or sleeping. This went on for three months. But one day, I just got up and realised that I was going to seed. I berated myself: ‘Should I be finished when my husband dies or if my daughter goes to a hostel? Do I have such low self-esteem? It’s really about being nice to yourself first.’ You can give birth to beauty only if you nourish yourself.”

It also helped that Arundhati was inherently a happy person. “I guess I’m one of those people who cannot be sad for long,” she says candidly.


After this struggle one would think Arundhati would have dimmed the stage lights and got ready for a fadeout. But no, she still had her husband’s dream to fulfil.

“I was focused on Ranga Shankara, the theatre I wanted to dedicate to him. When I opened my eyes every morning I would think, who should I call up today for money? The money market was bad at that time. Nobody could understand why this woman wanted to build a theatre when people were pulling down theatres to build multiplexes,” she tells me.

She compares her frenetic hunt to raise money for the project to the ferocious intensity in Friedrich Nietzsche’s thoughts in Thus Spake Zarathushtra.

In a strong voice, she quotes from it: “…your room trembles when a carriage goes past. I, however, am sitting in the carriage and often I am the carriage itself.” During that period, she had no eyes or ears for anything or anybody except for someone who would give her money.

Once things got started after S.M. Krishna gave her funds, Arundhati remembers being overwhelmed by the enormity of the project. “My own house is a mud house with tiles. Here, the scale was so huge. I had never seen 75,000 bags of cement or 300 tons of steel,” she says.

This determined woman knocked on every possible door to make her dream come true. She contacted the department of mines and geology for picking up rocks at a concessional rate, for someone to cut it and a builder to lay it for free, for someone to paint the walls inside and yet another for the outside.

Industrialists, working professionals, students, and even a daily wage earner donated money for the theatre to become a reality.

Ranga Shankara opened in 2004 after three-and-a-half years of construction. It is run by the Sanket Trust and Arundhati Nag is one of the managing trustees.

It is not a paid position but she works around the clock to keep the place buzzing with plays (300 performances a year), workshops, lectures, an ongoing children’s theatre programme and theatre festivals. It has forged partnerships with theatre companies abroad as well, such as the one with the Mannheim National Theatre of Germany that will lead to a play on immigrants called Boy and the Suitcase.

Launching in Germany in April 2011, this co-production will come to Ranga Shankara in July 2011. She has also signed an MoU with California Shak espeare Theater for a similar partnership.

Today, Ranga Shankara is supported by three major sponsors – Biocon, Titan and Infosys – which helps in keeping the cost of renting the theatre affordably low.

One of the best features of the place is the air-conditioned auditorium with a seating capacity of 320 and a thrust stage with a floor area of 1,750 sq. ft. It has four green rooms and the best of sound, lighting and other technical facilities.

Having just returned from travelling around India sourcing plays for the annual Ranga Shankara festival, Arundhati is also busy acting in plays like Girish Karnad’s Bikhre Bimb (Broken Images). The play revolves around an English literature professor swamped with guilt for her success in penning an English novel.

As she introduces her book on TV, she is confronted with images of herself questioning her betrayal to Kannada, her mother language. “A story Girish wrote for me, which is the ultimate flattery,” she says with joy.

As Arundhati enters another phase of her life with the marriage of her daughter Kavya and Ranga Shankara settling into its own rhythm, you wonder, what next?

But Arundhati has more dreams and it all has to do with theatre, naturally. She would like to make her role of creative director at Ranga Shankara a coveted paid position in theatre after her, to take theatre to corporates and school and make them alive to aesthetics, to ensure that the next generation will take theatre forward, and for more theatre to emerge.

Theatre, theatre and more theatre – but that’s not surprising considering this is one area she has not let go all her life.

As she rushes off to catch an English play being staged by a young theatre group, her words ring in my mind: “If you strip off all your material possessions, you are nothing but the sum total of your thoughts. You need something in life you have nurtured and watered with time or else old age will be a curse.”

She need never worry, for theatre will always be by her side.

(This piece appears in the September-October issue of the outstanding bimonthly magazine, Housecalls, edited by Ratna Rao Shekar and published by Dr Reddy‘s Laboratories)

Photograph: courtesy Dr M. Vivek/Housecalls

Also read: Once upon a time, such a star lit up the screen

If Chiba san is not a son of the soil, who is?

And, oh, we forget that actress from the Punjab

Once upon a time, when the gari did not put mari

Why V.S. Naipaul can’t quite understand Muslims

28 January 2010

Jnanpith Award winning Kannada playwright and actor Girish Karnad in The Pioneer, Delhi:

“Music is germane to Indian life. Through Bhakti tradition from the 6th century till the 19th, singing was believed to take you to god, even without classical training. It went to the heart of Indian families. The sufi class also made music central to the Indian tradition personality.

