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Item Code: IDK303
Author: Girish Karnad
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Language: (A Play Translated from the original Kannada by the author)
Edition: 2008
ISBN: 0195692365
Pages: 74
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.4" X 5.6"
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Book Description

From the Jacket

In the Mahabharata, King Yayati is cursed to old age in the prime of life for a sexual misdemeanour of his and tries to circumvent the catastrophe by demanding that his son, Pooru, lend him his youth in exchange for the curse. This unusual myth about a parent's aggression against his offspring has inspired some of India's most eminent writers to explore it in fiction, poetry, and drama.

Girish Karnad was only twenty-two when he attempted his interpretation in the play, Yayati. What makes his version of the tale so resonant, and startlingly original, is that he rejects the traditional glorification of the son's 'self-sacrifice' and, against a backdrop of lust, jealousy, and racial tensions, foregrounds the tragic choices with which the young prince and his bride are confronted. Angry, energetic, ambitious, and strongly, influenced by the tragic vision of the Existentialists, the play immediately established Karnad's reputation as a dramatist in Kannada and launched him on his celebrated career in the Indian theatre. Yayati has been translated into different Indian languages, and has continued to be performed all over the country during the half century since it was written.

About the Author

Girish Karnad was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. Apart from working in the theatre, he has directed and acted in films. He has served as Director, Film and Television Institute of India; Chairman, Sangeet Natak Akademi (the National Academy of the Performing Arts); and Director, Nehru Centre, London. He was Visiting Professor and Playwright-in-Residence at the University of Chicago. The Cuthrie Theatre, Minneapolis in the US and the Haymarket Theatre, Leicester in the UK, have been among the theatres that commissioned him to write for them. He has been honoured with the Padma Bhushan and conferred the prestigious Jnanpith Award.

Back of the Book

'When I first read Yayati, I was amazed. Those characters, those minds, so alive and true!"

-Vijay Tendulkar,
The Hindu, 9 February 1998

'The playwright has dramatized this short tale investing it with an epic force reminiscent of the great Greek tragedies. The characters are titans, and their desires, motives, fulfillments and frustrations too are of epic dimensions.'

-A Shankar,
Bharat Jyoti, Sunday, 11 March 1962

'My Girish Karnad seems to have begun where playwrights generally end. Yayati announces the rise of a new star on the Kannada literary horizon… Yayati ranks among the best in Mannada'

Mysindia, 24 September 1961


'The most memorable feature of Yayati-and a striking accomplishment for a twenty-two-year-old author-is its quartet of sentient, articulate, embittered women, al of whom are subject in varying degrees to the whims of men, but succeed in subverting the male world through an assertion of their own rights and privileges…Yayati establishes at the outset of Karnad's career that myth is not merely a narrative to be bent to present purposes, but a structure of meanings worth exploring in itself because it offers opportunities for philosophical reflection without the constraints of realism or the necessity of contemporary setting.'

-Aparna Bhargava Dharwadker, Introduction to Girish Karnad, Collected Plays (2005).


Yayati is my first play. I wrote it in 1960. The plays I have written since then-with the exception of Anjumallige-have all been translated into English and included in the two volumes of my Collected play. But I have not, so far, allowed Yayati to be published in English, although an excellent translation was produced by Priya Adarkar as early as the mid-sixties. For some reason, I felt uncomfortable with the work and decided to treat it as part of my juvenilia. The play however has been translated into different Indian languages and continues to be staged. I have had to face complaints from students of Indian theatre, as well as those wishing to stage it, about the non-availability of the text in English. Hence this version.

Confronting the play again, the temptation to tinker with it has been irresistible. But it would be not just silly but disastrous to tackle at the age of sixty-nine a play I had written at twenty-two. I would have to rewrite it entirely. On the other hand, when I wrote it, I had no experience of theatre, and over the years I have been fortunate to have received comments from the professional who have actually staged it, such as Satyadev Dubey, Dr Shreeram Lagoo and C.R. Simha. It would have been unfair not to incorporate their insights into the text before making it available to a new public. But these suggested revisions, small as they were, were scattered through the play. So instead of bothering Adarkar again, I decided to translate the revised text myself. I would like to express my sincerest thanks to Adarkar for the earlier translation.

I lived in Dharwad when I wrote the play and among the many institutions that made the city virtually the cultural capital of north Karnataka in those days was the publishing firm, Manohara Grantha Mala.

