Religious Bigotry in Mahesh Dattani’s Final Solutions : Prof. AJ Sebastian sdb
India has been plagued by unchecked communalism since its independence, gnawing into the very fabric of secularism, peace and harmony that existed from time immemorial. We are getting torn apart by communal hatred and carnage, perpetrated in the name of religious affiliations. The ugly face of this diabolic trend emerges from within human hearts devoid of love of God and man. Dattani has powerfully brought out the scenario of religious bigotry in Final Solutions portraying construction of Communalism in India.
Sudhir Kakar’s psychoanalyst’s exploration of religious conflict between Hindus and Muslims through a case study of the violence that erupted in Hyderabad in 1990s, may aptly be applied to the play. Dattani has based his story on the events after partition. As has been pointed out, “…historical enmity is transmitted from one generation to the next as the child ignoring the surface interpretations and rationalizations, hears the note of helpless fury and impotence in the accounts of beloved adults and fantasizes scenarios of revenge against those who have humiliated family and kin” (Kakar 31). Such is the case in hand when Hardika recounts from the past her bitterness in the play. The psychology of rioting may be examined briefly to assess the play:
…a riot has a period of immediate tension and precipitating incident which have received much glamorous search for “ultimate” causes. The build up of immediate tension occurs when religious identities come to the forefront because of a perceived threat to this particular social identity…the threat… makes members of the community demonstratively act through words and actions as Hindus, or as Muslims” (Kakar 41).
Final Solutions is a memory play. Dattani employs Chorus/Mob consisting of five men and ten masks on sticks – five Hindu masks and five Muslim masks. As individuals they are Chorus 1,2 etc. The period of the play is the late 1940s when the fifteen year old Daksha reads from her diary. She jots down how her dreams have been shattered. She had been told not to sing after her marriage to Hari. It was the time when India got her independence. She reads from her diary reminiscing the terrible times of India’s independence. The trauma of partition looms large as she recounts her thoughts. Through time shift, the playwright presents the mindset of three generations of a middle-class Gujarati business family. Daksha growing up to be the grandmother Hardika, remembers vividly her father’s murder during partition riots. She recollects:
But that night in Hussainabad in our ancestral house… The windows broke, one by one. My mother and myself, we hid in the pooja room… I clung to my mother. My mother clung to the family idol of Lord Krishna… I could see the fire they were carrying… I looked at my mother praying, with her eyes tightly shut, clutching the feet of the idol, praying not for us but for the safety of my father, wherever he may be…. I had the most horrible thought…Then I knew it was Krishna slapping me in the face, punishing me for being a non-believer. A stone hit our gramophone table, breaking it. Krishna chose to destroy what I loved most (FS 167).
Her son Ramnik Gandhi, aware of the cruelty perpetrated by his forebears, wants to live in the true spirit of secularism.
The scene shifts to forty years later when Hardika opens her diary and feels that “things have not changed that much” (167). Dattani brings in Mob/Chorus wearing Hindu masks discussing how the procession of the God in the chariot was disrupted by the Muslims, pelting stone at the God and slitting the poojari’s stomach. The infuriated mob scattered with sticks cries blood.
CHORUS 4: Send them back
CHORUS 2: Drive..them…out.
CHORUS 5: Drive them out?
CHORUS 3: Kill the sons of swine! (169).
The scene shifts to the living room of the Gandhis where they have received news over TV of the riots. Smita is all excited while dialling to inform her friend Tasnee’s parents about the bombing of the Muslim girls’ hostel. Ramnik takes over the phone, though unknown to Tasnee’s father Noor Ahmed, to inform him of the blast. Making the conversation sound more humorous, he introduces himself as Gandhi, having no relation, of course, to the father of the nation. However, he attempts to reach out like a true Gandhian to members of the Muslim community. On the other hand, the Muslim masked Mob/ Chorus takes up the chorus of retaliation:
CHORUS 1: Their chariot fell in our street!
