Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Vijay Tendulkar's Kanyadaan

I can't put into words the threat, visceral fear and a sense of dread I felt after reading Kanyadaan for the first time. It is my favourite play by Vijay Tendulkar. The theme is about an idealistic socialist who, having imbibed the values of equality in his daughter, is appalled by treatment meted out to her by her husband who is from a different caste. It shattered my idealistic notions about eradicating caste system through inter caste marriages. The play made me confront my liberal notions in a way that none of conservative opinion pieces written by thinkers ever could. I wrote the following comment on Aniruddha's blog where I have been a constant nuisance for the past couple of months.

Those of you have read this play and have a different take on it please feel free to comment on it. I would love to hear about your perspective on this issue.

Interestingly, my take from Kanyadan was different from yours. Of course, it exposes upper caste Maharashtrian hypocrisy. However, for me, the bigger take from the play was that it highlighted the complexities of solving sociological problems through a progressive framework.

The venture of 'engineering' a society and shaping its values so that a moral order compatible with the times can be established is every thinking person's dream. But attempting to accomplish that by disbanding or trying to alter an older cultural framework such as ban on marriage between different castes, does lead to loss of knowledge accumulated by that older culture, however corrupt it may have been, and also results in an indeterminable risk for the person who is a victim/guinea pig for such an experiment because of the exposure to an alien knowledge frame with no prior documentation and acculatarisation to the solution of the problems that such ventures may generate.

I thought the play illustrated this conundrum perfectly without ever taking sides. The upper caste family tried to solve/diffuse the problems through their historical knowledge frame about drinking and violent behaviour while the Dalit youth tried to approach issues in marriage through his learnt/observed behaviour or cultural framework from his impoverished childhood. Since both families had no recourse to a third knowledge framework to solve, mitigate, issues arising out of an inter-caste marriage, apart from a feel good, 'everyone is equal' kind of socialist framework of the father, which might sound great as rhetoric but never gives a concrete path to resolve the problems that crop up for the unfortunate guinea pig in such experiements.

The play, I thought, tried to highlight these complexities and I always am fascinated by Tendulkar's ability to go far beyond the typical Maharashtrian upper-caste acculturisation that he himself must have underwent and write stories so raw and visceral that one would have expected from someone like Namdeo Dhasal who probably has borne the violence that Tendulkar explores so unnervingly in his plays.