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Sunday, January 31, 1999
His plays created waves
How the alleged fraud took place
tandoor to court
WHY does the winner of the prestigious Jnanpith Award, Girish Karnad, a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford who subsequently worked for seven long years with the Oxford University Press, write in his mother tongue. Kannada?
This question should, in fact, be posed to Indian writers who prefer to write in English, instead of their mother tongue, pat their own backs and boast of their literary achievements. The fact remains that none of such novelists, playwrights and poets have ever been able reach the front rank of English literature. A very few Indians like Nirad Chaudhary have been able to achieve only recognition as mere middle-rung writers in the English language.
On the contrary, there have been a galaxy of litterateurs in Indian languages whose works can be classified as the worlds best and translated not only in English but other languages. Girish Karnad is one of them.
He writes in his mother tongue because he has identified himself with Kannada literary movements. Also the language enables him to slide back into the native past and allows him the excitement of presenting theatre in its robust and raw form. Howsoever accomplished one may claim to be in a foreign language but the faculty of transcending into the world of imaginativeness and creativeness gets activated only in ones mother tongue. Perhaps, that is why a writer in his native tongue creates world-class works while an anglicised literary person remains only second rate.
Karnad had fancied himself as a poet, had written poetry through his teens and had trained himself to write in English to prepare for what he thought would be the conquest of the West. His dream was belied and he began writing a play in the language of my childhood at the same time he was preparing for his first voyage to England for studies on a scholarship. He wrote the play, Yayti, during the three-week long journey by ship and later, as he says in the lonely cloisters of Oxford University.
The theme of the play was taken from ancient Indian mythology from which Karnad felt he had alienated himself. The story of the King Yayti is contained in Mahabharata.
The king had committed a moral transgression and was cursed to be old-aged in the prime of his life. Distraught at losing his youth, he approached his son, pleading with him to lend him his youth in exchange for old age. The son accepts the exchange and the curse, and he becomes old, older than his father. But old age brings no knowledge, no self-realisation, only the senselessness of a punishment meted out for an act in which he had not even participated. The father is left to face the consequences of shirking responsibility of his own actions.
When he looks back, says Karnad, the myth precisely reflected his anxieties at that moment: his resentment with all those who seemed to demand that he sacrifice his future. His parents were worried when he got the scholarship whether their son would settle down outside India. He belonged to a close-knit family and was the first member of the family to go abroad.
Yayti enabled him to articulate a set of values for himself. Whether to return home finally seemed the most minor issue. The myth had nailed me to my past, he says. At the most intense moment of self-expression, while my past had come to my aid with a ready-made narrative within which I could contain and explore my insecurities, there had been no dramatic structure in my own tradition to which I could relate myself, he says in his revised and expanded paper entitled In Search of a New Theatre.
In his childhood, spent in a small town of Karnataka, Karnad was exposed to two theatre forms that seemed to represent irreconciably different worlds. His father took the entire family to see plays staged by troupes of professional actors called natak companies which toured the countryside throughout the year. The plays were staged in a semi-permanent structure on the stage, with wings and drop curtains, and were illuminated by petromax lamps.
Another form was more traditional plays known as Yakshagana performances. The stage, a platform with a back curtain, was erected in the open air lit by torches. By the time Karnad was in his early teens both forms of theatres had become obsolete.
Karnad was face to face with theatre, a much bigger one, when he went to Bombay for postgraduate studies. One of his first acts in Bombay was to go and see a play, which happened to be Strinbergs Miss Julie, directed by Ebrahim Alkazi. He wrote that the feeling he got after he walked out of the theatre was as though, I had been put through an emotionally or even physically painful rite of passage. Little did young Karnad realise, as he walked out of the theatre on that night. Alkazi would be among eminent directors, directing his plays. Others included Satyadev Dubey, B.V. Karanth, Vijaya Mehta and Amal Allana. His plays have been translated into most Indian languages.
Karnads well-known play Tughlaq, which established him as one of Indias foremost playwrights, was broadcast by the BBC. It is a historical play in the manner of 19th century Parsi theatre and deals with the tumultuous reign of the medieval Sultan. Muhammad bin Tughlaq, a visionary, a poet and one of the most gifted individuals to ascend the throne of Delhi. He was also, at the same time, considered one of the most spectacular failures in history.
NEW DELHI: With 43 of 100-odd prosecution witnesses having already been examined by Delhi's Additional Sessions Judge, Mr G.P Thareja, the trial of the three-and-a-half -year old sensational "tandoor" murder case is just half-way through.
The case sprang from a love triangle with a happy beginning and tragic denouement. It all started with Naina Sahni and Matloob Karim, both class- mates and N.S.U.I leaders, falling in love. They could not marry, however, owing to stiff resistance from their parents. Later, Naina came in contact with Sushil Sharma, also a college mate and Delhi Youth Congress leader. Their acquaintance grew into a love affair and later culminated in marriage. Her murder on July 2, 1995, allegedly by her husband, who burnt her body in a tandoor at Bagia restaurant, a part of Ashoka Hotel Yatri Niwas run by him, shook the whole country and left the Capital benumbed.