The Mala was started, more as a vocation than as a business enterprise, by an unusual person called G.B. Joshi in 1935, when modern Kannada literature was still trying to find its feet. Readership for Kannada books was tiny and only someone as quixotic as Joshi would venture to publish contemporary fiction. Joshi promised 'good, tasteful' literature of a certain number of pages per year for a fixed subscription and about 1,500 readers trusted his judgment. On this entirely informal understanding, he had been able to discover some of the best writers of that period and bring out books which are today acknowledged as classics. To be published by the Mala was to gain immediate recognition. But Joshi was also besotted with theatre and had squandered a large portion of his personal fortune on that passion.

Joshi's own taste in literature was erratic and the early titles brought out by the Mala varied in quality. In the mid-fifties, however, Joshi acquired a youthful adviser with vision, called Kirtinath Kurtkoti. A student of English literature, Kurtkoti had an insider's familiarity with Kannada, Sanskrit, and Marathi literatures and impeccable judgment. He transformed the Mala into a modern, vibrant, critically-aware publishing firm and the Mala transformed Kurtkoti into a major critic.

This was fortunate for me. For having written Yayati, I carried it, with immense trepidation, to Joshi. He took the manuscript home with a grace characteristic of that era and returned it two days later with the mysterious comment, 'The maid's monologue in the last act is very well-written' I accepted that as a polite rejection.

Within the next few weeks, I left for Britain, carrying the play with me. I continued to fiddle with it there, and discovered an uncomfortable truth: it was impossible for me to rethink the play in English.

A few months later, I received a letter from Kurtkoti. 'Joshi described your play to me last night,' wrote Kurtkoti. 'I am intrigued by your use of the Yayati myth.' He asked me to send him the script, adding that he hoped it was not a psychoanalytic reinterpretation of the myth in the manner of Eugene O'Neill. This proviso alarmed me, since, while in England, I had been bowled over by O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra and would have loved to achieve the same kind of quivering intensity in my play. Taking the bit between my teeth, I reworked the play and mailed it to Kurtkoti.

Kurtkoti worked on the language of the play which was inevitably wobbly since I had spent my youth preparing to step into the shoes of Eliot and Yeats. (This was by no means an unusual occurrence. Many writers in Kannada started their literary careers writing in English.) Joshi published the play-which was an act of immense courage, since there was an even smaller market for drama than for fiction.

One of the first people I met on my return to India was the young Satyadev Dubey. He had taken over the mantle of the Theatre Unit in Bombay from Ebrahim Alkazi, who had moved to New Delhi to take charge of the National School of Drama. I had seen and had been deeply influenced by Alkazi's productions in Bombay which had all been in English. So I was unprepared for Dubey's fierce dedication to Indian languages. Our meeting didn't begin too well. The atmosphere was tense with suppressed truculence until Dubey suddenly turned on me and demanded, 'What's the point of writing plays in English? How can you write anything meaningful in that language? I stammered that my play was in Kannada and not in English. In fact, I had found myself incapable of writing in English even when I was keen to do so.

Dubey's face fell. Abashed, he asked me if I would read out my play to him.

After a three-year struggle to get the right budget and cast, Dubey presented Yayati in Hindi, a magnificent production with Amrish Puri in the eponymous role.

It speak for the entirely altered place of English in the Indian theatre today that Dubey has not only produced many English plays since then but has recently written one himself.

I would like to use this occasion to acknowledge the immense load of gratitude I owe the three who shaped the life of this play: G.B. Joshi, Kirtinath Kurktoti, and Satyadev Dubey.

My thanks are also due to Sunila Pradhan in New York (the original Devayani) and Arundhati Raja of the Artists' Repertory Theatre, Bangalore, who persuaded me to take a serious look at Translating it into English.


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Sara Suleri
Communal Violence and Literature40
Ismat Chughtai
Riots, Partition and Independence55
Manikuntala Sen
Partition: Streams of Refugees69
Manikuntala Sen
Either, Neither, or Both74
Shehla Shibli
Two Women, One Family, Divided Nations98
Meghna Guhathakurta
Border Crossings: Travelling Without a Destination121
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Darkness and Light135
Begum Anees Kidwai
Back Again, After 40 Years147
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Jatin & Ismat154
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Lock Up Your Hearts165
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Trauma & Triumph180
Hasna Saha
Lady Camp Commandant187
Jogendra Singh
Rehabilitation, East & West195
Phulrenu Guha
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