Handling of Male Characters in Tendulkar’s Silence! The Court is in Session

Anil Singhal, Central University of Himachal Pradesh

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 Abstract

Tendulkar’s stance on his characters has been a subject of continual discussion among the critics. Though the dramatist seems to have a fascination for women characters in most of his plays and it is undeniable that his female characters capture the imagination of the reader at first, some of his male characters are equally important and captivating. Through the treatment of his male figures in Silence! The Court is in Session, Tendulkar projects a vision of the world as an essentially hostile place populated, for the most part, by hypocrites, egoists, absolutists and hard-hearted realists. There is many a point of tastes, manners and attitudes which most of Tendulkar’s men share with each other. The critique of the males in the play spotlights that these characters arouse a unique and rewarding interest in his drama, and serve to provide a better understanding of various aspects of his works.

Vijay Tendulkar (1928-2008) had been one of the most influential dramatists and theatre personalities in Marathi for the past six decades. Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul had once called him “India’s best playwright” (Singh). Tendulkar’s plays along with those of playwrights like Girish Karnad, Badal Sircar and Mohan Rakesh have changed the face of Indian Theatre. Many of them have been translated into major Indian languages and English as well. Introduced in 1967, Shantata! Court Chalu Ahe is a well-known Marathi play by Tendulkar. Priya Adarkar translated it as Silence! The Court is in Session in 1978.

In most of Tendulkar’s plays, “generally, women are at the centre…around women that most of the action revolves. The roles that Tendulkar’s female protagonists play eclipse those played by the men figuring in them” (Dharan 28). Dealing with the pitiable conditions in which women are put in male-dominated society, Silence! The Court is in Session is not an exception. The play is “about a woman targeted by men, placed in a situation where she can neither get sympathy nor legitimacy for her child,” says Vinod Bala Sharma (14). However, the issue that the critics of Vijay Tendulkar tend to ignore, sometimes completely and sometimes partially, is his handling of male characters in the play. “The theatre group in Silence! . . . which comes to perform at a village is a miniscule cross-section of middle-class society” (Banerjee viii), consisting of five male players, viz. Mr. Kashikar, Sukhatme, Ponkshe, Balu Rokde, and Karnik along with the village hand Samant. Other male characters, though portrayed as off-stage players, are Professor Damle, Nanasaheb Shinde and Rawte. With Silence! The Court is in Session, “for the first time in his dramatic career, Tendulkar began to look into the psyche of his subject” (Dharan 95); and he has not confined himself to the psychological analysis of its female characters only, but has explored the mind of the male characters also.

Almost all of the male actors of The Sonar Moti Tenement (Bombay) Progressive Association have been presented as male-chauvinists who give no respect or importance to woman. When one comes to learn about persons like Mr. Damle, it seems that woman is nothing more than an object of sex for them. Mr. Damle, who is a professor at a university, acknowledges Benare, the heroine of the play, only for her sexual attraction and not for her character or intelligence. As she articulates in her soliloquy: “He didn’t want my mind, or my devotion—he didn’t care about them!” (Tendulkar 118). “Despite being an eminent intellectual, he demeans himself and his profession by having an extramarital relationship with Benare which, eventually, results in her pregnancy” (Dharan 51). Benare admires him for his scholarly attainments, but he understands only her body and exploits her closeness with him, as she burbles: “He wasn’t a god. He was a man. For whom everything was of the body, for the body! That’s all!” (Tendulkar 118). Further, for Ponkshe, “on the whole, girls are silly and frivolous” (107). He cannot dare accept an unmarried mother like Benare as his wife. To quote from the play:

SUKHATME. What was your answer, Mr. Ponkshe? Were you prepared to take a broad view of things for the sake of humanity, and accept the child along with the mother?

PONKSHE. The answer is quite clear.

SUKHATME. You weren’t prepared, of course.

PONKSHE. No, I wasn’t. (106)

Sukhatme also proves himself to be a sexist when, in his last speech as the lawyer for the prosecution, he states:

 “ ‘Woman is not fit for independence. . . .’ That is the rule laid down for us by tradition. Abiding by this rule, I make a powerful plea. ‘Na Miss Benare swatantryamarhati.’ ‘Miss Benare is not fit for independence’ ” (115).

