Instead of speaking about his life in theatre as advertised, playwright Girish Karnad used his slot at the Literature Live festival at the NCPA to question the organiser’s decision to give writer VS Naipaul a lifetime achievement award earlier in the week.
Karnad spent more than half of his one-hour slot criticising the Nobel laureate for, among other things, totally missing the centrality of music in Indian history and culture, failing to understand the Islamic contribution to Indian music and architecture and making anti-Muslim statements.
“Naipaul’s writings on modern India should be classified as fiction,” Karnad said. “You’ll realise that all the interviewees speak with the same wit and elegance, almost like Naipaul himself.”
Before opening the floor to questions, Anil Dharker, festival director, interjected by saying that Karnad had been “impolite” in using this platform to criticise the award. “A lifetime achievement award recognises a body of work, not just a few remarks,” Dharker said. “Naipaul has also written a range of extraordinary fiction. A writer’s role is to provoke, and he has the authority to criticise India if he deems necessary.”
Farrukh Dhondy, a British writer of Indian origin and Naipaul’s friend, was in the audience. “Naipaul is not anti-Muslim. His wife and stepchildren are Muslim,” he told HT. “Karnad has quoted reports of reports.”