Dr. R. Devanand
Dept. Of English, GFGC Koratagere
Mahesh Dattani is a unique contemporary “playwright of world stature” who needs no introduction. He is one of India’s finest dramatists, who engineers contemporary issues in his plays to the fullest extent. There is a quest for communal harmony in his plays. Communal hatred and religious animosity continue to haunt the contemporary urban India. The delicate fabric of communal harmony is often disturbed for various selfish and polito-cultural reasons. The communal virus has always played a mischievous role in this pluralistic society. Theatre has often been one of the most powerful media of sensitization, creating awareness and social communication in India. Communal violence and conflicts arising out of caste disputes, religious revulsions, and gender prejudices have found a unique significance and representation in post-Independent Indian theatre. This paper attempts to capture the playwright’s fine depiction of a socio-culturally sensitive issue like communalism in the play while simultaneously confronting the stereotypical insensitivities that exist in general.
Keywords : Play, Theatre, Communalism, Stereotype, Harmony.
Mahesh Dattani confronts the burning issue of communal dis/harmony in his Sahitya Academy Award winning play Final Solutions. The delicate fabric of communal harmony is often disturbed for various selfish and polito-cultural reasons. The relationship between different ethnic groups turns bitter when the communal harmony is let down. Religious conflicts are depicted in many literary works as in Manohar Malgonkar’s A bend in the Ganges and Amitav Ghosh’s Shadow Lines. History of Indian sub-continent and its subsequent partition is drenched in the blood of the two warring communities. Religious communalism is a problem that has plagued the country for more than a century and partition saw the culmination of communal violence. Even the title is exceptionally unique and sounds unconventional for it is supposed to offer ‘solutions’ which are final in a very amicable manner for a burning problem. Sohini Pillai writes in her thesis ‘Challenging Religious Communalism with Theatre: Mahesh Dattani’s Final Solutions’ about the title, which is worth quoting here:
The title of Dattani’s play is a reference to the euphemistic term “Die Endlösung” (“Final Solution”) that the Nazis used to call their plan to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe……Yet the title “Final Solutions” is more than a reminder of the worst genocide based on religious identity that the world has seen in the past hundred years. The title makes audience members ask themselves, “Are there solutions to religious communalism?” (p 107) 1
Prejudice and discrimination are not one and the same. Prejudice is defined as “an attitude (usually negative) toward the members of some group, based solely on their membership in that group”.2 This kind of attitude can damage the very cohesiveness of the community. Discrimination refers “to negative actions toward the group that are the targets of prejudice”.3 In other words, discrimination is prejudice in action. In a pluralistic country like ours, ethnic sentiments are sensitive as they may come at logger heads with other ethnic groups. Communal clashes can be studied as an extreme expression of prejudice toward the other ethnic, religious or racial group. Social psychologists suggest that when there is threat to self-esteem of a group, it seeks to restore its self-esteem by derogating and demeaning the opposing group or groups.
The communal virus has always played a mischievous role in this pluralistic society. In the beginning of the play we see Hardika opening her diary after four decades and writing a dozen pages more. Her words, “Yes, things have not changed that much” (Collected plays I, p 167) sound so philosophical and true. Communal virus has made this sub-continent to suffer quite often. Ram Ahuja in his sociological work ‘Social problems in India’ defines Communalism as follows:
Communalism is an ideology which states that society is divided into religious communities whose interests differ and are, at times, even opposed to each other. The antagonism practiced by the people of one community against the people of other community and religion can be termed ‘communalism’.” (p 120) 4
The play Final Solution is not a mere ‘one more addition’ to the literary works that deal with communal conflicts, but an honest attempt at sensitizing the public about the dangers of prejudice and discrimination based on one’s race, ethnicity and religion. Discrimination, per se, need not be absolutely bad. But it can be truly fatal if it’s based on deadly prejudice. The playwright has given a brilliant title, which indicates that there are solutions to seemingly irresolvable problems. However, the playwright, neither taking an escapist route nor presuming to offer ‘the final solution’, confronts the burning issue with an amazing neutrality and courage of conviction. Therefore, the play cannot be studied merely as a clash between Hindus and Muslims represented by Ramnik Gandhi, his family members and Hindu Mob/chorus and Bobby, Javed and Muslim Mob/ Chorus on the stage.