V.S. Naipaul who has written scathingly about Indian history, seems to have something to say about everything but nothing on music. So he must be tone deaf. This leads to him making a mess of the Muslim contribution as you read his diatribe. But he doesn’t understand music, so what can he speak? Poor fellow. Totally at a loss.”

Read the full article: ‘Naipaul, poor fellow, must be tone deaf’

When last did both Bests come from one State?

11 September 2009

KPN photo

Umashree, winner of the national award for the best actress of 2007, and Prakash Rai, winner of the national award for the best actor of 2007, pose with three acclaimed Kannada film directors Girish Kasaravalli, Girish Karnad and T.S. Nagabharana at a felicitation by Chitra Samooha at Badami House in Bangalore on Friday. The secretary of the Kannada and culture department, B.R. Jayaramaraje Urs, is also seen.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Where the soil, air & peda help the vocal chords

3 August 2009

Sunanda Mehta pays an excellent tribute to Dharwad, the meeting point and melting pot of Hindustani and Carnatic music, in The Indian Express:

Madhav Gudi, 66, is a senior disciple of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. Sitting on the chatai in his small home tucked away in a bylane in Dharwad, he dwells on his rich hoard of memories.

“‘I first heard my guru in Kundgol at Sawai Gandharva‘s house where he sang from 10 pm to 4 am. I was nine then. Mesmerised, I followed Panditji to Pune where finally he consented to take me on as his disciple, provided I finished my matriculation. I did that and stayed at his house for six years and learnt from him,’ says Gudi.

“He fondly remembers the times Pandit Bhimsen would drive down from Pune to his house at Dharwad at midnight, ask him to open a spare room on top and tell him to sing from night to morning, long after the shishya had emerged as an artist of calibre himself.

“The guru-shishya relationship is, in fact, almost a way of life at Dharwad. ‘People here feel their child should know music. Music tuitions are taken almost as seriously as other school subjects,’ says Vasant Karnad, violinist, music critic and actor Girish Karnad‘s brother, who along with his wife Sunanda, now lives in Dharwad after spending 40-odd years of his working life in Mumbai.

“‘People here have a music sense. Concerts go house full. In Kannada we call it manninaguna—that is it’s in the soil. Now the tree cover is not even 25 per cent of what existed at one time. In fact if you went at a height you could only see trees, no Dharwad. Maybe that oxygen level was good for vocal chords development. Who knows?’ says Karnad.”

Read the full article: Notes from Dharwad

Also read: From Dharwad, India’s best shehnai player today

Only for those who follow Dharwad Kannada

Michael Jackson’s oh-so-slight Mysore connection

27 June 2009

Michael Jackson‘s impact on the Indian mind can be seen in the dance competitions on TV every night, where young and not-so-young Indians, male and female, flaunt the results of the rediscovery of their bodies, bumping, grinding and holding their crotches, with fathers, mothers and others applauding happily.

If anybody came close to meeting The Man before the phenomenon, it was Prabhudeva, son of the South Indian choreographer, Mugur Sundaram, whose family has built a marriage hall in Visveswaranagar in Mysore to reaffirm their links to their City of origin.

Prabhudeva met MJ on his only visit to Bombay in 1996, thanks to Anupam Kher. Not surprisingly, the theme of the meeting of the lord and awestruck devotee was silence.

“People repeatedly ask me, “What did Michael Jackson say to you?” “What did you say to him?” All I remember is that I was struck speechless, but that face-to-face encounter, however brief, sent a thrill down my spine, a rendezvous accomplished almost as if I’d completed a long-planned pilgrimage.”

In the video, above, from the Tamil movie Kaadhalan which also launched him as a movie star, Prabhudeva moonwalks to the strains of A.R. Rehman, Suresh Peters and the late Shahul Hameed, for a couple of seconds in Mysore (1:45). The film, directed by Shankar of Sivaji fame, had busty Naghma as the female attraction, with Girish Karnad playing her corrupt and cruel governor-father.

A good dosa is like your first love: unsurpassable

21 February 2009

Can you count the number of dosas about to be served at one glance?

Those who have migrated out of Bangalore will eternally argue about the merits of the benne dosa as served in Vidyarthi Bhavan over those served at Central Tiffin Room. Others will slurp with nostalgia when speaking about the idli their father got for them from Veena Stores.

Whatever the debate, at least one thing is certain: those lucky to have eaten in such temples as Brahmins Tiffin Room or Central Tiffin Room know what a good idli is—or for that matter, a dosa, whether plain or masala.

Ratna Rao Shekar, editor of Housecalls, the “longest running magazine for doctors“—and “a connoisseur of the idli just as some are of wine and caviar”—in her quest for the perfect idli and dosa finds her way to Bangalore’s old eateries where idli and dosa have their own geography, chemistry and mathematics.



