I was on my second beer at Dublin, with Dire Straits coming down the speakers overhead, when Girish Karnad came in. I was rather enjoying the local beer, Kingfisher Ultra, which comes in a pint size bottle. Karnad came in with a lady about the same age as him, and they were soon joined by another couple, and the foursome took without a fuss the table that Ashok the bar captain pointed to them. Karnad had a bad throat. He blew, and hawked, and improvised varied ways to clear his throat—but the irritant that was lodged there wouldn't go. He ordered for a Shiraz. "Indian,” he asserted. In the next minutes as he progressed with his drink he cleared his throat less and less.
But during the times he worked his throat he didn't raise his hand to the mouth. Instead, he indulged in his preoccupation with ever increasing sound. Of course, the man was Girish Karnad, and he was only the other day on stage at the Chief Minister's inauguration, and he has acted in films, he has made movies, and he has written plays and poetry in English and Kannada. He has earned stature enough to disregard the niceties. Also, his companions were as comfortable with him as he was with himself. I liked Karnad's composure myself. From the moment he arrived until the time he left, he never once looked about to see who else was in the bar, he didn't seem to want to know if anybody had noticed him, and he didn't look to observe things in the place. He was unto himself, his throat, his glass of red, his companions, and talk of people’s homes here and abroad. He recommended most a writer's home in Goa to the other man at their table. "You must visit her sometime. It's worth it."
I decided to switch to wine. "I've got The Chocolate Block," Ashok told me, thereby checking me from ordering any other. I asked to see the bottle. The MRP for it was labeled ₹2900 on the bottle, whereas a glass of it cost ₹2000. But of course, I was paying for the time, even if I was paying so much. At any rate, watching Karnad in his private moment seemed like a good time to me—there was a focus that beer had brought upon me and I trained it all on Karnad while sparing a little for REM whom I was enjoying in the meantime, who had come on after a spell of Aerosmith. Losing my Religion, my favorite for years, played in three versions among other REM hits.
I didn’t like The Chocolate Block.
There was more talk regarding that writer in Goa. "I suggested to her to do a writer's workshop there," the lady before Karnad said. She spoke with a trace of a British accent, which she might or mightn’t have affected. She was the one who picked the eats to go with the drinks. But the party didn’t stay for long. After one round of drinks Karnad asked for the check and when it was handed him he exclaimed “I can’t read a damn thing.” Binny the waiter hurried and brought an LED lamp. When he walked out Karnad held his hands clasped behind him over his butt, just like the late Nehru, head bowed and the face grave. In the bright lights at the door all four appeared the senior citizens they really were—even if their gait was brisk.
I watched them go and counted the blessing of being in the city, where important people turn up at next tables. It's only weeks ago that I read Girish Karnad’s short play: The Dreams of Tipu Sultan. Karnad is no favorite writer of mine, but long years ago, in my youth, I'd admired him in the role of Praneshacharya in Samskara. Let me confess now that, more than anything, there’s this thing that I’d once aspired to be a writer myself.
I ate spaghetti aglio e olio through the silence that followed their departure.