Dynamics of Corruption in Satish Alekar’s Pidhijat (Dynasts): Prof. AJ Sebastian sdb
Satish Alekar has contributed substantially to Indian theatre with his absurdist presentation of plays with black humour, satire and circuitous depiction of reality. He is known for his Mahanirvan (The Dread Departure), Mahapoor ( Deluge), Atirekee (The Terrorist), Pidhijat (Dynasts), Begum Barv, and Mickey and Memsahib. He has mingled colloquialism and traditional theatrical practices of Maharashtra. Alekar has been influenced by playwright Diwakar (Shankar Kashinath Garge (1889-1931)) who employed Natyachhata (dramatic monologues) to project issues of social customs, women, politics, colonial bureaucracy, using dark comedy and cynicism (Alekar 410).
Pidhijat (Dynasts) written in 2003, is a superb satire on rampant corruption perpetrated by political parties in the country. The play is a mingling of realism with absurd mode of expression. The dialogues between wife and lover, father and son, son and grandfather, wife and grandfather, father and grandfather are unique in presenting the central issue at discussion namely, corruption. There is a total disregard for moral principles as characters live compromised lives.
The play opens with Radha, a pretty forty year old woman in the company of her lover Mahadev, in a bar. He is a political leader in his late forties. Their intimacy shows their long lasting clandestine relationship. The scene presents the moral degradation due to crave for power and wealth in a section of the contemporary middle class society. The dramatist has very aptly employed the stage device of depicting a room beside the bar. In the room there is a large framed photograph of the grandfather who died twenty five years ago. But in his absence a distorted dynastic hegemony is perpetrated through politics and corruption. The lady keeps sipping imported bear as she engages in the usual absurd conversation with Mahadev.
RADHA: Begin. Introduce us.
MAHADEV: To whom?
RADHA: To ourselves. So that we don’t turn into vapour in this turbulent weather. Vapour into clouds, clouds into thunder. Thunder into showers. Showers into money. A whole lot of money. Money from the sky. Lot of it. Introduce- self to self- again and again (Alekar 234).
The conversation gives leads to their background. Radha speaks of her status: “Married woman. Caste Brahmin. Husband government employee and politician. Fundraiser and treasurer for his party. Lots of money on hand. All cash. More than needed. Ashutosh our only son, is deep into his studies…” (234). She is worried about her only son who is bothered with his preparation for the class XII Board Examinations. She has been seeking fulfilment outside confines of marriage in the company of Mahadev. She confesses her victim position to bear multiple tensions. “My son’s tensions for the Board Exam, my husband’s tensions, balancing his government job and political responsibilities. And to add to all this the tension of my friendship with you” (234). Of late it is the tension of her son’s Board Examinations that has led her to habitual drinking in the bar. Mahadev on his part, explains how he remained a bachelor, being advised by his Party headquarters. He belongs to OBC (Other Backward Classes). He is glad to be unmarried to be active in party politics. He has great hopes of becoming a Minister since his party is becoming stronger in the state. He came in contact with Radha’s husband in prison during Emergency twenty five years ago.
Mahadev is glad to be unmarried to be fully engrossed in his political career and involvement with Radha. He also justifies his affair with her since every one cheats in relationships. He is of the view that relationship between a man and a woman should lead to marriage as it is the only true relationship. He doesn’t believe in emotions, feelings and love, as these are incidental. She feels secure as her husband is totally unaware of her clandestine relationship with Mahadev. She wonders why her husband doesn’t throw an iota of suspicion on her: “One knows these things by instinct. How can he be so tolerant? Sometime I feel I should get his blood analysed, decode these genes of supernatural tolerance, and publicise them for the good of the whole world” (237). She even suspects her husband and Mahadev having had some secret pact. As they joke about cheating on her husband, it dawns on her to think of Mahadev to become a minister in the cabinet, so that her son needn’t worry about getting through the management quota for his further studies. Madhav promises to do the needful. He also reveals how he had to forgo education since his father died when he was preparing for matriculation exam. He sold milk to collect money to go to college. It was during a protest march in the wake of Emergency in India, that he met her husband. Thrown into prison, he and her husband became bosom friends and entered into politics.
