Evocative and illuminating, Bhanu Bharti’s play examines Gandhi’s sense of alienation and isolation during the last phase of his life.
“Bapu — Our Contemporary”, presented by Aaj Theatre Company at Shri Ram Centre this past weak, is a tour de force that imparts deeper insights into the sufferings of Gandhi in the last phase of his life. Through Gandhi’s bitter reflections on the failure of towering personalities like Maulana Azad, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to follow his principles of satya and ahimsa, the production captures the moral, political and social crisis India confronted during that phase. Betrayed, alone and away from the tumult of the celebrations of freedom, a deeply hurt Gandhi dedicated himself heart and soul to the reconciling mission in Calcutta, Bihar and Delhi, torn apart by communal slaughter. He squarely blamed the Congress leadership for accepting the proposal of the Partition of the country that resulted in the bloodbath.
Written by Nand Kishore Acharya in Hindi, the play is translated into English by Anju Dhadda Misra. This solo dramatic piece is directed by Bhanu Bharti, who also produced it in Hindi a few years ago. As for the presentational style of these two versions, the production under review is comparatively more austere in production values. In the earlier production Bharti had used a box set to depict Gandhi, sitting all alone in a room and often looking out from a window. This time, the action takes place on a bare stage with minimal stage property. In the last act the property is further reduced to a to show Gandhi alone, fasting for restoration of communal peace (and payment to Pakistan of her agreed assets). The actor uses the style of emotional restraint and laconic expression that enables him to bring to the fore the element of irony and the inner life of the character.
The use of smoke, brief musical notes on the flute in the opening as well as last acts, abstract dark imagery upstage and subtle light design by R.K. Dhingra contributes to create the right mood on the stage and enables the performer to internalise the character’s sense of betrayal, alienation and inner pain.
The first act of this two-act play opens against the backdrop of the British Cabinet Mission 1946 aimed at discussing plans for the transfer of power to Indian leadership. Gandhi is against the acceptance of the Mission's proposals. To him acceptance will lead to the partition of the country. Alone, he expresses his sense of betrayal at seeing the letter sent by Maulana Azad as the Congress president accepting the proposals without Gandhi's knowledge. He is disillusioned with Nehru and Sardar Patel for their acceptance of the Partition of the country. In a distressed voice, he says, “It is obvious. My friends are not concerned about truth any more. All these people are brave, patriotic people. They have all suffered hardships, beatings, imprisonment for freedom, for self-rule. But why is there no yearning in them for truth? Can one be free without truth?”
He feels betrayed because of their opportunism; the Congress leaders are closer to Lord Mountbatten and while speaking the language of the Muslim League, forget the path of satya and ahimsa. Describing Jawaharlal as his heir, Gandhi says, “Even so, you lost your bearings yet again — especially you, Jawahar, even you! If you had supported me, we would not have had to suffer this day. I said clearly we should not accept the Cabinet Mission proposal. I could see seeds of partition in it. You went against me to accept it.”
In the last act, Gandhi seems to be in a dialogue with himself. He says, “If you (Jawaharlal) had adopted this path of satyagreha then this partition and bloodbath would never have taken place. Political expedience often does not allow one to remain on the course of truth. Even the most pious emotion becomes a stratagem — a game plan. For this reason our ways have parted. And if, on this path, someone kill me — consider it a willed death. …This death will be my ultimate deliverance from the ignominy of bearing helpless, silent witness to the destruction of India’s soul. It will be the testimony that violence with all its might, cannot humble ahimsa, even the ahimsa of a lone soul, quite alone.” Sunit Tandon, a prominent actor on the English stage of the Capital, gives a brilliant performance. His Gandhi appears to address his monologue to the inner self, exploring the multiple layers of the wounded soul of his character; the soul of an eternal seeker of truth who stands alone as a moral force in the midst of falsehood and bloodshed.