Girish Karnad spoke to HT’s Pankti Mehta on the sidelines of the Literature Live festival in Mumbai, a day after criticising VS Naipaul.
You were supposed to speak about your journey in theatre but criticised Naipaul. Isn’t that misusing the forum you were given?
What would be the point of questioning the award after the festival was over? This was a far more engaging topic. I’m sure the audience was interested. I stand by what I said. And I did speak about theatre in the second part.
The organisers gave Naipaul the award for a lifetime of work, including fiction. You critiqued only his non-fiction work about India. Even if we grant that you have a point, how can you judge his work based on just this?
Naipaul himself says that his non-fiction work, particularly about India, is his most important. You can definitely judge a writer by what he thinks is his best work. Even if it weren’t, it wouldn’t matter to me if his outrageous statements were only 10% of his work. As an awarding body, you have to take their implications into account.
Was it fair to criticise someone who wasn’t there to defend himself? You didn’t allow (British writer who is Naipaul’s friend) Farrukh Dhondy to speak at the end.
Even if we had the time, I wouldn’t have opened it to a dialogue, because it was my talk, not anyone else’s. It would have become a tussle between Dhondy and me. Naipaul has said so many things against the Muslims – have they been there to defend themselves when he did?
Mr Dhondy says Naipaul never made many of the statements you cited. What are your sources?
I can’t vouch for each word I quoted because I wasn’t there, but this is what has been recorded in articles in newspapers and on the internet. And I only cited stray incidents, while Naipaul has over and over again said in different media that he supports the Babri Masjid demolition. He has also said, in his own writings, that Muslims have destroyed Indian culture. That’s what I have a major problem with.
How can Naipaul be anti-Muslim when he is married to a Muslim?
I don’t want to comment on his private life. I’m sure he loves his wife very much. But as I said, he has written and made public statements about how Muslims have destroyed Indian culture. That’s what I see in the open and what I spoke about.
Many Indian-origin writers live abroad, so what’s wrong if he comments about this country?
Naipaul hadn’t visited the country for the first 25 years of his life and has never lived in India. He is a foreigner. By the logic of origin, Mr Dhondy is Iranian!
VS Naipaul at Thinkfest in Goa
Bambolim, Goa: A day after playwright Girish Karnad accused VS Naipaul of an anti-Muslim bias, Naipaul appeared at the Think fest in Goa alongside Arab poet Adonis. “...Adonis is a great Arab poet. Adonis is a secular poet. In India, this word has a very narrow meaning: it means belonging to one party or another. But for Adonis it is a much bigger idea; he wants to celebrate Mediterranean civilisation,” said Naipaul.
- Bhavya Dore