Ayyo, I need chaos, I say! My years with B.V. Karanth: some memories


In 2010-11, movie maker P. N. Ramachandra set out to make a documentary titled Baba: B. V. Karanth for the Films Division of the Government of India.  He travelled through the length and breadth of the country interviewing on camera many people who were associated with Karanthji. I was one of them and I spoke in Kannada.

The documentary was released in 2012.

Now, in 2020, in these days of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ramachandra is putting the audio files of those interviews on-line, and has sent me a copy of the audio file of my interview seeking my permission in the matter. I first made a faithful Kannada transcription of the interview, and have then smoothed it a bit so it is easy to read, even while guarding the flow and feel of the spoken word. The following is an English version of the same. I have added footnotes, wherever I feel they are needed.– Rn, 15 August 2020.

Click here for a Kannada version of this tribute : https://ruthumana.com/2020/09/01/bv-karanth-birthaday-raghunandana/

I joined the National School of Drama (NSD) in 1978. And thus began my relationship with Karanthji.

The School was about twenty years old by then. And when Karanthji came to head it, great winds of change began to blow through it.

He would always say, “Look here, we are a very big country. The idea of teaching theatre to only a few, of making such teaching and learning elitist… I don’t like it at all… You know, in a School like this, there must fifty people to a class, a hundred.”

Karanthji always thought like that. He wanted to spread out, and spread out…. always.

Imaarathi Kaam, Maidaani Kaam   

About ten years after that, I began working with him in Rangayana, Mysooru, and would often insist that any work we did had to be rigorous, and of a very high order. Almost always he would reply:

Correct, correct. You’re right. But you do it. Yours is imaarathi kaam. Mine is maidaani kaam.   

The phrase maidaani kaam means work that is spread out, taking in as many people as possible. And, imaarathi kaam means architecture, the creating of buildings.

“We need the one, and the other too,” he used to say. “They complement each other.”

Karanthji sought to apply this principle at NSD, right from the moment he took charge of the School. For instance, in my class, we were thirty-five students! It was a first in the history of NSD, for a single class to have so many students. Not only at NSD, perhaps elsewhere in the world too, modern theatre schools have fifteen – at the most, twenty – students to a class. But Karanthji took in thirty-five!

That says a lot about him. It was important for him to be with people always, to include and embrace people, you see.

With poet Siddhalingayya

Leela and Darshana: A Non-duality

In 1978, Karanthji conceived and directed a historic production for my class at NSD. It is a milestone in the history of that School, and in the history of theatre education in India.

I was a first year student at that time, and our very first production was under his direction. That was Bharatendu Harishchandra’s Andher Nagari Chaupat Raja and was staged in the open air.

All thirty-five of us young men and women, clad in pitaambara, lemon-yellow coloured dhotis; the men, bare-bodied in the upper half; every actor with an uttareeya, a piece of cloth, also lemon-yellow, draped across the shoulders; and each with a pair of small manjeeras (cymbals) – striking the manjeeras to the rhythm of a playing drum, and dancing, dancing, dancing our way from one end of the School to the other, up to the stage in the open air.

The corridor we danced through glowed, every step lit up with an earthen oil-and-wick lamp, and had mango-leaf torana and (chuckling) flower garlands strung along the length of it. Thirty five actors, singing full-throatedly, dancing, dancing all the way through the School… as in a folk performance…

You know, if you ask, ‘What was the most important characteristic of the theatre of Karanthji’, people will at once say, ‘Festive! Celebrative! Carnivalesque!’

Now, all of that — everything that Karanthji believed that the theatre should be, everything he believed that it must have — he gave us all of that in the very first production he did with us! Truly wondrous!

Another thing. All through the performance, the thirty-five of us, all thirty- five… each had that pair of manjeeras …. slung around our necks… and no other theatrical prop. And those manjeeras…, they became wine glasses, when needed; or a weapon; or, even a megaphone or a microphone! One thing becoming many things, being many things…

Now, in the theatre, something like this… a thing becoming or representing something other than itself and yet being itself… and  thereby giving a great darshana … ‍For everything to become play …For leela and darshana not to be two separate things but to be a non-duality…

All of that was characteristic of Karanthji, and his work. And could all be seen in that production.

