Adiós, Girish Karnad!

Very saddened to know that Girish Karnad, legendary actor, playwright, filmmaker and social activist passed away in Bangalore on Monday 10th June 2019 after a prolonged illness. We had recently worked together on Journeys. A Poet´s Diary (A.K. Ramanujan) which I co-edited with Krishna Ramanujan (AKR`s son) and for which he had kindly agreed to write the Foreword. The book was published by Penguin in April this year and I am glad he got to see it before his demise… He was delighted to be part of this the volume as AKR had been a close friend and remained a strong influence on him.

I last met Girish when we shared a session on Ramanujan at the Bangalore Literature Festival in November 2017:

We were discussing AKR and my book When Mirrors Are Windows. A View of A.K. Ramanujan`s Poetics, which had recently been published by OUP (also carrying Girish`s Foreword), and we got so immersed in the conversation that it became a jugalbandi of sorts: a Spanish scholar from the Castilian plains and the towering figure of Karnad, the essential Kannadiga, a modern quixotic genius bridging past and present, drama and poetry,  reciting AKR`s verse as if this gentle bard had composed it for that very moment! To enact, -and possess- its hidden meanings and be possessed by his own words, – Vac, the goddess of speech in full ritual...

Girish was a great artist, thinker, mentor and friend…

and, above all, a free spirit!


…This is to you, Girish:


Still Another View of Grace

I burned and burned. But one day I turned

and caught that thought

by the screams of her hair and said: ‘Beware.

Do not follow a gentleman’s morals


with that absurd determined air.

Find a priest. Find any beast in the wind

for a husband. He will give you a houseful

of legitimate sons. It is too late for sin,


even for treason. And I have no reason to know your kind.

Bred Brahmin among singers of shivering hymns

I shudder to the bone at hungers that roam the street

beyond the constable’s beat.’ But there She stood


upon that dusty road on a nightlit april mind

and gave me a look. Commandments crumbled

in my father’s past. Her tumbled hair suddenly known

as silk in my angry hand, I shook a little


and took her, behind the laws of my land.

(Poem by A.K. Ramanujan. Published in his first collection The Striders by Oxford University Press, London, in 1966 thanks to Girish Karnad`s recommendations)


The Takeover


   beware, your life is in danger:

the lord of gardens is a thief,

   a cheat,

master of illusions;


he came to me

   a wizard with words,

   sneaked into my body,

            my breath,


with bystanders looking on

   but seeing nothing,

he consumed me

   life and limb,


and filled me,

            made me over

into himself

(A.K. Ramanujan,  “The Takeover”, translation from Nammalvar’s Tiruvaymoli 10.7.1, Hymns for the Drowning  (Princeton University Press 1981) 76.)

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