book excerptise:   a book unexamined is wasting trees

Modern Indian drama: an anthology

G.P. Deshpande (ed.)

Deshpande, G.P. (ed.);

Modern Indian drama: an anthology

Sahitya Akademy, 2004, 754 pages

ISBN 8126018755

topics: |  drama | india | translation

being an educated Indian means you know western literature much better than that of your neighbouring state. i have read more translations from spanish than i have from malayalam or hindi - and this is quite common...

part of sAhitya akAdemi's charter is to try to rectify this by bringing out translations. in that sense, this selection brings together a number of pioneering plays written in most of india's major literary languages. In this era where the Salman Rushdies are declaring the Indian vernacular literature as backward, we need more such collections.

the quality of the translations vary, and there are a high number of errors typical of Akademi publications, but generally the level of readability is high.

certainly, the selection is superb. the main theater traditions of india, marathi and bangla, are well represented, with a couple of kannada, hindi, malayalam and tamil playwrights.

the binding has the familiar stale glue smell of indian
bookbinding... quite nostalgic, really!


         Sriranga 1904-1984 Kannada : Listen, Janamejaya [Kelu Janmejaya]  3
  Vijay Tendulkar 1928-2008 Marathi : The Vultures [GidhAde] 53
       Mohan Rakesh 1925-1972 Hindi : One Day in Ashadha [AshARh ke ek din] 125
         Badal Sircar b.1925 Bangla : Evam Indrajit 195
       Girish Karnad b.1938 Marathi : Hayavadana 253
    K. N. Panikkar b.1928 Malayalam : The Lone Tusker [Ottayan] 323
Chandrasekhar Kambar b.1937 Kannada : Siri Sampige 353
        Surendra Verma b.1941 Hindi : From Sunset to Sunrise [Surya Ki Antim Kiran Se Surya Ki Pehli Kiran Tak] 381
  Indira Parthasarathi b.1930 Tamil : Aurangzeb 427
       Satish Alekar b.1949 Marathi : Mahapoor 477
       Arun Mukherjee b.1937 Bangla : Mareech, The Legend [mArich sangbAd] 533
        Utpal Dutt 1929-1993 Bangla : Hunting in the sun [surya shikAr] 651
               Datta Bhagat Marathi : Whirlpool [Avart] 681
      Mahasweta Devi b.1926 Bengali : Mother of 1084 [hAjAr-churAshir mA] 713
     G. P. Deshpande b.1938 Marathi : Roads [rAste] 751


Listen Janamejaya: Sriranga

				(tr. Laxmi Chandrashekar)

This is a moving existentialist play, that begins and ends with four
characters in a freeze.  The four characters represent conflicts between
experience (old man), zeal (youth), and will-power (young woman), as well as a
confused common man, who sees no point in such debates (samanyapa).  The
characters are working in a meaningless office, with vignettes of the peon
who is secretly wealthy, an youth who likes the girl, and the boss,
doddering old man, who wishes to take the girl home for dictation.  But in
the end, the process of being alive appears to find no solution.

The story is framed within the discourse of the narrator (sutradhar) and
a leader.  The narrator introduces the frozen characters as lifeless, and
the leader wants to raise the level of their lives.  The discourse of the
characters is to oppose this charge of being lifeless, nerveless...  The
dialogues are sharp, and provoke thought.

The play reminded me of Sartre's Age of Reason, where
goal-less action is interspersed with the flow of thoughts...

Cast of characters:
    Sutradhar (introducer)
    Old man
    Young woman (girl)
    Samanyapa (common man)

[The sutradhar and the leader have come up from the audience...  The leader
tries to get the Sutradhar to agree that the purpose of staging the play is
art, but stumbles in trying to explain what art is.  ]