School Masters and Early Mornings

With German director Fritz Bennewitz

Now… when I was a student at the School… Karanthji was a disciplinarian, and himself very disciplined.

To the end of his days he would say, “I was a school master to begin with…”

He had taught Hindi at Sardar Patel Vidyalaya in New Delhi, for five years, you see… That was in the 1960s.

 “School masters have this habit of waking up early. And the habit hasn’t left me…I wake up at five in the morning, willy nilly…”

But in those days, in 1978, he would be up and about even earlier…

I too would wake up very early when at NSD, and leave for the School. I would be there by four thirty in the morning —to exercise on my own, practising yoga, and other exercises…

It happened many times. Master (Karanthji) would come by at five. And watch from behind a tree. ‘What is this boy doing?!’ Then he would go round the School, inspecting all the different parts of it for about half an hour or forty five minutes. He would leave for home at around five forty five, or six, have a bath, and breakfast, and come back…

But why was he given to coming before sunrise?  Well, I think, it was to see whether any student was up and about at that hour…To see if everything was all right, and whether there were any early risers working and exercising…

He did this routinely, trying not to be seen by us! He was afraid we would be scared, or embarrassed, if we saw him, you see…

And so, would stand behind a tree!

But I could see him, nevertheless, hiding behind a tree, and observing…!

Learn, learn to be graceful

Another memory… which is always there with me…

Again, that was during my first year at School… The second semester, perhaps… He beckoned to me, in the corridor, and said,

“You know, we, Brahmins… we simply lack grace, gracefulness…”

He was fond of using those, English, words– grace, graceful

“Brahmins… Not at all graceful. Learn, learn to be graceful. Look at your classmate Suresh Shetty now… See how graceful he is…!”

Suresh is from Mangalooru, and was and is one of my dearest friends.

“See how graceful he is! We… you… you know what you should do? Observe how a shoodra boy…”

He said that, in those very words… And with a good and pure heart…

“Observe a shoodra boy… the way he holds a tea cup and saucer… the way he sips tea and puts the cup and saucer back… Watch how Suresh does it… And watch yourself, and me, doing the same thing… Such a difference…! We… we must learn to be graceful, like that…!”[i]

That was all that he said…

But, actually, he was saying, “Open yourself up to life.  Keep your eyes and ears open… See, and hear… And give yourself up… Never let attitudes of oonch-neech (class and caste) rule you… Let your mind and heart embrace all and everything…

Now I don’t know why he said that to me…[ii] But he would say things like that all through his life. And lived what he said…

To the end of his days, he would say, “Theatre is a shoodra art, mind you. It is the panchama, the fifth, Veda. Therefore we are all shoodras, in the good sense of those words. We, theatre people, we are a caste by ourselves!”

Those words have stayed with me to this day. It’s all very important for me. Because… if you ask what we have learnt from someone like Karanthji, it is not just those lessons that are deemed to be weighty, or intellectual, or those productions that are successful… It is also words such as these that great teachers utter at random… these words remain, and truly nurture us…

With G.V Iyer and H.K. Yoganarasimha

Rangayana, and the Rangamandal

After those three years (plus one more) at NSD, I was able to be with him again when I joined Rangayana, Mysooru as abhinya prashikshaka (senior teacher in Acting), when it began working in 1989.[iii]

He had sent word to me saying, ‘‘Come, and work here as abhinaya prashikshaka.” And so did K. V. Subbanna. So I went, and began working there.

A question is asked sometimes. Before coming to Mysooru, Karanthji founded and shaped the Rangamandal in Bhopal. The Rangamandal of Bhopal and Nataka Karnataka Rangayana of Mysooru…what is the difference between them? What is the difference in the way he shaped that company, and this company?

Now, so far as I know, the Rangamandal came up with some very good productions but never, at any time, did it have full-time teachers of the theatre arts in it. There was no one there to constantly interact with the actors and teach them, or advise them. Karanthji, later, probably felt that that was a drawback, and saw the need to take in teachers too when he founded Rangayana. That’s how I, and some others, joined him there.

