Water!: A Tamil Play by Komal Swaminathan Author(s): S.

Shankar and Komal Swaminathan Source: Asian Theatre Journal, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Autumn, 2001), pp. 123-173 Published by: University of Hawai'i Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1124150 Accessed: 10/09/2010 12:35
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Water!:A Tamil Play by Komal Swaminathan
Translated and introduced by S. Shankar

KomalSwaminathan(1935-1995) is one of themostimportantTamilplaywrights of the twentiethcentury.His workwas highly commended criticsand widely by followed bypopular audiences.Water! (Thaneer, Thaneer; 1980) is his mostsignificant work and may be regardedas an excellentexampleof a speciesof political drama influential in the 1970s, not only in the Tamil theatricalworldbut in India in general. It appearshere thefirst timein English translation. for S. Shankaris theauthorof thenovel A Map of Where I Live (1997) and thevolume of criticism Textual Traffic: Colonialism, Modernity, and the Economy of the Text (2001). He teaches in the Departmentof English, Rutgers University, Newark.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of Komal SwaminaThaneer(Water!). In his prefthan's celebrated 1980 Tamil play Thaneer, ace Swaminathan notes that he set out to write a play that would be a worthy contribution to world drama. Many would say he accomplished his task. In any event, Water!is certainly one of the more significant Tamil dramatic works of the twentieth century. It was, in addition, tremendously successful commercially-the most successful of Swaminathan's plays, it has been staged more than two hundred and fifty times and still finds the occasional production, both for urban and rural audiences. Such success is appropriate for a play that is best read as an example of what has often been called "the middle theatre" in India. Like other plays of this movement, which try to treat highminded themes in a commercially viable format, Water!attempts to
vol. 18, no. 2 (Fall 2001). ? 2001 by University of Hawai'i Press. All rights reserved. Asian TheatreJournal,



straddle the gap between urban and rural audiences, between artistic integrity and popular reach. So successful was the play that it was made into a Tamil film directed by the reputed K. Balachander. Immediately, Komal Swaminathan was catapulted to national recognition in India. Water!,produced as well as directed by Swaminathan, was first staged by his theatre company, Stage Friends, at Karthik Fine Arts in Chennai (Madras). His daughter estimates that perhaps Rs. 50,000a substantial amount then-might have been spent on a "social"play such as Water!The critical reputation of Water!was quick to grow among Tamil audiences. Swaminathan reports in an autobiographical essay that Cho Ramaswamy, another distinguished playwright and a contemporary, declared Water!a turning point in Tamil drama soon after its opening.l Perhaps more significantly, the play's reputation has endured through the years. Komal Swaminathan, who died in 1995, was initiated into Tamil drama through his association with S. V. Sahasranamam's Seva Stage -a drama company and nursery of theatrical and cinematic talent. Initially involved in production, Swaminathan wrote his first play in 1960. Called Pudiya Paathai (New Road), it shows the concern with social issues that is a marked feature of his best-known plays. Aside from Water!,other successes include Oru Indhiya Kanavu (An Indian Dream), Nawab Naarkali (Sir Chair), Chekku Maadugal (Work Horses), and SwargaBhoomi(Heaven). At least fifteen of Komal Swaminathan's plays have been staged more than a hundred times and, by the time of his death, he was regarded as one of the key figures in the Tamil middle theatre movement. Swaminathan was given the Tamil Annai award for his contributions to Tamil literature by Tamil University in Thanjavur. Moreover, he achieved recognition as a film director-the film version of An Indian Dreamwon the President's Award for Best Regional Film in Tamil in 1984-and, toward the end of his life, edited a Tamil literary monthly, Subhamangala. In many ways, drama is the least honored of the different genres in Tamil literary criticism. Mu. Varadarajan (1970, 269), a historian of Tamil literature, writes:
There are some valid reasons for neglecting plays in Tamil.... Since the Tamil language attained literary stature at a very early stage, it acquired certain rigid literary conventions. It was stipulated that works of literary merit should be written in chaste style devoid of regionalism and colloquialisms. But plays meant for acting were written in spoken but not in literary Tamil. Hence the plays in spoken language were detested by poets and scholars. Talented writers themselves gave up writing plays.



At the same time, drama has often benefited tremendously from its association with popular social and political movements, especially the anti-caste Dravida movement. Mu. Karunanidhi (presently chief minister of the state of Tamil Nadu) and C. N. Annadurai (a revered former chief minister), both of the Dravida movement, had close associations with the theatrical world as playwrights. Drama plays a significant role as a forum for political opinion in Tamil Nadu.2 This, briefly, is the theatrical and literary context in which Komal Swaminathan worked. We should also note, as is immediately evident from Water!,that he was sympathetic to Marxism. In an interview given in 1995 he observed: "Marxistliterature and thought have provided me a broad-based philosophy of life and I have used it for literary ends. So, I was branded a Communist though I am not a member of any Communist party" (quoted in Santhanam 1995, 14). Water!was written at the end of the 1970s-a turbulent, radical period in Indian history marked by Marxist-Leninist insurrection in various parts of the country. While in many ways it seems tied to the events of the 1970s, Water!escapes becoming dated by taking as its subject not simply Marxist-Leninist insurrection but the ideological and material ramifications of what has come to be called the postcolonial condition. The comprehensiveness of this exploration of the postcolonial condition is perhaps one clue to the enduring popularity of Water!Indeed, Swaminathan is surely invoking this postcolonial condition when he lets it be known in the initial scenes of the play that Vellaisamy was born on Independence Day in 1947-a detail that finds an echo in a later, more celebrated, literary work: Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children(1981). Thus the play touches upon postcolonial issues such as the meaning of democracy, the efficacy of developmentalism, the role of women in society, the value of tradition, the place of religion, and the fetishization of bureaucracy. Despite the twenty years that have passed since its writing, the play remains surprisingly contemporary-especially in the context of such current events as the struggle over the Sardar Sarovar dam in western India, the dispute over the waters of the Cauvery River, and the police action against demonstrators in Thirunelveli (one of the places mentioned in the play) in 1999. If readers of this political postcolonial play are seeking psychological complexity in Water!, they will be disappointed. Vellaisamy, Sevanthi, Vaithilingam, Kovalu, Ataikappan-the "good" characterswill all seem inadequately rounded and not very interesting. There is no bitter conflict among them, no unforgiving anger, no betrayal, no passionate love, no pettiness-in short, no focus on the motives of individual human behavior as we have come to understand them from



many other dramatic and literary works. At this level, Water!appears naive and romantic. Conflict and complexity in Water!are to be found at the level of the social rather than the individual. It seems best to regard the characters of the play as types, so long as we do not take this as a term of denigration. From this perspective-the perspective of a political drama of social types-Water! emerges as eminently complex, realistic, even antiromantic. The political (rather than psychological) positions that are represented-from Marimuthu's self-serving hypocrisy through Vellaisamy's determined optimism to Kovalu's skeptical radicalism-are varied and complex. Water!,then, is a political play in the fullest sense of the termthough it is quite reticent about its commitment to radicalism, as the ending makes clear. Nevertheless, the play was the target of censorship. Even before its opening, Water!had become famous as a radical play denied permission to be staged by the censors in Chennai. Eventually the play did go forward as scheduled. No doubt the play's initial success depended at least partly on the media sensation surrounding this episode. But its enduring merit is that it dramatizes the question of human potential-the question of people's ability to act in transformative ways on their material and social environment-in an especially memorable manner. Finally, Vellaisamy and the villagers are thwarted, not by an indifferent nature or vengeful gods, but by the cruel indifference of fellow human beings. The failure of Vellaisamy-the closest figure to a tragic hero in the play-is only part of the story of the even more tragic failure of humanism, which is the true subject of the play. Rather than observing a strict fidelity to the literal, my objective as translator has been to keep in mind the play's dramatic core: its aspiration to a kind of political and social realism. Considerations of space have sometimes necessitated the removal of text not integral to the central action of the play. I have, however, added a cast of characters. As far as possible, I have tried to translate culturally foreign terms into English without compromising the core of the play. The following references may be unknown to some readers: MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly), DEO (District Education Office), PWD (Public Works Department), tehsildar(revenue officer), and Sai Baba (the actually existing godman of Puttaparthi). Inevitably, many cultural practices will be fully accessible only to those knowledgeable regarding Tamil culture. While many places mentioned in the play-such as Thirunelveli, Kovilpatti, and Madras-actually exist, the village of Athipatti, the main location of the play, is fictional.

He is about forty... His clothes are dirty. and lets out a big sigh. VELLAISAMY continues his walking. of MARIMUTHU. vagabond elder of the village of Athipatti elderof Athipatti radicalyoung man of Athipatti KOVALU. A village is revealed.. Three . Hisface is unshaven. He stops. Who do you know in Athipatti? VELLAISAMY: VILLAGER: No one. journalist from Madras AZHAGIRI. walking unsteadily.WATER! A TAMIL PLAY 127 WATER! CHARACTERS VELLAISAMY. priest of Athipatti KUPPAN. GURUSAMY. KANTHAIYAN. a VILLAGER is seen approaching.. In a shoulder bag he is carying his dirty clothes.. Go on.. You can pass the night in tonight I would like to spend in a village.) VELLAISAMY: Sir! Is there a village near here? If you walk for another three miles and turn to your left. VILLAGER: you will come to a narrow trail. looks all around.. Athipatti. Hisfood has been tied up in a cloth bundle that hangs from a stick resting against his shoulder. He makes his way up to the stage and walks across it from left to right. the curtain is raised. At least Go on. you will come to a village called Athipatti. (The VILLAGER leaves. AZHAGIRI'S PWD and SEVANTHI policeofficer FATHER husband ENGINEER VILLAGERS Scene 1 (In the auditorium. VILLAGER ATAIKAPPAN. From the opposite direction. daughterof KANTHAIYAN schoolteacher Athipatti VAITHILINGAM. As he comes to the right-hand side. But tell me. If you walk for another mile from there. of carpenter Athipatti TWO YOUNG MEN NAICKER. Go on. a middle-aged man appears.. v.. young man of Athipatti SEVANTHI. The name of the traveler is VELLAISAMY. VELUSAMY rich manfrom neighboring Vandipettai ' o. then. I have slept under a tree for ten days..

eat your Now you have no choice food. but to hiccup and hiccup and die of your hiccuping! Don't you have any compassion? I feel as if I might VELLAISAMY: choke. Give me some VELLAISAMY: I don't understand. Why have you come to this village? No reason.) Can I trouble you for a little water? (Allfour laugh. raisedmudplatformsin front. opens his bundle.) ATAIKAPPAN: Who are you? VELLAISAMY: A stranger.) . (VELLAISAMY He looksbewildered.. Theyglare at (VELLAISAMY VELLAISAMY. I am a traveler. beginsto hiccuponceagain. modestvillage-style and thatchedroofsare visible. VELLAISAMY continues hiccuping.Beginning with GURUSAMY and KOVALU. give me some water..128 Shankar houseswith mud walls. ATAIKAPPAN: You come here and open your food bundle! Don't you know about this village? (VELLAISAMY VELLAISAMY: gets an attackof hiccups. and leave in the morning.) Have some pity. GURUSAMY: We can see that. I will eat my food. water.and beginsto eat. ATAIKAPPAN appearsand stands before food him. In a few moments. KOVALU: To ask a man for his wife is not a sin in this village.. But to ask him for water is a great sin. (SEVANTHI comesto the entranceto herhouse. spend the VELLAISAMY: night.) VELLAISAMY: Why do you laugh when KANTHAIYAN: I ask for water? Now you know why we asked if you knew about this vil- lage.) Scene2 seats himselfon a rockin front of the houses. ATAIKAPPAN: You scoundrel! You come into this village. and start this bloody hiccuping. Please. four orfive villagersgatheraround.KANTHAIYAN arrives.

