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Girish Karnad's 'A Heap of Broken Images'
Girish Karnad's 'A Heap of Broken Images' is a scathing look at the Indian literary establishment as well as a moving story of conflict and desire for fame. The play highlights the conflict between writing in one’s own language and foreign language
’A HEAP of Broken Images’ (English) explores the dilemma of Indian writers who choose to write in English. It is a scathing look at the Indian literary establishment as well as a moving story of conflict and the desire for fame. The play (’Odakalu Bimba’ in Kannada and ’Bikhre Bimb’ in Hindi) was penned by Girish Karnad in 2004 and has traveled to various festivals across the country and has been independently staged to critical acclaim and popular success in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Pune and Hyderabad.

The play starts off from T.S. Eliot’s ’Wasteland’:

…for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter,…

The discordant images refer to generation gap, spiritual disintegration, communication lapse and political instability in a transfigured existence. And in this pseudo-modern world, we have limited ourselves to broken electronic images.

The electronic media has given birth to a new kind of reality termed ‘virtual reality’-a reality that the media daringly project and the audience willingly believe.

Something that was the initial response to the Aarushi murder case in Noida.

Electronic channels are quite often far from the truth in an age where news channels have rendered themselves into gossip channels. Here, we find the image fighting itself back, unveiling the truth on the other side. At the end of the play the term ‘virtual reality’ exchanges itself-as the human being seems virtual or fraudulent and image grows to be more real.

The writer also highlights the age-old conflict between writing in one’s own language and a foreign language, through the objective correlative of the writer’s confrontation with her own image.

Girish Karnad ascertains that the play was the result of a conversation that he had with the writer Shashi Deshpande who had an emotional encounter at the writer’s conference in Neemrana between the regional writers versus the English writers.

Again, the Kannada writer UR Ananthamurthy is supposed to have burst out against English writers claiming that English writers were like prostitutes since they wrote with an eye for money and global reach the language offers.

A Heap of Broken Images – A synopsis:

Manjula is a lesser-known Kannada short story writer till she wins accolades for her maiden English novel. The announcer at the television studio introduces the literary genius Manjula Nayak. As she has finished her ‘rehearsed’ 15-minute speech, she prepares to leave the room when she encounters her image on the screen that is not her reflection.

The image interrogates Manjula in a scene reminiscent of the trial of Benare in Silence! The Court is in Session. The truth is unraveled as Manjula is entrapped in a whirlpool of questions from which she has no escape. The only alternative left for her is to wear her heart inside out.

The novel is said to be based on her crippled sister who suffers from meningomyetocele and whose whole life was confined to the wheel chair. She was always the focus of attention. Manjula had to always settle for second place and was constantly disregarded. Malini excelled in all areas over Manjula - in looks and in intelligence. It was later that she met Pramod, married him and settled down in Jayanagar. Her father left most of his assets in Malini’s name. After her parents’ demise, Malini moved in with them. Manjula affirms that her sister had adjusted beautifully with them and died a few months before the book came out.

However, later the truth unfolds. Manjula has not penned even a word of the novel, and has ‘literally’ stolen Malini’s identity, creativity and language. Apparently, it was her revenge for years of agony. Malini had first caught her parents’ attention and later Pramod’s.. Manjula is often portrayed as the venomous first cousin in the novel, she says, as Malini stalked her and pinned her down in ’coruscating prose’. Finally, the image on the screen becomes real in comparison to the deceptive human being on the other side. The image of Manjula morphs into Malini at a climatic juncture in the play.

Therefore, the writer Manjula Nayak stands as a metaphor for all those writers limited to their native language (Kannada); not out of responsibility, but due to lack of choice. The image of Malini projects the Indian English writer who is ostracised for his stupendous success because the native writer (Manjula) has to settle for second place. Given an opportunity, Manjula steals Malini’s work in English, though she pretends to be addicted to the Kannada language. The sisters’ rapport with Pramod symbolises their bond with their motherland. Manjula is with him out of the matrimonial ties of responsibility, and fails to live up to her responsibilities of a wife, as Pramod continuously pines for attention. Malini is with him purely out of love. As the image finally morphs, it ascertains:

’However I am in truth Malini, my genius of a sister who loved my husband knew Kannada and wrote in English.’ (284)

When the image claims that Malini ’loved my husband’ it is evident that Manjula did not. More significantly, Malini ’knew Kannada’ and therefore knew her roots. Manjula looks into a ‘broken mirror’ to reveal bits and pieces of the personality - some hers, some of her sister - but totally disjointed. Hence the term ’Broken Images’.

The objective correlative of these broken mirror images are the different small screens that flash different images of Manjula at the end of the play. These are in contrast to real broken mirror parts that at a fraction of time reflect the same image of the person in all the pieces. The only coherent image appears to be the image of Malini that eloquently asserts:

’I am Malini Nayak, the English novelist. Manjula Nayak, the Kannada short-story writer was decimated the moment she read my novel. She thus obliterated all differences of ink and blood and language between us and at one full stroke morphed into me.’ (283)

The Kannada writer betrays herself the very moment she makes association with an English novel by reading it. This is why Malini avows that the Kannada-writer was decimated at the very moment she read the English novel. This leaves the readers wondering that if writing in English is termed ’prostitution’, then what does it make the Kannada writer reading the English novel at the other end.

’A Heap of Broken Images’ is essentially Karnad’s response to his critics. The significance of the play reverberates as Manjula utters a Kannada proverb in the play: A response is good. But a meaningful response is better.’ (265)

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