Translated from the
Original Kannada by the author himself.
You know Sultan, Im just beginning to understand why they say you are the cleverest man in the world.
This is what, in the course of the play Tughlaq by Girish Karnad, well-known actor, Jnanpeeth Awardee and one of the most important playwrights living today, Sheikh Imam-ud-Din, an important character, has to say about Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq, now remembered as the most foolish king ever to have ascended to the throne of Delhi. Tughlaq, Karnads second Kannada play and now widely recognized as a classic, first appeared in print in 1964; and was an immediate success on the stage. Karnads earlier play, Yayati, had been a similar success too.
In its canvas and treatment, Tughlaq is both huge and contemporary. It is a tale of the crumbling to ashes of the dreams and aspirations of an over-ambitious, yet considerably virtuous king. Contemporary in the sense that one can see flashes of Tughlaqi (almost a proverb now in the Hindi) attitude callous yet well-meaning in contemporary political structures too. It was long after I had read Tughlaq that I realized it was more than what I was taking it to be. More than a great plot, gripping characters, beautiful speeches and a pinch of history. Despite the foolishness of deciding to shift the capital of India from Delhi to Daulatabad to centralize administration, despite the highhandedness of making copper coins equal in value to silver dinars, despite the shamelessness of designing a conspiracy to kill his own brother and father at prayer hour, what is remarkable, and relatively unknown, in the much-infamous character of Tughlaq is the willingness to work for his people and to ensure their happiness, the courage to take initiative in the direction of communal-equality; and a keenly observing and ever-diligent mind. The disappointment in the end when he is not understood by his people and followers is obvious. And Karnad captures it all beautifully in his inimitable style.
The translation of the original Kannada play Im talking of here is done by Karnad himself. I could read the book again at least half-a-dozen times more for the pure lyrical beauty of some of the statements. Take for example the following:
But do you know you can love a city like a woman?
Nineteen. Nice age! An age but you think you can clasp the whole world in your palm like a rare diamond.
Reading an authors translation of his own work is always comforting. One can at least hope for some finer aspects of the original. Be it the witty dialog between the Sultan and Imam-ud-Din or a comical conversation between Azzam and Aziz, Karnads genius prevails.
A must read for the love of New Drama. A serious uncovering of a famous historical notion. A string of questions to ask yourself.
But then you would expect all that of a classic, wouldnt you?