Girish Karnad


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Girish Karnad was born in Matheran in present-day Maharashtra into a Saraswat Brahmin (SB) Konkani family, the son of Rao Saheb Dr. Karnad, a wealthy and successful medical practitioner, and his secondary consort, Krishna Bai Mankeekar. Dr. Karnad's first wife was bedridden for several years, and during this time, the family had employed a woman to serve as a full-time nurse and housekeeper. This was Krishna Bai Mankeekar, a penniless and uneducated widow from a poor family who was working as a domestic servant in order to support herself. She lived as a servant in the household for about five years, during which time she grew close to Rao Saheb Karnad, who was lonely and sexually frustrated due to the prolonged ailment of his wife. Rao Saheb Karnad and Krishna Bai Mankeekar fell in love with each other and got married according to Arya Samaj traditions, which recognized and even encouraged the remarriage of widows at a time when such marriage was not acceptable in Indian society. The marriage was socially objectionable for three reasons: because it was bigamous (Rao Saheb Karnad's wife was alive and could not be divorced); because Krishna Bai was from a different, lower caste than Rao Saheb Karnad; and because Krishna Bai was a widow (Hindu customs deems a woman once married to be married for life; widows are not permitted to remarry). Nevertheless, the marriage was legally valid because the laws of the British government permitted the remarriage to widows, and because the law in those days permitted a Hindu man to have more than one wife. Despite the opprobium, sneering and jeering which the marriage provoked in Rao Saheb's family and social circle, Krishna Bai Karnad calmly resumed her duties as nurse and housekeeper after the wedding. Her son Girish was born rather soon after the wedding.