LEADER: What is the purpose of staging the play?
SUTRADHAR: The purpose is to earn my bread, Sir.
L: Tchi! Tchi!  What a petty concern!
S: No, Sir, it is not petty.  This is what our philosophers mean when they
   said 'What the eye sees is not the truth'.  The stomach seems petty.  But
   only a person trying to fill it knows how huge it is.  One may go on
   filling it till one dies, it still stays empty.
L: ... [that's why] we don't move forward.
S: Why not, Sir?  As long as the stomach is in front, it will pull us
   forward.  Only the stomach, which is in front, sees the way forward.
   That's why the animals, with their stomachs below, haven't progressed like
   humans.  p.9

Old man: There is no achievement without experience.  Zeal alone doesn't get
   you results. [mumbles in the end]
Youth: How stupid! No achievement without experience, if you please! What is
   experience, but the product of zeal? [tires out and gasps at the end] 11
Young Woman: What can zeal get you without will power? ... Man is like
   flowing water, woman is the dam that arrests the flow and [makes the earth
   yield]. 12
Samanyapa: One's got to work. Eat. Work after you eat. Exhaust yourself, go
   to sleep exhausted, get up and work.  13

Sriranga: Aadya Rangacharya (Kannada)

			(Sriranga was the pen name of Aadya Rangacharya)

Aadya Rangacharya (Sriranga) (1904 Sep 26 - 1984 Oct 17) was a leading
Kannada literateur. A polyglot scholar and writer, he wrote novels, dramas,
scholarly books, translations, essays and critical works, and was known for
his radical thinking, and even taught Sanskrit. But his enduring passion
was for the the theatre, and he dominated the Kannada stage.

Rangacharya had his early schooling in Bijapur, and his college at Deccan
College, Pune.  Thereafter he went to London, for an M.A. in Linguistics.
His English sojourn was significant in forming his liberal views and also
in his exposure to western theater.  Upon his return, he was influenced by
Gandhi, and an early play, `Harijanvar' is a radical discourse against
untouchability.  For some time, he was unemployed and poor, but then he
became a teacher in the Karnatak College, Dharwad and started writing plays
and formed a small theater group.  Throughout his life, he remained
interested in amateur theater.

In the fifties, he joined the Information and Broadcasting Ministry in
Delhi, and then Akashvani radio, Bangalore.  This period saw the beginning
of an avant garde stage, with `Kelu Janmajeya' and `Kattele Belaku', which
brought new ideas into Kannada theater.  He also started writing theatre
criticism, and translated the Natya Shastra into Kannada (and also
English).  His critical work on Kalidasa earned him the
Sahitya Akademi Award in 1971.

In all, Sriranga has written 45 full length and 65 one act plays, dealing
with topics ranging from social activism to political satire, mythologicals
and musicals.  He also wrote thirteen novels, several translations (Gita,
Kalidasa, Bharata), travel writings, etc.  He was awarded the Padma Bhushan
in 1972.

Sriranga is the father of Shashi Deshpande, noted Indian English novelist.

 * biography
 * list of works
 * literary life
 * performance

Mohan Rakesh: One day in Ashadha

				tr. Sarah K. Ensley

This powerful play is based on the legendary life of Kalidasa.  It focuses on
the mountainside (himalayan?) village of his childhood, where his lover,
mallikA, languishes after Kalidasa is invited to the Gupta court at Ujjayini
(ca. 4th c. AD).  The entire play is set in mallikA's house, which falls into
increasing decrepitude as the years pass by.

Act one

   [kAlidasa is frowned upon in the village for his inability to do any
   chores.  only his lover mallikA supports him in his poetic endeavours.
   meanwhile, his ritusamhara has reached the royal court in Ujjayini, who
   decide to make Kalidasa the rAj-kavi (royal poet).  On this first day of
   AshARh, a large contingent with the Acharya (the poet-scholar Vararuchi)
   comes from Ujjayini to take him there. Kalidasa is initially
   unwilling to go.]

   [The entire scene is in mallikA's house;  much of the action is reported
   or heard as happening outside the stage.]