The raging communal problem which has socio political dimension seems to have no solution. Religious bigotry has always threatened the fine fabric of social harmony. Its dehumanizing tendencies can be arrested with a holistic understanding of social institutions like religion and a genuine spirit of co-existence. In the absence of broad minded acceptance of other cultures, that is the spirit of cultural relativism, one’s insular mindset can be harmful. In such instances freedom of speech becomes a hapless casualty. Voice of dissent in democracy is a customary practice and hence it has to be made acceptable in any free society. But in a multicultural society like democratic and secular India, certain religious issues become often sensitive. Realizing uniform civil code in this context is just a wishful thought. Communal revulsion is like landmines loaded with politically motivated and popular parochial sentiments. It may explode anytime.
The first stage production of the play was performed at Guru Nanak Bhavan of Bangalore, on 10 July 1993. Since the maiden staging of the play, it has never ceased to attract the attention of academia, theatre goers, policy makers and communal/secular elements. Radha Ramaswamy, in her introduction to ‘Final Solutions,’ airs her views about the play. She does not approve of reading this play as the one that merely preaches communal harmony as it would amount to being reductive. She notes:
Communal stereotyping is discouraged as Bobby recognizes in himself and Aruna a similar pride in their faith… This idea of the family as an oppressive social structure, perhaps another sign of a society caught between tradition and modernity, runs through all of Dattani’s plays. (pp xii-xiii) 5
The role of chorus is quite significant here. Chorus changes their masks whenever the occasion demands. But ironically the actors of the chorus remain the same. The chorus links the play with the idea of dramatic development, the notions of collective identity and manufacturing of collective consent. Symbolically it can mean that all human beings are similar. What they wear is just a mask, which is appearance. At heart everyone is a human being. A social institution like religion is subjective. Relatively speaking, it is just a way of life. Unity of mankind is the fact. The actors in the play wear Hindu and Muslim masks alternatively and become the Hindu or Muslim mob. It is highly suggestive of the fact that religious identity is merely external and just peripheral to the human nature. No religion in its true spirit is misanthropic. It is the bias, prejudice and intolerance coupled with brainwashing towards other religions that has blinded the fanatics. Human identity is permanent and it does not call for any label to proclaim its authenticity.
The setting or the dramatic blueprint of the play emphasizes Mahesh Dattani’s view that the family unit represents society. The living space of the Gandhi family is shown through a simple arrangement of wooden blocks of furniture. The only detailed sets are the kitchen and a pooja room. This is significant, as it is largely through domestic food habits and social taboos that we all draw lines that separate ‘us’ from ‘them’. The process of othering, that is including what is socially prescribed and excluding what is socially proscribed, begins at the very personal and domestic level itself. There is a close relationship between food habits and religious beliefs, and the apparent ‘otherness’ of different communities is manifested through differences in what and how they and we eat. We also make sharp distinctions where foodstuff and food related utensils are concerned, which perhaps serve to emphasize division in a uniquely distinctive manner.
The play opens with the disturbance of a communal riot. Two boys Javed and Bobby come asking for refuge from the deadly mob outside. Ramniklal Gandhi opens the door against the wish of his wife and mother, and shelters the young men, saving their lives. As the play proceeds, we see the uneasiness of the characters with each other, as they struggle to establish some kind of normalcy while the lines of communal and ethnic hatred are progressively emphasized. Hardika’s memories of violence during Partition and the betrayal by her friend Zarine are fused with the present to worsen the situation.
The perpetuation of communal acts of mutual violence between Hindus and Muslims is given a clinical treatment. Freedom was celebrated by almost all people who were colonized. The immediate euphoria was soon followed by the dreadful nightmares of partition. Young Daksha records those moments when their family was targeted during the mindless riot. She narrates how they were happy to get rid of English and how their favorite records were destroyed when a stone hit the gramophone during a riot.
Post independent India went through a terrible communal crisis. Parochial people of two warring communities fought against each other for various reasons. Young Daksha documents these misfortunes in her diary. Her struggle, familial anxiety and societal tension are seen in her words. Her commentaries often sincerely reflect the ongoing public events. Old Hardika tries to know the figurative meaning of dogs in the context of communal riots, “Be careful, I said! (Almost to herself) The dogs have been let loose.”(Collected Plays-I, p 174) The dogs metaphorically stand for the uncontrollable violent behavior of the fundamentalists and religious fanatics.
The Mob/Chorus, which represents society at large, also refers to the Chorus of Greek tragedy, with resonances of catharsis. The function and component of chorus have been historically crucial and immensely contributed to the complexity of plays in general. Apart from this narrative function of the chorus, it also brings about catharsis, which is also a necessary prologue to reconciliation. But it is difficult to reconcile the very idea of a ‘Mob’ with the healing function of a Chorus, yet this seemingly contradictory combination is perhaps the main point of Mahesh Dattani’s play. The Mob that encircles the Gandhi house is ultimately, without any religion. It becomes a signifier of general social attitudes. They repeat lines, which are clichés in the communal animosity they represent. But those clichés however carry the force of scathing violence and the emotional force of belief behind it. They remain on stage till the very end, that is till the lights go off last on the Mob/Chorus, and it is here that the final blend of self and community occurs.