(Fromwithin herhouse. so be it. (VELLAISAMY Drink. SEVANTHI bringssomewaterin a smallpot. If we don't have water. that we too will return to our farming. Is that a reason to send your daughter all this way by herself? KANTHAIYAN: I did not send her. KANTHAIYAN: VELLAISAMY: What village are you from? I belong to no village. what would this man have done today? her (Retrieves pot and leaves. ATAIKAPPAN: Sevanthi. I feel better now. Half the people of the village have left.. Once upon a time.WATER!A TAMIL PLAY 129 KOVALU:We don't have any compassion? It is the millions of people who live outside this village who have no compassion for us.) ATAIKAPPAN: 0 Kanthaiya. VELLAISAMY: Water! Please.. I am a homeless wanderer. Please. we too farmed.. over stone and thorn for fourteen miles. But for five years there has been no rain and the land is turning into a desert. We have been suffering for five years without water to drink. . You went fourteen miles by foot? SEVANTHI: Yes.) VELLAISAMY: Thank you. GURUSAMY: To the spring? ATAIKAPPAN: Seven and seven.. We have seen not even a drop of rain here. But God has judged us faithless and turned away from us. Some of us carry sacks in Kovilpatti market. I did. this disobedient daughter? VELLAISAMY: What are you all saying? Is there no water in the village? ATAIKAPPAN: Water? We are accursed creatures. What's wrong with that? ATAIKAPPAN: SEVANTHI: Silly girl! For one pot of water.. on foot. Fourteen miles. takesthepot and drinksup the watergreedily. We will go thirsty and be ruined.. those of us who remain here are unable to leave. If I had not gone.) SEVANTHI: Here.. this girl made the trip by herself. Now we do coolie work in farming villages and feed ourselves. Do you think she listens to me if I tell her anything. We live on-hoping that the rains will return.. how did you get that water? SEVANTHI: I went with a pot to the spring last evening and brought back some water. give me just a little bit of water. For various reasons. that we too will get water..

Not only will water be brought to those areas without water. but the danger of flooding in the Ganga and the Brahmaputra will be removed. Morning. going KANTHAIYAN: VAITHILINGAM: said it was printed in the paper! Not even in the time of your grandson will water come to Athipatti. Hooray! (The two of themdance in excitement.) ATAIKAPPAN: Halloo. You will get work there. The prime minister said that as part of this project a canal should be dug to Athipatti in Thirunelveli district. KANTHAIYAN: Teacher! You mean water will come to our village? Kovalu! Gurusamy! Come here! Hey! (The two of themcomerunning. ATAIKAPPAN.) Scene3 VAI(Light spreadsin the houseon the left side. and others are seated. Garland Canal Project. Athipatti will soon have water. You can spend the night on the platform in front of my house and be on your way in the morning. you useless fellows! Stop! Athipatti is not to get any water. VELLAISAMY: ties up his bundleand goesto theplatformfronting ATAI(VELLAISAMY KAPPAN ' house in the anterior the stage. What's the news in the paper? Please read it and tell us.In herhouse. so that water will be brought to it. Go to your work! You . VAITHILINGAM: Here it is.130 Shankar KANTHAIYAN: VELLAISAMY: ATAIKAPPAN: Wife and children? None. Around him. SEVANTHI stands with herhand on thedoorframe. Schoolteacher is sitting on theplatform his houseand readinghis fronting THILINGAM newspaper. ATAIKAPPAN brings part of out an old sleeping mat from within and gives it to VELLAISAMY. What? Water? Hooray! Hooray! We will soon have water..) KANTHAIYAN: GURUSAMY: Our village is to get water! It's printed in the paper. Canals should be dug from the Ganga so that the rivers of India are joined together. KANTHAIYAN.) VAITHILINGAM: Hey! Hey. All right... Kovilpatti is fifteen miles from here.

The son of an MLA was studying in the school. How old are you? VELLAISAMY: My father used to say I was born when the flag of the white man came down over Delhi Red Fort and the tricolor went up. Said he wanted to spend the night..) What is your name? VELLAISAMY: Vellaisamy. Of .) ATAIKAPPAN (shaking VELLAISAMY. How long are you going to sleep? You will have to start out right away if you want to reach Kovilpatti before it gets hot. VAITHILINGAM: VELLAISAMY: Yes. Maybe that's why he only got three or four marks in his tests.." And so they dumped me here. An education department official supported him in this request. I was born before independence. Teacher VAITHILINGAM is engrossed in thepaper.. I let him sleep on the platform fronting my house. VAITHILINGAM: You talk as if those who were born before independence led happy lives. The north." he said. He knew how to count from one to ten. It's the tiredness from having walked from Madurai. Here there is neither water nor jungle.WATER! A TAMIL PLAY 131 KANTHAIYAN: Teacher has been simply joking. I failed him in the third grade. So I am lying here quietly. who is sleeping on the platform fronting his house): Here. (The villagers disperse in disgust... "I will transfer you to a waterless jungle. Like independent India. It's hard to rouse myself. I too live the life of a dog.. VAITHILINGAM: What are you going to Kovilpatti for? VAITHILINGAM: VELLAISAMY: Why do I go any place? The dust of no place sticks to Where are you from? The north? my feet. The white man was leaving this country. VELLAISAMY: I am awake. In his memory. (He gets up and rollsup the mat. (Takesthemat and goes into his house. VELLAISAMY: VAITHILINGAM: How do you mean? You want me to tell you my life's story? I was a teacher in a village near Thirunelveli. I live the hard life of a mad dog. Vellaisamy. "You bastard. stranger. I said no. ATAIKAPPAN: He is a stranger. The MLA asked me to pass him.) VAITHILINGAM: Who is this? Looks to be somebody new. In this Sahara Desert there is a one-teacher school. my VAITHILINGAM: father gave me this name. Maybe it's because I was born on the day of independence...

Priest. VELLAISAMY: But the hearts of its people are full and tender. What work is there in this village? The village is full of thorny trees.) Tell me.) What now. MARIMUTHU: thetemple priest. The students come to school in the afternoon-in the time that is left after catching crabs. They eat their school lunch and vanish. VELLAISAMY: I have a wife. Have you put a bag in your stomach? No matter where I go. Teacher? Have you declared a holiday in school? your VAITHILINGAM: Welcome. VELLAISAMY: VAITHILINGAM: The soil of this village is dry and hard. My mouth is for it. MARIMUTHU: What brings you here? I come in search of a pinch of tobacco.) Who is this fellow? Is he a relative? . everyone is leavthis village and you want to stay here? ing I like this village. The land is desert.132 Shankar this school. She saysthe dirt from her body will be Sir. VAITHILINGAM: Have you gone mad? One by one. VELLAISAMY: Do you live alone here? VAITHILINGAM: washed off only if she lives by the Tamiravarni River and bathes in its waters. I will have to work with my two hands and do what I have to do to survive. (Hands MARIMUTHU the tobaccopouch. When do you bathe the idol of Mariamman in your temple? MARIMUTHU: Why do you ask me this question? You know I bathe the idol and decorate it only on the day of the new moon. The hearts are full and tender! Are you planning to stick a tap in the heart and draw water to drink from there? I wish to stay in this village because of its people. Priest! Mine is after all a night school. Why not do it in this village? VAITHILINGAM: That is hard. (He notices VELLAISAMY. itching VAITHILINGAM: Why a pinch? Take more. I am the teacher. VELLAISAMY: (Enter MARIMUTHU. Perhaps you think you can cut and sell firewood. VELLAISAMY: VAITHILINGAM: What are you? A man? Or a camel? VELLAISAMY: Why do you ask me this question? VAITHILINGAM: Only a camel is able to store water for six months in VAITHILINGAM: its stomach. Your body will be covered with blood before you cut a single branch. I too am thinking of staying on in this village.

They have cleared the jungle and made it cultivable. VELLAISAMY: What do you mean? VAITHILINGAM: The two hands of an Indian are good for taking bribes. the president of the vil- lage council . one. And also the medicine man. and for throttling the throats of others. VELLAISAMY: There is nothing that human beings cannot achieve. VELLAISAMY: No. he is not a relative. you always speak with some double meaning. They are good for taking dowry. But it has no relevance to Indians. (rising in alarm): Who do you think you are? Are you the Sai Baba of Puttaparthi to bestow a blessing upon us? VELLAISAMY: This is not a blessing.. VAITHILINGAM VAITHILINGAM: The MLA of this area.. they have worked with nature and bent it to their convenience.... It is a feasible proposition. the minister who once visited this village .. he will give you medicine.. VELLAISAMY: The work I plan to do in this village will change all that. the collector . Human beings have flattened mountains.. VAITHILINGAM: What you say about the two hands of human beings is true enough.WATER!A TAMIL PLAY 133 VAITHILINGAM: No. VELLAISAMY: True. With their two hands.. MARIMUTHU: (Leaves. I mean to have the Mariamman of your village bathe daily. VAITHILINGAM: But now we are mud! VELLAISAMY: This mud can also be transformed into diamonds.. they are human. Did you hear what he said? The Mariamman of this village bathes only once a month. But they had no humanity..) He is the priest of the village's Mariamman temple. All VAITHILINGAM: of you should have enough water daily to quench your thirst. But he could be considered Teacher. are they not human beings? Even they were not able to bring water to this village. and for wringing in disgust if someone else is doing well. VELLAISAMY: Also the medicine man? What do you mean? VAITHILINGAM: He is the doctor. VAITHILINGAM: You are going to bring water to slake the thirst of the people of this village? Something is wrong with your mind. VAITHILINGAM: How is that possible? VELLAISAMY: minute . If you are sick. If all 600 million people are of one mind for one You mean they are not of one mind now? VAITHILINGAM: ... We Indians have also done great things. You speak like this because of all the distress you have experienced.

) Teacher. . VAITHILINGAM: Have you added salt? SEVANTHI: Would I give you gruel without salt? VELLAISAMY: Thank you. VAITHILINGAM: To clean your teeth there is charcoal in my woodstove. This kind of helping out happens a great deal here. then. There was no pickle.) VAITHILINGAM: Wait. Who are you? Spit out the truth! VELLAISAMY: And if I don't spit out the truth? I will spread rumors among the villagers that you VAITHILINGAM: children. I'll be back in a moment. And I haven't had my VELLAISAMY: gruel. Come. is there any gruel? SEVANTHI: KANTHAIYAN: SEVANTHI: I gave the gruel that we had to Teacher and the stranger You gave themjust gruel? I looked in the pot. Eat. (Prepares leave. Now you are speaking out of character. kidnap VELLAISAMY: Oh. As it is. VAITHILINGAM: Go on.) Sevanthi. You came into this village and said you were a coolie. VAITHILINGAM: It is not customary to say these words in this village.Enter KANTHAIYAN. who arrived yesterday. (SEVANTHI SEVANTHI: has stoodwatchingall this while. We don't have a leader who can bring them all together and turn them into a single force. wait. The second thing you mentioned-gruel-that I don't have even for myself. I will incite them to beat you up. a vagrant. my body is a battattered thing.134 Shankar VELLAISAMY: Each one has a separate purpose.) There is gruel here for two people. I haven't cleaned my teeth yet. SEVANTHI KANTHAIYAN: goes into hers. VAITHILINGAM: We have so many leaders now! Our current leaders are dolls decorating the chairs VELLAISAMY: sit on. (VAITHILINGAM and VELLAISAMY go into VAITHILINGAM's house. Remove them from their chairs and they become they to worms twitching frantically to get back on. Tell me. (Goes into the house and bringsbackgruel in a smallpot. I will tell you who I am. tered. We don't say thank you every time. a traveler. no! Please don't do that. we'll clean our teeth and then eat our gruel.

tell us in detail. What do you all think? He wants to stay here? How is that possible? ATAIKAPPAN: That's the way it is. Give it to them. She goes into house with it. Teacher is about to tell us. KANTHAIYAN: Water in a cart? Where will he get this water? ATAIKAPPAN: From your mouth! Stop all this interrupting. Uncle. come. I don't mean to offend you. VAITHILINGAM is sitting in front of his house. Teacher. he can ask all the questions he wants.WATER!A TAMIL PLAY 135 KANTHAIYAN: Here! I brought some pickle for myself from Gurumother. ATAIKAPPAN: GURUSAMY: Hey! You. But what work will he do here? VAITHILINGAM: There is something for him to do. GURUSAMY: It's ajoke. ATAIKAPPAN (getting up): Ay! Gurusamy! First your arrogance needs to be cut down to size. This fool has nothing better to do but ask useless questions. ATAIKAPPAN: Cart and bull? Where are we to go for that? KANTHAIYAN: If I ask a question. Maybe he doesn't need permission to stay. And they won't leave this world either. For that he needs a cart and a bull. Do you own the village? How do you have the right to ask that question? Teacher! Why does this man need anyone's permission to stay in this village? Why doesn't he simply do it? MARIMUTHU: That's all very well. Come. samy's (KANTHAIYAN VAITHILINGAM' gives the packet of pickles to SEVANTHI. VAITHILINGAM: He says he will go the seven miles to the spring and bring back water for each and every house. I am a fool! But this gentleman here. Kanthaiyan! You are arrogant. KANTHAIYAN and SEVANTHI are also in front of their house. Why are you silent now? something (gesturing toward VELLAISAMY): This man says he VAITHILINGAM MARIMUTHU: wants to live in this village.) ATAIKAPPAN: What is it you wanted.) Scene4 (VELLAISAMY is seated on the rock.ATAIKAPPAN and GURUSAMY are in front of their respectivehouses. Should elders fight like this? Look at them. Teacher? You said you had to tell us. . He says he will bring water in a cart for the people of this village. Fool. They have grown old.

