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Rampant corrupt politics and disintegrated familial relations as core concerns in Satish Alekar’s Dynasts (Pidhijat)


The renowned Marathi playwright Satish Alekar’s masterpiece, Dynasts (Pidhijat), originally written in Marathi and translated into English by Pramod Kale, stands at the acme of dramatic excellence in context of subject-matter and thematic concerns. Through this master-stroke written in 2003, Alekar has violently attacked and exposed vehemently the omnipresent corrupt practices prevalent in Indian politics and degeneration of moral values in the families with political background. Radha, a married woman and mother of Ashutosh (Ashu), is in extra-marital relationship with one budding, ambitious, bachelor, OBC politician Mahadev who is swiftly ascending the success ladder of position in the party politics. She deserts her domestic responsibilities as a wife and also as a mother and enjoys the company of Mahadev under different pretexts. Fascinated by the life-style of glamorous Bollywood actresses, she longs to lead lavish life like them. Ashu is preparing for his board exam for his higher secondary schooling and he is a victim of the exam stress on one hand and tender adolescent attraction for Alaka, his classmate, on the other. He is rather bewildered by the corruption around him. There are frequent references to the corrupt political practices and disintegrated familial relationship among the members of a family throughout the play. Radha’s husband is completely oblivious of Radha’s affair with Mahadev or at least he feigns to be so. The deceased Grandfather of Ashu observes these happenings and deeply grieved by it, he emerges out of his photograph on the eve of his twenty fifth death anniversary. He fails in setting order in the family and returns grief-stricken. Dynasts (Pidhijat) is a superb absurd drama presenting the stark and dark realities of modern human life with a touch of scathing satire.

Key Words: Pidhijat, Dynasts, degeneration of values, political hegemony, dark comedy, rampant politics, life of compromises

The technical advancement, growing competition and uncontrollable global forces have not only impacted the pace of human life but they also have caused wide-spread degeneration to every single aspect of human life. Be it standards of living, ecological balance, dilution of quality norms, ethical values, thought processes or even human relationship. The wide-spread damage caused is irreparable and the dimensions of life are greatly affected beyond any hope of resilience. The age-old purity and transparency of Indian value system have been pushed to periphery and the selfish motives have acquired center stage. This is to the extent that the even the most intimate conjugal relationship of husband and wife is also not the exception.

Satish Alekar forms a powerful trinity on the literary scene of Marathi drama with Vijay Tendulkar and Mahesh Elkunchwar. One can easily trace innumerable parallels among them in the structural aspects of drama in terms of themes, plot, style, dialogue and even characters in the works of all the three stalwarts. Belonging to the new breed of modern Marathi brigade, these playwrights, through their experimental theatre, have set impressive benchmarks of experimental theatre for the next generation of playwrights to follow in order to take the regional Marathi drama to the next level of excellence. The mettle of their playwriting skill is reflected in the fact that their plays have been most widely performed in Marathi and other Indian languages. Many of their dramatic works have been translated into English to impart them global exposure. This is indicative of the fact that however local in setting and stage craft, their works are highly universal in the treatment of the subject-matter.

Satish Alekar has contributed substantially to Indian theatre with his absurdist presentation of plays coupled with black humour, satire and circuitous depiction of reality. He is known for his plays: Mahanirvan, Mahapoor, Atirekee, Pidhijat, Begum Barve and Mickey and Memsahib. He has mingled colloquialism and traditional theatrical practices of Maharashtra. Inspired by Diwakar (Shankar Kashinath Garge (1889-1931), Alekar employed Natyachhata (dramatic monologues) to project issues related to social customs, women, politics and colonial bureaucracy with touches of dark comedy and cynicism.

Born on 30th January, 1949 and a biochemist by qualification, Satish Alekar has haunting memories of 1961 flood caused by crumbling of Panshet dam on Mutha river in Pune and he considers the pseudo-development and corrupt political practices to be the sole reason for today’s chaotic living conditions in India. He strongly believes that the flood of Pune affected the city culturally as well as socially. The values system nurtured within wadas crumbled and the city became vulnerable to the rapid urbanization and industrialization. The virtues like neighbourliness, national pride, tolerance and natural ethicality started vanishing giving way to selfish motives, generation gap, corruption, political anarchy, disregard for ethical values and so on. He expresses his anguish in the following words during his interview with Samik Bandopadhyay:
The city fell to the mercy of the corporators from all political parties who have created havoc … Development means some flashiness here, with multiplexes coming up, but you can’t walk through the city. When a city is physically destroyed, its value system naturally crumbles…
… Every playwright has his own city in mind. And he develops his own city, depending on what is happening in the sociopolitical scenario. (3-4)

A celebrated theatre artist and a playwright, Aleker has very clear ideas about a playwright and playwriting. His ideas on this, presented in his interview with Reema Gehi of Hindustan Times, are greatly useful in understanding his theatrical talent and his critical bent of mind.

