Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ambedkar Aur Gandhi

Toady i had been to the newly opened restaurant called "Adithya" near Rangashankara (Bangalore) for an early dinner at 7:00 PM. Coincidentally, i met my friend Girish there. We had something to eat and then just went to Rangashankara to check out the schedule for the remaining month. We saw that there was a play to be staged at 7:30 PM today called "Ambedkar Aur Ghandhi". We got interested and decided to go to the play. The play was in Hindi and was about the relation between Gandhi and Ambedkar in the pre-independence period.

The play is written by Rajesh Kumar and directed by Arvind Gaur.The Play was enacted by a troupe called Asmita based out of Delhi. Most of the actors were from Delhi university and they had traveled all the way from Delhi to perform this play.

We all know that Ambedkar and Gandhi had differences between them on issue of un-touchability and awarding separate electorates for Dalits (Pre-independence). The play was all about this differences and how they were simply irreconcilable. It focuses more on personal relationship between the two and how the two champions of the crusade against un-touchability were so drastically different in their approach.

Two strong men revered by the whole nation , placed in the premise of the historical event of the poona pact of 1932, which saw a step forward in the cause of Dalits and against the practice of untouchability. Gandhi and Ambedkar were severely disturbed by the ill treatment of the Shudras or the lower castes of the society. However, they found themselves at odds when it came to achieving a solution to the problem. Though they had the same aim, their means were different. Ambedkar, who had experienced the excesses of the cruel practice, was seeking a political solution and law enforcement while Gandhi was seeking a human level change. As it is today even 80 years back these two paths are irreconcilable.

The first 45 minutes of the play goes into these arguments between Gandhi and Ambedkar in the second round table conference at London in 1932. The play very beautifully depicts the strange situation that these two stalwarts encounter. Both of them acknowledge each other that they are fighting for the same cause and yet unable to reconcile their means. It kind of shows our real life experiences. Whenever Gandhi asks ambedkar to "UNDERSTAND", the immediate reply by Ambedkar is that "WHAT TO UNDERSTAND, YOU ARE TELLING THE SAME THING AS I AM ".

Unable to break the deadlock, Gandhi goes on a fast in poona. Here the play very nicely portrays the milieu that ambedkar finds himself. He finds slogans against him on his way to work. At home he is visited by Gandhi's son Devdas who breaks down in grief. Ambedkar finds this situation very difficult. Despite their confrontations, ambedkar and Gandhi shared a camaraderie, which a scene in the play brings out poignantly. Rama bai, Ambedkar's wife serves him food, but he finds himself unable to eat . On being asked why, he tells with a heavy heart, it is difficult for him to swallow his food knowing Gandhi is on a hunger strike at that very moment. The next fifteen minutes of the play revolves around this theme and how Gandhi's fast was broken and a reluctant reconciliation achieved between them.

The next part of the play was most interesting for me. Ambedkar comes in to tell Gandhi that he will be changing his religion. Ambedkar argues that though he was born as a dalit, and a Hindu, he will surely not die as Dalit and Hindu. Here a strong argument builds up between the two. Gandhi argues that Dalits are a part of Hindu community and they must accept it. He says that ambedkar will be leaving his culture, his tradition, festivals and all related cultural settings if he decides to shift his "Dharma". Ambedkar responds by narrating his experiences right from his childhood and the cruel treatment he received even after acquiring a foreign degree. He very powerfully questions if these were what Gandhi meant by culture and tradition. Gandhi is left speechless. Gandhi picks up again reaffirming his faith in the varna system. He justifies the varna system and argues that a certain set of occupations are prerogative of certain varnas. He strongly refutes the idea of inter-caste marriage. Ambedkar very sarcastically says that Gandhi was practicing something contradictory to his preaching. He asks Gandhi why he is not doing any business being born in the Bania/vyshya community. Again Gandhi is left speechless.
This scene clearly shows hypocrisy in Gandhi. He totally justifies the menial jobs by the shudra and says that it is equivalent to a brahmin teaching wisdom. He argues in terms of dignity of labour. Ambedkar totally unconvinced by Gandhi leaves the scene. This is the face of ghandi that i had not heard of or read about.

When Gandhi passes away, feeling the loss, Ambedkar comments on how the dialogue has been left unfinished and that murdering someone is not the solution to a debate or a confrontation.

This was a very powerful play with outstanding performance by the actors. For a lay man like me, it puts me into deep contemplation on who was correct or rather who was wrong? In sociology this state of contemplation is called "Pattern variable" coined by the great sociologist Talcott Parsons.

Pattern variable aside, This play had a very interesting component which none of the play which i have seen so far had. At the end of the play, director Arvind Gaur comes on the stage and opens the gathering for questions and suggestions.
Here people can share their experience, their thoughts and give their comments. Quite a few people asked about the controversies in this play and how arvind handled it and how Arvind convinced the Gujarat police not to ban this play.
I also asked arvind if the gandhi's role was made more hypocritical than he actually was. Arvind was crystal clear in his reply. He said, each word in the drama is recorded in history and he has not tried to meddle with any of the historical content/sources. He also made a good remark. "We normally don't like to hear anything negative about someone whom we consider a hero".

All in all it was a very thought provoking and powerful play. I hope every young citizen of this country gets to see this play.

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