1

Paper Abstract The Monstrous City: Heroic Masculinity, Snakes and Urban Space in Sambhu Mitra’s play Chandbaniker Pala (1977) In this paper, I will attempt to read Sambhu Mitra’s Chandbaniker Pala 1 ( a play written in Calcutta in 1977) in order to explore the relationship between theatrical and urban space, good citizenship and heroic masculinity, missionary zeal and misogyny. The play takes up a wellknown Bengali folk legend in order to tell its own story, shifting focus from the female characters (Behula2 and Manasha3) to Chand Saudagar, the male hero. Chand is a young merchant and explorer in the city-state of Champaknagari. From the start, Champaknagari is established as an allegory of the new nation state that must prove itself worthy of its own heroic past. Chand, the young protagonist, is an embodiment of the nation’s heroic youth. He is the ideal citizen – brave, righteous and impossibly masculine. A leader of men, who scorns ordinary domesticity and sexual pleasure, Chand seeks out greatness for Champaknagari. He, along with his band of men, becomes a voyager and a merchant-explorer on distant and uncertain seas. He believes that it is his sacred responsibility to bring back the city’s lost glory and in doing, so establish himself (and his men) firmly in the line of a heroic patriliny. However, as the play progresses, Chand fails repeatedly in his quest. This happens apparently through the machinations of the goddess Manasha, who Chand refuses to worship because she represents everything that he wishes to stand against – unreason, darkness, ignorance, unbridled sexuality. But it is Manasha who seems to rule Champaknagari more and more, and Chand is increasingly driven to its edges. No one wants or believes in his heroism. People in the city want safety, ordinary domesticity, pleasures. The two spaces – the increasingly corrupt, insidious and confining space of the city and the chaotic and dangerous expanse of the sea –
The play, written by Sambhu Mitra, was published in 1977, but has never been performed till date except as a shrutinatak or an audio play. 2 Behula, the archetypal brave wife, is Chand Saudagar’s daughter in law. She is traditionally revered for bringing back her dead husband to life by managing to appease the gods (especially Manasha) with her sheer determination. Chand, who is a worshipper of Shiva, treats the female deity (Manasha is traditionally believed to b Shiva’s daughter) with an almost vitriolic scorn. He is punished in the play for his faith in Shiva, who appears to be a rational (albeit distant) god - representative of light, knowledge and reason 3 A powerful but dangerous female deity, she is a goddess who governs snakes and whose wrath is believed to unleash chaos and destruction on the offenders.
1

Champaknagari ages almost like a character through the course of the play. a drunken beggar on the streets of his youth. The failed city is also an intensely misogynistic space. where the alleyways are infested with darkness and snakes.2 are set against each other again and again in the play. The city fails the citizen just as the citizen fails the city. fertility and unreason. more and more polluted. and the homes with women who worship darkness. losing his youthful vigour. his ascetic zeal – becoming at the end. Brilliant dramaturgy makes it possible for the hero and his city to mirror each other’s course. who emerges as his primary antagonist in the quest for extraordinary glory. Chand ages along with his city. Manasha works through snakes and through the women of Champaknagari – villainous. This paper will attempt to unravel this misogynistic cartography and the fissures in the dramatic text that makes it possible. conniving.none more so than Chand’s wife Sanaka. more and more servile. . bad citizens . becoming more and more degenerate. as if in choric collusion with it. and we may read in the fates of both. streets that seem to have become narrower and darker through the course of the play. and the symbolic mapping of urban space on stage lays down for the audience a clear cartography of gender politics. a tragic failure of heroic masculinity.