Out of the 43 witnesses examined until now, 26 have supported the prosecution theory that Naina was murdered by Sushil Sharma. Prominent among those who have corroborated the prosecution version are Matloob Karim, Mr K.K Tuli, General Manager of Hotel Yatri Niwas, Mr Philip, a singer in the restaurant, Mr V.N Sehgal, Director C.F.S.L (since retired), Mr D.K Rao, a senior IAS officer of the Gujarat cadre with whom Sharma stayed in Gujarat Bhavan after committing the crime and Dr Bharat Singh of the M.S Civil Hospital who had conducted the postmortem.
The remaining 17 witnesses either turned hostile or were dropped on being "won over" by the defence. They include Mr Jagdish Taneja, who had supplied cassettes to the deceased on the day of occurrence, Mr Karam Singh, an employee of Sushil Sharma, Mr M.S William, an employee of Gujarat Bhavan, and Mr Sat Pal and Mr Parminder Singh, both taxi drivers who had allegedly helped Sushil Sharma to escape from Delhi after committing the crime.
Mr K.K Sood, senior advocate appointed by the court to defend the accused, asserts that Sharma is innocent. He has been framed, he says. There are many loose ends in the prosecution theory. The prosecution has set up a mass of useless circumstances. A large number of witnesses have been given up. Only docile witnesses who were amenable, he says, to public influence for various reasons have corroborated the police theory.
After completing the investigation in a record time of less than a month, the Delhi police had slapped a 19-page charge-sheet on Sushil Sharma on July 27,1995. Penned in Hindi, the charge-sheet alleges that the accused suspected his wife's fidelity. He thought that she was still maintaining her relationship with Matloob Karim. This suspicion led to a discord between them. More often than not, he used to bash her up. Another reason for the discord was that while Sushil wanted to keep his marriage with Naina a secret affair, Naina used to say that they should make it public.
Sushil's immediate provocation to kill Naina on July 2, 1995, says the charge-sheet, was that when he reached his flat (No 8/2-A, D.I.Z. Area, Mandir Marg), he saw Naina consuming liquor and conversing with someone on the telephone. When he entered the house, she put down the receiver. Sushil suspected that she was talking to Matloob Karim and redialled the number. His suspicion was confirmed when Karim responded at the other end.
Sushil was incensed and fired three shots from his licensed revolver. While one bullet pierced through Naina's head, the other hit her in the neck. The third bullet missed her and hit the airconditioner. Naina died on the spot. Later he bundled the body of Naina into his Maruti car and stuffed it in the oven of his restaurant. That night he stayed with his I.A.S friend, D.K Rao, at Gujarat Bhavan.
The next day Sushil escaped to Jaipur. From there, he first went to Bombay and later Madras and obtained anticipatory bail. A police party led by the Additional Police Commissioner, Mr Maxwell Pereira, airdashed to Madras. Sushil then fled to Bangalore, where he surrendered on July 10. He was arrested and brought to Delhi.
The police seized his revolver and blood-stained clothes and sent them to the Lodhi Road Forensic Laboratory. They also took blood sample of Naina's parents, Mr Harbhajan Singh and Mrs Jaswant Kaur, and sent them to Hyderabad for DNA test.
The Forensic Laboratory report, reproduced in the charge-sheet, says: "Blood sample preserved by the doctor while conducting the postmortem and the blood stains on two leads recovered from the skull and neck of the body of deceased Naina are of "B" blood group."
The DNA test report, also incorporated in the charge-sheet, says: "The tests prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the charred body is that of Naina Sahni who is the biological offspring of Mr Harbhajan Singh and Mrs Jaswant Kaur."
The charge-sheet adds that the police had recovered a letter which Naina wrote to Sushil. The letter, inter alia, says: "I know you hate me and cannot adopt me. Do not waste your time. Take care of your life. Forgive me. Leave me to my fate. Do not suspect me. I know I do not deserve you. Do not say anything to my parents. They are innocent. Inflict any punishment on me you deem fit."
Didn't Sushil Sharma take that too literally?
How the alleged fraud took place
Mr Robert William Church, who has been recently brought from London on an extradition warrant, was produced today before the Chief Presidency Magistrate on charges of cheating and taking illegal gratification.
Referring to the charge of cheating, the Advocate-General, who appeared for the prosecution, said that during the past few years of his stay in India he had been purchasing coal for practically all Railways, and was in a position to enforce his own price.
It was part of his duties as the Mining Engineer to inspect coal as it was being loaded, so that the Railways got the right quantity and quality of coal.
The Advocate-General gave particulars of the way in which the alleged swindling had been carried out.
Mr Whitworth, who
succeeded Mr Church in February, 1923, said it was the
duty of the Mining Engineer to advise the Railways as to
the quality of coal and its price. In 1920, contracts
were entered into through the accused for about thirteen
million tons of coal. The Mining Engineer had also to
inspect coal so that the Railways got the exact quality
and quantity, but the seam was not mentioned in three
contracts made by the accused.
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