CHORUS 2: Their God now prostrates before us!
CHORUS 3: They say we razed their temples yesterday.
CHORUS 2: That we broke their chariot today.
CHORUS 1: That we’ll bomb their streets tomorrow.
CHORUS ALL: Why would we? Why? Why? Why would we? (171).
Resorting to time switch, Dattani focuses on Hardika recollecting her fears: “This time it wasn’t the people with the sticks and stones. It was those two boys running away who frightened me. Those two who were begging for their lives. Tomorrow they will hate us for it…All those memories came back when I saw the pride in their eyes!… They don’t want equality. They want to be superior” (172). She reminisces her bitter past and continues to cherish an unforgiving spirit filled with suspicion and fear.
In the meantime, the dramatist draws our attention to the religious fervour of Aruna who does her pooja meticulously along with her daughter Smita to get protection from Krishna. She tells her to be always pure in thought and deeds.
The drama moves on to the scene of the two Muslim boys, Bobby and Javed, trying to escape from the Hindu mob. When the mob/chorus interrogates them, their Muslim identity is revealed. They have no other choice but to make their escape for survival. The Mob/Chorus wearing Hindu masks chase them shouting “Drive them out! Kill the sons of swine!” (178) The duo come to the door of the Gandhi household appealing for mercy and shelter. In his goodness Ramnik opens the door with due hesitation. At the background Daksha and Hardika are shown raising their objection to his ushering in the boys whose community killed Ramnik’s own grandfather. As the Gandhis are engaged in conversation with the two boys, the mob wearing Muslim masks express their anxiety as they are hunted down, beaten and thrown out. They express their strength though they are few in number.
As Bobby and Javed plead for protection and shelter from Ramnik, the Hindu Mob/Chorus outside demands that the intruders be let out.
CHORUS ALL: Thwart them. So we may live in peace.
CHORUS ALL: We who are right.
RAMNIK: And they?
CHORUS ALL: They who are wrong. Since we are right. And they oppose us.
RAMNIK: I will not open the door! Go away!
CHORUS ALL: We shall break in then!
RAMNIK: I stand in front of the door. If you break the door, you will kill me.
CHORUS ALL: What? You protect them? Then you are a traitor! Traitor! (181).
When the argument heats up, Aruna insists that her husband surrender the boys. However, Ramnik spares them as the duo keep pleading for safety. As the Mob/Chorus leave, Ramnik begins his interrogation. He learns that they are college students. Smita recognizes them as her college pals.
Act II continues with the interrogation of the boys where Smita reveals how she knew them both. Javed is her friend Tasneem’s brother and Bobby has been Tasneem’s fiance. The argument leads to exchanges between the two parties, leading Ramnik to tell them not to leave his home in the night. Javed realizes his mistake in arguing and apologises for his ungrateful and angry expressions.
Meanwhile when a stone is hurled at his house, Ramnik blames it on Javed’s people and goes on to refer to violence of the past when Hardika lost her father in Hussinabad soon after partition. The spotlight falls on Hardika who is angry with Ramnik being blinded by his ideals, offering shelter to the Muslim boys even offering jobs.
Ramnik tells the boys not to take seriously the comments of the grandmother since old people are too rigid about things, unlike the young people like them. Bringing two glasses of milk to them, Ramnik insists Javed takes his offer of a job expressing his principle: “…if you want peace…that is, if you treat peace as a commodity and you look for it – you will find it hidden in the armpits of the majority” (191). Javed acknowledges Ramnik’s humanitarian gesture in the midst of violence and social tension. “…You can offer milk to us. You can have an angry mob outside your house. You can play the civilized host. Because you know you have peace hidden inside your armpit” (192).
To Javed’s query about trouble fermenting in that big mohalla, Ramnik recounts how there was only a single Muslim family years back. It was an yearly practice to conduct rath yatra from Vishnu Mandir before midnight. In the course of the procession someone threw stones at the idol. The axle of the chariot gave way and broke the idol. It was also rumoured that the poojari was killed.