Even Kashikar, who projects himself as a great social worker, continues to insult his wife throughout the play and pays no regard to her. Whenever she tries to speak or give any opinion, he gives a severe reprimand to her. For instance, when Mrs. Kashikar is trying to make Samant understand how to avoid mistakes at night, he presumptuously silences his wife: “Silence must be observed while the court is in session. Can’t shut up at home, can’t shut up here!” (77).

The male figures in Silence! The Court is in Session, who do “performances of the Living Lawcourt” (83), are sadists too. Through the treatment of these ‘so-called’ artists, Tendulkar lays bare the dormant sadism in human mind that peeps into the privacy of others and derives a devilish pleasure in exposing it to the public. In the name of a light-hearted pastime, Miss Benare’s colleagues exceed their limits and descend to metaphorical cannibalism. Their failures and disappointments in life make them derive a wicked pleasure in the discomfiture of their own co-artist. The malicious glee of Kashikar and his team looks like the dance of the devils. One cannot afford to forget the counsel for the prosecution, Sukhatme, who reveals the private life of his female colleague in public and derives a sadistic pleasure in the name of “just a game” (120). The dramatist has made every effort to unmask this latent sadism in him and his other male associates. To cite from the play:

ROKDE [looking at Benare]. Now laugh! make fun of me! this lady was there. Damle and this—Miss Benare! [Benare has stiffened. Karnik signals to Ponkshe]

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

SUKHATME [with peculiar care]. Mr. Rokde, you went to Professor Damle’s house, as night was falling. What did you see there? [in a deep, cruel voice] What did you see?

KASHIKAR [alongwith he is enjoying it all greatly]. Sukhatme, I feel this is getting onto too personal a level—

SUKHATME. No, no, no, not at all, milord. It’s just for the trial; so, Mr. Rokde . . . don’t be shy—tell everything you saw. (86-87)

The sadistic motive of Ponkshe can be observed when he asks Benare in a sarcastic tone:

“What happened afterwards to that friend of yours, Miss Benare? That girl—the one in trouble—whom you found for me to marry . . .” (68).

It becomes quite evident when, in the last act of the play, the audience comes to know that he, in the name of ‘that girl,’ was talking about nobody else but Benare only.

Another dominant feature of the personality of the male characters (except that of Samant) in the play is their hypocrisy. All of them are hypocrites having a farcical moral code and sham social values. There seems to be no connection between what they say, what they do and what they are. Kashikar, the judge of the mock-law court, projects himself as a conscience keeper of the society who “can’t take a step without a Prime Objective” (59). He boasts of having been “studying society for the last forty years” (113), but the hollowness of his ideology is obvious when he comments: “[O]ur society should revive the old custom of child marriage. Marry off the girls before puberty. All this promiscuity will come to a full stop. If anyone has ruined our society it’s Agarkar and Dhondo Keshav Karve. That’s my frank opinion, Sukhatme, my frank opinion” (98). The hypocrisy of Dr. Damle is evident from Benare’s statement when she tells Samant:

“. . . we have an intellectual too. That means someone who prides himself on his booklearning. But when there’s a real life problem, away he runs! Hides his head. He’s not here today. Won’t be coming. He wouldn’t dare” (60).

Here, the cowardice of the learned Professor who is significantly absent from the trial denoting his total withdrawal from responsibility, either social or moral, for the whole situation into which he has landed Miss Benare is brought out in a biting satire. Mr. Sukhatme, who calls himself “a lawyer to the marrow” (68), does not have any practice in his real life. He is found giving himself “meaningless legal airs” (64) throughout the mock-trial. His hypocrisy is at its best when in the beginning of the third act “he puts on his gown ceremoniously” (96) and also asks the judge to wear it. He “straightens up, closes his eyes, and meditates for a while. Then slapping himself piously on the face, he raises his hands to his forehead in prayer twice or thrice” (96). More, Ponkshe, despite being an ‘inter- failed,’ pretends to have a great knowledge of science: “In this scientific age, it’s fun to get everything at the last minute, without effort. [snaps his fingers.] Like that!” (65). Even Karnik and Rokde are not less pretentious. Despite the fact that he is a ‘rotten actor’ in his real life, Karnik is proud of his stagecraft. Rokde, whom Kashikar calls “a buffoon . . . from the start” (86), shows keen interest in the lofty statements made by his co-artists, but he himself is unable to speak even a single line without hesitancy in his voice. Though he boasts of having slapped Benare, he does not dare even to enter the witness box until he is forced.

