Naipaul’s progressive views on Indian history
THE recently concluded Tata Literature Live! Festival in Mumbai grabbed eyeballs for reasons other than the literary; it witnessed a wanton and undignified attack by Girish Karnad on V S Naipaul, perhaps the finest postcolonial writer of his generation, and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001. Girish questioned the bestowal of a Lifetime Achievement Award to Naipaul by the organisers, and castigated Naipaul for the anti-Islamic tone in his writings.
The incident happened after Karnad was called onto the stage to discuss his life as a theatre person; instead, he used the occasion to launch a broadside against the famous West-Indian born writer, who was not present on the occasion. For forty minutes, Karnad fulminated against the perceived injustices to Islam in Naipaul’s oeuvre, from his alleged support for the Babri Masjid demolition by right wing Hindus in 1992 to the inaccuracies in his books, such as India: A Wounded Civilisation. Karnad went on to say that Naipaul only won the prize because of the horrific events of 9/11, as it made the West deeply distrustful of Islam. He said, “Naipaul won the Nobel Prize in 2001. In London in 2000, word was that Naipaul would never get the Nobel because of what he’d written about Indian Muslims.”
The incident, understandably, created a ripple among the audience, and he was immediately censured by the festival’s organizer Anil Dharker, for using the occasion to air his own political views. Farrukh Dhondy, who was present on the occasion and who is a good friend of Naipaul, stoutly defended the writer, saying that “the argument of his books, as with so much of his work, is a corrective to the Indian nationalist view of history, which was generated in the country’s fight for independence from British colonial rule and in the interests of unity made scant mention of the process, cruelty, negligence, slaughter and destructive wars of the earlier raids and conquests of Muslim and later Mughal warlords and kings”. Dhondy mentioned that Naipaul steadfastly refused to speak of the politics and morality of the Babri masjid episode; the only thing he did say was that the construction of a mosque by the first Mughal emperor at Ayodhya was “an act of hubris”. But Karnad was unrepentant and expounded his point of view by deflecting blame onto the organizers by saying since it is an Indian award, given at a Mumbai festival, how can it be awarded to a foreigner, that too someone who has attacked a whole section of Indian society? He said: I have no grouse at all against him. If he is tone deaf to Indian music and cannot respond to the beauties of the Taj Mahal, that is his right. He has a right to his thought and I am not censuring him. I am just giving my objections as a thinker. How can a Lifetime Achievement Award be given without any explanation of what he has written and said about Muslims and their ancestors? I have heard and seen him spout poison. Anyone can find his statements in the archives of the New Yorker where he is writing about the Indian writer. Even that turns into a tirade against Muslims and how they destroyed Indian culture! This is the white man’s view of Indian history, an Orientalist stance and view that is also echoed by the RSS.
Though Karnad received support from activist-artist group SAHMAT, who said in a statement they fully stood beside him and condemned the prize awarded to Naipaul, the issue, whatever its pros and cons, has exposed Karnad’s secular credentials, which in this great land of ours, means running down anything that is Hindu while exalting Islamists to the skies, turning a blind eye to the horrific destruction they caused over the centuries. Karnad, as well as another well-known Kannada writer, U R Ananthamurthy, are both known for their anti-Hindu diatribes. While they have won scores of awards from the Indian government, another Kannada writer, S L Bhyrappa, who wrote about the sufferings of Hindus under the rule of Tipu Sultan in his book Aavarana, continues to languish in obscurity, despite his brilliance. Bhyrappa, incidentally had come under attack from Karnad, who called Aavarana a fundamentalist piece of writing. Tipu, of course, has been glorified by Karnad in his works.