As the saying goes. VELLAISAMY: Can you make a cart? Good question! It's been five years since this man has held a chisel in his hand.136 Shankar VAITHILINGAM: This is how you all are being ruined. You VELLAISAMY: can help me. I know how to do that. VELLAISAMY: Washing your face is a luxury? ATAIKAPPAN: Yes. ATAIKAPPAN: We are listening. let's first take care of the drinking water. I am here. Here our throats are dry without water to drink and he wants water for a wash! There is no water for such luxury here. VAITHILINGAM: This man says if we get him a bull and a cart he will make sure we won't want for drinking water. What do you say about the bull and the cart? KANTHAIYAN: Where will we get money to buy a bull and a cart? VAITHILINGAM: With three hundred rupees. ATAIKAPPAN: How about the cart? VAITHILINGAM: He has made a plan for that. a carpenter's plane. If we cut down two trees we can make a cart. Put aside your silliness and pay attention. and things like that. MARIMUTHU: Carpenter. GURUSAMY: Is it enough if we get water to drink? Don't we need water to brush our teeth. we can buy a good calf. I am wasting my time. and a saw. VAITHILINGAM: Gurusamy. do you have these tools? Or have you sold them and eaten up the money? . the lazy donkey spoils the good one. bathe. bathing or washing your face is a luxury. why don't tell them yourself? you VELLAISAMY: There are all these useless trees around the village. I too have done carpentry. We can wash our faces only if there is still life in our bodies. Is there not a carpenter ATAIKAPPAN: in this village? Where is Kuppan the carpenter? (KUPPAN THE CARPENTER comesto thefront of the crowd. wash our faces? ATAIKAPPAN: Listen to him. But I don't know enough to make a wheel for the cart from a plank. What I need are a chisel. a beam. KUPPAN (looking at MARIMUTHU): Why do you want to make fun of me? Look.) KUPPAN: MARIMUTHU: No need to yell. Vellaisamy. Teacher. In this village. brother! I can make a main door. Or else I'll go about my work.

There are three hundred families in the village. KOVALU:Does this priest of our village sell his god and eat? KUPPAN: MARIMUTHU: VELLAISAMY: This is what I get for speaking hastily. we can do it. With these two hands we can do anything. Vellaisamy. Everything will cost six hundred rupees. And what does he say? He It is difficult for us to put together even two rupees a day.WATER! A TAMIL PLAY 137 No matter how bad the drought. talk about what is possible. It is not our fate that we have to suffer until the day we die. KANTHAIYAN ATAIKAPPAN: (rising in a hurry): You have spoilt the fairy tale! How We sweat blood for gruel. where the carts and the trucks come to be loaded. If each family gives two rupees. what do you care? If you are not able to make a living lifting sacks here. would they be like this? We get twenty paise per sack that we carry in Vandipettai. Who will live here eating wild leaves for the rest of their lives? Chinnasamy the blacksmith has left the village.) ATAIKAPPAN: Listen. We live by the grace of the bosses. you will go away somewhere and still manage. VELLAISAMY: Please! Listen to what I have to say. ATAIKAPPAN: Kovalu. We are wasting our time here. Is there a blacksmith here to make metal bands for the wheels? In this village. "Let's ask them to give us a little more. Our life is not like that. Forget this business of collecting money and think of other options. who is left that knows a trade? There is ATAIKAPPAN: no farming here. KOVALU:If these people had the ability to think. Understand that. Then we can make the cart. GURUSAMY: MARIMUTHU: How can we collect contributions from that? hundred rupees to buy a goat. You'll see. We have our two hands. The skywill turn into a blanket of clouds and pour down a torrent of rain. we have to take the bus to town. Let's all go together and make this demand. . KOVALU:If you find a problem in every suggestion. Instead you talk about bulls and carts. (Leaves. Think for a moment. I said to them. Let's spend six can we do all this? wants two rupees. and offer cooked rice to the goddess. sacrifice it to Mariamman. Let's go. even for a screwdriver. Now. a worker does not sell his tools. Their livelihood would be lost. You should know that. you will achieve nothing." But do you think these fellows agreed? They said they dared not make an enemy out of the boss. VELLAISAMY: Then let's go to Kovilpatti and fix the iron band on the wheels.

No one was able to give water to a man hiccuping after eating food. Hey! Where is Madasamy's son? forward. you talk as if we eat every day. Now. the people of this village drink water from the same Pariah well they once avoided because it was low caste. you are putting a curse on us! VAITHILINGAM: So? You are not able to produce two rupees per family. This boy. How convenient! Vellai- his workjust fine? How did he get like this? Like a toad or a spider! samy! Two miles from this village. spiders. Now.138 Shankar VELLAISAMY: I am asking for only six hundred rupees. He drank water from the well. ATAIKAPPAN: How is that possible. Two rupees from every family. belongs to the Pariah caste. Are we refusing to give money that we have? VAITHILINGAM: Why don't you fast for one day and save the two rupees? ATAIKAPPAN: VELLAISAMY: Teacher. There was a little water in it. But none of you are ready to accept me because of the condition of this village. I have no choice but to leave. At once you blame fate. there is a well. (He goes into the houseand returnswith his stickand bun- . and toads before the next harvest festival. I saw that this village had become a wasteland. they'll be crabs. but you have dreams of bringing the Ganga to Athipatti! KANTHAIYAN: That is not fair. If they continue drinking this water. If you drink such water.dragginghimselfovertheground. Teacher? How can this happen to arms and legs from drinking that water? your VAITHILINGAM: The water of that well is such. VAITHILINGAM: Vellaisamy. I felt this would also be a job for me. Then there is no use in my staying here. I took this boy to one day. Now he is in this condition. leave it alone. Madasamy's son. this is what will happen to your arms and legs. ATAIKAPPAN: Teacher. I was told this is a disease called fluorosil. the doctor said. No one here would go to that well and get water. Fine.) (A boycomes VAITHILINGAM: ATAIKAPPAN: VAITHILINGAM: Look at this! Wasn't he running around and doing That is his fate. There are seven or eight huts of low-caste Pariahs there. When I came here. not a million. A poiKovilpatti son called fluoride is present in the water this boy drinks. there is no water in any well in our village. So I thought I could operate a water cart and bring water to you all.

He wipesthe sweatfrom hisface and seats himselfon the platform fronting his house. We may as well ask these useless trees for the money. Sweet as molasses! SEVANTHI: The villagers should build a temple to Vellaisamy. He is the reason we are able to drink good water. each one of us will bring two rupees as his family's contribution. Enter KANTHAIYAN.) I thank all of you for letting this homeless vagabond stay in your village for a day.retrieves two-rupee from a knot in hersari. (SEVANTHI bringswaterin a pot. Here is my family's contribution. one hard knock and his brains will tumble out of his skull. how did you get this money? I saved it as an offering to the goddess. He is returninghome.) ATAIKAPPAN: Kanthaiyan! Your daughter and Teacher have shamed us. Vellaisamy. but water from the spring is real water. Hey. MARIMUTHU: Scene5 (Light spreads in KANTHAIYAN'Shouse.) KANTHAIYAN: Sevanthi! Bring some water in a pot. a man like me doesn't have the SEVANTHI: courage of a girl.WATER!A TAMIL PLAY 139 die. (SEVANTHI comes forward. (He takes two rupeesfrom under his waistclothand gives it to VELLAISAMY. If any fellow fails in this. KANTHAIYAN: It seems Vellaisamy's idea of bringing water to the village has come to the attention of the newspaper people. VAITHILINGAM: In this village. KANTHAIYAN speaks between of sips water. why are you raising such a ruckus? Don't you feel there is something suspicious here? ATAIKAPPAN: Something suspicious?! Hey. We'll knock this priest's brains out.)Why are you leav- ing? Here. Good-bye. They have KANTHAIYAN: . you fellows. Let's give up trying to get the remaining money from these men. get a stick. Ataikappan.) You can say what you like.) SEVANTHI: Brother! (She comesforward a note quickly. you useless fellows! Have we lost our manhood? Before dawn tomorrow. KANTHAIYAN: Sevanthi. and gives it to VELLAISAMY. here is my contribution.

Here. Read it and tell us why.) GURUSAMY: KANTHAIYAN: Why did you buy the paper if you don't know how to What are you saying? Vellaisamy's picture is in the read? Are you trying to pretend you are literate? paper. Mr. I will call him. Can you figure out what is written? There is a padlock on Teacher's door.140 Shankar put Vellaisamy's picture in the newspaper. "As reported. He just goes about boasting he knows how to read. It is his picture. KANTHAIYAN: Yes. Believing that Vellaidorai did these murders because of previous enmity. Uncle? It is hard to believe. this is a bombshell! KANTHAIYAN: GURUSAMY: Yes. He knows nothing! He is an illiterate like me. But isn't the name given as Vellaidorai? It is probably a printer's error. SEVANTHI turns the paper round and round in her hands. Lis- ten. SEVANTHI: KANTHAIYAN: Ataikappan knows how to read.) SEVANTHI: Yes. the police arrested Vellaidorai in Javathu Hill. He ders? SEVANTHI: ten? GURUSAMY: did two murders and quietly escaped here. Let me read further." What is all this. Kalamekam belonging to North Arcot district and his wife were found murdered in their room. A police official declared that a reward of five thousand rupees would be given to anyone capturing this man or giving information regarding his whereabouts to the police. Is that what is really writIs this ajoking matter? That's what is written." Uncle. Police officials say there is a five thousand rupees reward for capturing this man. Where did you get it? KANTHAIYAN: They were selling it in the market in Kovilpatti. They were taking him in a jeep to the court in Vellore when Vellaidorai escaped. KANTHAIYAN: Who should we ask to read the newspaper article? SEVANTHI: Gurusamy has studied up to the fifth grade. Uncle. read the story carefully. . Look! (Gives SEVANTHI he the newspaper is holdingin his hand. (GURUSAMY takes the paper from SEVANTHI and reads. (KANTHAIYAN leaves. KANTHAIYAN returns with GURUSAMY. who has escaped from police cus- tody. Is it possible Vellaisamy could have done two murPlease.) GURUSAMY: "This is Vellaidorai. child. I bought the newspaper because the picture seemed to be Vellaisamy's.

It is for you to decide whether to tell them or not. If you tell the police where I am.WATER! A TAMIL PLAY 141 KANTHAIYAN: Wait a bit! Let me go and tell people of this news. you will get five thousand rupees.) Scene6 is seatedon theplatformfronting his houseand VEL(VAITHILINGAM LAISAMY on therock. What else is there to consider? We should take this man straight to the police station and deliver him to the police. FIGURE 1. (KANTHAIYAN and GURUSAMY leave. I did know. He told me the day he arrived. bring the newspaper with you. Gurusamy. ATAIKAPPAN: VAITHILINGAM: MARIMUTHU: Did Teacher already know of all this? Yes. Let's go to the school and tell this news to Teacher.) The news in the paper is true. (Photo courtesy of Lalitha Dharini) . ATAIKAPPAN is in his house. MARIMUTHU and KANTHAIYAN VELLAISAMY: are alsopresent. The village meets after reading the news about Vellaisamy in the newspaper.

