Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Shadow of the Tiger and Other Plays - Chandrasekhar kambar

Kambar's plays have to be absorbed through the stage performances, they aren't the literary kind of plays, they are for performances, and the words and language have importance over the substance or the macro level content that one look for. Most of them aren't profound from the style and substance point of view but from the folkloric style of adaptation into the Indian context of  theater ( those familiar with Sanskrit playwrights of last millennium) while staying true to the roots of folklore and local myths with modern realities.

The collection of three plays, have these clever mix of selection. The first is an easy adaptation of the Persian classic, with the indigenous introduction and screen setting. It did not create any special interest in me as a reader, but I could visualise the original kannada version and the 'conversation' and the lyric used in the original creating an impact in the audience.  The drama, begin with a setting of Ganesha Festival with a boy stealing the 'laddoos' kept for the lord in the play to be enacted, and brilliantly easing his way to the Persian Alibaba and 40 thieves. Ganesha the God , who had hidden large number of laddoos under his 'cloak' is kidnapped by the leader of the thief and switching the plot from here shifts to Alibaba, and a clever closure with the reappearance of Ganesha in the end, mixing Indian myths to the Arabian tale.

The second, which carry the title of the book is an outstanding play. Playing along the thin line of 'truth and deception' he create an atmosphere of magically build up realism. This by far is the best play of the collection. The village chief, decides to go and capture the tiger that causes havoc in the lives of his village folks. Despite the warning of the stars, the anxiety of his wife who had a bad dream, the offer of his son to accompany and support him, against all bad omen, he set forth to lead the expedition ( . However, the failed attempt gets him lost in the wild separated from his supporters. However, he returns magically to the village, claiming to have killed the tiger whose carcass he supposed to have disposed off at an abandoned well in the forest. He ban his followers to go and look for it as ill fortune is sure to befall on them if anyone dared to go and peep inside.  Kambar, writes :

         Gowda returned after everyone else.
          He was tired.
          He had come carrying something on his back.
          The hunted tiger, we said, perhaps.
          Or perhaps not, we felt.
          For into the disused well outside the village
          He threw it and came.
          Not a call of a horn
          Nor band and music!
          It wasn't as if the tiger was hunted
          Nor as if it hadn't been.
          He's got in like a thief
          And we accepted him as such.

However, the situation in the village change drastically post the event. The idol of the village goddess is found split into half and other misfortune one after other befall on the villagers. An old lady , incarnation of the goddess herself possibly,  unveil the 'vision of the reality' to the son of the chief. The 'demon'ic influence in the life of the villagers is represented through the Chief himself, who is now under the influence of the devil ( the devil himself is come in the chief's body after killing and dumping him in the forest well). Chief's son, who is now entrusted to clear the air, is as confused as the rest  'Now everything appears to be split into two. I am seeing two of myself. How can I put both truths to test?...What is truth? Which is false?' . It is here the mastery of the writer comes out in open. Brilliantly traversing between illusion and reality, he creates an ambience with his magnificent wordplay, lifting the reading experience to a higher level. And in that context, this lift itself above the Kannada proximity to a larger global relevance.

Thukra's dream, takes us to the days of British Raj. Symbolically representing the nameless, wordless millions of India, all Thukra has in control is his dreams, but in reality he is forced to suffer and in the end face death. As the resources of the land is held under the control of the wealthy, and the authorities are hand-in glow with those with money and power, poor Thukra and the likes has one one way forward. To rebel, and use the identity of the rebellious folks elsewhere to their own. But before doing this, he tries to escape the land of his misdeeds, and tried to be par with the land lord, by travelling far and wide to Bangalore, attempting a few jobs and more thefts. But on return he realises that the hands of the mighty is stronger and his attempt to equal them is only short lived. In an interesting tragi-comic narrative, often bordering the silliness, it leaves a lasting impact in the end.

I write. In writing I build what I feel. My feelings are my experiences and I build with words, which are stories, pictures, pieces of tales, all off of which have been part of my experiences" says Kambar in his foreword to the  book. His plays are part of the same process of "relate to environment both in time and space,  through  stories, the fantasies, the images". Neither his characters not his plays are for the upper segment of the society. They seems to be aligning with the common man, the non pretentious , those in his words 'he celebrate'. To me, reading this in Kannada and seeing it in Kannada will have much more deeper impact on me. Having said that the efforts in translation is commendable, despite few unevenness one observe as we read on. Interestingly, each play is translated by different person(s), and probably that was one reason of the unevenness.

The Shadow of the Tiger and Other Plays( 1980 / 984/ 1991)

Chandrasekhar Kambar ( translated from Kannada by Sandhya S, Padma Ramachandra Sharma ,O L Nagabhushana Swamy  in 1999)

Seagull Books

162 Pages
C K Meena, Purushothama Billimale

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