MALLIKA.  The land here has given you all it can.  You need a new ground
	which will nourish your talent to higher perfection.
KALIDASA. A new ground can also starve one.
	[may be seen as a comment on Indian literateurs leaving for the West]

MATUL: Nikshep comes running after me like a wheel without an axle. 142

NIKSHEP: Talent constitutes only one quarter of a man.  Recognition
	constitutes the remainder.  144

Act two

    [kAlidasa has become lord mAtragupta, and has married the princess
    priyangumanjarI.  he has now been appointed king of kAshmir.  On his way,
    his caravan visits the village.  kAlidasa rides up straight to the
    mountaintop which was the source of his many inspirations.  meanwhile
    queen piyangu and other officials visit mallikA. ]

PIYANGU: When [Kalidasa] speaks of life here, he becomes quite lost in
	himself.  Thus, quite often he is disgraced from political matters.

	Politics is not literature.  Every second is of great significance;
	even a moment's negligence can have serious consequences.
	... Literature was the first stage of his life; now he has reached
	the second stage.  My time is spent in an effort to keep him from
	slipping back. p. 168

[eventually, kAlidasa leaves the village without ever meeting mallikA]

Act Three

    [it is again the first day of AshArh, and the first monsoon storm is
    here. mallikA lives in poverty, having returned the gold offered by the
    queen. meanwhile, kAlidasa's reign in kAshmir has failed, and it is told
    that he has become a sannyasi, on his way to varanasi. ]

MATUL (had joined Kalidasa in the royal palace; now he's on crutches because
	he has broken his legs in those smooth floors) While I was gone they
	made the floor of my house of marble slabs.  It is now so slippery it
	won't grip my feet . The earthen floor was better.

	There is no place in the world more uncomfortable than the royal
	palace ... [most] unpleasant was how people were always bowing their
	hads in deference to me - to me, to me! (points to himself)
	Tell me, what is there in Matul that people should bow their heads
	before him? 179

[kalidasa has suddenly appeared at mallikA's door...]

[In a long monologue, kAlidasa recounts how the inspiration for all his poems
lies in his memory of mallikA, who is the austere umA in kumArasambhava.
meghadutam is his longing for his leftbehind life.]

KALIDASA:  There is life to live beyond this.  We can make a new beginning
from this very moment.
[the baby's crying is heard.  mallikA jumps up and goes to the baby. kAlidasa
realizes that she is married. ]

KALIDASA: The expanse of the valley is the same.  The same path leads to the
	mountain top.  The sound of the wind is the same.
KALIDASA: The same throbbing awareness is here.  This same heart has
	feelings, passions.  But...
	But the epic on these blank pages has not been written.
MALLIKA:  You said you wanted to make a new beginning.
[kAlidasa sighs.]
KALIDASA:  I said that I wanted to make a new beginning.  Possibly it was the
	struggle between desire and time.  I see that time is more powerful
MALLIKA: Because?
[baby begins to cry, Mallika goes in.  Kalidasa is left speaking to himself.]
KALIDASA: Because it does not wait.

[The rain and thunder grow louder outside.  kAlidasa steps out and leaves,
closing the door behind him.  mallikA comes back and doesn't find him.  The
end. ]


[the many typos and errors are quite irritating.  e.g. "Politics ARE not
literature";  something HAD [bad] has happened, etc. ]  The translation is
a bit wordy at times.



mohan rakesh

Mohan Rakesh (b. Amritsar 8 jan 1925 - 3 dec 1972, New Delhi). _AshaRh kA ek din_ was his first play, written from 3rd March to 21st April 1958 [Mohan Rakesh ki diary, Rajpal and Sons, 1985]. Published in 1962, it was broadcast on AIR that very year, and was first performed by Ebrahim Alkazi, director of the new NSD, in 1962.

Mohan Rakesh is a pioneering voice in Hindi literature. Together with Nirmal Verma (b. 1929) and Rajendra Yadav (b.1925), he was one of the founders of the modernist nayi kahAnI ("new storytelling") movement. He wrote several novels including andhere bandh kamre and nA Ane wAlA kal, and many collections of short stories.