Just as we are eternally looking for that approximation of our first love—that girl in pigtails on the bus, or the boy with long eyelashes who sat in the back bench of the class but shone radiantly like a sharp ray of the sun—we, it turns out, will for the rest of our lives be looking for that perfect dosa or idli that we ate when we were children in a small street in Malleswaram or Gandhi Bazaar in Bangalore.

Since this is oftentimes only an ideal, like first love which is more imagination than reality, every idli that you eat later falls short of expectation. Either the idlis are like rocks that could be flung at an enemy, or the dosas are more like the ‘choppaties’ of the north, chewy and rubbery.

After a recent eating binge in Bangalore accompanied by those who know about these things, old-time friends who have grown up and aged in these parts, I am now convinced that the best idli and dosa can be had in the Silicon City. And the surprising thing is that this can be done at no great cost.

At Rs 6 an idli and Rs 20 a dosa, you do feel they would at least save on the paper on which such bills are scribbled.

I would like to call these places restaurants, but restaurants require certain standards to deserve their qualification. Some of the eateries like the old Central Tiffin Room (CTR), now called Sri Sagar, in 7th Cross of Margosa Road in Malleswaram are so dark and dingy that you need a torch to see where you are going.

Vidyarthi Bhavan in Gandhi Bazaar has scaled its lighting in its efforts to modernize, but to bright tubelights. At 6.30 in the morning, when the first acolytes are arranging themselves on the narrow benches in anticipation of that dosa that is to die for, that light is rather harsh on the soul. Even if the dosa and potato sagu is heaven on the tongue.

The seating has simple wooden tables and chairs with marble or formica tops and there is no maître here to usher you to your tables. AT CTR and Vidyarthi, it’s best you make your way to a table as fast as you can, or you will be standing until eternity watching all those dosas flurrying past you.

In fact, courtesies of any kind are to be dispensed with in these places.

At CTR, for instance, we stood near the cashier—who sat with an array of gods in the background and a simple cash book in front of him—and kept a hawk’s eye on those on the verge of finishing their dosa or puri and sagu so we could swoop in on the table even before they finished paying the bill.

Worse, in these eateries that seat no more than 50 people at a go, there are no such things as exclusive tables for a group or family. We were eating our dosa and rava idli silently (there is no room here to conduct conversations on current topics of interest such as terrorist attacks or rising prices) when the head of a family seated his oldest child next to us, while he sidled to an adjacent table loudly ordering a plate of dosa for his daughter and piping hot coffee for himself.

In Vidyarthi Bhavan we were lucky to find a table quickly, and waited anxiously for our dosa. Since the bill of fare itself is just dosa (plain and masala), vada, khara and kesari bhath, coffee and tea, the waiter does not even need to repeat your order after taking it down. He knows that most people come to Vidyarthi for the dosas.

It is practically understood that you have arrived here at this early hour (we were there at 7 a.m.) for the Vidyarthi dosa. And the dosa arrives, after a good 15 minutes, not only for us but for a whole lot of others around us who are salivating by this time.

The waiter, a veshti-clad gentleman who comes with a stack of dosas neatly balancing himself and the plates, flings a dosa each on our plates and on those of others sitting at tables around. The accompaniment is just a liquidy yellow-dal chutney that flows across the plate and submerges the dosa.

The dosa is crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, the potato sagu unobtrusive on the tongue without too much of chillies or garlic. And it is made with ghee (or benne, as Kannadigas call it), not Saffola or any other oil that heart doctors recommend!

I was waiting for sambar as in other restaurants, when my companions, having already eaten half their dosa, urged me to start eating without further delay, as sambar was an alien concept at Vidyarthi and an import from neigbouring Tamil Nadu (with whom they were currently at war over language, water and other issues).

Vidyarthi, as its name suggests was started to cater to students in 1943 by two brothers Venkaramana and Parameshwara Ural from Udupi. In the 1970s  it was taken over by Ramakrishna Adiga whose son Arun Kumar now oversees operations.

The who’s who of the country have  eaten here, from scientist Sir M. Visvesvaraya, actor Raj Kumar, playwright Girish Karnad to cricket’s leg-spinner B.S. Chandrashekar. It is said that filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt was so impressed with the eatery that he made a two-minute documentary for BBC on the dingy hall called Vidyarthi where at one time, when short of space, they would seat you in the kitchen itself!

How many dosas in a day do you serve, we ask the cashier.He tells us reluctantly (these are matters of some secrecy) that he serves around 1,000 dosas in a day on weekdays, and on weekends it goes up to at least 2,000.