The dual function of Mob/Chorus deepens the crisis and no simplistic solution is provided by the playwright except confronting the communal virus and forgiving its disastrous impact unconditionally. The following abusive words of the Chorus 1 in the beginning of Act II reflect the general mood that is prevailing during communal riot: “There is heartache. We doubt the leader’s intentions. (Picks up his Hindu mask) They want our blood to boil. They have succeeded. (Wears his mask.)” (Collected Plays-I, p 188)
The chorus expresses its collective feelings that cannot be shared individually. Through the chorus, the dramatist voices the suppressed feelings and thoughts of the people. The Hindu chorus thinks about the temple and the Muslim chorus about the mosque. They forget the true spirit of humanity. This type of dissection of society based on ethnic or religious identity is not good for any community. The Mob uses the imageries of animals which are targeted to hurt the sentiments of another community. The images of ‘pig’, ‘swine’, ‘mouse’, ‘rat’, ‘lizard’ hint at the communal hatred and contempt toward other community. The play shows that the cause of the communal riot is not just religious animosity, but it’s also related to economy as Zarine’s father’s shop is deliberately burnt down to get economic advantages. Thus in the name of religion any form of hatred can grow between different groups.
In fact, Smita personally knows both Javed and Bobby. Javed is the brother of Tasneem, a friend of hers, and Bobby is Tasneem’s fiancé. As the play proceeds, both the past of Hardika as Daksha and the past of the young people, Javed, Bobby, and Smita come to light. They get connected to each other in their past. Hardika’s father had been killed during the partition violence. Soon after her marriage to Hari, she tried making friends with Zarine a young Muslim girl in the neighborhood, finding their love of music as the common link in the communal divides that separated them. This friendship was not accepted by Daksha’s family, and soon after another communal disturbance, Zarine family’s shop was burned down. Daksha felt that Zarine blamed her for the loss of the family business, and felt betrayed by her friend. The truth was that it was Daksha’s family, which had burnt down the shop in order to buy the property for low price. This shameful act is only exposed at the end of the play. The altercation between Ramnik and Smita brings out the truth. When Ramnik insists Smita how she knows those boys, Smita reluctantly replies that she recognizes those two boys, one is Tasneem’s brother, Javed and the other is Babban or Bobby, who is Tasneem’s fiance. The subsequent quarrel between them just reveals the hidden facts.
Suppression of religious identities due to fundamentalist activities gives birth to a kind of parochialism that can pull us into a never-ending sequence of vitiating violence. This is exactly what happens in the case of Javed. He becomes a part of a riot-making group with its own dangerous agenda. The result of such an ambience of exclusion is that a Muslim often has to face the negative consequence. It is effectively exemplified in the text through the disruptive episode involving the delivery of a letter. As Javed opens the gate to deliver the letter, a man comes out and commands him to go back after leaving the letter on the wall. The man tries to cleanse the polluted letter by wiping it. Such demeaning incidents reflect the intolerance an Indian Muslim has to deal with at times. This is re-emphasized by Aruna’s reluctance to offer them water or milk and the way in which she carefully separates the glasses touched by the Muslim youths as she considers their touches to be contaminating and disgusting.
