Jesus building his own Team” by Fr Paddy Hennessy SDB Salesian Community, Limerick, Ireland

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Guilt and Atonement in Mahesh Dattani’s “Tara”: Prof. AJ Sebastian sdb

Guilt  and Atonement in Mahesh Dattani’s Tara: Prof. AJ Sebastian sdb  1. Introduction           When  Mahesh Dattani  (1958 -) was  awarded   Sahitya Akademi  in 1998, the citation acknowledged his contribution to  Indian drama as he “probes tangled attitudes in contemporary India towards communal differences, consumerism and gender….” He has  been  concerned with […]

Religious Bigotry in Mahesh Dattani’s “Final Solutions” : Prof. AJ Sebastian sdb

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Who do you say I am?” by Fr John Horan SDB Salesian Community, Limerick, Ireland

Who do you say I am?”  24 Sunday in Ordinary Time  In the musical Jesus Christ Superstar Mary Magdalene referring to Jesus sang. “He’s a man, he’s just a man,” It is one answer to the question: Who is Jesus Christ? But then she added: “I’ve been changed, yes really changed In these past few days […]

Social Realism in Sriranga’s “Agnisakshi” : Prof. AJ Sebastian sdb Kannada playwright, Sriranga (Adya Rangacharya 1904-1984), being a bitter critic of the hypocrisies of his society, has been realistically portraying social maladies through his plays. Dealing with a variety of themes and employing various techniques, he as exposed social evils satirically and comically. His major subjects include the independence movement, Gandhi’s influence, disintegration of the joint family, religious hypocrisy, untouchability, poverty, exploitation, unemployment and extramarital relationships (Lal 2009: 383-4). He has been noted for the “timelessness of the plays, the universality of his characters…and his deep understanding of human nature and the theatre” (Desai 2004: 15). His contribution to theatre made Girish Karnard acknowledge him as the first Kannada playwright who “mercilessly flayed social pretensions and created a language which younger playwrights could use” (8). Being a Gandhian he had his perception of political freedom calling for social change, leading to economic prosperity of India. His ideals called for a societal transformation discarding caste and religious fundamentalism. His experiments with themes and techniques, with deeper analysis of human psychology, makes his apparently traditional dramatic form, excellent channel of social criticism. Bharata’s ‘Natyashastra’ in Sanskrit discusses ancient stage craft and various aspects of drama and it mirrored the essential and eternal India (Reddy, K 8). It is meant to entertain as well as to instruct and enlighten. It has given to Indian drama its form, objective and position in the social and cultural life of the people (Banker 37). The classical dramas were based on the epics and the Puranas. In course of time these declined to give way to folk theatre in many linguistic regions of India. Thus dramas began to be written in the vernaculars, some of which were translated into English in the past few years. In these translations there can be found a link between the east and the west, north and south, with Hindi, Marathi, Bengali and Kannada (Reddy, K 25). Many of these dramatists have attempted to retrieve ancient traditions by trans-historical inter-culturalism (Reddy, P 35). With British colonization there began the process of modernization, bringing about the encounter between east and west. As it has been pointed out, ‘In contrast to the classical theatre, the folk theatre is characterized by its immediate accessibility by vitality and by its exuberance. They were regional, profane and secular as well. These Intermediary or Folk theatre represent the first phase of modernization’ (Banker 39). Some of the regional writers, being influenced by their western exposure, adopted western technique in their village theatre (Reddy, P 40). Social Realism in drama depicts the everyday conditions of the working classes and the poor, and are critical of the social environment that causes these conditions. Social Realism should be seen as a democratic tradition of socially prompted artists of liberal or left-wing conviction. Social Realism fully presents an international phenomenon, rooting in Realism of the 19th century (“Social realism.” Social drama deals with social issues. Dramatists like Ibsen deals with contemporary social problems such as the position of women ( A Doll’s House), the taboo subjects like incest and venereal disease (Ghost), middle class hypocrisy (Pillars of Society), etc. These established him as a great social reformer and moral teacher. He raised drama from the level of pure entertainment to that of an effective means of self-discovery and enlightenment. Such dramas present ourselves in our situations. Ibsen turned the social drama into the drama of ideas. He questioned in these plays the conventional ideas and beliefs as there is conflict between clear right and wrong (Sebastian 224). Being concerned with contemporary issues, such dramas are of universal significance. In imitation of Ibsen, Sriranga also deals with subjects from the world around him, representing average humanity and its