and The Black Monkey
April 23, 2006
Rivers flow through the heart of India throbbing with stories that they have witnessed. Rivers carry the rich silt of our memories that leave traces in some places. Rivers pulse through India, from literature to metaphysics.
The river Neela is an artery of Kerala. Neela is linked inexorably to its history, legend, and myth; to its traditions, songs, and stories; to its hopes and fears; triumphs and travails.
Rajakan by Nadam Communications recreates a bygone era on the banks of Neela. It is a dark chapter of her history. Social segregation on the line of caste and clan was the custom. Feudal lords ruled ruthlessly sacrificing humans in the name of dharma. Blood flowed before deities under dark trees. Women were cast away on silly reasons. Patriarchy was the norm. Here wandered through villages, a low-caste woman united to a Brahmin by fate. From them were born 12 children. The cast-away infants found their way to the 12 clans of Kerala. They grew into legends; left myths behind them. United by blood, from Brahmin to Parayya, they weave the warp and woof of literary Kerala even today.
Rajakan, one of the legendary heroes, belonged to the clan of dhobis. He dared to accept a discarded upper class woman in the name of love. Exile brought them to another village where her child grew up as the endearing daughter of the adopted father. Meanwhile his scattered siblings, now exceptional men of progressive thinking, know their common inheritance. Twenty years flitted past. The story picks up from here.
Rajakan is presented as the symbol of those who remove the dirt and stain of the arrogant and the powerful. The incessant flow of life has revealed untold stories in eddies. Rajakan, grown old in wisdom, dares to shelter a young rebel. For, life has shown him that rebellion is the outlet of the oppressed; that humanity asserts itself in upheavals.
But the wily upper-classes unite to use women as their tool to divide and kill. Somewhere the play crosses the bounds of time to be a metaphor, a timeless tale of human woes. Rajakanís brother, a wandering bard, reaches the village to partake in an endless drama and to record the hapless event in human memory. Songs reverberate in the air; songs are the archives of history handed over by word of mouth.
experimental format, the theatre is resourceful, inventive and alive with
indigenous music on the primeval percussion instrument of Kerala. It has
all the elements of drama: story telling, native beat, home-grown costume,
and a vigor that is innate in human nobility. Reworking a familiar legend,
the play gives a different reading-that the suppressed unite to rebel against
age-old oppression is an eternal situation. The play holds a mirror to
contemporary social wrongs with a sense of history behind it: caste prejudices,
social tensions, infidelity, sexual harassment are woven into the story
without being out of place. Yet the play ends on a note of hope.
Those who are born to wash the stains of wrongs, resurrect. History repeats
herself: the triumph of the tragic may be a contradiction, but true.
Parents, over-ambitious for their children, stretch themselves beyond their financial means. They often overlook the capabilities of their children. Coupled with their insensitivity, the system caters to the rich in a democratic setup. Strong religious divide is another force that makes a mockery of the value system. In short the stage production condemns the march of society towards regression, with its central image of an ape.
The drama opens with a TV interview that projects a model couple. Suddenly, they start quarrelling on the set, defeating the very purpose of the TV feature. Satheesh and Lissy, who rent their autorikshaws represent the lower middleclass in Kerala. They belong to two religions: fell in love; dared to marry; happily raise their only daughter. Sali is a bright girl doing her +2. The parents have high hopes. Yet they fear her youth that might deviate her from studies. In their anxiety, they decide to quarrel endlessly to thwart their daughter from falling in love. Such is the obsession of parents that they crush the vitality of youth.
The family lives in a room rented by the owner of a Nalukettu, the traditional Kerala house. Here Sali and her landlord share an endearing relationship, idealizing fatherhood, rarely dramatized on stage.
Here comes another family of street vendors who sell a well-known Ayurvedic tonic Karinkurangu Rasayanam. For publicity they have a large black monkey that dances to their rhythmic beats. The family wanders from place to place carrying a fluid religious identity, for business thrives on a religious base. It is the ironic revelation of what happens in our civil society, perhaps all over the world, in the name of ethnicity. In fact the monkey is a youth, a perfect friend for Sali. Her parents become anxious.
Soon we find
a tired father in search for his lost son. The plot thickens- we see the
bewildered surrogate parents; the youth hints of his orphaned childhood
in an aside. Another character, a teacher-turned- goon, identifies the
youth as Nirmaldas.
Meanwhile Sali gets high marks in her exam and her parents decide to send her to a self financing college. When the sensible girl says such things are not meant for the low-income group, her parents in their folly sell their vehicle and the little gold they have to pack her off to college. Obviously she could not pay her fees the following month.
The Nalukettu is lost in a legal tangle. The father who lost his son realizes why he lost him. In their callous selfishness to see him climb up in studies and in extra curricular activities, they drove their son away from his home and from them. Debt-ridden, their bread-winning auto lost, the parents of Sali watch their daughter prancing in the streets for a livelihood in the form of a black monkey.
The message is, a child needs childhood, the youth needs friendship. Love is a natural urge on which human relations are built. In a blind race for acquisition we lose our home and our children. And social progress takes a beating. The government has failed in its mission of furthering literacy, investing in education, and tapping the human potential is the message.
script, painted in dark hues, lacks refinement because of over- acting.
The hangover of socialist ideology is perhaps typical of Kerala. Yet the
stage effects, music and songs are its marked features.
Padma Jayaraj is a regular contributor to narthaki.com