There is no codification. Art has to be inherent. It has to grow from within. A dancer must know his/her rhythm; a singer must know his/her notes. Likewise, a playwright must be aware of his /her mindscape. The craft has to be susceptible … Why I write plays, is that I wish to write about "truth" as I see it in relationships, society and values. I don't write realistic plays. I adopt devices, which are realistic. To me, theatre is make-believe. Plays don't have to be preachy. I want the audience to take home with them something, the play must linger in their mind, otherwise there is no purpose … it's futile (Alekar, 2009).

Alekar acquired the technical know-how of dramatic art from celebrated playwrights of the day. He is greatly influenced and has very high regard for some of the notable playwrights and pays them due respect in the same interview with Reema Gehi in the following words:
Undoubtedly, Vijay Tendulkar, Girish Karnad, Mohan Rakesh and Badal Sarcar are great playwrights. Their plays have deeply influenced the shape of my thinking. Tendulkar inspired me to take the pen (Alekar 2009).

Being a social animal, human being cannot live is isolation. The innate desire of being with someone like him/her is at the core of human existence. This is what we call relationship and this relationship is named as father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, friend, grandparents, grandchildren and so on. But, of all the most distinct relationship is that of husband and wife. This relationship comes into being when two completely unknown humans agree to live with each other for the rest of their life through marriage. In the context of man –woman relationship, D. H. Lawrence, a renowned English novelist of Victorian era, says, “The great relationship for humanity will always be the relationship between man and woman” (130).

The view of David Knox is also equally pertinent in the context of man-woman relationship. He says, “Marriage is a social relationship in which two adults of the opposite sex make an emotional and legal commitment to live together.” (5)

But, in present times of fast-paced development, the dimensions of husband-wife relationship have completely changed. Alekar has lambasted the fake intimacy in so called husband-wife relationship in a sardonic manner in many of his plays. Sometimes his attack is so powerful that it reverberates to the deepest layer of a conscientious reader’s heart.

The opening scene of the drama Pidhijat is suggestive of the two most significant thematic concerns of the play: corruption and moral as well as social degeneration. Radha, a married woman, is shown with Mahadev, an unmarried politician with whom she is in clandestine relationship. She is sipping from the can of imported beer in a bar. Alekar has artistically used the stage device showing a bar and a room of a home side by side. A framed photograph of Radha’s father-in-law is shown hanging on the wall of the adjoining room. Radha babbles under the spell of intoxication that however they are financially rolling into prosperity, she is in stress because of various tensions: her husband’s job, her son’s study and her extra-marital relationship with Mahadev. She wishes to secure admission for her son through Mahadev once he is in Cabinet. She introduces herself in the following words:
RADHA: … Let me introduce myself. Married woman. Caste Brahmin, Husband government employee and politician. Fund raiser and treasurer for his party. Lots of money on hand. All cash. More than needed. Ashutosh, our only son, is deep into his studies for the dreaded Board exam of High School graduation … I have all the time in the world. Lots of free hours to watch closely all our Hindi movie-screen goddesses hour after hour…I began to crave for fulfillment beyond the confines of marriage. And at this point, Mahadev, you entered my life...Oh! These worries! ... My son’s tensions for the Board Exam, my husband’s tensions balancing his government job and political responsibilities. And to add to all this the tension of my friendship with you!... (CP: 234)

This introduction is self-sufficient to portray Radha’s character, longings and cravings. Her greed for prosperity, incestuous character and snobbish nature are beautifully presented merely in this one dialogue. The fact that, ‘everyone today is leading the life of compromises’, is nicely presented in this scene by the dramatist. Mahadev’s political ambition comes to fore when he reveals that he remained bachelor for his party as his party would be in power soon when he is to secure his place in the cabinet ministry. Mahadev met Radha’s hubands in the jail during emergency and became his bosom friend. Both of them later joined active politics. Through the triangular relationship of Mahadev, Radha and her husband, Alekar has presented the changed dimension of husband-wife relationship in modern times.

During the same conversation, when Mahadev objects to Radha’s drinking, as it is against his political ideology, Radha very aptly remarks:
RADHA: What ideology? Which party has it? There are only two parties left now. Those in power and those out. I have seen them all. All your parties and party workers. The same hunger in their eyes. You … I thought you were different … once you even gave me a gift during Diwali as my adopted brother … Later on you realized your mistake. Our parallel relationship continued. (CP: 236)

Radha uses the word ‘hunger’ which signals the core agenda of politicians which is to satisfy their all sorts of desires – political as well as physical. Mahadev, a member of the same dynasty, has a very strange notion of man-woman relationship.

