53. Karnad’s preface to his memoir

One of the important aspects of reading a preface to a book is to know why an author wrote that book. This is one place where authors freely express their opinion on various things, and sometimes this opinion is not necessarily related to that book. For me, reading the preface connects me to the author in a better way than say, reading a review of the book, which I generally do after reading the book. Over the years, I have made it a habit to read the preface of almost any book I have come across.
In this context, recently I came across one of the most hilarious prefaces I have read. This is from Girish Karnard‘s memoir (translated from Kannada) titled : this life at play.

Below I reproduce the preface (which is by the way, available online) :

Dharwad, 1973

Aayi (my mother), Bappa (my father) and I were having lunch. My first film Samskara had won the President’s Gold Medal. My second, Vamsha Vriksha, had had a successful run and won the National Award for best direction. My latest film Kaadu was in the final stages of production. I was a Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee. And I had just been named the director of the Film and Television Institute of India. The air at home was thick with self-congratulation.

Then Aayi looked at Bappa and said, ‘And we had thought of not having him.’Bappa went red in the face. After some stammering, he managed to say, ‘That was all your idea, not mine. Why bring this up now?’ and hid his face in the plate in front of him.

I had to know more. I asked Aayi, and she explained: ‘I had three children already when I became pregnant with you. I thought that was enough, so we went to a doctor in Poona named Madhumalati Gune.’


‘She had said she would be at the clinic, but she wasn’t. We waited an hour and returned.’

‘And then?’

‘And then, nothing. We never went back.’

I was stunned. I was then thirty-five years old. Still, I grew faint at the possibility that the world could have gone on without me in it. For a while, I sat there unaware of my surroundings, considering the idea of my non-existence. A thought struck me. With some bewilderment, I asked about my younger sister: ‘Then, what about Leena…?’

Aayi said, somewhat coyly, ‘Oh, we had stopped thinking of all that by then.’ She burst out laughing. Bappa remained engrossed in the contents of his plate.

Had the doctor arrived at the clinic as promised, these memoirs and their narrator would not have existed. So, I dedicate this autobiography to the memory of the person who made all this possible: Dr Madhumalati Gune.

Girish Karnad

Bangalore, 19 May 2011

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