Journey With Girish Karnad.

Purvaranga design for Hayavadhana

With Girish Karnad passing away, one more pillar of the “Kattuvevu naavu hosa naad ondanu” the builders of a new nation follows.

It was the sets of Utsav at Halsnaadu, it was a week of shooting. My friends and I from the popular theatre group were taken on as fillers. I don’t remember being paid, but the environment pushed lot of us into the field. Over lunch Karnad Sir, would talk to us on various things, politics, our identities various things.

Some things that stayed with me some things I later recognized as dialogues in various plays. I traversed his play as viewer, artist, and finally choreographing when I think back the lot of ideas got implanted then.

“Koppikar Drama Festival’ which was the annual drama festival hosted by KMC Manipal now a part of MAHE I do not know if the festival still exists. Amateur troupes from far and near participated.

The scene opened with Devayani and Chitralekha. There was a sense of ownership with the play because it was written by Girish Karnad, who was my friend’s cousin. Those days we didn’t ponder much, the layers of writer, director, actor was all unknown territory. I remember coming back from the performance thinking of how nasty Devayani was, after all I had just Kacha-Deyavani Amar Chitra Katha so to me then Devayani was Shukracharya’s spoilt daughter, who came in between Sharmishta –Yayati’s true love. Fidelity, and metaphors the depth came in later.  I was 13yrs old when we enacted the play. This time round I knew that a play would have a director. But again the layer of the writer and director came much later. I had essayed Devayani, I remember having lot of anger, because I could not sympathize with Devayani.

It was Sharmishta, the secret love of  Yayati who had caught my fancy. Questions like how could Sharmishta have three children without Devayani questioning her about their father did not come. The duality of Yayati, also did not come. Oh! the sacrificing Puru, sacrifice being rewarded all these came up. It was only two years back when director Vaibhav Lokur directed Hayavadana did I really realize some of the layers of Yayati and some subtle things that were in the play like Sharmishta the unwed mother.

Working with Hayavadana I revisited Yayati, this time, it looked very different. Sharmishta transgresses the boundaries accidently by wearing Devayani’s clothes, probably an apology would have created another story. Now Chitralekha emerges more interesting, questioning the rules… rules belong to the conscious mind. The interesting question for me here is who defines the boundaries, Shukracharya a migrant teacher, his knowledge is useful to the people so he wields the power. Devayani is his weakness so she becomes the epicentre of power. Sharmishta, the innate rebel in each one us, those who have had the courage to fight pay the price. We seek to grow and create not breaking the boundaries or cages, but despite them. Until, Chitralekha comes along viewing both the rules and rebel, and questions.

Now Yayati from a man who refuses to grow up, has become a man who wants it all in my space. He follows the path of least resistance, be it marrying Devayani which of course is against norms, for a Brahmin girl to marry a Kshatriya man. His affair with the other, there are progenies of that too. What makes Puru so detached… is it that he sees the futility of being the outcome of an unconventional relationship? is his acceptance of his father’s curse a way of validating himself ? giving him the acceptability within the rigid social set up?

Most plays based on mythology have women characters, who either subtly or openly express and act to achieve their ambitions. With the advent of Abrahmic culture we came into the existence of an patriarchal society where an ambitious woman is in the wrong. A woman is deprived of her personal spaces like ambition, sexuality it is secondary to the man who she is married to, and marriage is also a business deal it could be merging of businesses, countries or knowledge.

Then came Tughlaq it was here that I learnt the power of minimalistic sets, it was amazing the director Nagesh had one single elevation in the centre and two platforms on either side. The classic Natyashastra format. Before Nagesh Sir, commenced this play he had Karnad Sir, interact with us,  Mr.Karnad of course was in Manipal on some other work. Karnad sir, opened his talk with a poem from Chandrashekhar Adiga,

“Kattuvevu naavu hosa naadondanu rasada beedondanu” he talked about how the idealistic Nehruvian dream was and yes we did progress but we tend to focus on the failures, there was logic, but life is not logical. He told us,

” eega, kannu biduthaiddiri, that is you are fledgings.

“Innubaruthade kanasina vaiyassu, hosanaadu kattuva bisi rakta,” essentially telling us that we would begin to dream, a dream of building an ideal nation. That is what Tughlaq was about, an impractical idealistic experiment. No I will not connect it to GST or demonetization. But of course… there are dialogues that stayed with me,

“hadinelu vaisu, kanasugala vaisu, mathe chadaruthave”  — seventeen the age of dreams, these dreams then shatter.