concerns. His plays are life like as he uses everyday prose, eliminates soliloquies, stresses on visual concreteness of settings and detailed stage direction. His themes are universal. He becomes a trend setter and in his hand drama becomes serious art, a means of self discovery and awakening than mere entertainment Critics like G.S. Shivarudrappa acknowledges the cultural influence of Sanskrit and western traditions in Kannada literature: Kannada did never reject Sanskrit, or submit itself completely to it, and moulded Sanskrit for its necessities…. Kannada has struggled with other languages. It has struggled, reacted and assimilated the other influences and has yet maintained its uniqueness. Our literature is one long record of the language’s reaction to the influences of other Indian languages and the western literatures…. The reaction of Kannada to what is generally called as the Great tradition is noteworthy. Though Kannada has received its theme from the Great tradition, the themes so received have been re-worked to suit the local needs and requirements (Shivarudrappa 146-148). Regional theatre is marked by its didacticism and socio-political commentary. A remarkable thing in the regional theatre is that, ‘There is flexible concept of time and space and the ability to transform one space into many places…seeming mobility between spheres of realities; connectedness with the audience… maintaining a dialectical tension between the ‘efficacious’ and ‘entertaining’ tendencies’ (Mukherjee 21-22). Kannada theatre is both classical and folk based with noted playwrights such as T.P. Kailasam, K.V. Puttappa, D.R. Bendre, Adya Rangacharya and Shivarama Karanth. ‘Kailasam and Sriranga brought on to the stage a heavy dose of realism. They portrayed the social problems that were plaguing the society of the day. They used satire and humour to set things right. They altered traditional structure of the play: music was given up, so also was the highly literary bookish language’ (Banker 50). For Sriranga Natyashastra was a Veda and his experiments and dramatic techniques were based on it (SITD:16). He was deeply influenced by the theatre of the absurd. The absurdists regarded themselves as loners and outsiders isolated in their private world. They were sensitive in projecting thoughts and feelings of their contemporaries. Their works were characterised by illogical situations, unconventional dialogue, and minimal plots to express the apparent absurdity of human existence and metaphysical anguish… According to them the true field of battle is inside us, in the Unconscious. Hence the theatre of the Absurd attacks us below the threshold of consciousness using mainly visual devices and language in a state of fragmentation. They mainly concern themselves with the doomed individual, the man in despair and distress, alone and bitter in the wide world ( Sebastian 14-15). Agnisakshi is a dark tragedy which draws our attention to tendency in human nature to cause pain. The play revolves around the families of Sripati and Sarasu. The playwright has set three central characters each in the families. Family of Sripati Family of Sarasu Sripati : a young man Sarasu : a young woman Rangannaraya : Sripati’sfather Amma : Sarasu’s mother Atte : Rangannaraya’s sister (aunt of Sripati) Mama : Amma’s brother (Sarasu’s uncle) These characters can be contrasted with each other in male/female order Sripati/Sarasu; Rangannaraya/Amma; Atte/Mama. The rest of the characters are Sripati’s four friends and three youth who are members of the Anti Dowry Sangha. Sripati and Sarasu are to be married. But Sripati is adamant that his family shouldn’t accept any dowry in the form of presents as he is the president of the Anti Dowry Sangha. The playwright has employed an excellent dramatic technique presenting both the families on stage side by side. As the play begins the parents of Sripati and Sarasu are seated on stage in their respective homes. The playwright has employed the technique of juxtaposition of scenes in both the houses as both the houses are placed side by side on stage. Action begins when the girl turns her face away from her mother in tears and wipes them while the boy’s father faces the friend. In the first movement Rangannaraya while questioning the 1st Friend is told that Sripati has been mentally disturbed by some personal problems. The father enquires if he has some problems at college. In the house of Sarasu, her mother Amma is worried about her melancholic look and loss of appetite. Amma considers it as the consequence of karma of her past life when she lost her husband. Though Sarasu lacks nothing in life, she keeps crying. The mother wants to know the reasons for it. However, Sarasu explains it all away saying that she was dieting to be beautiful. She also tells her mother that she wouldn’t marry. Since she had lost her only son, the mother insists that Sarasu has to fill the vacuum in the family giving her a grandson. She insists that Sarasu has to maintain herself to look beautiful : “At any time, the ultimate aim of a woman is to look beautiful” (Sriranga 74). Rangannaraya tells the 1st Friend about his own struggle of life being from a lower middle class background. When his wife died after giving birth to Sripati, he raised the boy with the help of his sister Atte. Now he is ready for anything provided his son gets married. He enquires if Sripati has any girls in mind. In scene 2, four young men enter with Sripati and interact with each other. They discuss what Sripati himself had confessed that he would never accept dowry. On the other hand Mama and Amma discuss plans of marriage for Sarasu who is in love with Sripati. Both the parties are engaged in discussing on matching of horoscopes though Sripati never believed in such superstitions. Ironically the 2nd Friend comments, ‘… I always knew our forefathers were clever. They always said, “Agnisakshi. Agni is my witness’!