In his generosity, Ramnik offers Javed a job in his saree shop. Smita objects to the proposal and reveals how she came to know from Tasneem that Javed was driven out of his home by his father since he used to be hired to create riots. Feeling betrayed by the disclosure, Javed, keeps pounding his forehead with his fist.
Act III opens with the spotlight on Javed and Bobby, sitting on the floor, with troubled countenance. The Muslim Chorus is seated in prayerful posture on the highest level of the ramp. As the Chorus finishes praying, it expresses its fears and premonitions:
CHORUS 1: Should we be swallowed up? Till they cannot recognize us? Should we melt into anonymity so they cannot hound us? Lose ourselves in a shapeless mass? Should we?… A drop of oil cannot merge with an ocean of milk. One reality cannot accept another reality (196).
The focus shifts to Daksha reading from her diary jottings. She was told by her husband Hari that violence had stopped and all the bad people had left for Pakistan. Hari wanted to give up studies and join his father in his cloth mill. She also recalls how her friend Zarine’s family got into financial trouble.
The spotlight turns on to Ramnik, Javed and Bobby. When Ramnik questions Javed on his riot links, in anger he retorts, “Thousands! I got thousands, lakhs for doing it…That’s what you want to hear!…I believe in myself… It’s people like you who drive me to a corner and I have to turn to myself and my faith. I have a lot to thank you for! At least now I am not ignorant of my history and faith” (197-8).
Ramnik keeps his composure and invites him still to take the job in his shop, provided he changes his ways. The argument between the two continues as Javed accuses Ramnik of provoking him to do anti-social activities. Enraged, Ramnik points out how Javed grooms violence in himself: “How dare you blame your violence on other people? It is in you! You have violence in your mind. Your life is based on violence. Your faith is based…” (198). He stops abruptly, realizing his mistake and apologises. But as Javed further attacks him for his attitude, Ramnik slaps him calling him a criminal who cannot justify being a riot-rouser. Javed keeps arguing, further attacking him on his pretended liberal outlook, “You don’t hate me for what I do or who I am. You hate me because I showed you that you are not as liberal as you think you are” (199). As Javed walks away to get fresh air, Bobby explains to Ramnik that Javed was not hired, but he did everything voluntarily. Ramnik calls his activities unforgivable. Yet he is willing to give Javed a chance to change his life, offering a job at the shop. Bobby finds it paradoxical on the part of Ramnik to offer a job to a fellow who has done such hateful things. Ramnik defends himself, establishing his liberal mindedness: “I have to give him all the chances that I can possibly give. Isn’t that what any liberal-minded person should do?” (199).
Bobby then reveals the real facts behind Javed’s strange behaviour. It happened that once while playing cricket with friends, when the postman passed by, he happened to drop a letter. Noticing it, he requested Javed to hand it over to the addressee next door. Bobby and friends watched the neighbour telling Javed to leave the letter on the wall. Then the boys watched the man coming out with a cloth in hand, wiping the letter before picking it up. He also wiped the wall. The postman perceiving it merely grinned and told the boys the man was cracked. Then the boys could hear the continuous ringing of a prayer bell.
The following morning, the neighbour came out cursing everyone saying that someone had dropped pieces of meat and bones into his compound. Bobby never spoke to Javed about it, but remembered the incident whenever the ringing of the bell occurred while playing cricket. From then on, Javed was no more considered a hero among his peers. He knows that Javed expressed his disgust for the Hindu concept of contamination through retaliation.
Bobby eventually began to be angry with Javed whenever he heard the ringing of the bell. He began to pretend that he was not part of his community by changing his name to Bobby from Baboon. By and by, Ramnik realises his own mistaken viewpoint and finds no difference between him and the boys.