During our second outing with Tughlaq I was older, this time I played Tughlaq’s stepmother who was younger than him. There is a hint of a relationship if you would like to whiff it. But Tughlaq’s magnanimity, his gesture of releasing his prisoner for solving a chess challenge. The final defeat of the man.  As Karnad sir mentioned during our interaction that it was not Tughlaq or his dream that failed, what failed was the support from the citizens. His point was citizens did not take responsibility, it was the power hungry administrative system that did not allow for the connect between the leader and the citizen. He kept telling us, that if we as citizens took responsibility if we thought, analyzed, and even questioned if the need arose then we would have a more productive society. Of course the challenges of that society would be different.

Tughlaq had two characters who were con men. They would morph into religious leaders, instigating an communal disharmony, Karnad sir, brings out their dubiousness in a very subtle way, where one of the con man visits an elderly dying relative. The relative knows that the con man is there to steal so he hold on the his right hand through the conversation. Yet the con man steals, because he steals with his left hand. “yadakaili kaddno magane,” is what he says. Without realizing it, everyone involved in the production tended to use this dialogue when we had so say I beat a bad situation.

My next outing with Karnad sir, was his “Nagamandala” with Josalkar sir directing and I did the choreography. Since I was working with the angika abhinaya it was about translating the emotions to non-verbal communication. The concept of flames congregating after the stove is put off, each flame captures the socio-economic  environment of the kitchen she comes from. It was a very interesting concept. Then the suppressed story, which takes on a persona.

It’s the women characters again who are intriguing. The naive Rani, who stays oppressed by a dominating husband, may be representation of society again. It is the wise old woman who shows her the- way out to satiate her needs. Through the play Rani evolves to a stronger presence. The play ends with an interesting question whose story are you telling? Of course the intense oneness that I had with Tughlaq and Yayati was missing probably because of the language connect, the first two being in Kannada.

The last outing I had was with Karnad was Hayavadhana again rewritten as Hayagana and directed by Vaibhav Lokur. the eternal question does the head rule the heart or does the heart rule the head? Can the mind alter the environment or can the environment alter the mind. I like to call it the “Yaksha Prashne”.

Hayavadana is the story of a man with a horse head, he is on the quest to competition, either a human head or a horse body. His quest brings him to a town whose reigning deity is Kali mind you not the quintessential destructive spirit, but a bored, quirky one. The sutradhara tells Hayavadhana the story of Padmini. A Brahmin poet falls in love with the beautiful girl Padmini. He woos her with the help of his wrestler friend. She returns in love. They get married. But slowly Padmini gets attracted to the wrestler. The wrestler is also attracted to Padmini . one outing the poet remembers his promise to the goddess, that he would offer his head to the goddess if she grants him Padmini. The poet of beheads himself. His friend not wanting to be accused of killing his friend  beheads himself. Padmini seeing the two headless men is worried about what people will say so she proceeds to kill herself. The goddess appears and tells Padmini that the men can be restored she has to place their heads back sprinkle the holy water. Padmini follows instructions. Then lo behold the men come back to life, but their heads are interchanged.

The play walks through the gradual morphing of the bodies aligning itself to their minds. The play ends with Hayavadhana or the horse face turning into a complete horse. Of course there are layers of questions, social, psychological, ethical, etc. But what stayed with me was the presence of Kali, who was quirky, witty and very matter of fact. The goddess is not sermonizing if at all, she asks unpleasant questions, like our own conscience. Then Padmini the prototype of the Padmini naari described in kamasutra. Apparently coy but very sexually aware.  Though the laurels rest with the mother of Hayavadhana the princess of Karnataka who falls in love with a horse, she marries him. Hayavadhana being their progeny. Twenty years after marriage the horse turns human. But the princess does not want him anymore for he is not the free spirit she fell in love with, she turns into a horse and canters into the wild.

I never realized how much I had learnt from this teacher. The most important lesson I learnt from him was what he shared when I last met him, a decade ago

“naavu kathegaararu, andre we are of the story… sometimes we are the narrators, as narrators we get to use the written medium, the oral rendering or a group performance. Sometimes we are receivers, story comes to us to be told. Which is why as a writer we can only be channels. Our thought attracts the story that needs to be told.”



Thank you sir, though a little late. I still seek to learn from you.


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