More Than Activism, Remember Girish Karnad For His Work: Ramachandra Guha

Girish Karnad -- a celebrated actor, playwright, filmmaker and social activist -- died in a Bengaluru hospital around 6:30 am today.


Girish Karnad with Ramachandra Guha at an event organised by the Oxford University Press.


Girish Karnad may have been in the crosshairs of many over his social and political views, but that's not what Ramachandra Guha -- historian and his contemporary in the arts -- would like to remember him for. Mr Guha says there was much more to the 81-year-old artiste, who died at a Bengaluru hospital around 6.30 am today, than the activism he frequently made headlines for.

"I would instead like to remember Girish Karnad for his art, his genius and his scholarship. While all of us can wave banners and shout, he did it in a quiet way, in a dignified manner right till the end. Even when he was ailing, he would come out to speak for peace and cultural harmony. But let's not reduce him to an activist. Girish Karnad should be remembered for the depth of his contributions," he told NDTV.

Girish Karnad -- a celebrated actor, playwright and filmmaker known for works like "Yayati", "Hayavadana" and "Tughlaq" -- was a prominent figure in the Kannada literary scene and the recipient of several national awards such as the Padma Shri (1974), Padma Bhushan (1992) and the Jnanpith literary award (1998). He also championed liberal causes on many occasions, angering some and drawing appreciation from others. According to state police, he figured prominently on a hit-list of those accused of murdering Kannada journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh in September 2017.

Mr Guha, however, said that he would rather remember the late literary figure as a "colossus" of the arts. "Girish Karnad was unique in the world of Indian arts, culture and civilisation because of the range of disciplines he spanned. He could blend North India and South India, folk and classical, popular with scholarly. He spoke six languages, he was a writer, an actor, a playwright," he said.

According to the historian, Girish Karnad's greatness stemmed from his mastery of the arts in all its diversity. "Apart from the corpus of his work, the range of what he did and what he knew, nobody embodied Indian culture and civilisation in its richness and diversity like him. So, I would say that this is a deep cultural loss for all of us," Mr Guha said.

While Girish Karnad worked in both Kannada and Hindi films in the diverse capacities of actor, writer and filmmaker, one of his most memorable roles was that of Swami's father in the television adaptation of RK Narayan's "Malgudi Days". Outside of work, he used his literary skills as a platform to fight religious fundamentalism and safeguard freedom of expression. He was among 200 writers from places across the country to put out an open letter against "politics of hate" in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections.

Many important personalities, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind, expressed their condolences after news of Girish Karnad's death emerged. While PM Modi remembered him for his "versatile acting" and passion for "causes dear to him", the President said that the cultural world had become "poorer" because of his demise. Congress president Rahul Gandhi said that India had lost a "beloved son", but his memory will continue to live on in his work.

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