I was abhinaya prashikshka, senior teacher of acting. Jayateertha Joshi, who was my classmate at NSD and who later joined the Information and Publicity Department of the Government of Karnataka, came in as deputy director (admin) of the company. Basavalingaiah was rangapramukha (repertory chief). Gangadharaswamy was nepathya prashikshaka (senior teacher of stage-craft). Cheeni – Srinivas Bhat – joined as musician, and music teacher. Anju Singh joined as martial arts expert. Dwaraki – H. K. Dwarakanath – joined as designer, and teacher of stage design. Nataraj Enagi was with us too, but for six months only, as abhinaya shikshaka (teacher of acting).

Now, it is important to note this difference between the Rangamandal and Rangayana. The Rangamandal was active for five, or six, years and then it more or less stopped working. But Rangayana has been working for twenty-two or twenty-three years continuously, starting from 1989 right up to now, that is, 2011. Whatever the faults in its work, that a company has been very alive and working all these years is perhaps because in its initial years it was a professional theatre company as well as a theatre school. And also because all through those early years and later too — for more than a decade, in all — it was a theatre company and a school that had (after a few of the original twenty- five left) only twenty-two actors, who underwent training continuously even as they performed professionally.

And therefore there was this long-term concentration, and this continuity, which are, generally, not to be found in other drama schools. Because, you see… you were working and gaining experience, not just for a year or two, but for six years, and continuously so, with prashikshas and shikshakas who were only slightly older than you. The wonderful thing was that they, the teachers, were also learning from you…

So we were all learning, and together. There was this togetherness in learning. Therefore, in the best sense of the term, there was a striving after professionalism. That it is important not only to perform, to do theatre, but also to continuously think about theatre, to critically examine what you are doing. That Karanthji created such an ethos in the company, in the early years at least, is for me truly remarkable.

Karanthji, the actor


Karanthji had another quality. Wherever he was, whether at NSD, or the Rangamandal, or Rangayana, he could always recognise a natural talent. He could, and would, recognise natural talent equally naturally.

I stress the word naturally because despite being worldly-wise in certain matters (without being which he could not have founded and lead institutions), when it came to the recognising of talent, of insights into the practice of art, he would set aside all other considerations and calculations, and would recognise such talent as naturally as it was itself natural.

He would therefore encourage talent and would create an atmosphere where one could work untrammelled, and fearlessly.

In my opinion, this is the hallmark of any great artist. It is a quality that anyone who wants to found and lead an arts institution must have.

Freedom, Confusion, and Wildness

Anyone who worked with him always had this sense of having boundless independence. You did not have to be afraid of making mistakes, did not have to worry about what Masterji would think of you or say to you… It was an atmosphere of fearlessness, almost a free-for-all atmosphere. Although that would also sometimes get totally out of control and give rise to great indiscipline and confusion!

But sometimes — no, many times, now —   one feels one would rather have that kind of indiscipline, even if it is a little wild, than be suffocated by certain kinds and notions of discipline.

Karanthji had a boundless ability to create such an atmosphere. Because, you know, he was, in the best sense of it, himself rather wild!

Take me, for instance… In my work as abhinaya prashikshaka, he gave me such absolute freedom… He never said you must do only this, and do it in such and such a way… you must do this and this and this. Never.

True, we used to sit in a meeting sometimes – once a week, generally. There we would chat, and discuss things… and ideas would be thrown up, and about…. But I must say he hardly ever probed, asking, “What exactly are you doing? What else, exactly? How’s it going?” Hardly ever. So, I would structure the classes on my own.

And, I must say, because we had studied under him and were now working with him, and because all of us ourselves believed in doing things practically and not in dry theorising, or in only talking… and, because we had to perform live in front of spectators —  you know, not just for one kind of a spectatorship but for various kinds of spectators, reaching out to various kinds of people all over the state — because of all that, the training that we gave the actors (and ourselves) was fashioned to suit that end…

He loved dogs

You seem to be learning more!

See, when it comes to training actors, and working with them — someone who thinks they are a teacher, it is they who learn very much.

And Karanthji would often say as much, half-jokingly. He would sometimes peep in while I was in class, watch briefly, and go away. Later, he’d say, “You seem to be learning more than they!”

Learning more than they!

And I’d laugh too, saying, “Yes, sir.” Because, truly, I was learning a lot!