In fact, when I arrived here on a Sunday I was literally told to go home as it was already 12 noon, and didn’t I know that Vidyarthi closes at 12 on weekends (and in fact by 11 on weekdays)? No, I did not, though many others who looked suspiciously like Kannadigas from Santa Clara and Palo Alto seemed to know both timings and the menu, from the satisfied look on their faces at having consumed their Sunday’s worth of dosa and coffee.

The interesting thing about these eateries is their timing, which can even put the precise Germans to shame. They open without fail by 6.30 or 7 in the morning, and by 11 or 12 are ready to go home.

S. Pradeep of Veena Stores on Margosa Road in Malleswaram wants to offer us something when we arrive at 11.30, but is unable to give us anything we ask for, whether idli or mere coffee, as everything has been sold out like tickets of a Karan Johar film. He does finally give us coffee, but says with an apology that it’s only Bru instant.

“Come tomorrow in the morning,” he says, sad that he could not offer any of the items from his famous store that has men in Malleswaram rushing here in the mornings to fill their steel tiffin carriers with idlis and chutney.


You lose some, you gain some in translation

20 August 2008

Girish Karnad, on being elected as a UNESCO world theatre ambassador, in The Hindu:

“I may write in Kannada, but the world only knows me through my English translations. I am an exceptional case in that I translate my own works into English. But Indian literature needs good translations—and translations are especially important for plays and poetry.”

Read the full article: Girish Karnad set for role as theatre envoy

Also read: The mahaan elastic buddhijeevi of the year is…

What’s in a name? What’s in a set of initials?

14 July 2008

RAMYA KRISHNAMURTHY writes from Bangalore: I don’t know Usha K.R.. I have never met Usha K.R.. I didn’t go to St. Xavier’s college in Calcutta with Usha K.R.. I do not work at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore with Usha K.R.. I have not read a single book by Usha K.R..

But, by god, am I glad that A Girl and A River by Usha K.R. has won the Vodafone-Crossword Award 2007 for best book of the year in the English language fiction category!?

There are a bunch of reasons why I could be glad that the prize went to Usha K.R..

For starters, I gather it is a book about the protagonist’s search for her roots, in pre-independence times, in Karnataka. For another, she apparently weaves in Kannada words like chapdi kal and tutus of mosaranna. And many reviewers think there are shades of R.K. Narayan and Raja Rao in the writing of Usha K.R..

If it’s good for them, it’s good for me.

Heck, no, I am not glad that Usha K.R. won the award for those lofty, literary reasons, it’s for something more simple: I am glad because she won it in spite of her name being Usha K.R..

Think about it.

How often do you see an Indian writer with initials make it big in recent times, and a South Indian at that?

All our English authors have short, sexy, staccato names with a clear first name and a clear last name as if they were brand-ambassaors for credit card ads—Salman Rushdie or Suketu MehtaArundhati Roy or Amitav Ghosh, Kiran Nagarkar or Girish Karnad.

But namma Usha K.R. is different.

She is one of us, a South Indian with a name and a set of initials which probably denote her father’s first name and the ancestral place of birth. And who probably hits a nice little writer’s block when she has to fill up forms which have those daunting blanks for first name, last name, surname and middle name like the rest of us.

To be sure, we have had South Indian English writers with initials who have made it big before, R.K. Narayan and K. Raja Rao for sure, but also O.V. Vijayan and U.R. Anantha Murthy, M.N. Srinivas and H.Y. Sharada Prasad. And a few who did not write: M.S. Subbulaxmi and D.K. PattammalB.K.S. Iyengar and V.K.R.V. Rao, G.R Viswanath and B.S. Chandrashekhar.

But it all seems so long ago before the revenge of short names. Now, it all seems as if a set of initials in your name is a bad idea, a hurdle placed by your parents in the path to success/ recognition.

Our best industrialists (Mukesh Ambani, Sunil Mittal), sociologists (Ashis Nandy, Ram Guha), TV anchors (Pronnoy Roy, Barkha Dutt), cricketers (Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid), actors (Aishwarya Rai or Madhuri Dixit), models (Diana Hayden, Gul Panag) all seem cut from the same double-barrel name-generator.

When Mahendra Singh Dhoni says Yem. Yes. Dhoni in that Pepsi ad, it almost seems like a slur. And all those who cannot say Vangipurappu Venkata Sai call Laxman Very Very Special.

It may not mean much to Usha K.R. or to the judges (whose names, tellingly but not surprisingly, were Mukul Kesavan, Manjula Padmanabhan and Kai Friese) or to the fans of Indian Writing in English

But one small literary step for Usha K.R. is a giant mental leap for South Indians weighed down by the length and contortions of their names. She has won a top award in spite of the initials (praise be to the judges)—and she wears a cute little bindi to boot.

That, and those gorgeous cheek bones. 

(Ramya Krishnamurthy was Ramya K.S. before tying the knot)

Photograph: courtesy K. Bhagya Prakash/ The Hindu