Final Solutions: Untold Stories of Religious Freedom and Resentment from the Eyes of a Female / Gouri Nilakantan

 

Above: A poster of Dattani’s play

 

A paper  read by Gouri Nilakantan Mehta at the North American Conference of Social Philosophy at Marquette University, USA

Nothing can be more painful than carrying an unseen tale desiring religious freedom within one self.  Often we come across extreme situations in our lives whereby these concealed stories expressing both religious freedom and resentment expression. Often a paradox, such occurrences while rekindling our tolerance exposes hidden resentments and bitterness towards religion that lie dormant within us.  Mahesh Dattani, one of India’s leading playwrights, cleverly portrays these strong emotions by using the lens of his characters, particularly females in his play Final Solutions.  Dattani uses the eyes of his female characters to display their inner secretive narratives of freedom at the same time rendering the religious antipathy held by them.

 

Mahesh Dattani was born on 7th August 1958, eleven years after the independence of India in 1947, and studied in the elite St. Joseph’s college at Bangalore. He worked primarily as a copywriter and formed his theatre Playpen in 1984.  In 1986, he wrote his first full-length play, Where There’s a Will, and  in 1986 and he won the Sahitya award from the Government of India, for his book Final Solutions and Other Plays.  He presently resides in Bangalore, a large metropolitan, popularly called the Silicon Valley of the East, with its “high tech, state of the art” buildings and it having own popular culture.  The plays of Mahesh Dattani, hence are largely seen as being “elitist” and is often met with open hostilities in parochial universities.  As Final Solutions primarily focuses on religious relationships between both the Hindus and Muslims it challenged by many.

Dattani himself declares,

I love it when I am confronted with remarks such as ‘Your plays are  preaching to the converted. You should do final solutions in the     villages.’  Such prejudice! How can anyone be blind to their own             remarks?  Assumptions galore that citified English-speaking people are  all liberal minded and villagers are communal and bigoted.

(Dattani, Collected Plays, xi)

 

Dattani is thus well aware about the repercussions that his plays carry.  He has displayed his immense dramatic vision and skill in his play Final Solutions.  This play centrally focuses on communal tensions particularly religious anxiety set within complex human relationships and emotions. The hidden religious anger in the characters are exposed through unknown stories expressing intense freedom.

 

Right in the onset of the play Dattani makes a comment of freedom as expressed by Daksha, one of the central female characters. We see young Daksha, a newly married girl of fifteen writing her dairy reflecting her yearning of self will.  She writes, “Dear Diary, today is the first time I have dared to put my thoughts on your pages (Dattani, 165).  Daksha is thus aware that these feelings of independence might cause anxiety as she declares that ‘maybe it isn’t fair to trouble you with my sadness.’ (166)  Dattani hence propels the audiences to ponder and reflect on her condition of limited sovereignty.  The fact that she can no longer sing and is married to Hari at such a young age denies her existence of freedom so much so that  that Daksha’s being is merged into that of Hari’s as the newly born Hardika and she is rechristened.

 

While Daksha subsumes in her apparent reality, she emerges time to time again in the play, not forgetting her free will, confronting Hardika and wanting her self to rise like a phoenix from the ashes.  We see this especially in times of crisis; when Hardika is confronted with apparent fear and danger from the malicious and dangerous mob outside her house, Daksha comes forward from her soul.  It is cleverly written by Dattani as questions of Hardika which Daksha answers.

HARDIKA. Why did he do it?

DAKSHA. Oh God! Why do I have to suffer?

HARDIKA.  Didn’t he have any feelings for me?

DAKSHA.  I just wanted them to be my friends!

HARDIKA. How could be let these people into my house?

DAKSHA. Oh! I hate this world!

HARDIKA. They killed his grandfather! (Dattani, 179)

 

Religion plays a central role in the play and Hardika’s position as a Hindu woman is constantly reiterated.  Thus in one way her “class consciousness” is maintained throughout the play as being a “chaste Hindu woman.  Her husband, Hari and Father in law, Wagh, the family, whom she must respect and obey impose these conditions on her and any disobedience to them is met with severely.  Female freedom is thus being thwarted by so called religious sanction.  According to Lyn Spillman,

 

