This Life At Play: Even with its declared omissions, Girish Karnad’s ‘half-tale’ memoir is a complex, nuanced narration

 

While This Life At Play is far from what one might call a contemplative work, blithely letting its roll-call of occurrences speak for itself, its descriptive linearity ultimately settles into a sharply individualistic if unsentimental account.

Quietly released last month even as the world of arts and letters observed his 83rd birth anniversary, Girish Karnad’s This Life At Play is the English translation of his memoirs in Kannada, Aadaadta Aayushya (which translates as ‘life moves on while playing’). That volume was published in 2011 by the Dharwad-based publishing outfit Manohara Grantha Mala, the well-regarded bastion of Kannada literature. Fifty years earlier (in 1961), they had also propitiously brought out Karnad’s first full-length play, Yayati, when the late doyen was not yet 25.

Looking back in the book, Karnad places that feverishly written, but far from inchoate, early manuscript — in which a son diligently exchanges his youth with his father’s old age — both in the contrary context of his own imminent severing-of-the-umbilical-cord as it were, on the eve of his setting sail for a stint at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar (and the cultural alienation that foretold), and in the unexpected (and at the time, disorienting) ‘sprouting’ of an innate and deep linkage with puranic texts that have so heavily informed his body of work as a playwright par excellence.

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Such intriguing contradictions — like Karnad’s rootedness in the face of fervent western edification, or his challenging of the social order while seemingly entrenched in the status quo, or the diaphanous modestness of tone employed to showcase eminently fail-safe credentials — lend distinctive heft and edge to This Life At Play. Alongside, are intricate and revelatory accounts (that are not always favourable) of life-long associations, like those with publisher GB Joshi of the Grantha Mala and writer Kirtinath Kurtakoti — both early backers of his prodigious talent — or later collaborators like Kannadiga cultural warhorses BV Karanth or GV Iyer, which provide the book its compelling human spine, laced with an undercurrent of blunt if clearly relished acerbity that might perhaps have been even more pronounced in the Kannada version.

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