The focus shifts to Daksha who dances in her room with delight since she could visit her Muslim friend Zarine. She learnt that her father had suspected that his shop was burnt down by someone. He had been discussing something with his community men when Daksha visited their home one day. They abruptly changed the topic of their discussion seeing her and showing some indifference. It was only when Zarine’s mother came and welcomed with a smile, she felt at ease. Daksha spent time with Zarine listening to Noor Jahan’s songs on the gramophone which her mother-in-law never permitted her at home.
The spotlight falls on the trio continuing their argument, as Javed decided to leave the security of Ramnik’s home in the night itself. Ramnik threatens Javed that he would hand him over to police calling him a criminal. Javed retorts sarcastically:
You want to throw me to the mob? I am a part of it. You have been protecting me from the people like me. I’m not different from them!… I do what they are doing – only on a different street! I was there on that street when the rath came and I did precisely that! I shouted! I had permission to do exactly what I had been asked not to do all my life! … They always talked about motherland and fighting to save our faith and how we should get four of theirs for every one of ours… it is obvious that a minority would never start a riot, we are too afraid, that it had to be politically motivated. Try telling it to a thousand devotees swayed by their own religious fervour, united by their fantasies of persecution, constantly reassuring themselves that this is their land by taking out processions (204-5).
It is in these circumstances of being hunted by enemies that Javed joined the riot makers who came by bus to pelt stones at the rath yatra. Though Bobby tried to dissuade Javed from his criminality, he went ahead in the midst of the chaotic situation. He had the knife in hand lifted up to plunge into the poojari who begged for mercy. But enveloped in fear, he had no courage to move his hands in confusion. Dropping the knife, trying to make a safe exit, he observed someone pick up the knife and pierce the poojari. Listening to their pathetic story, Ramnik felt glad they managed to escape from the riot.
The spotlight falls on the Muslim Chorus that expresses its angst and fears:
CHORUS 1: What must we do? To become more acceptable? Must we lose our identity? Is that what they want? Must we tolerate more? Does our future lie in their hands? Is there anyone more unsure more insecure than us? Or what a curse it is to be less in number! (208).
The cross-fade to the living room, bringing to picture Smita and Aruna, in conversation with Javed. They apologise to each other for the miscommunications. Aruna expresses they have no ill feelings towards them and refers to their peculiar ways and customs. She acknowledges the unity of all religions with different pathways to God. Hearing this Ramnik laughs at her traditional attitudes he has never succeeded to change. She holds on to her conviction of bathing her God with uncontaminated water. Hence she didn’t want Javed to fetch water from the tap outside. Observing this attitude of Aruna, Smita feels suffocated in her ideals. Aruna still keeps to her convictions saying, “We must know no other path. And I will not have it all perish to accommodate someone else’s faith. I have enough faith and pride to see that it doesn’t happen. I shall uphold what I believe is the truth” (210).
Smita on the other hand retorts questioning her mother’s stifling faith. She draws her mother’s attention to go beyond pettiness: “ Do two young boys make you so insecure?… This is the time for strength! I am so glad these two dropped in. We would never have spoken about what makes us so different from each other. We would have gone on living our lives with our petty similarities” (211). This section focuses on the ritualistic practices of Aruna being questioned by the new generation that is more open to accommodation and friendship, going beyond mere rituals.
The spotlight passes on to Hindu Chorus which gives its response to the attitudes represented in the ensuing discussion in Ramnik household. The Chorus has its fears and predicaments: “Our future is threatened. There is so much that is fading away. We cannot be complacent about our glorious past seeing us safely through” (212). The Chorus is very anxious about the half hearted pseudo-secularists who do not know the greatness of the motherland.
Ramnik on his part appreciates Javed for his individuality trying to protect his interests with his angry, impulsive and rebellious attitudes. However, he advises him not to be stupid in his actions.
