Kiran Nagarkar (1942-2019)
Adieu, dear writer! Kiran, you will be missed
He always said he feels he is 900 years old. We never questioned it.
News trickled in on 5th September that Sahitya Akademi Award-winning writer of Cuckold, Kiran Nagarkar escaped this mortal realm on Thursday at the age of 77. He suffered a brain haemorrhage on September 2 and breathed his last on September 5.
By Jayashree Joshi
News reports remembered Kiran Nagarkar for his body of work which included: Cuckold; Ravan and Eddie; Saat Sakaam Trechalis. Nagarkar penned eight novels in English and Marathi. Nagarkar also wrote plays, screenplays and works for children. He worked as an academic, a journalist, a screenplay writer, and in the advertising industry.
Novelist, playwright and screenwriter Kiran Nagarkar, chronicled Mumbai life. In his article for signandsight.com (perlentaucher.de) he wrote: “Bombay is my city. It is a fine case study of the head-in-the-sand syndrome. As with any metropolis, there are two Bombays: 'Bombay One' for the affluent and the 'Other Bombay' for the poor. The 'Other' is of no consequence except during elections when political parties promise it the earth and the moon so long as they are voted to power.”
The bilingual bard from Mumbai had a special bond with Germany. Germany welcomed him with open hands. Most of Nagarkar’s novels have been translated into German, the university of Heidelberg organized a seminar on his literature in 2005. “God’s Little Soldier”, his fourth novel, published both in English and in German in 2006, has consistently been on the best-seller list in Germany - It has sold more than 17,000 copies in hardback, and its paperback version continues to do well in bookstores there. Kiran Nagarkar’s 2006 novel God’s Little Soldier, which deals with the subject of extremism, was made into a musical by Theater Freiburg, Germany. Nagarkar first read from the book to nearly 100 of Germany’s Parliamentarians and diplomats in Berlin in 2006. In 2008, he was invited by the University of Tübingen to give a series of lectures, later published in book form. The varsity gave him the rank of Poetikdozent, equivalent to that of a professor. Nagarkar received a Rockefeller grant and was awarded a scholarship by the city of Munich. He stayed as fellow of the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) and at the Institute for Advanced Study (Wissenschaftskolleg) in Berlin. In 2012, he received the Bundesverdienstkreuz, the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Many personal tributes and newspaper obituaries stated how Nagarkar was widely respected for his learning, wit and elegant writing; fiercely liberal and for being an outspoken critic of the state. Here is a collage of various quotes from multiple write-ups from the media, mourning the demise of this exemplary veteran author.
"Nagarkar wrote his first book Saat Sakkam Trechalis in 1974 in his mother tongue, Marathi and received the coveted H.N. Apte Award for the best first novel of 1974”. Its English translation (Seven Sixes are Forty Three) was published in 1980 and then re-released in 2017 as a paperback version by Harper Collins. His bitter and burlesque description of the young Bombayite Kunshank – achieved by means of a fragmented form and rendered in innovative language – is considered to be a milestone in Marathi literature.
Gaurai Vij, in “The Hindu” said, , "Through the 45 years of his literary career, Nagarkar struggled with acceptance from Marathi audiences."
In a column for Outlook in 2001, Kiran Nagarkar wrote, "What both the English and the vernacular press share is a lack of discrimination. They dare not trust their own judgement since they’ve no critical standards. For those who speak English in India and are westernised, and that includes many of our critics, the sun rises and sets in the west. If the west approves it, it must be good. In the regional languages, safety and security often lie at the other extreme: in parochialism and the bogey of safeguarding our culture."
Amrita Dutta in The Indian Express said, "Over two decades later, would come the blockbuster. Ravan & Eddie (1994) started out as a screenplay, but turned into a carnivalesque novel about two boys in a Mumbai chawl — a novel which inevitably pops up on best-loved books by Indian writers."
Nagarkar spoke about Ravan & Eddie when he said, "In 1978, a well-known director of serious Hindi films approached me to write a screenplay… He may have dropped my two heroes and their story, but I owe Ravan & Eddie to him," Nagarkar followed his two heroes across two more novels, The Extras and Rest in Peace. It was a trilogy shaped by Mumbai, its cinema and its mythical energy.
Scroll published a tribute without an author byline. It said, "... In 1997, Nagarkar’s most acclaimed novel, Cuckold, was published. The story of Meerabai’s husband, Bhoj Raj, it is, at one level, a rumination on the nature of love and of devoted worship, while at the same time interrogating the oft-told tale of the singer Meera’s mystical submission to the Hindu god Krishna. But it is also a fictional record of the life, loves and wars of the king of Mewar, and juxtaposes a faint strain of history with a lyrically powerful exposition of the imagination to create a novel that American writer Gore Vidal called “a fascinating book, a sort of fantastic marriage between the Thomas Mann of Royal Highness and the Lady Murasaki."
The novel won the Sahitya Akademi award, and even though it did not become the bestseller that it could have been, it cemented Nagarkar’s literary reputation not just for his contemporaries but also for years to come.
The Wire report said, "Nagarkar wrote seven novels in Marathi and English, interweaving linguistic traditions of both. He also wrote plays and screenplays, the most famous of which is his first play, Bedtime Story (1978)." The report added, "Born in Bombay in 1942, Nagarkar studied at Ferguson College in Pune. He held many roles, switching from assistant professor to journalist and copywriter. Mumbai was at the heart of his art."
Sathya Saran in The Outlook said, "I met Kiran Nagarkar for the last time again at an event. I had been invited to be part of an interview-cum-presentation based on my biography of ghazal singer Jagjit Singh. I had messaged him about it and he had responded saying he would come if he could. It was a day when the Mumbai skies decided to bless the event with an unseasonal downpour. Minutes before we started the event, my phone rang. Kiran and his wife were parked below, at a distance, and had no umbrella. By the time they could be escorted to the hall by a guest, we had started. He walked in while the interview was on, going quietly to the back of the room, ignoring the seats I had reserved for him in front. I met him after the event; he chuckled about being caught in the storm and shook my hand to congratulate me. Then left. He followed that up with a thank you message on my phone. "
Satya Saran ends her piece by saying, "That to me was Kiran Nagarkar. Quintessential writer who sent his books out into the world and let them speak for themselves."
There were many personal tributes remembering him:
I cherish the time I had with him, from our very first meeting close to 15 years ago. I am privileged to have been his editor and to have published some of his work. He was so open to feedback and criticism and so easy to talk to, not just about his work but about everything — life, publishing, marriage, Mumbai, poetry, friendship. - HarperCollins’ VK Karthika
Terribly saddened. The spiritful courageous, irreverent voice of the formidable KiranNagarkar falls silent. How badly we will miss these pillars of the plural free-spirited India. RIP. - Sagarika Ghosh
‘One down, three to go’ from Ramu Ramanathan’s play Bombay Jazz. ... I fondly recall feeling so honoured that day you called, many moons ago, asking me if I would read your book ‘Cuckold’ at it’s launch. Whenever we met You were Ravan and I was Eddie! You will be missed Kiran Nagarkar. - Denzil Smith
The team at Goethe-Institut Mumai salutes your unique sense of humour, the warm and witty conversations, your soft yet assertive tone, we salute your literary acumen and fondly remember our friendship. You will be missed, dear Kiran.