Seeing the photograph of the grandfather in the background, they both recall his death twenty-five years ago. The scene fading out with “The Godfather theme” which is very symbolic of the central theme in the play. It is the instrumental version of “Speak Softly Love (Love Theme From The Godfather)” a song written for The Godfather (1972) (“Theme”. http://en.wikipedia.org). It is important to examine the central theme in the film in which the statement “It’s business, not personal” is the most repeated line. It seems like the official slogan of organized crime. The mafiosi in the films refer to themselves as businessmen. They speak about the “family business” and “an offer he can’t refuse.” This is indicative of the mafia-wide desire to keep business and personal life separate. They may all work in the “family business,” but the realms of home and office are never mixed together. Violence is supposed to leave the wives and children unharmed, and personal feelings are not to influence business decisions (“It’s business”. http://www.sparknotes.com). Alekar has very deftly used The Godfather theme music to create the same criminal and corrupt background to the play where dynastic hegemony is established (“It’s business”. http://www.sparknotes.com).
The next scene shifts to Ashutosh trying to concentrate in his studies. The photograph of the grandfather is shown on stage to create the feeling of dynastic supremacy. Observing a nervous Ashutosh, his father enquires about his studies. The conversation is typical of the absurd theatre with its comical elements.
FATHER:…so, how’s your study going.
AHUTOSH: So! What am I asking! How’s your study going?
FATHER: What …what’s this?
ASHUTOSH: Answer me. How’s your study going? Speak! (Strikes hard the table in front of him with his wooden foot ruler. The sudden noise startles his father.) If you can’t answer, say, how’s your study going? Again, how is your study going? (Strikes with his wooden ruler.)
FATHER: How is your study going?
ASHUTOSH: How are your classes? Say it.
(Strikes the ruler on the table.)
FATHER: How are your classes?
ASHUTOSH: Isn’t this the year of your Twelfth? Say it.
FATHER: Isn’t this the year of your Twelfth? (241-2)
The game Ashutosh plays on his father shows the frustrated and meaningless lives they live devoid of genuine concern. The boy knows it full well that his politically oriented family has no room for his emotional and psychological growth as a child.
I have attempted to apply Erikson’s ‘psychosocial modalities’ paraphrasing below the school age, adolescence and young adult stages of Ashutosh’s life and the frustration he experiences at 18. (“erikson”http://www.businessballs.com).
|Life Stage||Application to Ashutosh’s life|
|School Age: 5-12 yrs, early school.
Industry here refers to purposeful or meaningful activity. It’s the development of competence and skills. Erikson described this stage as a sort of ‘entrance to life’ when sexual motives and concerns are largely repressed while the young person concentrates on work and skills development.
|Ashutosh is unable to develop his competence and skills as a student due to extreme negligence by his parents.|
|Adolescence: 9-18 yrs, puberty, teens. Identity means essentially how a person sees himself/herself in relation to his/her world. It’s a stage of self or individuality in the context of life and what lies ahead. Role Confusion is the negative perspective – an absence of identity – meaning that the person cannot see clearly or at all who they are and how they can relate positively with their environment. There is reawakening of the sexual urge.||As a school boy Ashutosh has entered into a relationship with Alaka|
|Young Adult: 18-40, courting, early parenthood: Intimacy means the process of achieving relationships with family and marital or mating partner(s). Erikson explained this stage also in terms of sexual mutuality – the giving and receiving of physical and emotional connection, support, love, comfort and trust especially between sexual or marital partners. Isolation conversely means being and feeling excluded from the usual life experiences of dating and mating and mutually loving relationships. This logically is characterised by feelings of loneliness, alienation, social withdrawal or non-participation.||Ashutosh seeks comfort with his girlfriend Alaka. His parents are least bothered about such a relationship. As the play ends Alaka brings for him a gun licence given by her father.|
The only concern in the family is to initiate the boy into the world of corruption. The dramatist goes on to give the family background. They are Brahmins. Their home in the village was set ablaze in 1948 after Gandhi’s murder since they were Brahmins. Ashutosh also tells his father that his mother had gone out somewhere and would be coming late in the night. Meanwhile, the jeweller had visited their home. The conversation further leads to the 25th death anniversary of the grandfather the following day. The boy takes out an expensive necklace the jeweller had brought and wears it. He tells his agitated father: “Sit. Sit properly. Don’t get scared. All this is yours – Daddy, all this is yours! This house, this gold. You are the head of the family. I live in your house, Daddy dear! Look at me. Don’t look so downcast like a tenant in your own house. Look straight into my eyes and tell me. This gold – where does it come from? Not from your government salary. Tell me are you corrupt? You gobble money? Tell me, straight. Don’t be afraid. Don’t worry. How do you make this money?” (246).