Closer to a class unconscious than to a “ class consciousness” in the  marxist sense, the sense of the position one occupies in the social space  (what goffman calls the ‘sense of ones place) is the practical mastery  of the social structure as a whole which reveals itself through the sense  of the position occupied in that structure.  The categories of perception  of the social world are essentially the product of the incorporation of  the objective structures of the social space.  Consequently they incline  agents to accept the social world as it is, to take for granted, rather than  to rebel against it, to put forward opposed and even antagonistic  possibilities.  The sense of one s place, as the sense of what one can or  cannot ‘allow oneself’, implies a tacit acceptance of one’ s position, a  sense of limits (“ that’s not meant for us) or what amounts the same  thing-  sense of distances, to be marked and maintained, respected, and  expected of others.  (Spillman,70)

 

Daksha’/Hardika’s religious and gender position is strictly maintained and her limit as a female is demarcated by the men of her household.  This is further seen    when she questions Hari about his reluctance in offering a job to Zarine’s father (her Muslim friend’s father) he gets angry with her.

 

The reason why Hari was looking at me so strangely was because I just  asked him why we couldn’t give Zarune’s father a loan or something to  start his business again…Then why did he come to our mill I         questioned Hari.  This is when for the first time Hari became angry  with me.  I never expected him so.  He shouted so loudly, he sounded  just like Wagh.  And he called me names.  Names that are too shameful  to mention to you.  My cheeks went red. (Dattani, 216)

 

Her resentment towards her husband and her agony becomes well known to the audiences as she unburdens her feelings. “He beckoned me to lie with him on the bed. And I did. And my cheeks went red again. Not with shame but with anger at myself.”  Mahesh Dattani frequently takes as his subjects, within the complicated dynamics of the modern urban family. His characters struggle for some kind of freedom and happiness, under the weight of tradition, cultural constructions of gender and repressed desire. His dramas are often played out on multi level-layers where interior and exterior identities of human subjects, especially the females, sometimes become one to defy and challenge cultural locations of India, typically seen through the collapse of religious structures.

 

In the play Final Solutions Dattani is challenging the construction of religion and its inner tension.  He is questioning the fundamentals of religion and he uses the female protagonists of the play Smita and Daksha as the focal points.  Both Smita and Daksha in their way challenge the overriding authority of religion and create a new dimension to being female and give a new meaning to female autonomy.  The actions of Daksha visiting the house of Zarine or Smita questioning her mother’s religious beliefs can be seen as creating a new aspect of tolerance.  Smita while confronting and challenging her mother asks her,

 

SMITA.  How can you expect me to be proud of something which stifles everything around it?  It stifles me! Yes! Maybe I am prejudiced  because I do not belong.  But not belonging makes things so clear.  I  can see so clearly how wrong you are.  You accuse me of running away from my religion.  Maybe I am …embarrassed mummy.  Yes  maybe I shouldn’t be.  What if I did what you do?  Praying and fasting  and…purifying myself all day.  Would you have listened to me if I told  you were wrong?  You will say yes, because you are certain I  wouldn’t say that then.  All right both are prejudiced, so what do you  want to do?  Shall we go back to sleep?

ARUNA. You said it stifles you?

SMITA. What?

ARUNA. Does being a Hindu stifle you?

SMITA. No living with one does. (Dattani, 211)

 

Dattani, through Smita creates a new category of being female and its autonomy, one who defies and tries to understand traditions in her own context.  She is one way refusing to accept a category, of being woman that her mother wants her to fit into.  Smita thus creates a new identity for herself that expresses strong freedom.  This female freedom has been well explained by Judith Butler creating new identity politics.

The premature insistence on a stable subject of feminism, understood  as a seamless category of women, inevitably generates multiple  refusals to accept the category. These domains of exclusion reveal the  coercive and regulatory consequences of that construction, even when  the construction has been elaborated for emancipatory purposes.  Indeed, the fragmentation within feminism and the paradoxical          opposition to feminism from “women” whom feminism claims to  represent suggest the necessary limits of identity politics.

(Butler 1990: 4)

 

Aruna, Smita’s mother projects the other end of the spectrum as she laments this condition of her daughter and blurts out,

 

ARUNA.  I never felt like that.  I have always taken pride in my religion.  I never felt my mother was stifling me.  I was so happy   knowing that I was protected.  I grew up listening to the stories of our   gods and how they slew the demons to protect the good people of their   land.  And I was thankful to my mother for showing me the path of   truth.  I was happy.  (Dattani, 211)

 

Anita thus represents the other spectrum of religious tolerance.  Dattani clearly shows some condescension in the representation of this character. She is seen picking up the glasses of water cautiously drunk by Javed and Bobby , the two Muslim boys who have taken refuge in her house against the marauding mob, keeping them far away from her “pure” glasses.  Dattani is well aware of the religious implications such acts carry and he declares,

 

It’s to do with my perceptions. I don’t mean to say that this is a   definitive view of life. But several of the images that we carry  around in our minds are politically generated images and we   accept them to be as true. However I don’t think so and my  characters are simply a personification of my perceptions.