… But I guess such Shastras have to continue”(81). As the horoscopes of both Sripati and Sarasu match, the conversation in both the houses focus on dowry as Sripati used to give lecture on the topic being the president of Anti Dowry Sangha. Atte (To Rangannaraya) That’s enough. Stop talking like an imbecile. (to Amma) Is it in our hands to refuse? Some families take it as a matter of honour to offer a dowry. How do we say no then? Rangannaraya: (Appreciating his sister’s intelligence) That’s true. Just as we have the right to refuse dowry, you have the freedom to offer us one. Amma: But if we give it against the boy’s wishes, his principles, he may harass our daughter. That frightens us. Mama: (To Rangannaraya) …What’s so complicated about it! If you feel like giving dowry, make out a cheque in the name of Rangannaraya. That’s all. Why should the boy know?… ( 85). As Sripati’s Friends express their premonition that he would refuse to accept any dowry, the family members agree that there would be no quarrelling over the issue. However, Atte states clearly that the girl’s side has to give something for the marriage expenses and for the setting up of a new home. In Scene 3 Rangannaraya and Mama are both deeply immersed in thought. From the discussion it is clear that the episode takes place six months after the wedding of Sripati and Sarasu. Amma complains about her solitary life after marriage. Atte insists that Rangannaraya lets Sarasu go to her mother’s house. Amma is also of the same opinion until the couple finds a separate house of their own. Meanwhile Rangannaraya suggests that Sarasu takes up a small job in addition to Sripati who has a Ph.D. degree which is expected to fetch him a decent employment. Act II opens with Sripati’s bedroom. In anger he grabs Sarasu’s hand and drags her in and questions her on the things brought into the house – cots, chairs, table etc.. Sarasu: When you are not here, the door to the room is locked till five in the evening. Sripati: (Surprised) So where are you the whole day? Don’t you come here occasionally at least? ( ‘No,’ she shakes her head) What the hell is going on in this house? Sarasu: (Pulls her hand away, and moves aside) Nothing that concerns you…(Starts to leave) Sripati: (Grabs her by the hand and stops her) Wait! I’ll call Atte. I’ll ask her what’s going on. Sarasu: (Terrified now) I beg of you, please don’t. I should never have said anything to you, but now it’s done. If she knows I have told you, my life… (bites back her words and stops abruptly) Sripati (Disdainfully) Why are you so scared? This house belongs to you…to me, not to her. (Points to all the furniture) I want to ask her where all this has come from? (98-99). This episode reveals certain hidden fears Sarasu has when she says, ‘If she knows I have told you, my life…’ Sripati fails to take the cue from it. When he questions Atte about the matter, she cooks up the story and accuses Sarasu of secretly getting the things from her family. The episode climaxes in Atte hitting Sarasu accusing her of having told lies to her husband. She further accuses Sripati being hand in gloves with his wife. Though Sarasu apologises to her, Atte keeps her grudge. In the meantime Sripati’s friends ironically speak of dowry. Sripati gets annoyed and reaffirms his determination to fight the malady, hearing of the case of a woman burned to death for dowry. Her is also told about the non-confidence motion against him as the president of the anti-Dowry Sangha, since he is accused of having accepted dowry himself. When his father returns, Sripati demands that everything brought into the house be returned. Though Sripati is keen to live by his ideals, his father laments the financial crunch of the family struggling to get a loan to offer as bribe to get a job for his son. Atte suggests that Sarasu gets the loan from her mother. But Rangannaraya has premonitions that his son would resist the plan. In Act III Atte and Sarasu are seen conversing on the problems they face. Atte expresses her anger at the men – Rangannaraya is a helpless man and Sripati has no job of his own. Atte tries to cajole Sarasu and pretends to be intimate with her. Sarasu expresses her fear of being with Atte and tries to get out of the room. All of a sudden Atte becomes very threatening and she drags Sarasu and makes her lie down. Atte: Will you do as I say? Or else this room will be locked to you at night too, as it is in the day. If Sripati forces me, I’ll tell him, ‘I swear that if you sleep with your wife, it will be like sleeping with me.’