Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Aadaadtha Aayushya - Reading Girish Karnad's Autobiography

I was in Shivamogga for around twenty days this summer.  I do visit Shivamogga, at least once a year, but I must say this time was the longest I’ve spent in Shivamogga after I left the city in 1990.  It was also the longest time I spent with my parents in the last ten years.

Visiting my teachers’ homes in Shivamogga is something I look forward to eagerly, and I do get invited to dinners.  So, all in all, it was a fruitful time in Shivamogga this time, time spent with my parents, my teachers, and a couple of my old friends, and finding out about new books from my teachers.

So, one evening, in Prof M S Nagaraja Rao’s house, he was showing me some recent Kannada books and asked me if I had read Girish Karnad’s autobiography.  I told him I didn’t even know that Karnad had written one and that it has been published.  Shame on me actually.  So, he showed me the book and I flipped the pages and read the contents page and saw some photographs.  I decided I wanted to read the book and decided to buy a copy once I reached Hyderabad.  I was reading for some other task then and I didn’t want that schedule to be disrupted, because I knew that once I started reading Karnad’s autobiography I would do nothing else till I completed it.

Girish Karnad and I go back a long way…funny, isn’t it?  I don’t know him personally, but I have interacted with his works…kind of…read his plays, seen them on stage, seen him in films, watched screen adaptations of his plays, read his articles, even worked on his plays for my PG Diploma dissertation…and generally admired his contribution to Indian and Kannada theatre…and his way of using myths, legends, and history to comment on contemporary happenings and raise questions was something that was seldom seen on the Indian stage…

On the day I was leaving Shivamogga, I saw a copy of the June issue of Caravan at the Shivamogga bus stand and picked it up.  I was happy to see Caravan in Shivamogga.  It would help me pass my time nicely during the journey to Bangalore.  I started idly flipping through the pages and gravitated towards the arts and literature section.  I noticed an article called “Beginnings: How a Brahmin Broke into the Twentieth Century.” It was written by Girish Karnad and it had an old black and white photo of a middle aged lady and a grown up person and the caption beneath the photo read ‘The writer’s mother, Kuttabai, in 1947, with Bhalchandra, her son from her first marriage’ … I was intrigued… I wanted to read the article then and there, but held back…my bus hadn’t come in and yet and I wanted to savour the article while travelling …

The bus started and moved out of Shivamogga … the skies were slightly overcast and looked like it would rain … travelling would be enjoyable I thought and opened Caravan and started to read Karnad’s article … it started with Karnad talking about how his mother was persuaded to write her autobiography and how she wrote it and what it tells…and more than these, Karnad writes, her autobiography (or what she wrote) helped resolve many childhood nightmares and anxieties that he and his siblings endured for a long time … and then Karnad goes on to talk about his mother, a truly remarkable woman, and how she ‘negotiated’ life through those turbulent conservative times and remained remarkably quiet even after she’d done something revolutionary, coming close almost erasing it completely out of her life as if she had never taken that turn at all … and thus totally absorbed, I reached the end of the article and saw this “Excerpted from Girish Karnad’s autobiography, Adadta Aayushya (The Play of Life), Manohara Grantha Mala, 2011. Translated from Kannada by the writer.”  What a coincidence, I thought … here, I have been making plans to buy and read his autobiography and now, out of the blue I find a part of the autobiography on a platter in front of me … and in English translation … and this, I felt, was a sign too and also a reminder … don’t forget the book …

All right…those of you who want to read this excerpt/article may follow this link http://www.caravanmagazine.in/essay/beginnings

And so, I reached Bangalore, and after two days, reached Hyderabad … I placed an order for Karnad’s autobiography on the day I reached and received it 5 days later … needless to say, I started reading it as soon as I opened the package … for the next three days, I did nothing else and finished reading it. 


The autobiography is called Aadaadtha Aayushya and in the credits at the end of the Caravan article the title is translated as The Play of Life, and I also located another translation, A Playful Lifetime … but the title is far more evocative than either of these translations … The early part is very beautifully written … his childhood, his schooling, life in Sirsi and Dharwad, where he attended college … and along with the detailing of his early life, the reader also gets to see life as lived in a Saraswat family … a picture of Saraswat life and culture of the time also emerges quite unobtrusively to form the background to this narrative of early life and growing up … very beautiful …

There is very cosmopolitan yearning or maybe even outlook that we see in Karnad emerging at this point … that he wants to break out of Sirsi and Dharwad … and go out into the world and show them who he is … Karnad goes to Oxford … he says he wanted to be a poet, writing English poems … he comes back from Oxford as a Kannada playwright … there seems to be some element of surprise in Karnad himself … sort of “how the hell did this happen?” … we can see some extremely complex things happening in Karnad’s life during this period … his mother tongue is Konkani and he wants to become a poet in English … his own discomfort with writing in Kannada and how his early attempts were laughed at by his friends … but he stuck with Kannada and did not stay only with Kannada … it is very complex … he has finally reached a stage where a lot of people know who Girish Karnad is, and many of this lot of people do not know that Karnad is a playwright …

But, all the same, it is worth reading how these things converge in the personality of Girish Karnad … the Samskara episode has come out very well … ever since I saw the film and more so, after watching the film more recently, I wanted to read about ‘the making of Samskara’ and Karnad does not disappoint … since he was the main force behind the film, we get to see the beyond and behind the screen …

A lot of important people move in and out of the narrative … and Karnad is forthright in his observations about them … some of them do not come out unscathed … but this is one person’s opinion and observation and it is his frame … another person’s frame might be kinder and offer a benign focus …


Karnad calls Aadaadtha Aayushya “aatma kathegalu” … is it “autobiographies” in the plural? … wait, wait, there is a hyphen between “aatma” and “kathegalu” … is it “self-stories” then?  Memoirs?  The book doesn’t read like a memoir … the style is that of an “autobiography” that we are familiar with … I haven’t yet done with the title … I am still not able to come up with a sensible English translation that covers the range of meanings that Kannada title resonates with … Aadaadtha translated directly and unhesitatingly into English would read as Playing PlayingPlayfully would seem too ‘playful’ … there is an element of seriousness in Play … it is playing, playing a role, a play, stage … Aayushya is life-span, one’s entire life, lifetime, and so on and so forth … so, we need a pithy title that means more or less, “a whole lifetime has passed by playing different roles/games” …  I tried a lot of serious sounding names like “Play-ful Times” and “Temp-Play-Tion” and so on … but somewhere I strongly feel that “Fooling around Life” would suit the book fine, not only because of Girish Karnad’s sensibilities, also because the Kannada poet D R Bendre, from whose poem the title has been taken, would see the Falstaff-ian take on life this translation conjures up … 

2 comments:

latha Kuchibotla said...

Very interesting! Wl go for my copy!

S. Jayasrinivasa Rao a.k.a. winding river said...

Hi Latha...this book is in Kannada...only an excerpt has been translated into English and has appeared in Caravan and I have given the link in the post ... but I am sure the English translation would be ready soon, and Karnad himself would be translating it, as he always does with his works...