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Discuss the theme of power in Ghashiram Kotwal.
Vijay Tendulkar was a leading Indian playwright, movie and television writer, literary essayist, political journalist, and social commentator primarily in Marathi. He is best known for his plays, Shatata! Court Chalu Aahe (1967), Ghashiram Kotwal (1972), and Sakharam Binder (1972). Many of Tendulkar’s plays derived inspiration from real life incidents or social upheavals, which provide clear light on harsh realities. Tendulkar wrote Ghashiram Kotwal in 1972, as his response to the rise of a local political party in Maharashtra. The play is a political satire, written as a historical drama. Based on the life of Nana Phadnavis (1741-1800), one of the prominent ministers in the court of Peshwa of Pune. It was first performed on 16 December 1972, by the progressive Drama Association in Pune. This play caused a lot of controversy because some people believed that it hurt the feelings of the Chitpavan Brahmin community and showed the statesman Nana Phadnavis in a bad light. Hence it was temporarily banned in the state. The basic theme of the play is how men in power give rise to ideologies to serve their purposes and later destroy them when they become useless. Tendulkar has examined the relationship between religion, caste, sexuality and violence to expose the structure of power as the main status quo. Tendulkar is concerned about the politics of power and its various implications. According to Samik Bandhopadhayay in his Introduction to the play, he says that “In Ghashiram, power is defined ‘horizontally’, in terms of individuals against individuals; from humiliation, to revenge in assertion, to eventual victimization…on strategies of power.” On one level it does seem that one individual is pitied against the other, but at another level it remains very clear that the forces of state and society remain supreme even after individuals perish. For instance, Ghashiram, an innocent newcomer to the Poona Brahmin community is unjustly treated and falsely accused of stealing. He is humiliated and beaten up by the Poona Brahmins. This incident causes Ghashiram to vow revenge against the Poona Brahmins and the corrupt city of Poona itself. When he is thrown out of the city he declares that “You’ve made me an animal; I’ll be a devil inside. I’ll come back like a boar and I’ll make pigs of all of you. I’ll make this Poona a kingdom of pigs. Then I’ll be Ghashiram again, the son of Savaldas once more.”(pg.21, act 1)
It is interesting to note that Ghashiram himself a Brahmin turns against his other brethren. The opportunity to get even with the Poona Brahmins presents itself in front of Ghashi when the lecherous Chief Minister of the Peshwa, the ageing Nana Phadnavis desires his beautiful daughter Lalita Gauri. Then begins the game of power in which Gauri is made a pawn and sacrificed to the Nana’s lust. In return Ghashiram is made the Kotwal of Poona. This serves two purposes, one, it gives Ghashiram the opportunity to take his revenge and unleash a reign of terror on the people of Poona and two, it allows the Nana to have his cake and eat it too. The Nana has Gauri on the one hand and on the other his own misdeeds and tyranny are obscured by Ghashiram’s cruelty. Nana is aware of these benefits and ceases the opportunity, “What’ll happen is that our misdeeds will be credited to your account. We do it; our Kotwal pays for it. The opportunity comes in the shape of Gahshiram. And that luscious peach is at hand to be devoured by Nana. Excellent! Yes, Ghashya, be Kotwal. This Nana blesses you. ” (pg.30, act 1) It is clear that even at this stage the deal is an unfair one and the only one that benefits out of it is Nana. And finally, the Nana sacrifices Ghashi to the blood thirsty crowds of the Brahmins without the slightest of compunctions or even regret and in the end he is the one who thrives with all the supposed power in his hands. It can be noticed that the power is only deputed in Ghashi who does not realize this and begins to mistake it for real power. When he loses Lalita Gauri and his game has come to end does he realize his error and the reality of his position. It is the Nana’s misdeeds that have been “credited to his account”. It then seems that power conceals itself behind agents and continues to thrive unchallenged. It does seem that the power rests with Nana but even he can be summoned by the Peshwa at any moment. The Peshwa itself is a symbol of power within the context of feudal society. Thus the power vested in Nana is underpinned by the social set up which functions on the basis of maintaining the status quo. The king or the Peshwa in this case has the power by virtue of the Divine Right. His position is maintained by various state apparatuses like the army, the police, religious and social institutions etc. here the power is delegated in the Nana who further delegates it to Gahshiram by making him the Kotwal who then operates through the police force. Thus we get to see a whole hierarchy of power positions. It seems then that an individual is against an individual. The state itself functions according to a certain ideology. A society structured in such a way ensures that power is maintained and supported by such hierarchies. The attention is focused on individuals 2
