Our Fourm


Kailasam’s English Plays




I went through Prof. Thiagarajan’s critique of Kailasam’s English Plays1 with great interest, being something of a ‘Kailasam fan,’ myself!


Every critic has a perfect right to make his own appraisal of the merits or otherwise of a published work. I am anxious however that, as far as possible, mistaken conclusions, however honestly arrived at out of insufficient data, should be avoided. In this instance, Prof. Thiagarajan has permitted himself to make sweeping charges, partly, I imagine, on account of lack of adequate appreciation of Kailasam’s ways of approach (as an artist), and partly on account of ignoring the entire mass of his contributions in Kannada–which is the more substantial, both in quality and quantity. Of his Plays in English, only Karna is complete–the rest, Purpose, Fulfillment*, and Burden are fragments. Unfortunately, he was not spared to enable friends to complete these Mss. and other themes that he had from the epics and the Puranas.


I am referring to remarks like “Kailasam is an escapist,” “inverted moralist,” “lacks reverence for life,” “ seeks in annihilation an escape from the burden of life,” “mistakes darkness for light.” There seems to be an obsession to compare Kailasam to Byron about whom–after the first flush of hero-worship–a whole tornado of literary criticism in the latter part of the 19th century was let loose, and conceivably justly. But if Byron had been (even remotely) a humorist, as Kailasam was, I, for one, would have excused all his ‘inversions,’ ‘perversions’ etc. Kailasam was our greatest humorist in modern times in Kannada, and created quite an army of characters from all strata, delineating children, old-men, and women, the lowliest and the lost in particular, with a kindliness and a sympathetic understanding which is unforgettable. He reveled in life and its manifold manifestations. He laughed with and at the world in loud and resounding guffaws. Such a one is by no means Byronic, though the high-strung emotionalism of Kailasam is a lure to the unwary to slide into the facile analogy.


His ‘Truth Naked,’ ‘Cain,’ and ‘The Simple Seven,’ by the way were just occasional ‘spasms’ (to use his expression)–doggerels which he made up for his raconteuring purposes, and are too slender to be considered the repositories of his philosophy of life.


The castigation that Kailasam has conceived of God as an ‘absentee landlord’ is somewhat unkind. Surely, Prof. Thiagarajan knows that Indian thought conceives of the Supreme Being in both His immanent and transcendent aspects. I know there are other estimable gentlemen who fight shy of Kailasam’s ‘Fulfillment’ but chapter XI of the Gita presents by no means a more soothing picture of the Supreme One, and if Krishna did kill the enemies of Pandavas prior to the Kurukshetra battle how did he do it? Kailasam was not squeamish about facing the question, and provided his own answer according to his own artistic sensibility.


It is obvious that Prof. Thiagarajan has not taken kindly to Karna. It was developed out of a scenario for a film producer. It later assumed a Sophoclean complexion, every Act ending with a pathetic iteration about the Brahmin’s curse. One cannot look for Aristotelian unity here. That Karna departs from the Mahabharata is true enough–as Ekalavya does. But is it aesthetically satisfying? That is the main question. It is difficult to subscribe to the dictum that Karna depicted in the Sabha Parva is more satisfactory.


The metaphor about helping oneself to ready-made stones from Tippu Sultan’s palace to build one’s private house–implying as it does a charge of piracy and plagiarism–is inconsistent with the accusation above made, that Kailasam has been so perverse as to reject ready-made stones. If there is any writer in modern Karnataka who has been singularly free from the tendency to piracy and plagiarism, surely it was Kailasam.


By ‘Raksha Yoga’ Kailasam meant ‘the Yoga or Sadhana of offering protection to the weak.’ What Prof. Thiagarajan means by the ‘friend beyond phenomena’ is obscure to me.


The tag about Byron–child of passion: the moment he begins to reflect he is like a child–is wholly inapplicable to one whose penetrating analysis of social life and even of philosophic ideas as in purpose where Karma Yoga is sketched–gained for him the admiration of two such intellectuals as Dr. S. Radhakrishnan and Dr. C. R. Reddy.


Altogether, Prof. Thiagarajan’s views betray a lack of understanding of Kailasam, whom scores have seen and understood.