The Trial between the humanists and the anti-humanists in Vijay Tendulkar's play
'Silence! The court is in Session'.
Vijay Tendulkar (1928-2008) emerged as a rebel against the established values of a fundamently orthodox society with the production of Shantata! court chalu Ahe (Silence! The court is in session) in 1967, he became the centre of controversy.
This drama presents a metaphorical trial between the humanists and the anti-humanists. 'Silence! The court is in Session' is in reality a mock trial of simple and straightforward school teacher Miss Leela Benare. She is cross-examined in the court with full mockery. She is charged with infanticide and having illicit relations with a married person Professor Damle and in this way her private life is exposed. All the other characters like witnesses Mr. Gopal Ponkshe. Mr. Karnik Rokde, Samant, counsel for the Defence and counsel for the crown Mr. Sukhatme and judge, Mr. Kashikar and his wife Mrs. Kashikar all behave in a way of mockery.
Miss Leela Benare is summoned merely as a witness while Miss Benare remains the prime accused as the mother of an illegitimate child and having illicit relations with so many persons. As the trial go on all the witnesses and authorities become inimical towards Miss Leela Benare. On the charge of unmarried motherhood and having illicit relations with so many persons, the judge, Mr. Kashikar orders the school authorities to dismiss such an immoral woman. Miss Leela Benare tried to defend herself through a long soliloquy. "The parrot to the sparrow said, "Why, of why, are your eyes so red?" Oh, my dear friend, what shall I say/" Someone has stolen my nest away. Sparrow, sparrow, poor little sparrow 'oh brother crow, oh, brother crow. Were you there? Did you see it go?" No, I don't know I didn't see, what are you troubles to do with me? O sparrow, sparrow, poor little sparrow."
The jury of the Sangeet Natak Akademi refused to accept "Silence! The court is in session" as a play because they were stuffed with colonial hang ups and they considered themselves to be consumers in the entertainment market. Maharjas promoting Indian art and culture in their private dance, halls. Vijay Tendulkar, while refusing to conform to such norms of complacency, imposes his own authorial power which is accepted by themoney magnets as a trivial, non serious activity.
Tendulkar's this play is based on the theme of power, its sources and manifestation. The characters fight for authority and power and try to trap each other through a metaphorical mock-court. But peculiarly, the power, play that underscores the games operates more through the monologues rather than through the dialogues. The play oscillates between theatricalization of private life and privatization of theatrical performance. Leela's position within the game of the mock-trial is not steady she oscillates between reality and illussion and the imaginative and the mundane. While performing the role of a woman in the group, she transcends the limitations of verbal reasoning and tries to spy into the masculine strategies. The charges against Leela Benare are levelled by evidences of reality that mark out the boundaries what might be called the collective mindscape, the limits of same experience.
Leela differs as to the best way to break loose from this enslavement to collective prejudice, but she believes that truth and reality are achieved only when reality is approached in nakedness of mind. Leela's argument against body and its mechanical connections and her discourse of emotion saves her from dehumanization. Her statement in the last monologue also reminds one of Theodre Rozak's observation quoted by charles Frankel, "Our proud, presumptuous head speaks one language our body another- a silent, arcane language. Our head experiences in the mode of number, logic, mechanical connection, our body in the process of fluid process intuitive adaptition, it says to an inner purposive rhythm--" (Frankel:70)
Vijay Tendulkar again and again mentions society and social customs by his characters. Miss Benare has the charge of infanticide. Mr. Kashikar, the judge enquires Sukhatme, "Did you notice also, Sukhatme, that this charge is important from the social point of view? The question of infanticide is one of great social significance. That is why I deliberately picked it. We consider society's best interests in all we do." Miss Benare, the heroime of the play, is a school teacher. She is totally devoted to her profession and her popularity has caused the envy of her colleagues at school and even the school management. Initially, when Leela Benare narrates her life in the school with children, she transforms the empty scenic space of the prosceneum, stage into a school situation.
Leela's acting changes the dialogic narration into live performance and with that the empty space transforms into a new mimetic space. The characters go back to a changed context and situation. Leela becomes the teacher and other performers become children: Benare: (suddenly expansive) shall I tell you a story? children be seated. There was once a wolf ---" (P9). As the game of transformation begins the other performers voluenteer to participate in the process. Balu Rokde, the youngest of the actors, says, "Rokde: (suddenly sitting down cross legged) Do tell it miss sit down, Mr. Sukhatme. Ponkshe, Sit down." (P-10)
In the court Miss Benare's crimes of infanticide and illegitimate motherhood is established by the prosecution as crimes against society. To Sukhatme Kashikar says "This case has great social significance, Sukhatme, No joking! I must put aside the practice of court and give evidence." (P92) The public prosecutor Sukhatme clarifies that motherhood is sacred and a mother bears the responsibility of bearing her child unmindful of her own difficulties and Miss Benare has brought shame to the holy mothershood by her conduct.
"The woman who is an accussed has made a heinous blot on the sacred brow of motherhood- which is purer than heaven itself. For that, any punishment, however great, that the law may give her, will be too mild by far. The character of the accused is appalling. It is bankrupt of morality. Not only that Her conduct has blackened all social and moral values. The accused is public enemy number one. If such socially destructive tendencies are encourraged to flourish, this country and its culture will be totally destroyed." (P-115)
Sukhatme further clarifies his point "Infanticide is a dreadful act, but buinging an illegetimate child is horrifying. If it is encouraged, there will no such thing as the institution of marriage. Immorality will flourish. Before, our eyes, our beautiful dream of a society, governed by tradition will crumble into dust." (P-115). It is through his characters that Vijay Tendulkar expresses his deep concern about motherhood, morality, society, traditions and our religion. The judge Mr. Kashikar defends social customs while giving judgement on Miss Benare's case "Prisoner Miss Benare, pay the closest attention. The crimes you have committed are most terrible. There is no forgiveness for them, your sin must be expiated. Irresponsibility must be chaimed down." (P-118). The judge expresses his views on motherhood thus.
"Motherhood must be sacred and pure. This court takes a serious view of your attempt to dynamite all this... The morality, which you have shown through your conduct is the morality you are planning to impart to the youth of tomorrow." (P-119)
The judge pronounce his final judgement thus, "Neither you nor anyone else should ever do anything like this again. No moments of your sin should remain for future generations. Therefore this court hereby sentences that you shall live. But the child in your womb shall be destroyed." (P-119). Although Miss Leela Benare says that society has no right to interfere with her private right liberties but inspite of that she can not totally shy away from her responsibility. Vijay Tendulkar has developed the central character of Miss Benare through the contents of a beautiful poem by Mrs. Shirish Pai. Miss Benare is very frank in giving a fitting reply to the charges levelled against her in the court. She tells the judge that life is a very dreadful thing and life must be hanged.
"Na jievan Jeevanmarhati 'Life is no worthy of life. Hold an enquiry against life. Sack it from its job, But why? Why? Was I slack in my work? Ijust put my whole life into working with children." (P-119).
To conclude Vijay Tendulkar has presented the trial between the humanists and the anti-humanists in his play "Silence! The court is in session".
1. Berne, Eric: Games People Play 1964 Grove Press Inc. New york rpt. 1983. Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd. New Delhi.
2. Hutchins on, Peter: Games Authors play 1983. Methuen. Lond on and Newyork.
3. Mehta, Kumud: "Introduction" Silence! The court is in session. Vijay Tendulkar, 1978 Oxford university press, Delhi.
4. Tendulkar, Vijay: Silence! The court is in session 1978 Oxford University Press, Delhi. All subsequent references are marked by page number only