Jaat hi Poocho Sadhu ki
The play is a stinging social critique of the state’s avowed aim of only allowing higher education being run on not for profit, yet indirectly promoting all pervasive profiteering, power broking and power perpetuation of socially powerful caste groups and associations.
Must credit genius of Vijay Tendulkar for writing this play with which even in the current context, crowd continues to find easy identification and that too for over four decades. Play’s title is an easy giveaway; it portrays all pervasive presence of caste connecting consciousness, so much so that an Indian can’t resist probing, beyond pretentious behavioural façade, the caste of even a sadhu (saint)! Famous sociologist Louis Dumont (Homo Hierarchichus) had stated Sadhus to be sole exception in caste system categorization.
It is not difficult to find parallel of play’s plotlines to India’s day to day social-cultural reality. Some examples: post -independence, still every rural youth yearns for a college degree and a dream job, migration and changed city lifestyle; return to harsh real life struggles in finding a job on merit and if found, find Caste Associations running educational institutions with caste affiliations of teachers and taught; teacher’s life spent more on managing interpersonal interaction, intractable ego issues than academics; managing and surviving daily with rural bumpkin’s smartness rather than with educated man’s demeanour and manners; grappling with usual management and teachers’ provincial town machinations and outdoing/outsmarting each other; dumping merit/qualifications in favour of kin/caste links in teachers employment; non regulated expansion of educational institutions through not-for- profit family Trusts route; Management and local politician running colleges as family fiefdoms; rural matrix of power and gender domination functioning in microcosm form in educational institution; in non-co-educational rural colleges, students’ lives spent more in politicking, drugs, drinking, debauchery, celebration and huddhangbaazi; protagonist (Mahipat) resorting to bravado to outsmart, outdrink and outdo all colleagues and students ;and whole system caught into an endless self-fulfilling spiral of self-perpetuation, specially in cow belt, with education goal subordinated to something else.
The tale of Indian educational system is becoming timeless and sans spatial context. Barring a handful, one finds these elements not only in rural educational institutions but in urban and metropolitan ones too. Even Shri Lal Shukla’s magnum opus ‘Raag Darbari (1968) in similar satirical style, described functioning of rural intermediate college in similar tones and terms (favouritism/nepotism/caste continuation, solidification of social stratification).
The whole play is carried on exceptional acting prowess of main protagonist Mahipat (Shubam Pareek) who brilliantly switches in seconds between his dual role as a narrator (sutradahaar) and the main actor; and too with flawless near perfect modulations in speech and manners. And imagine there is no luxury of retake on stage. He spends nearly two full hours on stage figuring in virtually every scene. (he would have done that twice in two shows on weekend- Bravo man bravo). Suresh Sharma as village feudal lord, lording over the college and countryside, with a slinging rifle, is impressive too. Actress enacting the role of a countryside demure girl Nalini is great as well; so is the actress enacting role of Putna Mausi with protruding eyes and weighty mannerisms. Actor playing as Babna as a country urchin is amazing too.
Set design is rather simple with two facades with doors and windows and few wooden boxes to sit. Verbose dialogues are in keeping with the countryside communication styles and flavor and have all familiar famous expletives thrown in for real rural effect.
The play is a stinging social critique of the State’s avowed aim of only allowing higher education being run on not for profit, yet indirectly promoting all pervasive profiteering, power broking and power perpetuation of socially powerful caste groups and associations. The play is a comment on the system for reflection. It doesn’t argue for systems’ overhaul or overthrowing.