The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra was touring the USA after 9/11. The concerts are planned much in advance. On the day of the concert, the conductor greeted the audience, turned his back to them and picked up the baton. He held the baton and stood still. After a few minutes, he kept down the baton, turned to the audience, and said, ‘I cannot do this. It has no meaning for me’.
Quoting this incident, dramatist and writer Makarand Sathe drew our attention to the plight of the intelligentsia in the country. “Authors, artists, creative people have begun to fear if there is scope for meaningful intervention in society? Most people, like the intelligentsia, have come to believe that there isn’t,” said Sathe. He was invited to speak on ‘Independence, Contemporary Issues and Nationalism’ at a programme held to pay tribute to the late artist Girish Karnad. The programme was organised by Aasakta Kalamanch.
Continuing with his talk on the role of the intelligentsia, Sathe said, “Martin Amis, another writer and philosopher, says, ‘If you think that you as an intellectual has no standing in society, then it’s time for you to step into the crowd to be heard. One person who has done this consistently, consciously, till his last breath was Girish Karnad. I salute him.”
With this parting shot Sathe wound up his talk. But not before pointing out the falsehood of the concepts of nationalism and culture. He said, “The rise of nationalism, culture can be attributed to the usual suspects of globalisation and capitalism. The Left spoke on capitalism, pointed out its pitfalls. But didn’t take enough cognisance of globalisation and culture, which was appropriated by Right. I think capitalism also defines what sells and thus culture and religion come under its overarching influence. How markets censor us from doing something also needs to be understood. Majority of the media houses in our country are owned by business houses. So where’s freedom of speech?”
Moving on to nationalism, Sathe who has written plays like Chowk (Cross road), Surya Pahilela Manus (The Man who saw the Sun), said, “In nationalism, we look for a scapegoat. We didn’t have a common or single dynasty ruling us, we didn’t have a common religion or caste, language. But we are told by the rulers that we have common culture. This is incorrect. There cannot be one culture.”
Earlier, actor Omkar Govardhan read out Karnad’s thoughts on Citizen as Soldiers. Karnad’s words are prophetic for our time. He had written, “The soldiers don’t think. They follow order. Someone else thinks for them. This kind of approach is applicable in war-like zone. But in democracy, everyone has to think, think consciously at that. Hence they are given the right to take decision (voting, choosing their leaders). But when citizens act or are provoked to think/ function as soldiers, they start hunting for enemy. The target becomes minority community who cannot fight for themselves.”
Writer-director Manaswini read another essay in which the Kannada littérateur recalled his association with former PM P V Narasimha Rao. “In 1992, Babri Masjid was demolished and then people were killed in riots. There was mayhem. Bombay was in flames. In January, I was in Delhi to attend a film festival. There I met other artists and other artists like Kamal Haasan, Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar. The events that were unfolding in the country had concerned us. So we took appointment with Rao and urged him to visit Bombay... He agreed and said, ‘I will leave for Bombay once Sankranti puja is done.’ Javed pointed out how could he think of puja when the country was in flames.”
Rao invited Karnad again and urged him and Shyam Benegal to make films highlighting the work done by Congress. He said, ‘If BJP comes to power, it will not be good for the country’. Karnad wondered what steps the PM had taken to control BJP and intolerance. Karnad never got back to the PM and didn’t take up the offer.