Besides being sadists, hypocrites and chauvinists, the male members of the amateur theatre group are arrogant, selfish, spiteful, morally corrupt and emotionally sterile also. Among off-stage players, Nanasaheb Shinde is not an upright one and his attitude towards women is exposed when he talks to Mr. Kashikar about Benare: “ ‘[S]he is a young woman. So I couldn’t say no straightaway. I have called her again, for a quiet talk’ ” (112). Moreover, he shows no sympathy towards this ideal teacher and robs her of her ‘only comfort,’ i.e. her job, as his obvious from his emotionless statement: “ ‘It would be still more immoral to let such a woman teach, in such a condition! There’s no alternative—this woman must be dismissed’ ” (113). The selfishness and cold-heartedness of Professor Damle is discovered in his conversation with Benare. When Benare asks him where she will go if he abandons her in such a critical condition, he replies arrogantly exposing his emotional sterility: “ ‘Where you should go is entirely your problem. I feel great sympathy for you. But I can do nothing. I must protect my reputation’ ” (92). Other males in the drama company, also, possess spiteful and vengeful attitude towards each other. Throughout the play, they continue to pass their malicious comments on their own workmates. Here is an example:

SUKHATME. . . . Our Ponkshe looks most impressive during the trial. The scientist in the witness-box! A pipe and all that! No one would believe he has just taken his Inter-Science for the second time. Or works as a clerk in the Central Telegraph Office!

              [Here Rokde, unable to control himself, laughs a little.]

PONKSHE [irritated]. Don’t you laugh, Rokde! I didn’t get my education on Mrs. Kashikar’charity! I may have failed my Inter-Science. But at least I did it on my own father’s money. Nonsense! (61)

At another juncture, when the trial is going on, Sukhatme calls Ponkshe as his first witness in a tone soaked in sarcasm: “My first witness is the world-famous scientist, Mr. Gopal Ponkshe. Well, Ponkshe? Are you happy? I’ve suddenly promoted you to world fame, eh?” (80). In the course of such dialogues, Tendulkar reveals the prevalent human tendency to mock at others’ defects and derive a malevolent joy out of it.

“Patriarchy plays an inevitable role in shaping the psyche of a person…[It] influences, directly or indirectly, the working of the conscious mind. Some may remain untouched by patriarchy for a while, but it is impossible for all to avoid it perpetually,” says Budhwar (44). The ideals celebrated in a patriarchal society find expression in the character of almost all of the male players in the drama. Benare comes in contact with a host of males, and through her experiences one gets glimpses of a typical male-dominated society. Via Benare-Damle episode, Tendulkar presents a veracious picture of the contemporary Indian middle-class society that has different yardsticks to measure man and woman. No one, including Samant, raises his voice of protest against Damle who is responsible for the catastrophe of Benare. He is not even summoned as a co-accused in the court, while Benare remains the “prime accused as the unwed mother of his illegitimate child” (Banerjee viii). She is facing the trial while he is attending an academic seminar. While the court pins down the victim of love, it lets the victimiser go scot-free. Owing to his belonging to a patriarchal society, it seems to be impossible for Mr. Kashikar to evade the influence of the traditional milieu he lives in. He passes the judgement that is highly partial and partisan, and that smacks of the justice of jungle rather than that of a judge of a civilized court: “It is the firm opinion of the court that your behaviour puts you beyond mercy. . . . No memento of your sin should remain for future generations. Therefore this court hereby sentences that you shall live. But the child in your womb shall be destroyed” (Tendulkar 118-19). Interestingly, “the accusation brought against Benare at the beginning of the trial—that of infanticide—turns into the verdict at the conclusion, principally because contemporary Indian society, with its roots grounded firmly in reactionary ideas, cannot allow the birth of a child out of wedlock” (Banerjee viii-ix). This reversal of the position of the ‘authorities,’ which consist only of males, conveys the double standards on which our society is founded.

The male characters of Silence! The Court is in Session are seen not in relation to patriarchy alone. For instance, through Rokde, Tendulkar has been successful in putting forward the problem of the Indian adults who still feel stifled under the pressure of their parents and cannot take their own decisions, even about their own marriage. Rokde himself tells Benare: “ ‘I can’t do anything without Mrs. Kashikar’s permission. . . . I can’t help it. That’s one’s luck. I can’t think of marriage’ ” (Tendulkar 109). In addition to that, the playwright introduces Samant, who is an outsider to the rest of the group, not only to play a key-role in the ‘mock-trial,’ but also to highlight the gaping holes in the moral pretensions of his urban counterparts. Through his utterances and actions, this innocent rustic becomes “a powerful vehicle of satire against these hypocritical city-wallahs” (Dharan 55).