                                (Nair, The Invisible Observer)  

 

Each character in the play Final Solutions carries a hidden tale within their heart that carries their religious prejudices or tolerance forward.  Ramnik, the father, of Smita, in his tolerance and sympathy for the two Muslim men wants in one way to amend his hidden past.  This concealed history of religious intolerance and violence is hoped to be altered in the present by Ramnik   He also seeks freedom from his guilt and he finally tells his mother Hardika,

 

RAMNIK (looks at her with pity) It’s their shop.  It’s the same burnt- up shop we bought from them, at half its value.

(Pause.)  And we burnt it.  Your husband.  My father.  And his father.   They had burnt it in the name of communal hatred, because we wanted  a shop.  Also they learnt that…those people were planning to start a  mill like our own.  I can’t take it any longer.  I don’t think I will be  able to step into that shop again…when those boys came here, I thought I would…I hoped I would be able to…set things right.  I-I wanted to tell them that they are not the only ones who have destroyed.   I just couldn’t.  I don’t think I have the face to tell anyone.

(Pause.)  So, it wasn’t that those people hated you.  It wasn’t false   arrogance. (A Noor Jehan song can be heard very faintly.)  It was anger.  (Dattani, 226)

 

Ramnik clearly seeks atonement to his guilty past and his tolerance of the two intruders is an amendment to the faults of his forefathers.  He hence carries this untold burdening story yearning freedom from guilt and hoping to find relief in his actions.  He thus offers Javed a job in the very shop that his father had burnt- “It will be my pleasure to give you that job.  That shop, it used to be (pause.)  Take that job please.”

 

Smita the daughter on the other hand can’t cope with her hidden love for Babban or Bobby.  Smita by this further strengthens her religious sympathies and tolerance.

 

JAVED.  So, I just wanted to ask you whether there is anything between you and Bobby –still.

SMITA.  No.  I am not making any sacrifices.  There’s nothing between us anymore.  It was just a…There  wasn’t much between us.

(ibid)

SMITA.  Oh no! Please.  Don’t say that, I won’t be able to take that kind of guilt.  But…just now you said that you loved her too.

BOBBY.  Yes, I do.  But I would be lying if…I said I had completely forgotten you.  (Dattani, 217)

 

Even though Smita suppresses her own desires one realizes that she does carry the hidden feelings of love that emerge in her interaction with Babban.  One wonders whether her tolerance and her resentment to her mother religious views stems out of this hidden love.

 

As a paradox to Daksha, Hardika’s violent bitterness to the outsiders residing in her house, encounters with her childhood friend Zarine.  As the young Daksha writes in her dairy that her visit to Zarine’s house made her anger grow towards her.  She writes,

 

Later I learnt from Kanta that Wagh and Hari had felt sorry for them  and had even offered to help them by buying their burnt up little shop.   Zarine’s father wanted much more so the resentment.  What wretched  people.  All this fuss over such a small matter.  I hate people with false  pride.  As if it is their birthright to ask for more than they deserve. Such wretched people! Horrible people!

 

Little does Daksha know the whole truth? When the reality about the fact that the shop was burnt by her father in law and husband is dawned on her, all her concealed rage is nullified.  She knows that she will live in the same guilt and shame as Ramnik’s.  This silent story that she carries hence will burden her forever, finding no release.

 

Dattani uses the female characters to emphasize the prejudice (as shown in the anger of Hardika) and the tolerance (as shown in the love of Smita) that leads to religious resentment.  He uses the female protagonists to mirror the views of society and uses their feelings and yearnings of religious freedom to reflect upon the issues of communal hatred and violence.  One is forced to ponder whether such religious resentments are baseless and whether they have any validity.  Dattani hence realizes his audiences well and establishes the whole concern of communalism in a unique way by ingeniously using the eyes of the female protagonists.

 

Readings

Dattani, Mahesh.  Collected Plays.  Penguin Books: New Delhi, 2000.

 Mahesh Dattani: The Invisible Observor“. Gentleman, May, 2001. 19th April,2004. < http://www.anitanair.net/pages/profiles-md.htm>.

 

Spillman, Lyn., Cultural Sociology NY: Blackwell Publishers, 2001.

Butler, J., Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, NY: Routledge, 1990.

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