What makes the collection complete are the essays accompanying the plays that throw light on Tendulkar's work, and feature his comments on the technical and creative processes in theatre
Among our regional playwrights Vijay Tendulkar is one of the most easily recognizable names in the English-speaking world. Numerous amateur groups turn naturally to his plays. Especially when it's time for a break from the routine drawing room comedy.
Tendulkar can be called a complete playwright, in the tradition of Shakespeare. There is a total experience of life and he holds up a heightened reflection of society without offering any pat resolutions. He carves out his characters with care so that they live and the audience is able to draw on them in toto and offer them up as examples when confronted with similar real-life circumstances. Not many playwrights can claim such an achievement.
Oxford University Press has collected eight of Tendulkar's plays (Kamala, Silence! The Court Is In Session, Sakharam Binder, The Vultures, Encounter In Umbugland, Ghashiram Kotwal, A Friend's Story and Kanyadan) in a 598-page book Collected Plays In Translation, priced at Rs 595. The plays are varied and illustrate the playwright's range, and yet they reveal, in a single strand running through their fabric, his preoccupation with the use and misuse of power. The use of brutal authority and even violence to maintain the status of power, is a theme the playwright keeps revisiting. The milieu may change and the characters may be more or less subtle in their wielding of power. But this is what surprises - that the most unlikely equations can throw up this phenomenon of dominance and bondage.
The eight collected plays amply illustrate this. In Kamala, the theme is borrowed from a real-life incident where a newspaper journalist bought a woman from the market in order to show the world that such atrocious bargains still existed in our civilised society. Extending the possibilities, Tendulkar tells us that the crusading journalist is only replicating the crime he's out to expose. The problem comes closer home when the bought woman is juxtaposed with the journalist's wife, and there is hardly any difference between the two. Ultimately, however, Jaisingh the journalist loses his job. Though all the other equations remain more or less the same, the dénouement finds Tendulkar making a rare comment through his protagonist's plight. Generally, he leaves these things to the audience.
The other plays are more obvious in their depiction of power. In Silence!, an actress is turned upon by her fellow players turning a rehearsal into a mock trial where she is on the dock for "infanticide" and immorality. Her attackers are weaker than her and keep up a pretence of authority in order to condemn her. Leela Benare, though shattered by the experience, emerges the stronger character. Also, the punishment they finally pronounce is the same as the "crime", urging her to abort her child. In a rare turnabout, the accusers emerge as the offenders.
In Sakharam Binder the issue is sexual power. When that power is threatened the protagonist is confused and lashes out viciously, taking a life. The equations change in an interesting round of musical chairs that tilts the balance off and on, and each character seems to reflect the role of another. The protagonist is a remarkable creation, admittedly based on someone Tendulkar once heard about. The Vultures talks about domestic violence and is perhaps his darkest play in the collection. The only relief comes from the misplaced love between a bastard brother and a marginalised sister-in-law. The image of vultures clawing at the weakest in their brood is powerful and morbid.
Encounter tries out a fascinating form, departing totally from his other plays, employing folk theatre, music, verse and an interesting chorus that churns out events much like today's newspaper headlines. It isn't a coincidence that the ruler Vijaya resembles Mrs Gandhi Sr. Ghashiram (perhaps his most widely performed play along with Silence!) is again about the eccentricities and excesses of power. A Friend's Story is about a lesbian and her confrontation with society, her thwarted love and her confusion. In Kanyadan, Tendulkar considers an act of social upliftment and, unlike other playwrights, sets out clearly the chaotic consequences of disturbing the existing social equations.
Though it is a pleasure to find his most enduring plays in a single collection, the real treat for me lay in the accompanying essays. They throw light on his work and the background in which he wrote. Tendulkar's own comments, including his lectures on the technical and creative processes in theatre are invaluable for the student and practitioner alike. Samik Bandhyopadhyay's introduction, the concluding essays like Rohini Hattangady's delightful little piece on how she did Sumitra in A Friend's Story---these are all valuable additions to the plays. However, the manuscript editor and proofreader need a smart little rap on the knuckles.
Sunday June 1, 2003
Tales from a Poet
Keki Daruwalla takes us through a series of
refreshing perceptions, leading us by the hand
to a precipice of suspense where we are abruptly
made to face a different reality
A House In Ranikhet
Keki N Daruwalla
pp 226, Rs 195
What do you expect when a poet tells stories?
Heightened qualities of sound, rhythm and song, words wrapped in the mist of a poetic imagination? But it isn't words alone that benefit from a poetic sensibility. Ideas and their associations, a sharpening of the collective memory, an insight into history as well as ordinary things that happen to us---the poet-storyteller is blessed with a different perception altogether.
Poet Keki N Daruwalla is also an acknowledged short story-writer. In fact, his art is so complete as well as layered that one form can be felt in the other. In the present story collection, A House In Ranikhet, he takes us through a series of refreshing perceptions, often drugging us with leisurely descriptions of landscape and climate, leading us by the hand to a precipice of suspense where we are abruptly made to face a different reality. Similarly, we are permitted to listen to his characters, forming our own opinions, till we reach the surprising realisation of who they really are.
In the first story, 'Going,' a woman visits her old and ailing grandmother. "Postponement," she begins, "is only another form of neglect." She finally stops postponing and makes that visit. But postponement and delay are a part of their bond. Years ago, the grandmother briefly left the room and she was born. Again, when the girl has her first period, the grandmother who has prepared her for it is absent. But this final time it's the grand-daughter who loses out on the defining moment. Daruwalla plays out the relationship against a backdrop of dying rain and awakening nature, a flurry of birds and fresh air.
Daruwalla's stories are sensitive, looking at brittle inter-personal relationships. The old Indian jogger caught in a debilitating fantasy of personal triumph and the impatient English coach who's a little too late for the truth. And two failed artists who find each other from opposite sides. "His feelings had started decanting slowly from memory into dream". There are enough such characters who live on the Inside. Their stories are nuanced and gently told.
'Trojan Horse' begins softly enough, taking you through a surprise twist into an alien time. So does 'The Ford'. We are introduced insidiously and intimately to familiar but distant times and places. The story that lends the book its name is about a startling con that delights you with its simple audacity. History is in the life-blood of these stories and the ones which follow. In fact, it even becomes the subject of a seminar where the author mocks contemporary attempts to "whitewash" history.
Another unlikely hero is the police inspector transferred to the big city whose innocence stubbornly and amusingly leads him to the resolution. (Here an incidental character, a lawyer, breaks more marriages than "adultery itself".)
Daruwalla's characters surprise you as does his locales and sudden revelations. But when he attempts the "fantastic humour" perfected by Rushdie, for instance, a strain begins to show.
Collected Plays in translation Vijay Tendulkar New Delhi: OUP, pp 598, Rs 595