Karanthji had the ability to create such an atmosphere.

Poems, Legends and Our People

Two things that are always on my mind, that I remind myself of constantly, and savour inwardly…

When Rangayana began working, apart from all the exercises and everything that we did as part of our training, Karanthji had it so our first production, the very first, that we performed before a public audience was Govina Haadu, a narrative poem written by an anonymous poet (circa 1600-1800 CE). That was our very first production. [iv]  

  1. K. Yoganarasimha, our music teacher, composed the music and for it, and directed it, broadly. Yoganarasimha was a veteran actor-musician-playwright and manager (meaning owner) of the Company theatre of yore. Company theatre is the Kannada equivalent of the Parsee theatre of North India.

Then, the next production for public performance — Karanthji was particular about it — was Tirukana Kanasu, a popular narrative poem, again, written by Muppina Shadakshari, also circa 1600-1800 CE. Again, the music and direction was by H. K. Yoganarasimha.[v]

Then came Kindari Jogi, the famous and popular children’s narrative poem written by Kuvempu, based on The Pied Piper of Hamlyn. It was our first, really major, production. And this time, Karanthji himself composed the music for it, and directed it, and lead us in the singing for every single performance of it.[vi]

Now what does all this show? If you asked him, he would surely have replied, “Look, we are Kannadigas. Govina Haadu and Tirukana Kanasu… these are our very dearly loved poems based on equally dearly loved legends. And Kindari Jogi is a very dearly loved poem written by one of our greatest poets. We should up take these first, poems that live on in the minds and hearts of our people.”

With novelist Chaduranga

Pure Genius

And yes, I will never tire of saying this: the music that Karanthji composed for Kindari Jogi…To my knowledge, there is nothing that can equal it in the whole of modern Indian theatre music, not excepting what he himself has done elsewhere, or for other productions including those of Rangayana. It was a work of pure genius.

A long narrative poem, and in its music and staging, such a variety of ragas, so many dramatic variations in tonality, such disjunctions in musical notes, such theatrical twists and turns! It had it all… his musical composition…! I am awestruck, to this day!

Anyone who wants to study theatre and music, and theatre music, must study the music he composed for it, and that production as a whole, deeply. Those ragas, that music…

It saddens me that the music he composed for Kindari Jogi is not available for all to hear even after so many years. Really, it should have been made into a good CD, or DVD, so we could all hear and study it.[vii]

People of the Forest and Jazz

Another work of Karanthji’s I am very fond of…

He produced the poet Kuvempu’s play Chandrahaasa at Rangayana, Mysooru. There is a sequence in this play, just before the scene where the child Chandrahaasa is abandoned in the forest: the vyadhas, a hunter people of the forest, are out hunting. Excited shouts, cries and exhortations… all written by Kuvempu. Now, Karanthji took up those bits of shouts, cries, and changed them ever so slightly (so they could be sung), and turned them into a song!

And what a song it is! You simply can’t tell whether it is folk music, or modern jazz, or rap or what… maybe it’s of all that, at once. I love it…

Collector of musical instruments

Chaos Theory, Restlessness, Ananda

To all of that, let me now add something that’s always on my mind, something which comes out of my having been with him, and worked and talked to him long and closely…

Karanthji had — to put it a bit humorously — a chaos theory of his own! I would sometimes quarrel with him, “Sir, this is so terribly unstructured… How can we work like this?”

And he would say No, No, No…

Or, I would sometimes say, “Sir, it’s all so chaotic!”

Let me tell you why. And perhaps there are others also who will tell you the same thing as I, which is this:

Any production that he took up, the rehearsals of it took place only over a period of ten days, or twelve at the most, at a stretch … It was like that in Rangayana, where he directed seven or eight productions.[viii]

The highest number of days that Karanthji gave himself to the rehearsing of any play, I mean actually being there himself, was… how many? Twelve, at the most!

Actually, he would set aside a month, or a month and a half, for rehearsals. But he would not himself stay put! He would start off something, and turn to me and say, “You… You do something now,” or he would tell the actors, “All right, read the play, and this, and this,” or, “Ummm, play around. Play some games. Improvise.” And, “Raghu, improvise something with them.” And he would take off! He had to go round the world, you see! He’d just up and leave!