In spite of the fact that the play is gynocentric, the penetrative study of it gives the impression of playwright’s deep insight into male psyche. In delineating his male characters, Tendulkar has explored their psyches to the extent of revealing the hidden sense of failure pervading their lives—the inefficiency of Sukhatme as a lawyer, the childlessness of Mr. Kashikar, the vain attempts of Karnik to be a successful actor, the non-fulfilment of Ponkshe’s dream to become a scientist and the inability of Rokde to attain an independent adult existence. The figure of the simple-hearted villager, Samant, is adeptly handled by the dramatist to offset the complexities of these soi-disant urbane characters. It is not out of genuine love for drama but out of a sheer sense of their personal failures in life that they have turned to theatre activity. Therefore, to expect them to be refined, truthful, and generous is perhaps crying for the moon. “Their characters, dialogues, gestures and even mannerisms reflect their petty, circumscribed existences fraught with frustrations and repressed desires that find expression in their malicious and spiteful attitudes towards their fellow beings” (Banerjee viii). Tendulkar is highly satirical of these so-called champions of culture and social welfare who trample on the individual’s right to freedom. Though the dramatist tries to strike a balance between individual freedom, social values and moral standards, he also wants us not to miss the lop-sided justice—one for man and another for woman. By pitting Benare against her male co-artists, he “questions the stock notions of morality and attacks the hypocrisy of basically weak but arrogantly cruel yet apparently friendly people so eager to lynch a woman who happens to violate their moral code” (Raykar 46).

To conclude, it can well be said that Tendulkar has displayed a remarkable skill in achieving certain purposes through the presentation of his male characters. Nevertheless, the fact that he has his own constraints while dealing with these male figures cannot be denied. Human nature is a mixture of an angel and a devil. At times, the angel takes a holiday and lets the devil have a field day. Conversely, the male members of the dramatic troupe give a long holiday to the angel and allow the devil rule the roost letting themselves have a fiendish pleasure at the suffering of one of their own associates. On the other hand, in case of Samant who is a pure hearted, simple and ignorant countryman, the devil remains off the field all through the play. On the whole, Tendulkar has been unable to present his male characters as complex and dynamic ones. At the same time, considering his special interest in the female characters of his plays and his purpose of zeroing in on the ‘ugliness’ in their male counterparts, such kinds of limitations are understandable.

References

Banerjee, Arundhati. Introduction. Five Plays. By Vijay Tendulkar. 5th ed. New Delhi: OUP, 2003. Print.

Budhwar, Satish. “The Images of Man: Analysis of Male Characters in Shashi Deshpande’s The Dark Holds No Terrors, That Long Silence, and A Matter of Time.” Diss. MDU, 2005. Print.

Dharan, N. S. The Plays of Vijay Tendulkar. New Delhi: Creative Books, 1999. Print.

Raykar, Shubhangi. “The Text, the Performance, and the Translation across Cultures: A Study of Vijay Tendulkar’s Ghashiram Kotwal.” The Literary Criterion: A Special Number on Modern Indian English Drama 42.3-4 (2007). Print.

Sharma, Vinod Bala. Introduction. Vijay Tendulkar’s “Ghashiram Kotwal”: Critical Perspectives. Ed. Vinod Bala Sharma. New Delhi: Asia Book Club, 2001. Print.

Singh, Khushwant. “Storm in a Chat Show.” Windows. The Tribune. The Tribune, 31 March 2001. Web. 24 July 2015.

Tendulkar, Vijay. Five Plays. 5th ed. New Delhi: OUP, 2003. Print.

Anil Singhal, a PhD candidate at Central University of Himachal Pradesh (Department of English & European Languages), is writing his thesis on “Deconstructive Reading of J. Krishnamurti’s Selected Works” under the supervision of Dr Roshan Sharma. His interest areas include Academic Writing, Linguistics, Literary Theory, Mystical and Non-Fictional Writings, Higher Education, and Community Service.

The Golden Line: Volume 1, Number 2, 2015

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