The language and theme of the play is imbued with Sanskrit resonances. Mohan Rakesh had an abiding love for Sanskrit: after completing master's degrees in Hindi and English, he also did an M.A. in Sanskrit. He has also translated two Sanskrit plays into Hindi, including Kalidasa's abhijn~Anashakuntalam. The legend of Kalidasa as a cowherd draws on ballAladeva's bhojaprabandha, and the link to mAtr.gupta is a half-guess; mAtr.gupta arises as a king of kAshmIr in rAjatarangini of kalhana. for more on the sources of the legend, see

Konrad Meisig, kAlidAsa's Life and Works as Reflected in Mohan RAkesh's Play
	AShARh kA ek din in Tender Ironies, 1994, edited D. Chitre, p.286-307

It is not clear if this English version was ever staged.  A different
translation, by V Ramnarayan, was enacted by the Madras Players; see


Dramatists in the Indian languages, many of which have a very rich thespian
tradition, are relatively unknown in English.  Here are some brief bios.

Kavalam Narayana Panicker (Malayalam, also spelt Panikkar)

	The Lone Tusker (tr. K.S. Narayana Pillai) takes up the theme of the
	individual vis-a-vis the group, using the extended metaphor of a lone
	tusker leaving the herd. The simplicity of the plot radiates endless
	possibilities for levels of interpretation, as does the central
	parable on which it is based. It is a witty piece which plays with
	distance between audience and performance.

Chandrasekhar Kambar (Kannada poet, playwright)

Chandrasekhar Kambar was born in 1937. He is one of the leading Kannada
writers of our time, equally well known as a poet, playwright and
novelist. His best-known plays are Jokumaraswamy and Sirisampige; collections
of his poems include Takarainavaru and Savirada Neralu. He has also edited
collections of folk songs, folktales and folk plays, two studies on folk
theatre and a folklore dictionary. He is also a film director and
academician. A Sangeet Natak Akademi Awardee in 1983, Kambar also won the
Sahitya Akademi Award for Siri Sampige in 1991. His other honours
include the Karanataka Shitya Akademi Award and the Vardhaman Prashasti and
Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya award. Chandrasekhar Kambar lives in Balgalore.


Surendra Verma (Hindi playwright)

Surendra Verma is a Hindi dramatist, fictionist as well as a satirist. He was
born in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh in the year 1941. Surendra Verma was a
postgraduate in linguistics. He worked for some time as a teacher and started
writing stories. His first play, Surya ki antim kiran sesurya kipahli kiran
tak i.e. `From the Sun`s Last Ray to the Sun`s First Ray`, was premiered in
Marathi by Amol Palekar in 1972.

Afterwards, many directors of Hindi theatre attempted it and brought out its
various dimensions, historical, social, and sexual. His other dramas are
Athwan sarg i.e. `Eighth Chapter` in 1976, Chhote Saiyad bade Saiyad
i.e. `Junior Saiyad and Senior Saiyad`in 1978 directed by B. V. Karanth in
1980, and Qaid-e-hayat i.e. `Imprisonment of Life` in 1983 directed by Ram
Gopal Bajaj in 1989. All of these are produced by the National School of
Drama. Verma reinterprets Indian myth and history with contemporary
relevance, seeking a common Indian identity in characters like Sakuntala,
Chandragupta, Kalidasa, Ghalib, and the Saiyad brothers. Nind kyon rat bhar
nahin ati i.e. `Why Doesn`t Sleep Stay the Whole Night` in 1976 anthologizes
his short plays.

Arun Mukherjee: mArIch sangbAd

Gritty, ballsy, wickedly funny and politically effervescent, Mareech the
Legend is a cult hit in modern Indian drama. In his cleverly crafted
play-within-a-play, Bengali playwright, Arun Mukherjee draws parallels
between different forms of human exploitation and power politics by
transposing the action from a historic setting to contemporary times.

Mukherjee draws his energizing ideas from many sources, including the great
Indian epic, The Ramayana. Besides providing an intriguing character study
into Mareech (the demon/master illusionist who took on the guise of a golden
doe to assist rAvaNa in the abduction of Sita) this story also mimics more
contemporary, relevant situations and delves into the psyche of oppressed
Indian peasants who are manipulated by powerful, class-conscious, political
bigwigs for their own gains.