At last he’d be back… some fifteen days before the opening day (of the production). He’d come back…but would still not begin rehearsing…The opening day would be drawing nearer and nearer…And he’d sit at home, with his harmonium, making music… He’d cast about musically, this way, and that — looking for some door to open — and then, when it opened: Hanh! Come. Sit. Sit, everybody!

He would sit everyone down, and teach the songs, and evolve the music, and then after making them play around and improvise further, he would set to work.

Once, I burst out, “No, No, sir. This is getting too chaotic….”

And he said, “No!.. I want chaos!”

We would quarrel often about such things… always with a lot affection and vehemence.[ix]

He was defiant, “Ayyo, I need chaos, I say! And…mind you… where there is no chaos, I will create chaos.”

I then saw that there was a meaning to what he was doing there, a method in that madness. And feel so more and more nowadays.

Because, you see…what Karanthji was doing, it was quite surely intended to put people any person in a situation of great pressure…

You see, when opening day is only ten days away, the actors and the rest of the team — their blood begins to heat up, there is an adrenaline rush, so to speak: we have to face the audience now, and perform: such little time left…

What happens then is… the iron has to be beaten when it is hot, you see… then it will turn any way you want it to….the mind and heart are plastic, the body, plastic… you are ready to shed all your inhibitions… And so there is a kind of despair, a desperation, and out of that desperation comes a great energy…

So, you know, he would make that happen, will it to happen, and then when it was all hot and soft, he would strike, and hit, and pound and pound and phat phat phat ready it up…

But the truth is, it would work sometimes, and sometimes it wouldn’t. It was a hit-or-miss method. But when it worked, it was unbeatable. We must appreciate that.

And another thing happens then… when you work under pressure like that… in a sort of chaos… certain deep, deep aspects of yourself that you did not know of yourself are suddenly released. But even if Karanthji did all that because he wanted those subconscious aspects to be released, I don’t think he thought up a theory to that effect, in the abstract, before applying it. On the contrary, it came out of his own nature…I think, as he worked he discovered the trick, so to speak… ‘Oho, this is how it is. All right, then… I will do theatre like this from now on…!’

So, I’d say that that way of working was not born out of theorising, but came out of lived experience, through practical discovery…He allowed that to lead him…

So, if I had to define Karanthji in a nutshell, I would say:

He was constant restlessness, and constant joy, ananda…

I would say that.

Constantly restless… He simply couldn’t stick to one place. It was as if he always wanted to go elsewhere, somewhere….

And ananda.


Count cars and bicycles, drench yourself in the rain

There is a book, his favourite. He gave it to me once, and asked me to read it. Its title is Missing the Pleasure, or something like that. He had a good collection of books, you see.

Missing the Pleasure (or whatever) was a collection of small essays of, say, a couple of pages each, written by two people…I’ve forgotten who…

It was a book about not missing out on life’s little pleasures…

You know, just go out on to a street or a road. Sit on a bench or a platform that’s on the footpath… or by the road. Just sit, and watch… All those vehicles going past… Go on watching. And count …Like when we used to when we were children, in primary school…How many cars, how many bicycles…

Sit like that for a few hours… and watch. And see…!

Or, take the first rains of the season… why, even the fourth day of the season… The number does not matter…Go for a walk in the rain and get drenched… Just like that… Walk from one part of the town to another…Drench yourself…

There was a whole series of small essays on how we are missing out on such pleasures.

Karanthji used to love such things. You know, giving one’s self up to something…. Small, small… small things like that…

In that sense…. and on the whole, Karanthji’s character (and his theatre)… it was one of non-stop restlessness, and ananda.

Ananda because of restlessness. And, even when in a state of ananda, to begin fidgeting…, “No, this is not what I want to do… there’s something else…” Fidgeting like that.

Restlessness and ananda – both, at once.

Mysooru, Breakfast, and Belonging

Another thing that I must share.