But we should consider VAITHILINGAM: whether we need this arithmetic at all. MARIMUTHU: What is there to consider? Ever since he came up with the idea of a water cart. Kalamekam was a very rich man. One day Kalamekam came to the threshing ground. Shouldn't someone knock out his brains now? ATAIKAPPAN: Be quiet. I felt as if my wife were asking me if I had mar- . "Hey you." he said and went away. I was in school at that time. I did backbreaking work twenty-four hours a day. And so my father worked for him without pay. If two years passed. my father died. I have taken your wife in place of the remaining loan. Vellaidorai. My wife used to work in Kalamekam's house. "Hey you. My father wanted to make me study. I have been suspicious. we would get a loan from him. He had a lot of land. If we took a hundred-rupee loan. But when I finished tenth grade and came back to my village. Each should take fifteen rupees and the rest should be put in the temple donation box. so he took more and more loans from Kalamekam. At once this Kalamekam called me and said. Whenever we needed money. Should we turn the government? Or should we hand the police this good against man who has brought us water? KANTHAIYAN: Vellaisamy. The interest on the loan was no ordinary interest." I had no option but to work for him. My father lost his land to him and still the loan was not repaid. We were all bonded laborers to this Kalamekam. I want to ask you. I told you there was some secret plan. Don't bother looking for her any more. Because of it. Vellaidorai. then three hundred rupees. what terrible crime have you committed? VELLAISAMY: There was a man named Kalamekam in our village. I used to work in the threshing ground. your father's loan still isn't repaid. come what may. ATAIKAPPAN: Incredible! What an abnormal arrangement! VELLAISAMY: Yes. My blood boiled. Your arithmetic is good.. we were farmers working the little bits of land we had. He became a bonded laborer. But this man said he would knock my brains out. my father came to owe him a lot of money. We are three hundred families. We are in trouble now. ATAIKAPPAN: Bonded laborer? What is that? VELLAISAMY: At one time..142 Shankar They will give us five thousand rupees. Only if you too work for me will the loan be repaid. we would have to return two hundred rupees the next year. KANTHAIYAN: Your village? Which village is that? VELLAISAMY: Alankayam in North Arcot district. I thought the loan would be repaid more quickly if two people worked and so I married.

to keep me in custody there. ATAIKAPPAN: How long can you live in hiding? One day the police will certainly catch you. Take me right now to the police. We will send the priest tomorrow to bring water. I jumped out of the jeep and escaped. VAITHILINGAM: He is not lying when he says he will do anything for you. On the way. But the police caught me. That night I broke into Kalamekam's house. Then you would know. we give him gruel every day! Why does your brain work in this fashion? Is he doing this hard work for the sour gruel you give him at the end of the day? You should do the backbreaking work of walking fourteen miles through wasteland under a fiery sun. . When I saw Kalamekam. KANTHAIYAN: What is it you want us to do now? From the moment of my birth to the time of my escape from the police. They put me in a jeep to take me to Vellore. Torment him! KOVALU: Goddess Mariyayi! Come and show me your tricks. You will also be able to put five hundred rupees in the temple's donation box. On the bed were Kalamekam and my wife. they would have cut my wife in two and thrown her by the canal. I ran away to the jungle of Javathu Hill.WATER! A TAMIL PLAY 143 ried her only to exchange her for the loan. will you prosper? Goddess Mariyayi!Come and show your tricks to this fellow just once. If she had not agreed. If not. as the priest says. KANTHAIYAN: How is it that your wife agreed to be with him? VELLAISAMY: There is no question of agreeing here. VAITHILINGAM: Kovalu! What is this? Don't say anything more. She would have been disfigured so badly that no one would have been able to claim her. If you give me up to the police. I will do anything for you. KOVALU: What does he care? He sits all day at his window. And include this fellow also. He said he would bring water in a cart and so he did. It was only afterwards that I saw I had killed two people. It is only after I came to this village that I became a free man. I would like to think I am not a slave to I would like to live freely by the labor of my own hand. VELLAISAMY: Until that day. MARIMUTHU: Sinner. VELLAISAMY: If you people have compassion. my story will come to an end. every family will get fifteen rupees. I will be happy that you'll be able to eat for ten days because of me. chewing and spitting out tobacco and telling stories about his grandfather who went on a tiger hunt. VELLAISAMY: MARIMUTHU: VAITHILINGAM: Well. let me stay in the village. I have been a slave. If you don't give me up. I slashed furiously at him with my sickle. anyone.

These days. ATAIKAPPAN: Hey you. we VAITHILINGAM: agree. We may suffer without water. Like a hen in a basket. We agree. We will see which cop puts out eyes. the goddess will put out our eyes. sending If we hide a murderer in the village. KANTHAIYAN: Even if they slit our throats. For a long time now. Day before yesterday. VAITHILINGAM: Where have you all jumped to now? Let's talk about Vellaisamy's problem. What is the slogan you were shouting? KOVALU: Long live the revolution! ATAIKAPPAN: Kovalu. The goddess has sent this man here to give us the money. All of you are nodding and saying. Your eyes look like the eyes of a vulture... we'll be left to catch crabs on the canal bank for the rest of our lives. I have been saying we should build a sacrificial platform for the temple. None of you understands the plans of the goddess. Kovalu! Why do you lump us all together as elders? Do you think we have lost all our pride? KOVALU: What else can I say? No matter what happens. They are the GURUSAMY: ones the police will put out first. ATAIKAPPAN: Priest. KANTHAIYAN: Ataikappan. there was a big procession in Kovilpatti organized by the Communist Party. what you say is right. we stand mutely like buffaloes in the rain. Does everyone agree? laisamy ALL: We agree. ATAIKAPPAN: What do you want us to do about this? What can we do? We are ordinary laborers who live by lifting sacks at Vandipettai. Of course the village will turn into a place where dead bodies are burnt.. if we raise money for the sacrificial platform by this man to the gallows. Should he stay in the village or not? ATAIKAPPAN: We have no option." But what if some traitor gives up Vellaisamy out of greed for the money? MARIMUTHU: . MARIMUTHU: GURUSAMY: What do you expect? We will hide thisVellaisamy like the eyelids hide the eyes. KOVALU: Gurusamy.. we will hide in the village. If we listen to the advice of these elders.. of course Kovalu will speak the way he does. don't bring political parties into this village.Kovalu marched at the head of that procession holding a red flag.. the police will put MARIMUTHU: out our eyes. we should not betray Velto the police.144 Shankar You all talk about getting water daily in the village. but let's not have parties here. Vellaisamy VAITHILINGAM: Is it enough for you to say this? Everyone has to say the same. youngsters have become disrespectful. "We agree.

We could build a sacrificial platform for the temple! I will throttle you! Take the oath and put out the I will not tell the police about Vellaisamy. (GURUSAMY Here.. I had no idea the people of this village would shower (ATAIKAPPAN enters.. then let's get the people to take their oaths. What if the people of Chekanurcharaipatti see Vellaisamy? ATAIKAPPAN: Listen to this! The people of Chekanurcharaipatti! They couldn't recognize the sun they saw yesterday. Why are you calling me? Aren't you the one who said each family would get fifteen rupees? You must take the oath by putting out the camphor flame. Enter GURUSAMY. take the plate.) GURUSAMY: Teacher. you first. we have taken camphor to all three hundred houses and taken an oath from everyone. MARIMUTHU: What should I say? I will not tell the police about Vellaisamy. You have hurt the hands of the children..) . Scene 7 (VAITHILINGAM and VELLAISAMY are in VAITHILINGAM'S house. We made someone else take the baby's hand and put out the camphor flame. KANTHAIYAN: VAITHILINGAM: Sevanthi. MARIMUTHU: MARIMUTHU: ATAIKAPPAN: VAITHILINGAM: flame. VELLAISAMY: such love on me. TWO YOUNG MEN are with him.) VAITHILINGAM: takes the Gurusamy. Even babies in their cribs were not left out. take four people with you.) make everyone take the oath over the camphor flame.WATER!A TAMIL PLAY 145 We will make everyone here take an oath. But there's one other matter.) takes the plate and SEVANTHI VAITHILINGAM: MARIMUTHU: VAITHILINGAM: Priest.VAITHILINGAM lights the camphor. Blind fellows! You think these people are going to recognize Vellaisamy? KANTHAIYAN: Teacher. (He puts out the camphorflame. bring the camphor plate. Go to every house and plate. Vellaisamy goes to the spring to bring water. (SEVANTHI brings a plate with camphor. VAITHILINGAM: What have you done? I asked you to make the adults take oaths.

. you had better go in the house.The gatheredmen signify theirrespect him byputting the cloththeycarryon theirshoulders under for theirarms. VAITHILINGAM alone remainsseated. Those who win the elections will fill the mugs with milk and honey. Ask the elders of the village to be present. "Ataikappan!Tomorrow I am coming to your village. (Enter KANTHAIYAN. the (VELLAISAMY man referred as NAICKER OF VANDIPETTAI. ATAIKAPPAN: When I see people like him I feel disgusted.. VAITHILINGAM: We will find ourselves in trouble.. minister-they are all in his pocket. to the place wherethe cartsand the truckscometo be loaded.) Naicker of Vandipettai has come here on his motorWhat is the reason? cycle. KANTHAIYAN: (KANTHAIYAN VAITHILINGAM: departs. You had better go in. Collector. VELLAISAMY: But why? If I meet him. MLA. In a few moments VELUSAMY NAICKER.. Until Naicker leaves the village... you should not come out. He owns other important officials too.) Vellaisamy. I too can confront him with a few questions .. ATAIKAPPAN: Is he here already? When it's to ask for votes they come on motorcycles.. arrives. Accursed fellows! VAITHILINGAM: Ataikappan. . You will be caught. Bring out all the tin mugs.) NAICKER: Ataikappan. let him come. leaves. Hey. Go and tell the men of the village to roaring gather here.146 Shankar ATAIKAPPAN: Teacher. yesterday Naicker of Vandipettai saw me and said. Don't you know the elections are almost upon us? ATAIKAPPAN: So that's what it is! Now they will come running and tell us they will turn a cat into an elephant for us. are the men of the village on their way? ATAIKAPPAN: They are on their way.." VELLAISAMY: Who is this Naicker of Vandipettai? VAITHILINGAM: He is one of the most powerful men in this region.. GURUSAMY: VAITHILINGAM: Why is Naicker coming to our village? Don't you understand? He is probably coming to ask us for our votes. Gurusamy.. Let him say what he has to say. We will listen to him patiently.

All that is for the rich Naickers. What did you do to bring water to this village? Every election they say.. It's not for Naickers ATAIKAPPAN: like us who work to death for a little bit of gruel. NAICKER: The candidate is of our caste. You go KOVALU: about saying those who lift sacks and those who pull carts should join a union.) .) NAICKER: You know elections have been announced. The Naickers should not fail their candidate. we will turn the flags around and hit you with the sticks. Water will pour into this village like a waterfall bursting through a hill. Why would someone who has enough to eat join a union? NAICKER: KOVALU: NAICKER: What are they going to achieve by joining a union? We will demonstrate with flags in Vandipettai. it's Kovalu! Of course you will talk. we can get four or five Naickers government jobs. "Let the elections be over. NAICKER: Well. Ha! Men who are dying for gruel are joining a union! VAITHILINGAM: Of course only those who are dying for gruel will join a union. VAITHILINGAM: Who is the opposing candidate? NAICKER: Krishnasamy Reddiar. The Reddy fellows are getting all ATAIKAPPAN: NAICKER: excited about him. different castes.WATER!A TAMIL PLAY 147 (In ones and twos. And you think we will immediately run away frightened? Velusami Naicker of Vandipettai is not the man to be frightened by all this. Sir. KOVALU: If you don't change. ATAIKAPPAN: Who is this Sithayya Naicker? NAICKER: Don't you know SithayyaNaicker of the matchbox factory? ATAIKAPPAN: Well! Let him stand for election. (NAICKER jumps to hisfeet astonished. are living together What can we get done in this world if we ignore caste? If in harmony. NAICKER: Who is this? Oh. He can write over some public land in the names of four or five Naickers. the villagersarrive. am I not telling you? Sithayya Naicker is a candidate from this area. all of us here. You say you will do wonders for Naickers. don't you? KANTHAIYAN: What do we know? We are so far from town. one of our Naickers goes to the legislature. All Naicker votes must come to him without fail." The only thing pouring in this village is our tears.. And now you are injecting caste into this situation.