The final act of Bobby’s transgression of the forbidden line of pooja room and picking up the idol of Krishna comes as a shock for conservative people like Aruna and her family members. Is this, if not final, a solution offered by the playwright to de-mythify the fallacy about purity and pollution concept that has profoundly fractured the Indian society for several centuries? Bobby’s rhetorical words to Aruna that if she is keen to forget their sour past, he is willing to tolerate them seem to send a message of forgiveness and tolerance. There is a desperate need to overlook the bitter moments of the past. Bobby’s mature words that transcend the limits of religions and belief systems towards the end of the play are worth quoting here:
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. (Collected Plays-I, p 224)
Angelie Multani in her essay, “Forgiveness is the Only Final Solution: A Reading of the Play‘Final Solutions’ by Mahesh Dattani” observes how the young ones transgress the circumference of the residence and the chauvinistic beliefs and how they lapse to a good-humored innocence and splatter each other with the water. Pollution and purity conscious conservative people would view this act as an instance of blasphemy. However, the dramatist is very cautious in treating this religiously ultra-sensitive issue. Bobby’s touch of the statue of Krishna can be viewed as the depiction of the spirit of inclusiveness and coexistence. Bobby’s words, immediately after his impetuous act, amply prove that he respects other’s belief system and faith. His intention is not to destroy or pollute any custom, but to express his belief and acceptance of other religion. Angelie Multani rightly observes:
The only note of hope in the play comes right at the end, in the penultimate scene, as Aruna prepares for her morning prayers…. Bobby.. picks up the idol of Lord Krishna in his ‘infidel’ hands. This, as anybody acquainted with religious doctrine would be aware, is potentially tremendously disruptive and ‘profane. (p 27) 6
It is obvious that religion per se, has got private importance and vested interests. Going by the spirit of respective religious scriptures, religion doesn’t have to generate danger for the mankind. Trouble begins when it is publicized, glorified and politicized for selfish and parochial reasons. The communal hitch comes out of prejudice towards others’ faith and religion. These ethnocentric and parochial views have disturbed the fine fabric of co- existence. The play acknowledges the similarity and respects the difference. The non-acknowledgment of similarities and identification of cultural and religious diversity in others causes distrust and hatred. It is the root cause of communal hatred and religious fanaticism. The trouble makers are blinded by religious intolerance. They have failed to see the plain truth. Their actions are ridiculous. They are not often guarded by the right spirit of any religion. Bobby emerges as the champion of the play as he enters the pooja room and takes the idol of Krishna in his hands. This is one of the most dramatically memorable moments.
The final scene of confrontation in Final Solutions is nothing but wholesome theatre, as Bobby transcends the forbidden laxman rekha, goes into the sacred pooja area and picks up the idol, demonstrating that all our conservative notions of space and purity-pollution can be knocked down, literally, with one step, whether it’s positive or negative, audience have to ponder over. Aruna’s final line of the play, “Oh! Is there nothing left that is sacred in this world?” (Collected Plays-II, p 225) shows how Bobby’s actions have permanently upset her.
The crucial step towards arresting the cycle of violence is manifest in the play. It is, of course, to recognize and accept reciprocated loss and mutual harm. If Daksha is not capable to forget or forgive 1947, and Javed is in turn not able to exonerate the disgrace suffered by him, we will be locked into a never-ending cycle of retaliation. What solution is specified by the playwright? As the title signifies, there may be many final solutions, not just one super solution that fixes all seemingly irresolvable crises. Arvind Gaur, who directed this play at Asmita Theatre, opines that no real solutions are offered in the play to the crisis of communalism, but it certainly raises queries on secularism and pseudo secularism. He further rightly remarks:
It forces us to look at ourselves in relation to the attitudes that persist in the society. Since it is an experiment in time and space and relates to memory, it is a play, which involves a lot of introspection on the part of the characters in the play and thus induces similar introspection in the viewers. 7
Towards the end of play, the audience knows that Javed will forever retain his sense of conceit in his religion and his culture, though he is apparently changed for better. He makes up his mind not return to his profession as a hired protester. In the beginning of Act Three, Javed doubts himself and asks Bobby, “Have I- changed?” to which Bobby replies, “Why do you doubt it?” (Collected Plays-II, p 196). Bobby later reaffirms this to Ramnik when he repeatedly tells him that he is changed. The treatment of sensitive issues like communal dis/harmony in Indian context in raw confrontational fashion makes Mahesh Dattani, a relevant and unique dramatist.
- Pillai, Sohini.“Challenging Religious Communalism with Theatre:Mahesh Dattani’sFinal Solutions” Diss.(for Honorsin South Asia Studies)Wellesley College, 2012.
- Baron, A. Robert and Byrne, Donn. Social psychology, Prentice- Hall of India Pvt. Ltd., 10th Edition, p 209.
- Ahuja, Ram. Social problems in India, Jaipur: Rawat Publications, Reprinted, 2009, p120.
- Radha, Ramaswamy in ‘Introduction’ to Mahesh Dattani; ‘Final Solutions,’ New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2005. p xii-xiii.
- Multani, Angelie. “Forgiveness is the Only Final Solution: A Reading of the Play ‘Final Solutions’ by Mahesh Dattani” from e book format, Probing the boundaries, ‘Forgiveness: Promise, Possibility & Failure’ Edited by Geoffrey Karabin& Karolina Wigura Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary Press, 2011.
- Gaur, Arvind directed the play at Asmita Theatre-Retrieved on 23th march 2012. https://sites.google.com/site/asmitatheatre/reviews–final-solutions