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We mourn the loss of a visionary writer, Kiran Nagarkar, who authored books that challenged the majoritarianism that our society is engulfed in.
September 5 marked an unfortunate day with the demise of a great literary voice who has contributed in shaping the literary standards of India. Kiran Nagarkar passed away at the age of 77 on the evening of Thursday due to a brain haemorrhage that he was found to have been suffering from earlier that week.
Known as a writer, journalist and screenplay writer, Kiran Nagarkar has authored various exceptional books and plays in English as well as Marathi. He started off his career with a Marathi novel titled Saat Sakkam Trechalis (1974) which was also translated into English many years after its publication.
However, the novel that brought him into the limelight was his 1995 novel, Ravan and Eddie. It explored the lives of two young boys named Ravan, a Hindu, and Eddie, a Catholic, and their friendship despite the tragic history of their families. It shone light on subjects like inter-caste and inter-religious conflicts in the slumps of India and an educative elicitation of the critical differences between the Catholics and Hindus living in a Chawl (low-income groups).
Kiran transformed this story into a larger trilogy by adding two new books following the plot – The Extras (2012) and Rest In Peace (2015).
In 1997 came Cuckold, his most acclaimed work which narrated the life of Meerabai’s husband, Bhoj Raj, and his anxiety of being married to a woman devoted and submitted to Lord Krishna. The novel earned him a Sahitya Akademi Award in 2001.
Kiran wrote on topics which were unconventional at the time and repeatedly tried to give an equal platform to those who were being victimized by society, or stories.
Probably one of the most controversial works in his arsenal, Kiran published his screenplay Bedtime Story in 2015 as a novel which was initially written in 1975. The novel had a gender-neutral take on the epic Mahabharata and was critical of authoritarianism, patriarchy and casteism depicted in it. Salil Tripathi, noted journalist best describes Bedtime Story when he writes about his first reading of the book: “The play shows how the good guys—Pandavas—are weak and subject to human follies, and the bad guys—Kauravas—are no better. The choice is between dark and darker…”
When the screenplay was presented to the censor board by Shreeram Laaghu in 1978, it came back with 78 scenes cut from the original. When asked about the backlash and criticism for his book in an interview with NDTV, the author said:
“What I would certainly like to think is that, when are we going to start getting a little bit more matured? And when are we going to learn our own past and our mythology?! What do you want to do with them; condemn them to some kind of uni-linear treatment? These are live texts where you can feel the blood flowing, you know. I would hate to get caught up in this ridiculous thing called ‘Gharkilaajrakhni’… There is no laaj here. What you have here is really an open discussion which is what a democracy is about. And this is the very thing that we don’t want. If this is the case then there may be something radical about the way we think of democracy”.
Last year, Nagarkar was accused of sexual harassment with three cases against him during the #MeToo movement by female journalists. On 11th October, he tweeted, “I unequivocally deny these allegations of sexual impropriety which go against the heart of my character and everything I stand for. I have never engaged in any such behaviour with anyone. I must stress that I do not wield any power or authority that would allow me to harm or hamper a professional journalistic career”. This incident made Penguin Random House India revoke their contract of publishing his newest novel, The Arsonist, though the novel was published by Juggernaut.
Nagarkar lost many admirers that day. The accusation till date has neither been proved or disproved. In the absence of a closure or a judgement on the matter, we are each left to choose what we want to believe in. However, there is no denying that he gave us incredible works, voicing controversial issues and inconvenient truths.
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