Kanthaiyan. Show me some respect! Or there will be here! killing ATAIKAPPAN: Sir.. I'll take care of it. Get away from here... know what to say to whom. NAICKER: (KANTHAIYAN takes KOVALU away. (Photo courtesy of Lalitha Dharini) .. KOVALU: Will you be quiet? The days when we were afraid of these threats are long gone.. NAICKER: Hey. People are drinking all kinds of water and finding that their arms and legs don't work.) FIGURE 2. .. take Kovalu away from here. The actor Raj Madhan in the role of Kovalu. Kovalu.. And in the middle of all this.148 Shankar ATAIKAPPAN: What! What did you say? Doesn't Hey. you. We don't have water to drink..... this man comes around asking for votes. Fool.

He is young. What VAITHILINGAM: did you achieve in them? NAICKER: The plan being put together now has a budget of 900 thousand million rupees.. they ask? Don't we take sugar in our tea and coffee? Do we all have diabetes here? NAICKER: There is famine in the land because all these fellows who eat gruel daily have started clamoring for tea and coffee. (Everyone laughs. You put together five plans before this one. please sit down. What's going to change in this remote village? NAICKER: You would not talk like this . when did you learn all this? VAITHILINGAM: learn that people with ration cards in the city get five kilos of sugar and those in a village get one. Is this what you are saying? I buy the newspaper and read to them from it. Why is this. .. .. and Delhi. I'll take care of you.WATER!A TAMIL PLAY 149 KOVALU:Keep your threats for Vandipettai. You will use all that money to improve the lives of people living in places like Bombay. If you come to my village and threaten me. I'll smash you! (Goes out shouting.. . clean clothes while these people here are barely alive. He spoke NAICKER: without respect. But there is still no water in the village! NAICKER: That is why we have put together the Sixth Five-YearPlan.) VAITHILINGAM: Naicker.. They . ATAIKAPPAN: What is this? You are talking of 900 thousand million to people who have never seen a ten-rupee note. NAICKER: Did you say I don't know? Do you think I care about this fellow? Do you think he can touch one strand of my hair? VAITHILINGAM: Why should he touch your hair? A barber can cut it with scissors. What am I to do if he starts arguing about other things? Why did you drag in the matter of his starting a VAITHILINGAM: union? You too don't know what to say or to whom. Before this you asked us to vote for Gurusamy Naicker. VAITHILINGAM: Are you saying these people have to eat gruel forever? The people of the town will walk around in nice. We did as you wished. It is proper to question someone who has come to ask for votes about water for the village. Madras.) NAICKER: Teacher! VAITHILINGAM: What is wrong with Kovalu's question? Weare asking the question now.

Naickers are needed only to cast their votes. Over the past three years. . Anyone who wins by stealing votes will steal in office too. Why shouldn't his son study to be a doctor and come back to this village to serve Naickers? Did they consider the fact that the Naickers here have been suffering without a doctor? ATAIKAPPAN: What money can they earn here? They can make mountains of money in Madras! KANTHAIYAN: Then it seems there is no need for Naickers if there is no money to be made. Don't make our anguish deeper.150 Shankar Now I understand. NAICKER: What . ATAIKAPPAN: And is it a land of plenty now? KANTHAIYAN: (NAICKER ATAIKAPPAN: VELLAISAMY: ATAIKAPPAN: KOVALU: leavesin anger. Then we will most definitely boycott. ATAIKAPPAN: Such fellows should be flayed. So not one fellow from this village will cast his vote. We remember what caste we are only when people like you come into the village electioneering. NAICKER: Listen to me. VAITHILINGAM: And what do you think should be done about that? Are you going to send me to a waterless wasteland? The only place with less water than this is the Sahara Desert. be it.. he has been one of us.Enter VELLAISAMY and KOVALU. Until then. What are you saying? Will the tall tower of the temple fall because a cow butts it? If they don't have our three hundred votes. You are the one inciting these people. VAITHILINGAM: will they lose? They will cast three hundred false votes. That is why you are setting Naicker What is all this? You keep referring to Naickers and against Naicker. Let them. ATAIKAPPAN: VAITHILINGAM: ATAIKAPPAN: What is it called? Boycott.) Teacher. who thinks about caste? KANTHAIYAN: Ataikappan.what should we do? If we are proud men and our mothers are not whores. The question for us is this: How can we show our anger? This is what is called a boycott. this whole village will turn into a cremation ground. all of you! Remember one thing. If Sithaya Naicker loses in this area. ! You can leave now. You don't have the NAICKER: power to send me there. Naicker is so free with his words about support for Naickers. NAICKER: You are a Reddy. ATAIKAPPAN: Reddys.

VAITHILINGAM: . o. This is the kind of news you publish.) But no girl has been raped in this village.v.v. VELLAISAMY: Do you think the common people won't be able to digest their food if they don't know what color sari Sukanya wears on Friday? Look.v. A newspaper reporter! Please sit down.: Why do you say that? VAITHILINGAM: ISit not true that newspaper reporters like you come when there's been a rape or a murder? That is what rushing only is exciting news for you.v. The government has specified the breadth and the length of the national flag. he calls to him.v.: It seems this village as a whole did not vote in the elections. sits down.) This man says he is a newspaper reporter from Madras.: We don't write like that because we want to. VAITHILINGAM: What else do you think we should do? In days gone by. I have come to find out why. I am sure. it is absolutely necessary for the people to know whether a movie star wears a sari or something else on a Friday.v.v. o. I am disappointed that newspapers are not like that any more.WATER! A TAMIL PLAY 151 Scene8 (Enter VELLAISAMYwith o. VAITHILINGAM: So newspapers are now writing about these happenas well? ings o. VAITHILINGAM: Cinema actress Sukanya wears only red saris when she goes to work on Fridays. o. Actress Supriya is frightened of cockroaches. VAITHILINGAM: Then why have you come here? o.: My newspaper is not like that.) VELLAISAMY: Teacher! (VAITHILINGAM VELLAISAMY: VAITHILINGAM: emerges from his house. o. (o. Whenhe arrivesat the teacher's house. newspapers gave such courage to the common people that they could take on a great empire and win. An Indian villager does not have even that much cloth.: Of course. And newspaper owners ask for such stories because the common people like them. In this situation. Newspaper owners ask for news of that kind.v.: What is this? I have come to interview you and the two of you are badgering me.

" It took five years to discover this truth.: Is this why you are angry and have boycotted the elections? VAITHILINGAM: That is all we could do. o. There's no end in sight to our predicament. The revenue inspector sent it to the village official.: Do you believe that the government will take action because of your boycott? . That is why I take my classes at night by the light of a hurricane lamp. Go and make a list of all the actresses who are afraid of cockroaches. There is indeed nothing left to struggle for! Go and find out what color sari Sukanya wears when she goes to work on Wednesdays.: It's difficult to even listen to this.v.: Why are you so angry at newspapers? VAITHILINGAM: Why should we not be? You ask us what there is to for. it's true. My students study by the light from a wood fire. "Yes. looked around. "Yes. The village official came to this village. half the people had left the village. No one has helped. The collector took it and sent it to the revenue inspector.v. saying. This man has to travel fourteen miles to bring water. if there is no water in the public fill pages and pages with stories. Now I haven't been able to get kerosene for the hurricane lamp. There is no water in that village. "Yes. We went to Kovilpatti and gave a memorandum to the minister himself. it's true. o." The revenue inspector wrote to the collector. "Yes. VAITHILINGAM: We did write. The PA gave it to the collector. By that time. it is three o'clock. The minister gave it to his personal assistant. and wrote to the revenue inspector.: You could have written to the government. There is no water in that village. saying. Three elections have passed. saying. He said.it's true." And then the minister too admitted it in the legislature.it's true. A few had drunk any old water and died from diseases. There is no water in the village. VAITHILINGAM: In your Madras.: Why? VAITHILINGAM: You give lunch to schoolchildren but there is no water for them to drink.v. o. There is no water in that village. We're Indian citizens too! o.v.v.: What is there left to struggle for today? VELLAISAMY: You ask what there is left to struggle for! If educated men like you ask such questions. then. saying. Go on. this country won't improve young in a hundred years. By the time he brings the water and lunch is served. But I am here! o. I should be in my school this very moment.v." The collector wrote to the PA. o. We have been dying here for five years without water struggle to drink. There is no water in that village." The PA wrote a note to the minister.v. you here for five years. There has been no water taps.152 Shankar o.it's true. "Yes.

: What is this? Why are you talking like this? VELLAISAMY: I am not the one speaking in this fashion.v. I'll raise a ruckus and see that your village gets water somehow or other. thepoliceman betrothedto SEVANTHI. you are very fortunate to be marrying a girl like Sevanthi.v. ! Please.: What I suspected is true. . That armed revolution cannot be stopped. o.: They sound like the words of Vellaidorai. VELLAISAMY: What did you suspect? o. o. the government will take notice of us only if such violent actions are taken. My father was a Gandhian. I know someone who is with the police in Kovilpatti. are in conversation. o. V. O. Rao from a newspaper. The poor are not ready to bear all this in the name of god or religion or fate. AZHAGIRI: Father took all that into consideration when he agreed to the marriage.: These are not the words of a village water carrier. She is very well mannered.v..WATER! A TAMIL PLAY 153 VAITHILINGAM: We don't have such illusions.v. Now he has a black cap.: Even if they threaten to cut off my head. ATAIKAPPAN: So. I will write about all this in the newspaper.. VELLAISAMY: VAITHILINGAM: Sir. Mr. R. there will be a violent revolution in this country.) Brother. Then what do the words seem like? VELLAISAMY: o.v.. o. I won't tell them where you are.: Do you think such violent behavior will bring results? VAITHILINGAM: Whether it brings a result or not. Her nature is solid gold.v.. who escaped from custody in the jungles of Javathu Hill.V.. all of you will be swept up and thrown out. Also . If economic changes are not made quickly. We know the govern- ment does not show any regard for such peaceful struggles. Scene 9 (ATAIKAPPAN's house. I am a police constable. But he hid four radical communists in our home.v. In that revolution. He used to Yes. I am not here to expose you. I am recounting the words of the famous Gandhian V. These days it responds only if you burn a bus. o. Your work is in Sivagiri? ATAIKAPPAN: AZHAGIRI: ATAIKAPPAN: He used to have a red cap.ATAIKAPPAN and AZHAGIRI.: Isn't such action bad for the country? VELLAISAMY: The poor cannot bear this injustice any longer...