who are passed off as criminals. But the real criminal that is the social set up continues unchallenged as individuals are pitied against individuals. Even if Ghashirams are created and destroyed, society remains untouched and Tendulkar’s play subtly makes us think about it and analyse this phenomenon. Power operates more overtly through violence and oppression. At a subtle level, it functions through such social attitudes that help in maintaining hierarchies and hiding the real source of power which is delegated in agents like Ghashiram, who are also victims of that same power. Religion and sexuality are also used as the strategies of power. While the army and police are used by the state to maintain control within the society, there are other subtler strategies that are also used. For instance, religion. The play begins with religious hymns and popular gods dancing on stage. This sets the context against which the drama unfolds itself. The Brahmins go to Bavannakhani to see the dance of Gulabi and say that they are going “to the temple” to give a sermon on “Vishwamitra and Meneka”. They justify their decadence by comparing Bavannakhani to the holy Mathura. The “Abhanga” is often sung with the “Lavani” or the love song in this play. Scenes of violence and cruelty are alternated with devotional songs. When Nana tries to reduce Gauri in front of the statue of the holy Ganapati, then he simply dismisses her fears saying “That all holy Ganapti? The maker of good? Look, he has two wives. One on this side, one on that side.” (pg22, act 1) Further on in the play when Gauri is dead and the distraught Ghashi confronts Nana and accuses him of his daughter’s death, the latter reassures him: “He is the omnipresent – He makes everything happen… we are merely instruments…” (pg51, act 2) he then urges him to “forget what’s happened. All merges into Ganga. Thou shalt not grieve over what is gone. The Vedas have said that.” (pg51, act 2) Religion then begins an alibi to cover up ones misdeeds. By invoking religion, all kinds of evils are glossed and even sanctified. Rituals are encouraged to fill the pockets of the greedy Brahmins. Moreover, their position as the twice-born is reinforced by the prevalence of the caste system. Tendulkar has depicted the hypocrisy of the Brahmins, their arrogance, authoritarianism and their debauched and adulterous noble behaviour. Rather than being identifiable by their good deeds and noble behaviour the Brahmins are identified by their “haven head”, “holy thread” and pious looks. It is the pious looks which hide their petty deeds. The Nana himself a Brahmin is marrying for the seventh time not to mention his lust for numerous young girls, Lalita Gauri among them. Ghashiram though full of revenge and hatred for the Brahmins is himself a Brahmin. His conduct for bartering his daughter’s virtue for the 3
dubious distinction of becoming the Kotwal of Poona can hardly be justified and speaks of his inhuman opportunism and total lack of paternal sentiments and sensitivity. The total picture of the Brahmins that emerges from the play is one of hypocrisy, double standards, selfindulgence and moral degradation. It exposes the rottenness of the caste system that privileges a person on the basis of birth rather than merit and maintains the rigid hierarchy of control and suppresses persons. Women too, as we have seen, have become a pawn in the power game. In fact there is a close nexus between sexuality and power. Consider for example, in Nana’s statement with reference to Lalita Gauri: “Our grandeurs gone if she is not had.” A man’s identity, self image and machismo is only definable only, it seems in relation to the conquest and oppression of women. There is a close connection between sexuality and religion as “Lavanis” and “Abhangas” are sung at the revelries in Bavannakhani which is likened to Mathura and the erotic dances to Krishna’s Raas leela. The garb of religion helps to justify and whitewash the debaucheries of the Brahmin men. Gulabi’s tantalizing dances, the Nana’s lustful pursuit of Gauri, the clandestine meeting of the Brahmin wife with a Maratha lover all serve to create an underlying strain of eroticism throughout the play. In this play we can see that Tendulkar provides us with a blueprint for an unforgettable theatrical experience by satirizing the utter decadence of feudal society and the various power structures that function in the feudal society. Kshithi.