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Bombay Litfest Ends in Controversy

Literary controversies are nothing new to India. Last year when excerpts from Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” was read at the Jaipur Literary Festival a lot of hackles were raised and the police had to becalled in. But has it become a staple of literary festival culture?
It seems likely when Girish Karnad, veteran actor and theatre personality took the stage at Litfest Bombay, Bombay’s own literary festival. Karnad was supposed to talk about his life in theatre and a number of acolytes had gathered to hear about his career and masterly performances. He both directs and acts in plays and movies. A few days earlier the Litfest had conferred the Life-time Achievement Award to Sir V.S. Naipaul, the famous expatriate writer of Indian origin from Trinidad & Tobago. Karnad, instead to speaking about his life in theatre launched into a diatribe on Sir Vidia, saying he is a muslim hater and that he knew nothing about Indian music. He also accused him of supporting the demolition of a Muslim Masjid in Ayodhya.
What must have been Karnad’s motivation for this outburst is known only to himself. But he has been quoted as saying that “William Dalrymple (Indian historian of British origin) has been attacking him for years. What I find disgraceful is that criticism came from Dalrymple and not an Indian writer.”
Obviously, the platform chosen to vent his grievance was all wrong. Karnad attacked the organizers of a Litfest on their own platform and got them into a tizzy. A lady from the audience asked him if he was jealous that Sir Vidia got the award and not him. What made Karnad take up cudgels on behalf of Indian Muslims? Does he want to get closer to Indian Muslims through this theatrical performance? Was he considered for the life-time award and rejected? Nothing is known as of now. Hope something emerges in future.

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