Reports have come in that a murderer who escaped from Javathu Hill has been seen in this area. Shall we hold the wedding in Sivagiri? KANTHAIYAN: That seems a good idea. My ambition is to catch a lot of criminals and get promoted. What? ATAIKAPPAN: Is it true that women are taken to the police station for interrogation and raped? AZHAGIRI: Who told you this? ATAIKAPPAN: Teacher would read in the newspaper and tell us. Uncle. AZHAGIRI: (Enter KANTHAIYAN. I want to ask you something else. and HIS FATHER (AZHAGIRI KANTHAIYAN: leave. I would immediately get a promotion. I'll pick an auspicious day in the month of Thai and write to you. I like your son-in-law.) KANTHAIYAN: What is this. Nothing like that happens in our police station. We get as much from these liquor cases as we do from our government salary. if we catch our cases in good numbers. But no one worries about promotions. If we don't catch the 5:15 bus we won't get home in time. AZHAGIRI'S FATHER: Time for us to leave.154 Shankar wear shorts before. He will take good care of your daughter through the years.) out? I have given my word. I will give you an example. (Enter AZHAGIRI'S FATHER. we get promotions. Ataikappan? Are you interrogating the bridegroom? ATAIKAPPAN: Kanthaiyan. AZHAGIRI: Well. then. I wonder how things will turn . Now he wears long pants. If I caught him. ATAIKAPPAN (showing his agitation): Forget that. But he is still what he was when I was a little boy. Does this really happen? Are the papers lying? AZHAGIRI: I don't know about all that.) AZHAGIRI'S FATHER: Then it's decided. ATAIKAPPAN: AZHAGIRI: Brother! Then what do you earn in one month? I don't earn my money like that. AZHAGIRI: Good-bye.

you fellows.) VAITHILINGAM: It's Vellaisamy. ATAIKAPPAN: Careful! Don't be a hasty fool and go against the deci- sions of the village. my mother was a whore! (Makesto leave. Death is death. ATAIKAPPAN: Yes. whether it comes at age six or a hundred. (GURUSAMY and KOVALU help VELLAISAMY. Everything the god of Tiruchendur temple. Do you think the police will leave you alone if you rip open that Naicker's throat? KOVALU: I don't care. Scene 10 (VELLAISAMY's voice is heard offstage. KOVALU: Die. wait. We'll end up drawing their attention to that same Vellaisamy we took an oath to hide. Things will turn unpleasant. "You are drawing water for the people of Athipatti. But then the police will descend on this whole village. will be fine.) VAITHILINGAM: Kovalu. was killed.) VAITHILINGAM: VELLAISAMY: Vellaisamy. My mother gave birth to me in this wasteland to drink that Naicker's life! VAITHILINGAM: Well. Let them die without water. Help him here. . They said.WATER!A TAMIL PLAY 155 ATAIKAPPAN: Pray to Murugan. The cart was smashed. KANTHAIYAN: This must be the work of the Naicker of Vandipettai. KOVALU: If I don't rip open that Naicker's throat with my bare teeth. maybe you'll manage to drink his life. which was tied to the cart. VELLAISAMY enterswith (Everyone bloodon his bodyand a bandageon his head. Then they threw the bull and the cart down the hill.) VELLAISAMY: Teacher! looksin the directionof the sound. The bull. Kovalu. What happened? Hey. ATAIKAPPAN: Sinners! I hope the goddess makes them blind. then! Is life so sweet to you? It's better to die than live like dogs in the street." They hit me hard on the head with a stick. Don't destroy the whole village in your anger. what happened? Four thugs came up to me as I was drawing water from the spring. bearing blow after blow on our backs.

VAITHILINGAM: What is it you want us to do without wasting time? KOVALU: Isn't the minister coming to Thirunelveli? We should block . VAITHILINGAM: Go tend to your work. You will want to put your hand in somebody else's pocket. useless fellow. telling tales to one another and whiling away our time! Unless we act soon.spitting at them. ATAIKAPPAN: Yes. The local MLA won't see us.) Teacher. VAITHILINGAM: Is this how a man with a family speaks? If you don't eat for two days. If they had jobs that gave them enough to eat. get four or five saris from your wife. Now even gruel has become only difficult. dirty VAITHILINGAM: You think it is dirty work.) Very good! Let's sit around like this. and otherscomeoverto VELLAISAMY.156 Shankar KOVALU: Decisions! Gurusamy. you'll want to steal. is seated in VAITHILINGAM's house. and you think a minister from Delhi will see you! KANTHAIYAN: He will be completely surrounded by the police. this village will remain like this. Let these women here wear them. You will want to snatch the necklace from a child's neck. we will certainly get some results. We will end up saying something in anger and the police will beat us up.) Scene 11 (VELLAISAMY KANTHAIYAN. ATAIKAPPAN: GURUSAMY: (Enter KOVALU: KOVALU. If the entire village goes to him and gives him a petition. ATAIKAPPAN. what is on your mind? A minister from Delhi is coming to Thirunelveli. (Leaves. KUPPAN: Does that mean we should suffer in this village like ghosts standing guard among the funeral pyres? What if all of us leave the village? VAITHILINGAM: Where will you go? Will you go to Madurai or to Madras?Will you beg in the streets with your children in your arms and your wives trailing behind you? KUPPAN: That is not such a bad thing. KANTHAIYAN: Ugh! It is better to stay in this village than do such work. would they steal? Is one born a thief? MARIMUTHU: The young fellows in this village say the priest is the one here to eat a proper meal. They won't act for themselvesor let anyone else act.

It is easy to believe the tiger and the goat can drink from the same pool. Can ordinary people do all this? You suggested a water cart.WATER! A TAMIL PLAY 157 his car. I have a plan. A giant boulder blocks the water from coming north. we will remain in darkness. If we cut a canal from there for seven miles.) VELLAISAMY: ATAIKAPPAN: VAITHILINGAM: Why is everyone silent? Is this possible? Vellaisamy. We can dig together. Redirecting the spring water. But this will happen only if the goat transforms itself into a tiger. Don't fight. we are stuck in a remote village in Thirunelveli district. Break the boulder and the spring water will crash down for about a hundred and fifty feet like a waterfall. Where will we store it? VELLAISAMY: There is that dry pond south of the village. Every day I would go to the and along the way I would consider the viability of this plan. VELLAISAMY: The water from the spring falls to the south. Or else the whole village could go and block the gate of the Thirunelveli collector's office and shout slogans. See what happens to you. Only those who struggle escape the darkness. Take a Gandhian approach. VAITHILINGAM: Whenever this fellow has an idea. Working we can remove all the silt and make it clean. Maybe we should try it first. Leading the water into the dry pond. KOVALU: All right. Without struggle. If we engage in struggle alone. But this? VELLAISAMY: Certainly this is possible. Digging the canal. All this is a story. spring . VELLAISAMY: What would you say if I proposed to turn the water from the spring and bring it straight to our village? VAITHILINGAM: How do you mean? I don't understand. They will ignore you. If we turn it to the north. Is he saying we should go get our knives and sticks? KOVALU: If it comes to that. We can get what we want only by struggle. (All lookat one another. all right. we'll have to. Go and ask for help. VELLAISAMY: Kovalu. it will come to our village. ATAIKAPPAN: Tell us what it is. we will be crushed. the canal in such a way that the water from the spring flows there directly. the water will reach Athipatti. ATAIKAPPAN: What is this struggle he keeps talking about? I don't understand anything. it comes down to fighting. Breaking the giant boulder. VAITHILINGAM: It will reach Athipatti. That is a reasonable suggestion.

That is our payment.158 Shankar You must have read in stories that human beings can flatten hills if they wish.. We can cultivate tender plants and grain again. This is boastfulness. But not a male goat. we can farm again. We will drink good water all the year round. Let's try what Vellaisamy says. Listen to me. it will seem difficult. How many will we be able to get? VELLAISAMY: Won't there be about two hundred strong? KOVALU: Let's leave out the old and the sick. Take up a collection. They'd attack us. Over the years we have dug foundations for the houses of strangers. ATAIKAPPAN: That is my point. We have to consider all points before the cultivated fields of the landlords. The pond will fill to the brim. We have carried sacks for them. KANTHAIYAN: Quiet. We'd have a big problem on our hands. You should not be permitted to remain in this village. Some in this village are like mice in the food bundle. Did we not get paid? VAITHILINGAM: We'll get paid for this too. You young men are ready for anything. It will be enough if we dig it ten feet wide and six feet deep. VELLAISAMY: The canal will not go through cultivated fields. You are the ones who must bring relief to this village. If the dry pond fills to the brim. We have cultivated land for them. Don't you agree we shouldn't break the hearts of our elders? KOVALU: When have their hearts been whole? You can try all you want to fix their hearts. The sky will darken and pour a flood. KOVALU: I agree with the priest. only through public lands. We have worked ox-driven water lifts for them. Digging up a mountain to catch a MARIMUTHU: as the proverb goes. we come to a decision. All of us young. Why shouldn't we spend all that labor to dig a canal for ourselves? ATAIKAPPAN: We did not work for the landlords for free. buy a male goat to be sacrificed to the goddess. each of four full moons. It won't be so hard to actually do it. No money has to be spent. but you won't be able to make them whole. I just think it's a difficult matter. Supposing we were to cut the canal through . I am not worried. Listen to me. VELLAISAMY: As long as we sit around and talk about it. We should give the goddess a sacrifice. VELLAISAMY: It's true.. Even so. Let us show that this is possible. strong men will come together. Kovalu.. We'll dig the canal and bring the water here in no time. This priest! MARIMUTHU: The goddess will make you blind! KOVALU: Let her. For mouse. ATAIKAPPAN: We can try. Only our labor.

What do you all say? We will dig it! VELLAISAMY: We must break the giant boulder. IS that right! I came here to spend a couple of days.WATER!A TAMIL PLAY 159 VELLAISAMY: This is our last chance. We'll show we can win. KANTHAIYAN arrives. I did not think of that. She sits down on the platform fronting the house.. what do you want us to do? We must dig the canal. all these people are working with spades. Only a little life is still stuck to our bodies. She has a bag in her (SEVANTHI arrives at KANTHAIYAN'S hand. child? You have come alone! Where is my son-in-law? SEVANTHI: KANTHAIYAN: SEVANTHI: He wanted to come.. We are going to make an Father.) KANTHAIYAN: What is this. ATAIKAPPAN: VELLAISAMY: Vellaisamy. Wouldn't he have found out about brother Vellaisamy staying here? That is why I came by myself. Daughter! SEVANTHI: KANTHAIYAN: outlet for the spring to the north. But then he would have stayed Adi festival ever come alone? KANTHAIYAN: SEVANTHI: say if a married girl leaves her husband and arrives alone? a couple of days. I stopped him. Why.. SEVANTHI: What are you saying. drink a handful of the water. If we fail in this too. But how long can I go without KANTHAIYAN: inviting my son-in-law here because of Vellaisamy? SEVANTHI: KANTHAIYAN: However long it is possible. Let's make this our final challenge. and fill the pool. and then leave for home. Father. dig a canal. Why? Fresh spring water will soon come to the village. we will be left with no option but to abandon the village and wander from place to place as beggars! VAITHILINGAM: Bit by bit. Why. . now I will wait for the pool to fill. ALL: We will break it! ATAIKAPPAN: ALL: Scene 12 house. Already the canal is five miles long. Father? It's all Vellaisamy's doing. We will dig the canal. child? Does a daughter returning home for the What's wrong with that? What a question! What will the people of the village I would have brought him. But. we have been worn down and now we can't even be called human.

(They enter KANTHAIYAN 's house. O.: What is this? You are rejecting those who come to you and say they want to work for society.v. o. But nothing will change for us.: I left the job. Instead of getting the doctorate in some such easy fashion.v.160 Shankar KANTHAIYAN: That is fine with me if your husband agrees. Come.) o.) emerges (VAITHILINGAM VAITHILINGAM: What a surprise. VAITHILINGAM: Using us. They should only be given after careful consideration of the research of those who have done at least five years of fieldwork.v. I want to analyze it according to socioeconomic principles and submit my research to the university for a doctorate. VAITHILINGAM: What did you do then? o. What do we gain by it? . VAITHILINGAM: Very good. Take it. Why have you come to these parts now? o. you've at least done one thing for the country. let's eat some gruel. Henceforth doctorates should not be given to those who write dissertations after having read four or five books.He has a spade in his hand. I knew it. They won't let you write these stories.: Sir! from his house.v.) Scene 13 (VAITHILINGAM's house.V. saying his paper did not need such stories.v. If you get ahold of the Ramayana of Kamban and make a list of all the places where the name Rama has appeared.: I am thinking of doing research about this village on my own.: I was not able to.v. why do you want to come here and suffer in this waterless wasteland? There is a bus to Kovilpatti at 12:15.: I will do the fieldwork here.Enter o. welcome. o. you will write a dissertation and get yourself the title of doctor. So did write about our village in the paper? you o. My boss refused. VAITHILINGAM: Well. VAITHILINGAM: You are bored and so you are doing social service. the university will give you a doctorate. But why are you so interested in being a doctor? Listen to me.! Welcome.v.