The way Rangayana grew during Karanthji’s time, and the way it continues to stand today — the city of Mysooru has played a big part in all of that. The eminent and treasured citizens of Mysooru — they are treasures of Mysooru, of India and indeed the whole world — they too have nurtured Rangayana. People like G.H. Nayak and Meera Nayak, N. Rathna, Balan and Rameshwari Varma, Panditaradhya, Devanoora Mahadeva, Ramu, that is, T. S. Ramaswamy,Vishwanath Mirle and N. S. Raghunath and, while he was alive, Chaduranga — many, many like them welcomed Karanthji to the city with open arms. And to the end, Karanthji loved them back, and put faith in them.

One of the many things that Karanthji made us do in the initial years, the years of training, was truly imaginative.

Every Monday everyone had to be ready to set out by a quarter to six, or six, in the morning. He’d take us out on a long walk of two hours or more… until, say, eight thirty. Each time we would go to a different part of the city. Since Rangayana was made up of people who came different parts of Karnataka, all of us got to know Mysooru well, thanks to those walks.

Each time, we would go to a different place —to a mantapa, or a garden, or a park, or some other place, or to some neighbourhood in the city. Or, as we did once, even up the Chamundi Hills – walking through the woods, and climbing up and down boulders. After having looked around the place a while, we’d visit a well-wisher who lived nearby – a writer, or a teacher, or a small-scale industrialist, or some other such friend. Karanthji would have told them beforehand, “We are coming for breakfast. Not one, not two, but forty of us!”


So we’d go and have breakfast. They’d have readied it for us – for forty people – happily! After all, it was Karanthji and his team coming to call on them!

And so we began to belong to the city, and made friends with scores of people. And they too had this warm feeling that they had given us food and hospitality. That’s how he brought people and hearts together.

And this happened all through the first two-and-a-half or three years. We made friends with the city and its people, like that.

So, to this day, any time Rangayana faces a problem, the people of the city, and its eminent citizens such as Mahadeva and G. H. Nayak, and others, all stand by it. Truly, that’s a big thing.

Waters: Flowing, Stagnant, and Sluggish

Before Rangayana began working, that is, at the time Karanthji selected and took in the twenty-five actors, there was no official promise made that they would be employed there permanently, with all the benefits and rules that apply to government servants. But unofficially, informally, at some level, there seems to have been some such understanding between Karanthji and the actors – that they would indeed be permanently employed.

Because, when I joined Rangayana, Karanthji made me put my hand on his, literally, and told me, “Look, you’ve come to train them in acting. You must ready them to do theatre all their lives, and to do so in Rangayana.”

Now, what did that mean? Certainly that Rangayana was here to stay and that the actors would work there permanently?

Now imagine how that can enthuse you, the kind of darshana it can give you, “Oh! I have to work here all my life, and must ready them to do so too all through their lives. A happy challenge!” Something like that, surely?

But later, by the end of the first three years (the actors had signed a contract for six years) they were told that permanent employment was ruled out. That they’d have to leave at the end of the six year contract period.[x]

They didn’t say that to us, the teachers. There was some indication that we could continue working there.

The actors became very agitated, and their agitation took on many forms. Sulking, sullenness, public protests, and so on.[xi]

With Habib Tanvieer and S. Malathi

But Karanthji believed that it is not good for artists to be permanently employed in any organisation and, even less, in a government organisation; that change plays an important part in the arts; that life is like flowing water; that a real artist should be like flowing water and should not become stagnant. Something like that.

Now if that belief had been shared with the actors right at the beginning, if that had been agreed upon clearly right at the beginning — not merely on paper, but informally also — perhaps there would have been no problem. But that clarity was not there in the early years. So the actors, I think they imagined and wanted something else.

Because, you see, there are certain pressures of life, certain realities. And Karanthji doesn’t seem to have realised properly that those realities give rise to certain wants and necessities. So, as the actors’ struggle for permanent employment became more and more intense, he had to leave Rangayana.

Truth to tell, I myself quit Rangayana just a week before the order of permanent appointments came from the government. Because I too have never liked to stagnate – either personally, or as part of a stagnating organisation. I quit.

But there is this. True, life is flowing water. And, true, art too should be flowing water. But that water must be socially enabled to flow clearly, and unhindered. It must not become brackish, and its flow sluggish. If you see to it that it flows in a clean and clear channel or canal, and take care to make sure that it is not polluted, it will flow on well, and serve the world. There would be no problem then.