MAHADEV: … Relationship between man and woman should lead to marriage. That’s the age-old custom. It’s not always followed, is it? ... And who the hell doesn’t cheat? ... Love, feelings, emotions, are all incidental, that lost out long ago to the uncluttered biological need and impulse of the moment. (CP: 237)

In the next scene of first act, a very strange conversation takes place between Ashutosh (hereinafter ‘Ashu’) and his father. Although Radha is not home, he does not mind her absence but, the conversation between Ashu and his father shows a very strange facet of husband-wife relation.

FATHER: She must have said something. She must have given some reason for going out. As a matter of fact she should get a printout of all these reasons. Well, what is the reason for tonight? (CP: 244)

Children are very innocent and remain silent but, they observe every trick and the deeds of the people around them. Ashu knows about the corrupt practices of his father and hints to that at several junctures in the course of the drama.

ASHUTOSH: ...Daddy, all this is yours! This house, this gold … Daddy dear! Look at me. Don’t look so downcast like a tenant in your house … This gold-where it comes from? Not from your government salary. Tell me. Are you corrupt? You gobble money? Tell me ... How do you make this money? (CP: 246)

Alekar has covered a wide spectrum of themes on the canvas of his plays. The education system and legal system are presented as play toys in the hands of the politicians. The laws are interpreted by the politicians in their favour by hiring talented lawyers. Even the bureaucrats work for the politicians and frame policies that keep their masters (ministers) in limelight. The state of affairs in education is also chaotic. Writ petitions and admission procedure in professional courses happening at snail’s pace delay the admissions and spoil the bright career of talented youngsters.

One more conspicuous thing in the play is ‘hush-.hush’ (Gupchup) – something that is done secretly. Everyone in politics or otherwise is fully aware of what others are doing for they follow the principle ‘ignorance is a bliss’. They connive at the doings and secrets of each other. The political parties accept donations (party fund) from everyone for offering appointment on some lucrative post or for transfer or even for assigning contracts for bulk purchase of some essential commodity or infrastructural development. Ashu’s father is a fund raiser for the party. This comes to fore in the conversation of Ashu and his father in the second scene of first act. Corruption used to be in the veins of the politicians but, now it has entered their DNA. It is next to impossible to eradicate it from the system.

FATHER: ... Let not your right hand know what the left hand is doing…everything hush-hush. Everything Gupchup … Throw us anywhere, we will land on our feet … we will find loopholes, interpret legalities, everything quietly-without any noise Gupchup, Gupchup.

… Irrigation Department! Man, no better place! Pure luxury! Cement-cement is the mantra. I made a lot in Antule’s time. Your mother’s necklace dates back to those days … Sarvadharma samabhava in action! Secularism is the key.

Transfers!...Transfers of police officers. Funds for the Party and for us too. Our farmhouse near Sinhagad dates back to that time…There is a constant stream of corruption flowing between the Minister and the Secretary of the Department … Cup your hands, scoop enough water for yourself and divert the stream to the party … (CP: 254)

Alekar has conveyed that corrupt politicians have a nexus and network. They never get caught and if so, they disown everyone and everything. There is no fear of law or any sort anti-corruption agencies.

The grandfather of Ashu grows unhappy and worried to see the state of affairs in his family and emerges from the photograph. When Ashu asks him the reason of his appearance, he answers in a lofty tone of incantation from the Bhagavad-Gita. He says, “Wherever Dharma falls into a stupor and immorality prevails, I reincarnate myself to come back in every age to uphold the moral order” (CP: 256).

Grandfather (Appa) means to say that he has come to set the moral order as immorality is ruling over morality. Appa says that he is particularly interested in meeting his daughter-in-law Radha. He meets Radha in the guise of a waiter in the bar. The forgotten traditions are beautifully satirized by Alekar in the words of Appa when he says, “… So I came to see her … when you first see her face it should be with gift of coconut and blouse piece. Well, instead I brought this can of beer” (CP: 259).

The conversation between Radha and her husband in the next scene reveals many unexplored facets of their conjugal relationship. They do not interfere in the private affairs of each other. Each one seems free to do what each one likes. Their relationship seems too informal.

FATHER (bursting out): Certainly. No discussion! No frustration. No anger. No conflict. No consensus!
No acceptance! No resistance. No feeling! No vitality!
RADHA: Long ago, I had put up a warning sign! … But the warning sign was wiped out by the flow of funds…Our relationship got tangled in it … My wedding necklace stretched itself shapeless … (CP: 262)

Radha’s husband expresses his mistake of letting Radha move freely and not controlling her at appropriate time. The dimension of the relationship between Ashu and his grandfather is also presented in worth-appreciating style. Ashu answers every query of the Appa very innocently without hiding any material fact whether it concerns the jewelry, his tender relationship with his classmate Alaka, his mother, her relationship with Mahadev, his father’s corrupt practices, his father’s habit of drinking wine in his (Ashu’s) presence and so on. He is longing for parental love, care and concern but, he gets none.

