Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Humour in Indo-English Plays

S. Krishna Bhatta

Humour, as an essential ingredient of human life, has a place of its own in our world. In effectively expressing thought-provoking ideas and in easing the tension of a situation, it is really a boon to a writer or a conversationalist. Literature, which is the mirror of life, fully reflects the splendour of this important element. This fact can be observed even in Indian drama in English (or Indo-English plays) though the field is rather poor–both in quality and quantity–when compared to poetry and fiction.

In Indo-English drama, we come across a few major playwrights like Sri Aurobindo, Kailasam, Harindranath Chattopadhyaya, Bharati Sarabhai and Asif Currimbhoy and a host of minor playwrights. It is difficult to find humour in dramatists like Sri Aurobindo, Chattopadhyaya and Currimbhoy as they exhibit their serious-mindedness in their works. Even Kailasam, who like Shaw is known for his ready wit and subtle humour in his Kannada plays, shows seriousness throughout in his English plays. An attempt is now made to highlight the element of humuur found in some of the playwrights in the field.

Harindranath Chattopadhyaya, though essentially a poet, has, to his credit, a number of plays–social and hagiological. In his playlet The Sentry’s Lantern, three persons are going to be hanged–a merchant, a bourgeois poet and a worker. At that time, each of them expresses his own feelings and thoughts. The pragmatic worker appears to be the mouthpiece of the progressive playwright. Correcting the poet who scars in the sky of imagination, he remarks:

“The poet should be born as something more honest than a comfortable bourgeois poet….at least as an earthen pot in a worker’s kitchen which will be of some service…..”

Giving some relief to the audience in a play with serious theme might be the intention of Bharati Sarabhai. In her play Two Women, the sharp-tongued Sudha is described as “a convent-product of Anglo-India painted all over her;” further, seeing her dressed in slacks, Shastriji puts a humorous question to Kanakaraya: “Diwan Saheb, can you tell me the unique function of this substitute for a sari?”

Evocation of laughter seems to be the main intention of some playwrights; and they can create fun among the audience, though at thought-provoking humour. V. V. Srinivasa Aiyangar’s farces belong to this category. To illustrate, his playlet Vichu’s Wife gives us a description of an ideal wife:

Well...She must not be under sixteen……

She must be tall…..
She must have bright and loving eyes…..
She must be very handsome…a sort of Greek beauty...
She must be a painter and a poet…..
She must be highly cultured, soft, tender, and
delicate in manners, with high ideals noble...

Aiyangar’s The Surgeon-General’s Prescription gives a light entertainment in another way. Sitapati Mudaliyar’s daughter Kamala is upset as her marriage is settled with a landlord and not with Manmohan of her choice. At last, much to the surprise of her parents, the Surgeon-General prescribes a simple remedy with his proposal to change the alliance settled from the Zamindar to Mr. Manmohan.

A. S. P. Ayyar’s humorous way of provoking serious thought in the audience reminds us of playwrights like Shaw and Kailasam. Here are sequences from his mock-trial The Trial of Science for the Murder of Humanity. Since the accused is tried before a Full Bench of three judges, namely, Philosophy, Culture and Intuition, on many charges including that of threatening the entire humanity with destruction by 2000 A. D. Some of the examples of humour are: the expert’s examination of the “unsound mind” of the Juror Research, the reading from an almanac forecasting the destruction of Humanity by 2000 A. D., and also witty exchanges of words as follows:

Defence Counsel (about God): Nothing we cannot see exists.

Religion : So, since I cannot see your brains Sir, may I take it that you have none?

Next, Electricity deposes that, with the help of Science, corpses can be preserved for 30 to 40 years; then

Public Prosecutor: What good is it keeping corpses for 30 years? Is it not better to bury or burn them and be finished with them?

Electricity : Corpses like yours, of course. had better be disposed of at once.

Sarcastic talk also can create humour. In his play Larins Sahib. Gurucharan Das deals with the political career of a British Resident in Punjab whose self-respect and faith in the principle of natural justice gradually give place to his madness for power and glory finally leading to his downfall. Here is an occasion for us to enjoy the Indian style of dialogue:

Lawrence: “Fear is only human”, said the jackal.
Rani: “But the brave ale not afraid”. said the lion.
Lawrence: “Even the brave are afraid of beautiful women”, said the fox.

The play He Never Slept so Long by Shivkumar Joshi is a good example of interpretation of a myth from a contemporary angle of view. The playwright extends the myth of The Bhagavata so as to include the political career of Gandhiji and imagines one more incarnation for Jaya and Vijaya who assassinate Gandhiji. The People’s Court holds a posthumous trial of the Mahatma with Mahakal as the Judge. When Martin Luther, a staunch supporter of the Mahatma, is examined as a witness, he says “Non-violence is a desperate battle.” Unable to comprehend his speech, someone from the crowd shouts, “Hey, he wants a battle! Why not oblige him?” This humorous remark brings some relief to the tense atmosphere.

There is a humorous situation even in a tragedy like Borgaonkar’s Bhasmasura. Interpreting the Indian myth of Bhasmasura, the playwright tries to expose the dehumanising effect of Science on man. Actively engaged in inventing a destructive weapon, Professor Buddhisagar gets highly excited at an accidental invention and starts shouting to his wife Shanti: “Eureka! Eureka!….Greater than Newton, greater than Marconi, greater than Einstein, the world will salute you as the greatest among the scientists….” Then, thinking that he has gone mad, Shanti calls for the help of her daughter and her son-in-law.

Partap Sharma portrays the life in a brothel of Bombay in his play A Touch of Brightness Rukmini, a beggar-girl becomes a victim of the brothel-keeper, and because of her idealism, she behaves there in a peculiar way. It is no wonder that she becomes a target of attack by her co-inhabitants Basanti and others; and, as Basanti remarks, “The boy who loves her, she turns into a brother, and the man who wants to marry her, she keeps as a lover.”

Hypocrisy in our society is exposed in the play Deep Roots by Murli Das Melwani. There we can find some witty conversations, and to illustrate, here is a prayer to God by some friends:

Ahmed: O Lord of the world, Whose Name may be Money...
Arvind: Increase the natural resources of this country...
Ahmed: so that we may have more stones to break heads
Arvind: and wreck public property.
Ahmed: Bless our creative faculties...
Arvind: so that we may think up new hypocrisies and lies, and the Government new stupid laws and taxes, and people’s means how to evade them…..
Ahmed: and ways and means to cheat everyone around us...

These are their demands, and surely their God must be double hypocrite to grant them.

P. S. Vasudev’s mini-play The Forbidden Fruit is a farce highlighting the red-tapism in the official machinery even in urgent matters like the family planning programme. A Gramsevak seeks urgent help from the Central Govt. to take precautions about the local lovers because, according to his report, “the Love-God has gone on war path;” but an officer replies that he will hear from them “in due course”. Twenty years later, a man and a woman (both doctors attached to the Ministry of Health) go to the village; but, influenced by Nature there, they too forget to do their duty. (Here the playwright extends the myth of Adam and Eve, and makes the forbidden fruit the symbol of sexual passion.) The play reaches the climax when a few young men (born twenty years ago as a result of belated family planning programme) shout slogans and attempt to destroy the van donated by the Ford Foundation. Can such a thought-provoking theme be presented in a more effective way?

These are some of the sweet dishes offered to the audience by Indo-English playwrights. In a complicated world like that of ours, the only gift of Nature that can sustain us is humour, and humour alone.

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