The father brushes aside his questions and tells him that children shouldn’t meddle in the affairs of the elders. But Ashutosh doesn’t give up his query as to why the jeweller came. He couldn’t understand how to match his father’s salary with their lifestyle. He also questions the rituals held in the house especially the sacred thread ceremony held on his behalf. But to his utter surprise the father never wears his sacred thread. His remarks make the father speechless: “Like you I fold my hands to all gods automatically with no feeling like surfing through the channels in TV…How could I ever forget your face glowing with contentment in the glare of a thousand firecracker garlands set off to celebrate the demolition of the Babri Mosque on 6 December?” (246).
The father retorts telling his son not to babble like in Hindi films. He has no choice but to interpret laws according to his convenience as has been taught by his father who wished him to be a lawyer or an IAS officer. But his father’s sudden demise left him in the lurch when Emergency was declared. He joined the opposition against the Congress. When Emergency ended, he became part of the Janata party and eventually the BJP. He recalls: “As a loyal follower of the party, money matters were entrusted to me. When you guard a tank, you taste its water as well. The party is good at raising funds but they have no inkling how to use power” (248).
Ashutosh wants to know the sacred source of corruption since it originates in his house. He affirms his determination to be on his father’s side and asks him to teach him the dynamics of corruption. “After all I am your son. I am confused. Dad. Show the way, dad. Whom should I look up to with hope? Which principles which parties? (248).
The boy taunts his father telling him that he has formed a club with his friends who have parents like his. It is a club for money gobbling fathers’ sons. They engage themselves in discussing different corruption strategies of their fathers. It is their action plan to join hands “to sing the praises of corruption, the main spring of all our happiness… Corruption is a fundamental factor of our development strategy” (249).
Looking at his father’s photograph the man contemplates on his twenty-fifth death anniversary. His mother too died soon, harassing him with her TB. He is afraid of hanging her photograph fearing her making a come back coughing her lungs out. The duo then busy themselves with the usual ritual in the night lighting the lamp and opening soda. The father tells Ashutosh to light the lamp confirming him the light of the Dynasty. As they drink together, the father tells Ashutosh: “If I die tomorrow, they will speak of me with respect. ‘He collected money for the Party.’ Nobody will say that he collected it for himself. Every departed soul is saintly in life….he was free of all vices and addictions” (252).
The boy questions if he ever felt guilty of making money. The father acknowledges that he had collected money. “I create wealth for my Party. The money I make is for the welfare of the Party. Where else could you get money for elections? How would you pay the Party workers?…We run it as an enterprise – Industry. Transactions are made on Trust orally. No accounts- no audits. (253). Ashutosh finds his father in great fear and giving into sobs as he utters: “…this is a cry from my heart. A Brahmin wailing in the wilderness. In secrecy. That’s the game. Let not your right hand know what’s the left hand is doing. Everything hush-hush. Everything gupchup” (254). The boy enquires how his father would work out his corrupt practices at various capacities. As an officer in the irrigation department, he would use cement deals as the mantra of success. He made the first gold necklace for his wife through such deals. If posted to the Office of the Home Ministry, he would play the game with transfers of police officers to raise funds for the party.
When Ashutosh refers to a possible raid of their home, the father has his instant reply. Since nothing belongs to him, he would let them take whatever they get for themselves. “My mind is clean. I have not taken anything for myself. Whatever little there is- those are handling charges, nothing much. I am not attached to any of these things. I can turn my back on all this and go off. Become a mendicant or a wandering fakir” (255).