The conversation shifts to Javed, Smita and Bobby on the ramp. Javed asks Smita if she continues to love Bobby, since his sister Tasneem was in love with him too. Smita tells Bobby that she cannot continue her relationship with him for personal reasons, and not because of communal differences that she feared would invite problems. She also tells him that if they wanted they could have continued the relationship between them despite all odds. But since Bobby had made the choice otherwise, she willingly relented.
As the conversation winds up, Javed asks Smita if she had filled water to bathe the God. She, instead, wanted him to fill the water to prove that nothing would happen by his touch, bringing curse on the family. This is a breaking point in establishing fresh relationships among the new generation.
The sequence shifts to Daksha reading from her diary jotting about her husband Hari wanting to help Zarine’s father by purchasing his burnt up little shop. But the man demanded too much for it which she condemns as false pride. It is in this background the spotlight shifts to Hardika questioning the two boys why they were still there and had not left the place. She asks them if they would leave for Pakistan so that they could live the way they liked without having to blame others for their failures. She recounts what her family did many years ago by leaving Hussainabad when her father was killed. The boys do not want to listen to those stories. Javed quietly says, “You blame us for what happened fifty years ago. Today, if something happens to my sister, can I blame you?” (222). Hardika doesn’t show any concern but merely says, “What happened to your sister doesn’t concern me! … She deserves it! Your sister deserves it! Zarine deserves… What did you say your sister’s name was?” (222). The conversations shifts back to Daksha discussing with her husband Hari on her friendship with Zarine, promising that she would never visit her again.
The focus further shifts to Ramnik and Hardika. Ramnik tells his mother not to blame the boys, but she insists that she cannot forget the bitter past. After an ominous silence Bobby and Javed are seen visibly defeated. Meanwhile Aruna enters after her ritual bath to the pooja room and kneels. She rings the bell dispelling the silence. Bobby and Javed turn away to the door. Javed stops to stare to the direction of the bell that is being rung to waken the God. Bobby removes his footwear and advances towards the pooja room telling Javed, “There is one final deed to be done… God knows, my intentions are pure… It has to be done to prove to them… That we also believe” (223-4). Aruna tells him to stop, but he suddenly picks up the tiny image of Krishna which sits in his palm. Aruna’s cry telling him to put it back is drowned by the Mob/Chorus. He shows the image to everyone and proclaims:
See! I am touching God!… Your God! My flesh is holding Him! Look, Javed! And He does not mind!… He does not burn me to ashes! Her does not cry out from the heavens saying He has been contaminated!… Look how He rests in my hands! He knows I cannot harm Him. He knows His strength! I don’t believe in Him but He believes in me. He smiles! He smiles at our trivial pride and our trivial shame… He doesn’t cringe from my touch (224).
Though the Mob/Chorus keeps pounding and shouting not to hurt its pride by his sacrilege, Aruna keeps swearing that there is nothing that is sacred left in the world. Holding the image of Krishna, Bobby responds:
You can bathe Him day and night, you can splash holy water on Him but you cannot remove my touch from His form. You cannot remove my smell with sandal paste… because it belongs to a human being who believes, and tolerates, and respects what other human beings believe… The tragedy is that there is too much that is sacred. But if we understand and believe in one another, nothing can be destroyed (224-5).
Bobby is willing to forget and tolerate provided Hardika is willing to do the same. But the old woman could never be willing to forget. She believes in living in isolation and move in silence unwilling to speak. As she walks to the living room, Ramnik tells her that he can’t enter his shop thinking about the incident. He feels there is no escape from the contradiction of his life. He further reveals the mystery surrounding his shop: “It’s the same burnt-up shop we bought from them, at half its value. And we burnt it. Your husband. My father. And his father. They had it burnt in the name of communal hatred” (226).
Now, conscience pricked, he can’t step into the same shop. He thought he would settle matters with the boys who came, telling them that they are not the only ones who destroyed. He tells his mother that those people didn’t hate her holding on to any false pride or arrogance.