…I’m a wretched widow, and now at my age I can say anything…Say you are sorry. (Sarasu meekly does so) Tomorrow you’ll go to your mother. I have a mission for you. Fulfil it before returning (118-119). There is total darkness on stage and the scene shifts to Atte screaming, ‘Will someone please save my daughter-in-law?’ (119). The audience gets an illusory feeling that the play ends here in the dark. But the siren of an ambulance is heard as the lights come on. Amma and Mama are on stage. Amma is agitated and wants to bring her daughter back home. She has premonition that they would kill her daughter. Amma is scared of Atte the wretched widow as ‘She is a witch who will destroy the happiness of a young couple, just because she never experienced that joy herself’ (122). The scene shifts to the room where Atte tells Sarasu to follow her direction to get Rs.15,000/- from her mother to offer as bribe to get a job for her husband. Sarasu replies saying that she would do it only with permission from Sripati. The altercation leads to the bride burning. Atte: Are you trying to cheat me, you bitch? Sarasu: Atte, aiyyo. Please don’t pull out my hair…That…that’s fire. Aiyyo….Fire, fire… Save me Atte! My sari! Aiyyo. I’m dying. I’m dying…(Gradually Sarasu’s cries die ou.) (123). After sometime Atte comes out on to the stage sniffing her hand and throwing away the matches. She begins to beat her breasts and cry aloud, ‘Aiyyo, aiyyo, my darling daughter-in-law. Someone, please come, save her. Aiyyo… her sari has caught fire. My daughter. Can anyone save her?’ (123) The scene shifts with the sound of siren of a passing ambulance coming and receding. Chatter of people can be heard commenting on the girl’s death as a case of murder. A voice is heard demanding that the husband be thrown into the funeral pyre along with the corpse. The play ends as Amma and Mama walk across with faces covered, since Sarasu has become an ‘Agnisakshi’ with fire as the witness to her gruesome murder. The play is a powerful examination of a social concern that plagues the Indian society with the ever increasing cases of bride burning. It has been pointed out that the root cause of the problem behind dowry deaths is the Indian religious orthodoxy and its degenerate caste system providing manipulative socio-religious power to the upper castes. Dowry is a practice from the ancient Hindu custom of “kanyadan” by which a father presents his daughter jewelry and clothes at the time of her marriage, and “vardakshina” by presenting the groom cash or kind. Though these were done voluntarily, now-a-days these customs have become brutal and dangerous to all classes and especially the upper strata of society (Banerjee, Partha. Sriranga, as a social critic, has very powerfully examined the social malady, calling attention to empowerment of women. Being an iconoclast, he is basically interested in the moral dimension of human problems. His dramatis personae sometimes degenerate into mere black and white character sketches that tend to be mouthpieces than full fledged individuals (Lal 2004: 384). Sriranga has been very successful in presenting theatre and life through “Agnisakshi” exposing a serious social issues. ————– Works Cited Banerjee, Partha.“Bride burning and dowry deaths in India.” Banker, B.K. “Indian Theatre, Yesterday and Today: An Overview.” The Journal of Indian Writing in English, 1996, Vol.24. July. No.2. Desai, Usha. “Introduction.” Shadows in the Dark: Four Plays by Sriranga. Trans. Usha Desai. Bangalore : Unisun Publications, 2007. Lal, Ananda. Ed. The Oxford Companion to Indian Theatre. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004. —–. Ed. Theatres of India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009. Mukherjee, Tutun. Girish Karnad’s Plays: Performance and Critical Perspectives. Delhi: Pencraft International, 2006. Reddy, K. Venkata, R.K. Dhawan. Flowering of Indian Drama: Growth and development. New Delhi: Prestige Books,2004. Reddy, P. Obula. “Cultural Heterogeneity in Indian Drama.” Flowering of Indian Drama: Growth and Development. New Delhi: Prestige Books, 2004. Sebastian, A.J, Chandra, N.D.R. Literary terms in Drama, Theatre & Cinema. Delhi: Authorspress, 2002. Shivarudrappa, G.S. Indian Literature: Sahitya Akademi’s Bi-monthly Journal, 1999, Sept-Oct. Vol.XLIII. No.5. “Social realism.” Sriranga. “AGnisakshi.” Shadows in the Dark: Four Plays by Sriranga. Trans. Usha Desai. Bangalore : Unisun Publications. 2007, 71-124.

Social Realism  in Sriranga’s  “Agnisakshi”  : Prof. AJ Sebastian sdb Kannada playwright, Sriranga  (Adya Rangacharya 1904-1984),   being a bitter critic of  the hypocrisies of his society, has been realistically portraying social maladies through his plays.  Dealing with a variety of themes and employing  various techniques, he as  exposed social evils satirically and comically. His  major  […]

“Wonderful things can happen through us” Bro Padraig McDonald SDB Limerick, Ireland

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Mahesh Elkunchwar’s “Reflection” : A study in Loss of Identity : Prof. AJ Sebastian sdb

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