Awaiting in vain, for his wife’s return late that night, the father retires to sleep. As Ashutosh awaits her arrival, his grandfather emerges from behind the photograph. He tells Ashutosh that he emerges “whenever Dharma falls into a stupor and immorality prevails, I reincarnate myself to come back in every age to uphold the moral order” (256). The boy is impressed by grandfather’s miraculous appearance on planet earth. He is eager to know why he returned to earth. As they converse, Radha is seen on the other side of the bar drinking more beer. The grandfather moves towards Radha and tells her that he came to meet her, his daughter-in-law. He tells her that he has come on a visit on his anniversary. He expresses his surprise that she is with a person who is not her husband. The conversation leads to the father exerting his control over his family. He threatens to throw her out of the household. Radha argues that she is mature and broad minded and he should mind his business. Before departure, she searches around for the grandfather’s photograph. The old man also tells Mahadev that he is ashamed of himself with such wicked ways perpetrated in his household.
Returning to Ashutosh, the grandfather enquires of all that happens in his household. The boy reveals how the jeweller frequents the home with necklaces and ornaments. The old man is told that his mother comes home late every night. The old man regrets that things have turned from bad to worse since he died.
The dramatist also very deftly introduces Alaka, the girl friend of Ashutosh, to portray the corrupt world of the elders into which young people are drawn. Their free relationship with each other continues any time of the day and night. The grandfather, though he enquires about the girl, doesn’t probe further into their privacy. The old man suddenly becomes serious and utters: “Ash! Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Twenty-Five years since I left. Heap of cold ashes, twenty-five years old” (269). The grandfather is surprised to know that Ashutosh is willing to call her any time late that night.
The scene shifts to the father asking Ashutosh for the garland to honour his father. He approaches the old man with the garland and wishes him happy Death Anniversary. He further questions why he came back from death. The old man, on the other hand, enquires how he got all the money. He confesses that he gobbles money and lives a free life. He drinks in front of his son and doesn’t bother about his wife frequenting bars. He is not ashamed of what he does for the party. He keeps justifying his magic mantra of corruption which he longs to pass on to his son “My son must be straining his ears to listen to every word from inside. He is restless. He wants the magic mantra of corruption from me….All this talk of principles- shallow, brittle. No real principles. The only principle is to be in power. No one can stand up and take a few firm steps. But our own people pull us back like crabs. Wet and slippery” (274). When the old man enquires of domestic happiness, he has his justification. “Everybody has the freedom! The freedom to enjoy the power! A home in the Party…. This is our private concern. No entry for the Dead or the Living. You heard that in the bar. You saw her bar. Each one has his or her bar. Her way is different. My way is different” (275). He questions the old man why he had to come from the dead with his views and values totally different from the present generation. He tells him to be off as they are fine with no time for the dead. As they recite poems to each other, Mahadev comes behind the father and puts a black bag over his head. In the dark, he locks his hands behind like a condemned criminal. He is unable to free himself and cries out for help. Mahadev tells him that it is by professional skill that he has handcuffed him. He begs Mahadev to free him, but instead he is told about the political changes. The father acknowledges and tells Mahadev that he is the new pillar of life. He calls him the architect of his own life.
Recalling all that happened, the father is enveloped in emotional turmoil as the old man is about to go back into his photograph. As he moves off Alaka comes with a gun license for Ashutosh from her father. The play ends with the swearing –in-ceremony of Mahadev as a minister and Ashutosh’s father sobbing and chanting his woes. The Godfather theme music continues to be louder and louder indicating the establishment of dynastic hegemony of corruption.
Though the play is absurd, it has its message on the way of the world of corruption perpetrated by power wielding politicians who establish their dynastic power through Machiavellian politics. The grandfather is helpless in establishing right living in his household, as corruption looms large. The dark comedy is a superb satire on contemporary political corruption in India.
Alekar, Satish. Collected Plays of Satish Alekar. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009, 232-81.
“It’s business”. http://www.sparknotes.com/film/godfather/themes.html