The play ends with Hardika expressing her regret for not being told the truth of the fact and enquires if the boys would ever return. Ramnik merely says, “If you call them they will come. But then again – if it’s too late – they may not” (226).
Dattani draws attention to inherent evil being perpetrated in the name of religious bickering and historical wounds inflicted. Can’t it stop somewhere? Can’t the new generation make a leap of faith in each other burying the hatchet in a forgive-forget basis. Hardika can’t forget the past and forgive, but Bobby calls for understanding and deposit faith in one another to bridge the divide between communities.
“History” is made as an active character in the play making the action progress through the perception of Daksha/Hardika, mingling both the past and the present (Multani 110). Blaming it on history is only a sign of lacking mature attitudinal change. It is same as holding fast to the age old adage, “The fathers have eaten a sour grape and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Jeremiah 31.19).
Can there be a final solution? The characters in the play are very deftly set apace from each other. The closer they come the better the interaction and sharing of sensibilities and emotions. The Mob/Chorus remains at the periphery on the ramp who are only intruders, causing riots and tension, acting on impulses and mob frenzy. But the characters in the Gandhi household as they debate and argue, enter into better understanding. Javed and Bobby as they come to closer interaction, breaking off from the mob, are able to build a relationship with the Gandhi household. When Bobby forcefully enters into the inner space of the pooja room, he shatters the ritualistic outlook of religion.
The stage setting with multiple layers and distinctive zones in the backdrop of a riot-torn city, Dattani very powerfully projects how the ghosts of the past continue to haunt us through various characters, applying time-shift device. The drama searches for solutions to individual/ familial/ communal/ national issues ending with the younger generation carrying much less of the historical burden of their predecessors (Chaudhuri 39-40).
There is need to break the barriers created as “us” and “they” into “we” Indians, respecting one another as fellow country men, lest we perish with an eye for an eye attitude leading to a blind world.
Finally Dattani breaks into the core of Hardika who keeps the guarded historical grudge. She opens up finally, when truth is revealed. Ramnik’s lack of proper communication of history is demonic as it kept up unquenched rancour and hatred. Truth, if revealed at the appropriate time can build relationship among warring parties. This is probed into in the play as it is an example of transferred resentments (Barbuddhe 103).
Though the play ends with no final solution, it is a critique of communal tension and rioting in India, calling for introspection on the part of every right thinking citizen, be it Hindu or Muslim, to build bridges of friendship and harmony. Mirroring our social tension, it draws out attention to the aftermath of our partition history, which continues unabated in subtle destruction of our social harmony. In the final analysis, rancour and hatred blooming in the human heart, unless nipped in the bud, will continue to spread like gangrene.
Final Solutions proves that “The Demons of communal hatred are not out on the street… they are lurking inside ourselves” (FS 161) Being a memory play, social introspection should lead to wiping the memories of the past with courage and determination to start anew to end all strife. Final solution is to break out of the demons lodged within human heart. If man has to live in peace, heart needs purification of hatred and evil sowing seeds of communal disharmony.
Barbuddhe, Satish. “Mahesh Dattani’s Final Solutions: A Play about Transferred Resentments.”
The Plays of Mahesh Dattani. Ed. R.K. Dhawan & Tanu Pant. New Delhi: Prestige Books,
Bible, The Holy. Revise Standard Version. London: The Catholic Trust Society, 1966.
Chaudhuri, Asha Kuthari. Mahesh Dattani. New Delhi: Foundation Books, 2005.
Dattani, Mahesh.“Final Solutions.” Collected Plays. New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2000, 159-226.
Kakar, Sudhir. The Colours of Violence: Cultural identities, religion and conflict. Chicago:
The University of Chicago Press, 1996.
Multani, Angelie. “ “Final Solutions?” Mahesh Dattani’s Plays: Critical Perspectives.
Ed. Angelie Multani. New Delhi: Pencraft International, 2007, 109-21.