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

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.

RAMNIK:  We?

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.

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Works Cited

 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,

2005, 98-103.

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.

(Abbreviated FS)

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.