Ashu is equally innocent and frank with his father. He requests him to teach him the dynamics of corruption and refers to it as ‘sacred source of corruption’. He very frankly admits to his father that he and his friends have formed a club of the children whose parents are corrupt and they discuss various techniques how more and more corrupt practices can be committed!

Grandpa is shocked to witness the paradigm shift in the ways of leading after his death. Alekar has very cleverly presented generation gap and the changed ways of thinking. As Ashu inquires of his father, similarly Ashu’s father torments grandpa (his father). He does not allow grandpa either to interfere in his family affairs or even in his ways of making money. On the contrary, he counter attacks grandpa by accusing him of having illicit relationship with a lady named Malatibai in his school. The following words of Ashu’s father are remarkable to understand how greatly life has changed!

FATHER: we are not drowning in these waters…We dive, we dip. We get wet. But, we don’t drown! On the bank, fresh clothes are ready-cleaned and ironed. If you think there are any regrets, that phase went off with your generation…we organized a system of law where each clause and subclause will yield money … (CP: 274)

Alekar has portrayed a very poignant picture of the journey from traditional to modernity. What we call advancement is, in fact, degeneration of values, of relations, of thought processes and also of mental peace. The advancement has brought to us stress in the guise of luxury. We have not cured diseases but, have invited innumerable reasons to cause death. If technology makes life restless, what sort of technology is this? No one has time to eat the food, take the rest or share the feelings. Alekar’s vision is marked by the following words of Ashu’s father:

FATHER: Bravo! What a question? Who in this world is happy? ... Appa, all these things are relative- depends on the individual!

… Your point of view is one, ours is another … Cataract in forties, blood pressure and angioplasty in our fifties or bypass! ... Go and stand by our newly built super highway. Watch the accidents. The driver dozes at the wheel after sleepless night’s driving-loses control and the highway bathes in blood. (CP: 275)

In the end of the play, Alaka brings gun license for Ashu! Grandpa returns to his photo-frame crying. The family pays tribute to the grandfather on his twenty fifth death anniversary. Alka takes a family pic. Mahadev is being administered his oath of office and secrecy as a minister.

There are recurrent reference to corrupt political practices, religious groups, campaigns of public outrage and communal violence in the play, which are part and parcel of mundane life in India. Alekar has specially covered some well-known episodes of Indian politics like violence following Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination in 1948, Clause 370, Babri mosque demolition, dreadful years following imposition of emergency, riots and violence following Mandal commission, a series of scams and other political upheavals at very appropriate junctures to reinforce his message through the play. Alekar has succeeded in getting the following messages across, loud and clear, covering the trajectory from corrupt politics to disintegrated familial relationship.

• Small party workers use their participation in protest campaigns to leverage their position in politics and for making money.
• Reservation is exploited by politicians to achieve their political mileage and win mandate.
• Politicians are power mongers who use their power and position for their selfish motives and they assign top priority to their political motives than to their moral duties as public servant.
• Public sentiments pertaining to religion are extensively exploited by the politicians for their own benefit rather than for striking communal harmony.
• Illicit sexual relationship of the politicians with opposite gender is very common and we hear of this almost every day.
• Today everyone is destined to lead life of compromises be it life-style, hobbies, career or even social relationship.
• Modernity has harmed us more than has benefitted.

To sum up, it can be said that the dynastic supremacy lurks in the play through the unreal appearance of grandfather who comes to set the order in the disintegrated family but, returns disappointed. Dynansts (Pidhijat), as an absurd black comedy, charts its own identity as a play delineating rampant multilayered corruption in Indian politics and disintegrated relationship in the families with political background.

Works Cited :::

  1. Alekar, Satish. “Theatre Gupshup”. Interview by Reema Gehi. Mumbai Theatre Guide. Web. n.d. Accessed 15 Dec. 2018.
  2. Bandopadhyay, Samik. Introduction. Collected Plays of Satish Alekar. New Delhi: OUP, 2010. 3-15. Print.
  3. Knox, David H. Exploring Marriage and the Family. Pennsylvania: Foresman Scott, 1979. Print.
  4. Lawrence, D. H. “Morality and the Novel”, 20th Century Criticism, Ed. David Lodge. London: Longman, 1972. Print.

Unnat Patel, Assistant Professor and Head, Department of English, U. V. Patel College of Engineering, Ganpat University, Ganpat Vidyanagar-384 012