Girish Karnad slams V S Naipaul for his anti-Islam views, questions his Mumbai fest award

Writer and actor Girish Karnad left the organisers of the Mumbai LitFest red-faced Friday as he publicly questioned their decision to give V S Naipaul a lifetime achievement award. Not only did he cast aspersions on the credibility of some accounts in Naipaul's book India: A Wounded Civilisation, Karnad also lashed out at the Nobel laureate for his critical views on the influence of Islam on India.

Naipaul was given the award on Wednesday at the Tata Literature Live! LitFest, which is now in its third year. Karnad was invited on Friday to talk about his life as a theatre person but he chose to launch an attack against the Trinidadian-born writer, who was not in the audience.

Karnad said the organisers had conveniently failed to mention that Naipaul, in fact, was not an Indian. While he admitted that "Naipaul is certainly among the great English writers of our generation", Karnad said Naipaul had painted even the Taj Mahal in poor light. "Of the Taj, probably the most beloved of the monuments in India, Naipaul writes, 'The Taj is so wasteful, so decadent and in the end, so cruel that it is painful to be there for very long. This is an extravagance that speaks of the blood of the people'," Karnad said.

Questioning Naipaul's accounts in India: A Wounded Civilisation, published in 1977, Karnad said Ashoke Chatterjee, a former director of NID, Ahmedabad, had told Naipaul in the 1970s that the book should be classified as fiction. Karnad also said the Nobel Prize seemed to have given Naipaul "sudden authority".

Karnad said Naipaul had visited the BJP office in Delhi some years ago and made some controversial remarks. "Ayodhya, he said, is a sort of passion. Any passion is creative. Passion leads to creativity," Karnad quoted Naipaul as having said. Foreign writers such as William Dalrymple had spoken about these incidents connected to Naipaul but not Indian writers, Karnad added.

"Naipaul is a foreigner and he is entitled to his opinion. But why give an award to a man who calls Indian Muslims 'raiders' and 'marauders'? I have Muslim friends and I feel strongly about this," he said.

Not everyone in the gathering, however, was willing to buy Karnad's arguments. When the session was thrown open to the audience, Naipaul's friend, writer Farrokh Dhondy, rose to ask a question. But Karnad refused to entertain any queries from him. "This is like a court where the prosecution has been presenting its case without giving any opportunity to the defence," Dhondy remarked in anger.

Festival director Anil Dharker was disappointed by the way the session had turned out. "We gave you the chance to speak about your life in theatre, but you never spoke about it. Instead, you chose to go on about a writer who has won the Nobel Prize for literature," Dharker said, addressing Karnad from the audience. "When we gave him the award, it was because of his entire body of work and not any one particular book. To have taken this up here was not polite."

But Karnad was unapologetic. "But I am only following Naipaul. Besides, I came here to conduct a master class and I would have anyway spoken about this," he retorted.

Soon after, the session was brought to an abrupt end. Speaking about the incident later, Dhondy said Naipaul never made the remarks about Ayodhya Karnad had attributed to him. "In fact, his wife, Nadira, is a Muslim and so is his adopted son. By not letting me quiz him, Karnad imposed censorship, something that he himself vehemently opposes," Dhondy said.

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