But if the cares of the realities of daily life hinder it, it will affect the art (and the artist) too very badly, and then it all turns murky. When that happens to an artistic organisation, it is the responsibility of whoever founded it and leads it to set things right. Now, in the matter of Rangayana, that responsibility was not fulfilled willingly by anyone, starting from the government down to the persons or powers directly responsible for the whole thing.

And so my artist friends there, who fought for permanent employment – they turned bitter. They won the battle, but the bitterness remains, somewhere inside, as a whirlpool… and traps us all. That should not have happened. A clear and transparent agreement and a clear understanding would have been good for everyone.

This much, I can say.


[i] I must here stress that this happened in the nineteen seventies, when lohiaite ideas were the very stuff of the literary and artistic philosophy of a section of modernist Kannada writers. They romanced Lohia and his ideas. Karanthji was very much a part of that milieu. I must, also, mention here that he was deeply affected when Babri Masjid was vandalised and destroyed by Hindutva bigots on December 6th, 1992. He gave a statement to the newspapers saying we must all rebuild the Masjid at that very place and that he was willing to carry bricks there, bearing them on his back, as part of that effort.

[ii] By the time I went to NSD, in fact right from when I was in college, I was a part of the communist, lohiaite and dalit movements, and was active in the theatre group Samudaya. However, what Karanthji said that day bears repeating and reminding oneself of always, in life generally and in artistic life.

[iii] I studied at NSD for four years in all, from 1978 to 1982. Karanthji was director of the School during the first three years. In 1981 he left for the Rangamandal at Bhopal. I studied theatre directing as part of the Advanced Study Course (ASC), in 1981-82. The course at NSD has always been one of three years. It was Karanthji’s idea to select a few students to do an ASC in stage directing, or acting, or theatre in education, after they had done their standard course. But he left for Bhopal, after initiating the new course, and the ASC was doomed to be short-lived. It lasted only that one year, 1981-82, and vanished thereafter.

[iv] Article with the poem in English: https://kannadatoenglish.com/tag/punyakoti/.

Animated short film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dei_D5SSx8.

Excerpt from the Kannada feature film Tabbaliyu Neenaade Magane (directed by Karanthji and Girish Karnad!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUNtHRXyWXY

[v] Thirukana Kanasu (he Dream of the Beggar) narrates the story of a beggar who dozes off and dreams that he has been chosen king, after the death of an heirless ruler. He dreams of enjoying wealth and power, and the company of many wives, of having children and marrying them off in extravagant weddings and, finally, of being surrounded by enemy kings, who have come attacking. Frightened, he wakes up and is ashamed of his hubris of a dream.

[vi] Kuvempu is the pen name of K. V. Puttappa, 29 December 1904 – 11 November 1994. The full title of the poem: Bommanahalliya Kindari Jogi.

[vii]  Rangayana actors have, at last, made a recording of it, in the last week of August 2020, and it will soon be on YouTube.

[viii] Six, to be precise: Kindari Jogi, Mookana Makkalu, Chandrahaasa, Katthale Belaku, Mara Hothu Bara Banthu Dhum Dhum Dhum, and Ragasaraaga (an exercise in musical sounds and rhythms).

[ix] I always took care to see such outbursts and arguing on my part never took place in front of the actors or the office staff. I would do all such arguing either in the faculty meeting or, even more often, in fact almost always, at his home. I would go and see him there frequently either to just chat with him happily or to fight things out!

[x] In the video recording, I wrongly said that the actors were told that permanent employment was impossible mid-way through their six year contract period, that is, when they had worked at Rangayana for three years. As a matter of fact, they were told so as the sixth year of their contract period was about to begin, at around the end of the fifth year.

[xi] I must clarify here that I stood by the actors, and with them, throughout their struggle, both privately and publicly. I advised them on how to protest and struggle dignifiedly, as artists should, taking care not to dishonour our artistic profession, and took part in their struggle. I had my doubts about the rightness of artists fighting for permanent employment. And I myself did not want any permanent appointment. But had not Karanthji made those actors some kind of a tacit promise? Had he not given me a darshana? To pretend that he had not would amount to dishonesty and self-deception, I thought.

Photos: Raghuveer Holla