I have no objection to your staying in this village. I had work in these parts. Only by keeping all this in mind can we solve any problem.Enter CONSTABLE AZHAGIRI. Isn't your father here? SEVANTHI: He has gone to work. VELLAISAMY arrives. They said I should lie down. There is a mile left to dig and then there's the work of breaking the boulder. SEVANTHI: (AZHAGIRI goes into the house. go quickly into the house. I wanted to see you. You can stay in my house. (So saying. And AZHAGIRI: so I came.: How goes the work of bringing water to the village? VAITHILINGAM: We don't have faith in anyone anymore. First take this spade. We are digging a canal from the spring.) AZHAGIRI: Sevanthi! Sevanthi! (SEVANTHI whensheseesAZHAemerges from thehouse. Come in.) What a surprise! You have arrived without sending word.. You are fooling everybody with your words.WATER! A TAMIL PLAY 161 o..Sheis surprised GIRI. They sent me away saying they would take care of things. Also.lookingtired. Anyway. So you too are engaged in the humbuggery of the overeducated. are you? Go ahead. Come.) Scene 14 (KANTHAIYAN'5 house.v. you can get your doctorate later. o. .) VELLAISAMY: Sevanthi! Sevanthi! (Enter SEVANTHI. And then we should theorize about the issue. This is what is called a methodology..: Listen. the opposing forces obstructing development. We should look at any issue objectively and consider its underlying causes-the socioeconomic base. In a few moments. VAITHILINGAM: People like you have learned a lot of words that a villager cannot understand.v.v. I will boil some water and bring it to you later. Let the digging of the canal be your help to us. he hands thespadeto o. Will you boil some water for me? SEVANTHI: Brother.) VELLAISAMY: I feel feverish. Teach what you can to the children in the mornings.

Who is this man? ATAIKAPPAN: He is a relative of Teacher's. you have spoiled everything now! ATAIKAPPAN: Is it Kanthaiyan's son-in-law? When did you come? AZHAGIRI: Forget that. SEVANTHI: AZHAGIRI: It's all right. have you gone mad? He really is Teacher's relative. this man . He said to apply it to your forehead. Uncle. Did you know he was hiding from the police? Don't keep anything from me.. ATAIKAPPAN: Azhagiri. Brother. back later. I am hiding from the police. AZHAGIRI: You be quiet. I want to get some fresh air. we can talk as I make some gruel. AZHAGIRI AZHAGIRI: SEVANTHI: AZHAGIRI: emerges. girl. AZHAGIRI: Is that what he is telling people? This man is a murderer who has hidden himself in these parts.) SEVANTHI: Why have you sat down here? Why don't you come inside? AZHAGIRI: It's very stuffy inside. I am Vellaidorai.. this man .162 Shankar VELLAISAMY: SEVANTHI: Why. I told them to come They must have come to you because they were thirsty.) emerges. Uncle.) He goes to VAITHI- Vellaisamy! Vellaisamy! The medicine man has sent some herbal ointment. They wanted water. house. If you come inside. SEVANTHI: . Let me ask him. AZHAGIRI: Uncle! He is a murderer. Enter ATAIKAPPAN. If you do as he says and go to sleep. Why didn't you give them some water? (Sits down on the platform fronting the house. the fever will be gone by morning. He has escaped from the police. (SEVANTHI LINGAM's ATAIKAPPAN: too sits down. He must not see you.) Who was it? Some workmen. His name is Vellaidorai. VELLAISAMY: AZHAGIRI: What are you doing here? VELLAISAMY: You said it yourself.. Sevanthi? My husband has arrived without warning. (VELLAISAMY AZHAGIRI: AZHAGIRI sees VELLAISAMY. You! Who are you? Tell me at once. (As VELLAISAMY goes into the house.. I'll come in in a bit. He has come here from near Kallidaikuruchi.

with their tongues stuck to the roofs of their parched mouths. the earth has been dry. SEVANTHI: The whole village has taken an oath not to reveal his existence. The actress Sarita in the role of Sevanthi in the film version of Water!(1981). In such a village. (Photo courtesy of Tianjin People's Art Company) FIGURE . So what is to be done about that? SEVANTHI: AZHAGIRI: What a question! You should have brought him to me. AZHAGIRI: Sevanthi. The people of the village have been pushing on from year to year without water to drink. AZHAGIRI: SEVANTHI: Why? You want to know why? For five years now.WATER!A TAMIL PLAY 163 ATAIKAPPAN: Yes. I knew. The whole village knew. did you know? I knew. this good man 3.

I would like to see the people of this village joyfully scoop- . you say. I don't like this. We have kept Vellaisamy in this village. And you think you will catch him without exerting yourself? You think the men in this village are women? AZHAGIRI: Uncle. The work on the canal is almost over. What is to become of my duty as a policeman? ATAIKAPPAN: Duty! You talk as if you are responsible for the whole police station. I could have brought the medicine another time. and then demands your wife? What else is he to do but kill him? Is it your opinion that he should fondle him like a baby? AZHAGIRI: Why do you think courts and laws exist? They will look into the matter. He has thrown in our eyes and hidden himself.164 Shankar drove a cart for fourteen miles every day to bring water.. AZHAGIRI: Are you or are you not going to give that man up to me? SEVANTHI: Why do you make this fuss? If you take this man into custody now. I want to see that with my own eyes and then I will be at your mercy. you should have looked for him yourself and caught him. AZHAGIRI: I cannot do anything about that. It will fill the pool. who can't afford to leave the smallest morsel of food behind on their plates. You will be able to take me to the authorities. You are an elder. Be careful what Don't say one word more. Then your duty is done. He is digging a canal from the spring. What is a man to do with a scoundrel who gives you a loan. Our superiors harass us daily dust about why we haven't caught Vellaidorai yet. I don't deny it. But still this man did not lose his enthusiasm.. water will flood into the canal. your courts and laws are for those who strut around looking respectable in clean clothes and fill their stomachs to the full. I am a murderer. Once it's broken. ATAIKAPPAN: Courts! Laws! Azhagiri. Tomorrow the whole village is to gather to break the giant boulder.. the man on a bicycle without a lamp. the rowdy man drunk on hooch-it is enough if you catch these people. I cannot ignore what I have seen here because people will condemn you two. And here he sits in great comfort. I am a careless fool. If you are so duty conscious. I will surrender to you. VELLAISAMY: Azhagiri. They are not for those dressed in rags. I lusted for a few more days in this world and escaped from the police. ATAIKAPPAN: He did not kill respectable people. But give me some time. He is in our refuge. Naicker of Vandipettai put a stop even to that. takes over all your land. The man pissing in the street. Who gains from giving up such a man to the police? AZHAGIRI: This man has committed two murders. the whole village will spit on my father and me.

VAITHILINGAM VAITHILINGAM: from his house. (AZHAGIRI ATAIKAPPAN: is in deepthought. rushing to hide in the house whenever a stranger appears.) emerges What is all this? It's time to break the boulder and the canal. Azhagiri. I cannot live like this anymore. I have this one desire before my story winds to its end. you are an elder.. your family will prosper for seven generations. SEVANTHI: (He falls at AZHAGIRI's feet. We must celebrate the event! I'm collecting coconut. If you embarrass me later. He will come to you when the canal is finished. I will be a terror to you.. promise. Don't break the vessel now. banana. and incense powder.. Let me go for now. I am releasing him because of all of you. Just let me witness that and I'll surrender to you. would we doze on this day of all days? My Ataikappan. Let this good man keep his life for a few more days. fear gnawing away at my stomach.WATER! A TAMIL PLAY 165 ing up water from the pool in their cupped hands. Scene 15 (All the villagers are present. we should pour turmeric water in the . I have my doubts that he will. incense sticks.) KANTHAIYAN: Teacher. AZHAGIRI: Fine words! You are thinking of running away at night. VELLAISAMY: I swear to you that I will not escape. (Enter KANTHAIYAN.) Don't think. Let him go free. canal before breaking the boulder. The cooking is almost done. AZHAGIRI: All right.) ATAIKAPPAN: mother the spring is going to smash the boulder and come flooding out. ATAIKAPPAN: Azhagiri. AZHAGIRI: I will give myself up to you. And all of you are dozing here? open (ATAIKAPPAN emerges from his house. I will let you go now. I am at your mercy. My father-in-law too is involved.) Let this be your good deed. Don't drag him away in the name of duty. I knew things would come to a climax if I confronted you. I will keep my VELLAISAMY: Believe me. Uncle Ataikappan.

Why don't we sacrifice a goat to keep the mother happy? Why. But you have endured great troubles for these people abandoned in this desert hell. (Puts thesilk shawl Teacher.) SEVANTHI: Father.. is this pot of turmeric water enough? KANTHAIYAN: More than enough. Now you have shown this to be true.) ATAIKAPPAN: Hooray! The mother who can bestow prosperity on us is going to come leaping to us . I wish to honor you with this shawl. Priest? Has it been too long since you ate goat curry? Is your mouth watering? We don't need all that. Don't lecture me as if MARIMUTHU THE I don't know the proper custom.. We are not able on VELLAISAMY. Now you have brought water to us. It's only for a ritual . You came into the village that day and said there was nothing human beings could not do.) to do much. We do not know whether you will still be on this earth tomorrow. KOVALU: And guess what? This man is the chief of all the useless fools in this village. the people are ready. (Enter VELLAISAMY. girl. They did not have the presence of mind to think of this. Come....166 Shankar ATAIKAPPAN: That is the proper way to do it. You have done ATAIKAPPAN: the right thing. I would only be observing custom if I said we wanted to thank you. There was no prior connection between you and this village. MARIMUTHU: Ataikappan! You are right. ATAIKAPPAN: (Enter SEVANTHI with a pot. . let's go before it's too late.. You came into this village asking for water. ATAIKAPPAN: This idle fellow waits for the right moment to poke fun Teacher! Did you save this silk shawl all these daysjust I thought that sooner or later the inspector would at me... Look at these useless fools standing all around us. (GURUSAMY. SEVANTHI: Where is brother Vellaisamy? VAITHILINGAM: Vellaisamy. KOVALU. and others armive.) VAITHILINGAM: Wait. KANTHAIYAN: VAITHILINGAM: for this occasion? . PRIEST.. The mother is surely going to come to us. you have been thoughtful.

