“Hakkiyu Akkiyennu hekki hekki tinuttade” – and the protagonist struggles to say it correctly. Her tongues cannot distinguish the stress between ‘a’ and ‘ha’, blame the lack of polish in her accents. The scene settles in the attic of my mind and comes into view whenever I see someone failing to let go of the heavy accent of the dialects we speak in. I do not recollect the year I watched this play, nor do I remember its name. I watched it in Kadra, a place nestled in the Western Ghats, where Ninasam’s Tirugata held a three-day theatre event. The play was a translated version of “My fair lady” and if I close my eyes, I can reimagine the expressions and the range of tones of the actors. But isn’t that merely the power of theatre? To make us live in an experience that will dwell in us, somewhere gathering dust only to open up at unexpected moments, surprise-like making it surreal.
Recently, I picked a second-hand-makes-it-affordable book Vultures written by Vijay Tendulkar for 80 bucks. It is a play, published by Hindi Pocket Book, translated from Marathi by Priya Adarkar and runs over 130 pages. Scene 1 opens with Rama and Ramakant packing their luggage and walking away. And then there is a poem. Yes, this poem drawing blunt remarks about the existence of an ‘abala nari’ is more than haunting. As I read through, I am introduced to Rama, the meek wife. Cliched, I think and then the curtain opens to Manik, the brute, who challenges every possible stereotype of a chaste woman. Now, I am curious.
The play moves ahead introducing us to men caught unaware of the grip of patriarchy. But isn’t that the case with most of the men in our lives anyway? We learn their names – Pappa, Sakha ram, Ramya, Umya and Rajninath. As the play unfolds, we learn that greed and violence are at the centre of it. I read the play in one go. This is not a plot. This is my family story minus the degree of atrocities on women, maybe what the women in my household put up in the name of compromise and the dreams of men that they let go. Or is it every middle-class family’s saga plainly put together?
What needs to be upheld here is that the play is just a mundane display of what happens in our homes. And Vijay Tendulkar does it effortlessly. He enters the sacrosanct of the secret room in our ancestral homes and breaks it to bits, giving pangs of guilt to the reader many times.
Domestic violence is at epitome here and as it happens in actuality, it is a part of everydayness. So, it is with my aunt who put up with her husband’s beatings and his open extramarital flings. Rajajinath in the plot is a mute spectator while Ramya and Umya are the evil-cooking-eating monstrous humans. They torture their father, sister and swindle money. Vijay Tendulkar shows that once the conscience is thrown out of the window, then cruelty becomes a natural trait and every house then becomes a battlefield. He looks at the societal structure with a microscopic lens. A society that is built and thrives on oppression, violence and mute spectatorship.
What set this play as a fine example for me is the role of Manik and her vicious behaviour. I agree with her character in totality because women can be cruel too. In a set-up where women are upheld for tolerance and patience, Manik stands as a stark reality check. In our homes where women manipulate men equally, partake in burning their daughters-in-law or have the audacity to kill newborn female children, cruelty cannot be categorised on the basis of gender. As Vijay Tendulkar opens the pandora box, this should not come as a dramatic realisation to us.
The play also is a knock on how life can revolve when money becomes the sun. It simply portrays how mean we can get and how low we can stoop. The play does not make any great revelation or does not enlighten the reader in newer ways. It just shows what we are and who we are as peoples making a living and making an existence (god knows why). It does not try to show the good, bad and the ugly. Everything just comes out as a part of a sequence of consequences of the narrative.
Then there is also the love-hate relationship between Rajajinath and Rama that is subtlety touched upon leaving it for the readers to mull over. What happens to Rajajinath later or what happens to Rama or Ramya, we don’t know nor is there any scope to predict. But this is what it is. This is a play that is not fictitious. Here reality settles.
This play is as striking as Tendulkar’s any other including Kamala, Silence! The court is in session, or Sakharam Binder. What makes it come alive is the relativity that most of us observe in silence. His characters are often crafted with the good and evil balanced out like two faces of a coin. For me, it is his charm of pointing out the negatives of women that makes it appealing. While there are contradictory women roles – one who is sanskari and the other being non-sanskari, that makes his plays absolute and intriguing. Hopefully, I will be able to watch these plays and experience them a little more, live them a little more and stay curious.
Poornima Laxmeshwar resides in Bangalore and works as a content writer for a living. Her poems have been published in national and international journals of repute. Her first poetry collection “Anything but Poetry” was published by Writers Workshop, Kolkata, a chapbook of her prose poems “Thirteen” was published by Yavanika Press and her full-length poetry collection 'Strings Attached' was recently published by Red River.