That is the great power of Mareech The Legend - that while it is rooted
firmly in the past, its link to the present is explicit.

Told with a mélange of dramatically different, engaging characters, all of
whom refuse to let the play come to its logical conclusion by arguing with
the soothsayers who string the narrative along with humor and song. Watch, as
they all joust for space to re-live the relevance of an all-too-familiar
Indian epic tale.  - play promo

Indira Parthasarathi

his characters, mostly urban intellectuals, speak very openly and analyze
deeply what others say. Most of his novels are set in Delhi, where he lived
during his working years, from 1955 to 1986 or in Tiruchirappally or
Thanjavur District in Tamil Nadu, where he spent his childhood.

about his years in New Delhi: "I loved my years in Delhi. At that time
‘Kanaiyazhi’ magazine was run from Delhi; possibly the first time a Thamizh
magazine was run from outside Thamizh Nadu. ‘Kanaiyazhi’ was owned & edited
by Mr. Kasturirangan who was also a correspondent for ‘The New York Times’ at
that time. Thi. Janakiraman, who was also my school teacher, and I had a
second connection through that magazine. Writers Ka. Naa. Subramaniam,
Athavan, Sujatha and Vaasanthi were in Delhi too, besides
Thi. Janakiraman. We all used to get together and have literary discussions
every month. I am very happy to have been part of it. At that time I had a
distant outsider's view of Chennai, and everything seemed fine. Once I was in
Chennai itself, I felt a small degree of alienation; there is definitely less
creative freedom in the Chennai environment. There seems to be a hierarchical
system which is non-existent in Delhi.   - V. Sundaram,

Datta Bhagat: Whirlpool (Avart)

The play that was to achieve much critical acclaim for Bhagat is – Aavart
mistakenly translated as "Whirlpool", by its translators. I was informed that
"vortex" would have been a more appropriate title. The play was written in
1978 and follows the use of two traditional forms of the dindi and the
tamasha. In a telephonic conversation I asked the playwright what was the
impetus behind using this form. Mr. Bhagat informed me that this was a format
that was "popular". Another reason was that these were forms that are
identified by their lower caste Mahar practitioners. When questioned on the
success of the performance he said that it was unfortunately not
comprehendible for its rural audiences. The play was however more successful
in its urban folk avatar on the proscenium theatre and saw some very famous
directors like Satya Dev Dubey and Amol Palekar direct it. The play Whirlpool
is set in the backdrop of the pilgrimage of Pandharpur. The play begins with
characteristic verbal banter between the Vidusak and Sutradhar, who talk
about a new subject of the tamasha/loknatya, – dalit consciousness. Through
their circuitous movement (a technique through which the players transpose
their audience to various locales) various moments in history are telescoped
into one story of dalit oppression and ends with a trial that fails to
dispense justice even in the present to the murdered Manohar who rises like a
phoenix and claims himself to be a kind of everyman figure of the dalit
oppressed throughout history. The play ends with the Sutradhar and the
Vidusak revolving in a vortex that takes on a Beckett like no-go situation
with the two characters unable to move due to the restrictions of the
proscenium stage which prevents them from leaving. This for Bhagat becomes
symbolic of an incipient dalit consciousness that is waiting to express
itself but cannot due to a history of murderous silence. The figure of
Manohar, an educated dalit youth, can fluidly change into the Mahar
agricultural laborer robbed of his privileges of Baluta.

G. P. Deshpande

Govind Purushottam Deshpande, who edited this book, and whose play rAste
appears in the collection, is a Marathi playwright, born 1938 in Nasik.
Received the Maharashtra State Award for his collective work
in 1977, and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for playwriting in
1996. Prof. Deshpande is known for advocating strong, progressive values not
only through his academic writings but also through his creative work. His
plays especially reflect upon the decline of progressive values in
contemporary life. He is impressively persuasive.

A professor of Chinese studies, he recently retired as head of the Centre
of East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.  Currently resides in

Library of Congress bio

amitabha mukerjee (mukerjee [at-symbol] gmail) 2013 Sep 12