. .) who ENGINEER: Where are all of you going? Are you going to the spring to break the boulder? VAITHILINGAM: Yes. (The sound of drums and trumpets.. It was wrong to dig up the hill without the government's permission. Gurusamy. They will call for a tender. The contractor will eat up half the money.. When a canal is needed. didn't you? Now. gathThe villagersretreat. Vellaisamy. whistlesloudly. All of this is illegal. o. instructingthem to stop. They have warmed the drum many times over the fire since morning. Hey. VAITHILINGAM: Yes. and revenue . (Looksoffstage. . THE VILLAGERS sing:) A hen that is lost-Ailasa! White on the neck-Ailasa! O fair girl-Ailasa! She laughs as she goes-Ailasa! VAITHILINGAM o.v. not comprehending he is. and you're whistling like a ruffian . . is public land your grandfather's property? That is government land. ENGINEER: You did say public land. Who are you? ENGINEER: I am a PWD engineer..WATER!A TAMIL PLAY 167 come to take a look at the school and I would wear it on that day. ATAIKAPPAN: We don't have any such thing in this village. You engineers. I have come to throw all of you in jail.: I am happy.)0 drummers. you lead us. eredvillagersstareat him. But no inspector ever comes to this waterless wasteland..v.): What is this? You said you wanted to get a (to doctorate. It was wrong to dig a canal in government land without the government's permission. It's time to get going. Thegathered Entera PWDENGINEER.v. tehsildars. A hen that is lost-Ailasa! (Whenthe villagersstartfor the spring. a voicecalls out. o. The DEO has forgotten that this school exists. KOVALU and GURUSAMY dance arm in arm. ENGINEER: You are the government? Your arrogance is making you speak in this fashion. VAITHILINGAM: Throw us in jail! Why do you want to throw us in jail? ENGINEER: Whose permission did you get to dig the canal? VAITHILINGAM: Who do we need to ask? That is public land. we must tell the government. bang your drums loudly. Teacher says he wants to hear your drumming. We are the government. it is a crime. are the drummers here? GURUSAMY: They are.

it is a small thing.: I write for all the newspapers. you can petition the government again. we have tried everything but we haven't been able to get a reply from the government.are you a reporter for a daily or a weekly? o. KOVALU: Quiet. You are trying to frighten us. Sir. PWD people will close the ENGINEER: canal tomorrow. who are you? You don't look like a villager! VAITHILINGAM: He is a newspaper reporter. With the people's tax money. I'm a government official. ENGINEER: Mister. ENGINEER: Watch what you say. ATAIKAPPAN: Did you say we are involved in a traitorous plan? We can't even involve ourselves in a plan to get rid of our hunger. but none of you voted in the election.. Of course it is illegal for us to dig a canal on a little daily gruel.168 Shankar inspectors will each eat up a little. Telegrams ENGINEER: intimating these criminal activities in Athipatti are whizzing to the collector. ENGINEER: That is not my job. . o. All the engineers who were never to be seen will now KANTHAIYAN: turn up here. VAITHILINGAM: Sir. In this situation. We were forced to this decision to dig the canal. I am a freelance journalist. . You think you own the police.v. gold necklaces will glitter on the necks of your wives. leaving you no opportunities for all this.. Why do you ask? ENGINEER: Oh. a PWD engineer. The collector has been informed that this village is involved in some traitorous plan. If you wish.: The reason for this country's paper shortage is the writing of petitions to the government. Tell me.. This is by order of the government.you are you? How do you do? My name is Kothandapani. My daughter has learnt bharatanat- . ATAIKAPPAN: The government couldn't stir itself to dig a canal for people dying of thirst. I am reporter.v. I will have the police break your kneecap. But it loses no time in closing it. what is fundamental and what is right? I know nothing about all that. Isn't voting your fundamental human right? VAITHILINGAM: We can't even be certain of our continued existence as human beings from day to day. ENGINEER are a newspaper (expressing great respect): Oh. Why would we involve ourselves in some traitorous scheme? ENGINEER: You say you are not traitors.. I'm doing my duty. please be merciful on these poor people and recommend to the collector that the canal not be closed.

All of you that god made brave! Put rice in your mouths as if you were already dead and come with me! . let us all go together and break that boulder even if the police shoot us down like birds.. Come.v.: And when will these people get water? ENGINEER: They will get it.v.. How have we been blessed and weeps.: Shall we say that in your government dictionary "temporary" means fifty years? ENGINEER: No. Uncle? There is no use in weeping. KOVALU: What will you do if we go to break the boulder despite you? ENGINEER: You are traitors.: Why would that be useful? ENGINEER: She'd get a chance to dance in three or four venues in Madras..WATER!A TAMIL PLAY 169 yam and given a debut dance performance. The water will come soon. If you do any of these things. I am tired of hearing about it. jump into it and drown. Or.. What do we care? But from now on you are not to go out with your spade to dig canals and break down hills. ENGINEER: Kick the Ganga if you wish. Get VAITHILINGAM: Ataikappan. up. o.v. sir. We have wept all year long. KOVALU:Why are you weeping. no. why do you keep us alive? Take us all with you.) VAITHILINGAM: All our labor has been in vain. o. . what is this? This is madness. We would only wish to kick it and charge it with deceiving us with promises of coming to our village. we have no other way left to us but yours. VAITHILINGAM: Sir. If by some accident we were to go to Benaras and see the Ganga.. he bangshis head on the boulder .. It would be useful to have a color picture of her appear on the cover of a weekly..) Teacher. o. don't even mention the Ganga Canal Plan to us. We will smash all the powers stopping us from living normal lives.) by being alive? (So saying. (Leaves. Come.. won't our difficulties ever end? Will we never see better days? Are we too low to drink clean water? Goddess. KANTHAIYAN: He has kicked us in the stomach! ATAIKAPPAN: Camphor! Incense powder! (Throws both packets on the ground. These days we have all these plans: Sethusamudram Plan. if you wish. let's go! KOVALU: Let's go! Let the old remain at home. This is a temporary difficulty. the government won't let you get awaywith it. Ganga Canal Plan. All we have to show for it is water in our eyes. We knew you would try this.. we would feel no respect for it. . That is why an army of policemen is waiting for you at the spring. VELLAISAMY: Kovalu. Stop your weeping and raise up your hand.

If the village does not hand this killer over to me. you be quiet. I am the one who told him that if he came into the village there would be trouble.. why would anybody bother AZHAGIRI: you? KOVALU: . I told him I would bring Vellaisamy. AZHAGIRI arrives. You are this village's son-in-law. He is not waiting there because he is afraid. VELLAISAMY: Sir. And when will there be water in the canal? Hasn't the colAZHAGIRI: lector said the canal is illegal? Now I have no option but to do my ATAIKAPPAN: duty. You will come to a bad end! AZHAGIRI: Why? What will you do? I will break you into tiny parts! ATAIKAPPAN: VAITHILINGAM: Ataikappan. not the heart. I said to you myself that as soon as there was water in the canal I would come to you . What would you do? The cockiness of worthless fellows AZHAGIRI: has spoiled the manners of this village. You. we will have to take appropriate action.) Hey. AZHAGIRI: What action would you take? We will take all of you in the police van and throw you in jail for hiding a killer. Must you attack us too? AZHAGIRI: Strange words indeed. Oth- erwise. you! Who did you say was old? Only the body grows old.As the villagersprepareto leave.170 Shankar (ATAIKAPPAN ATAIKAPPAN: jumps upfromtheground. terrible things would have happened to you because of the uniform you are wearing. Look! Here is the fistful of rice to put in my mouth when I've become a dead body. Until the murderer is handed over to me. no one can budge from here. we will impose a collective fine on you. I may be the son-in-law. Are you saying you will never again treat us as VAITHILINGAM: human beings? If you bow down to the law. If there is ever trouble in the district again. The inspector is waiting in his jeep outside the village. In addition..) Where are you all going? Are you going to break the boulAZHAGIRI: der and release the spring? That cannot be. I put it in my mouth now! (He takesricefrom the plate and puts it in his mouth. we will put you in jail. Azhagiri! Don't even touch Vellaisamy. We will add all of you to the list of known criminals. Does that mean I can let thieves and killers escape? KOVALU: You are safe because you are this village's son-in-law. Azhagiri. Come with me. blow upon blow is falling upon us.

Before you get your medal from the government. SEVANTHI: What else is left to happen? The officials have come and closed the canal. if you touch Vellaisamy. Some have sickles and sticks. I'll knock your brains out. He took an oath that he would not expose Vellaisamy. KANTHAIYAN: Sevanthi. but he has brought the inspector into the village. I will divorce you and go away! SEVANTHI: You will divorce me? My father did not come looking for you to give me awayin marriage..) Take this back. let us see you take brother Vellaisamy with KOVALU:Azhagiri. Now he comes to hunt brother Vellaisamy as if he were a rabbit. The village has become a cremation ground. If we bow any lower. what are you saying? Is this the honor you bring to your father? SEVANTHI: Stop. Do you think I can step into your house ever again? I too have a mind of my own.) SEVANTHI: Now the relationship you. has been broken.) It is because of this wedding chain that he has come into this village with so much arrogance. what has happened to you? Be quiet. If you have courage in your heart. Isn't that why you said what you did to your boss and came into this village? AZHAGIRI: Suppose I don't come as the son-in-law but as a police- man. (The crowdgathers around AZHAGIRI. What harm would these fellows have done to me? SEVANTHI: If you had tried you would have found out! AZHAGIRI: Sevanthi. (AZHAGIRI and the others stand in shock.) SEVANTHI: You are so confident of your own safety because you are the son-in-law of this village. what are you saying? KANTHAIYAN: Sevanthi. On hearing it. Is this a man? AZHAGIRI: Sevanthi. (SEVANTHI comesforward. Be quiet. VEL- . Let whatever happens happen. girl. celebrate by putting this necklace around your neck. AZHAGIRI takes out his whistle and blows it loudly.WATER! A TAMIL PLAY 171 ATAIKAPPAN: We can't bow down any more. we will sink into the very earth. if you speak to me without respect in front of the whole village . You came and asked for me many times and married me. (Indicates her wedding necklace. Death has taken up residence here.. (Removesthe wedding necklace.

The police did not permit the people of Athipatti even to see his corpse. MARIMUTHU THE PRIEST.v.) o. pantingfor breath. and afew othersare seen leaving the village with bundlesin theirhands. (Enter GURUSAMY limping. water. No one knows where he went. Gradually his panting begins to subside. running." he cries out. Teacher Vaithilingam brings water in the morning and feeds the children.. (writing): As always. It might also be that he has been labeled a terrorist and hanged from the gallows. Or else he might be suffering torments in a prison somewhere.) Scene17 (VAITHILINGAM is seated in his house. (writing): Vellaisamy died in the jungle with a parched mouth.v. .172 Shankar LAISAMY runs away swiftly. others like him-they have all left the village.. ATAIKAPPAN is in his house staring intently at the ceiling. (KUPPAN THE CARPENTER. The crowd stops AZHAGIRI from capturing VELLAISAMY. SEVANTHI stands in the doorwayof her house. he falls to the ground. writing his for report a newspaper.) o. Unableto from having run anymorein the thornyjungle.v. o. if anyone stretches out a hand to beg from you.) o. It might be that he is marching in front of a procession with the flag in his hand. the priest. (writing): In the bus stops of Madras and other cities like it. is seated on the rockin the middle of the stage. He is breathless tired run many miles. Ataikappan watches the sky wondering whether a change . Water contaminated by fluoride has eaten away his strength. Kovalu is no longer in the village. it will probably be one of the noble farming people of Athipatti. He conducts classes in the evening.His tongueis stiff and dry. Kuppan the carpenter. Enter VELLAISAMY.v. "Water.) Scene 16 and (A thornyjungle. Gurusamy has rheumatism in his leg.

Perumal's TamilDrama (1981) is a standard introductory surThe section on modern theatre by Farley Richmond (1990) in Indian Thevey. 1990. 1981. Toward the end of his life. Subramanian. 14. Komal Swaminathan wrote a series of autobiographical essays in his journal Subhamangala.. Darius L. Santhanam. Midnight'sChildren.WATER!A TAMIL PLAY 173 will come. Sevanthi has become a single woman separated from her husband.Chennai: Vanathi Pathippakam. and Phillip B. Swann. 1." TheHindu.The series was called "Paranthu Ponna Pakungal" (Lost Pages-or.Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. and the daughter of Komal Swaminathan. Zarrilli. Swaminathan. K. Otherwise. K. Lalitha Dharini. S. Thaneer.) NOTES I would like to thank my father.. eds. Richmond. more literally." In Farley P. for invaluable help of various kinds in the completion of this translation. 1981.Thaneer. Pages Blown Away). 1995. 1981. Mu. Tamil Drama: Origin and Development. A. Varadrajan. REFERENCES Perumal. August 11. the day will undoubtedly come when these marks of interrogation turn into marks of violence. Many of the details in this introduction are taken from this series. 1970. (Light fades out. p. 2. Richmond. Rushdie. . atre also has relevant information. "He Made Theatre Reach Out and Communicate.. A. A History of Tamil Literature. Salman. Rutgers University. And the questions in the minds of all these people: Will we never see better days? Are we not worthy of living? Will our condition never improve? Society must put a full stop to these question marks at once. N. Farley P.London: Picador. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi.. Research for the translation was partially funded by a grant from the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. "Characteristicsof the Modern Theatre. She passes the days doing coolie work with her father. Madras: International Institute of Tamil Studies. Komal. Indian Theatre. N.

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