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....

The Husband

Purasu Balakrishnan

(One-act Play)


Satyanathan: A retired officer of sorts
Sivakami: His daughter aged thirty-two
Natarajan: Sivakami’s husband
Dr. Sundaram

[The Setting: A partition (wall) from front to across the middle of the stage, with a communicating door, divide the stage into two rooms. The left is a drawing-room with a sofa set, a central table with magazines etc., a rack of books against the wall, and a telephone on a stand by its ide. Sivakami, a woman of thirty-two, is sitting on a sofa, turning the pages of a magazine. To the right of the partition is a bed-room with a bed stretching right to left in the middle and a side-table with medicine-bottles, glasses, etc. On the bed is lying Satyanathan, a man in hit early fifties.]

Sivakmai: (Looking towards the room to the right, after turning a few pages of the magazine in her hands) Father is really the limit. Always spinning yarns. He’s absurd really ... the limit of absurdity. (Turning to the left) He has not come yet. (Wearily) What a long wait! (The sound of a motor horn is heard outside.) At last!

(Enter Natarajan.)

Sivakami: What’s the news?

Natarajan: We have admitted her to the hospital, and Sumati is there, with her. We shall have to be there soon. The doctors say that she has had premature rupture of the membranes and that they have to induce labour and that there may be trouble.

(Groaning is heard from the bed-room. Satyanathan is tossing on the bed and groaning. Sivakami and Natarajan look towards the room.)

Sivakami: Father is at it again!

Natarajan: Perhaps he heard what I told you.

Sivakami: How can it be? Really he’s absurd, fantastically absurd.

Natarajan: Absurd is not the word for it. He is mad, he is psychotic.

(Again groaning is heard from the bed-room)

Natarajan: It’s beyond figuring out. Very trying.

Sivakami: He’s very trying. But I think you’re too hard on him. Except in this one respect he is a good man. He is a good father and a good husband. You can’t deny that. And a good father-in-law too.

Natarajan: All the same, he is queer fish. A tribal man transported to civilization.

(Sivakami looks at Natatajan scrutinizingly.)

Natarajan: There is a tribe in Andhra Pradesh where the man drinks a potion – a decoction made from herbs – regularly when his woman is pregnant. This beats that. Probably because mother-in-law is pregnant after many years, it has brought on his psychosis in a severe form.

Sivakami: (A trifle offended) He has been very good to mother, me and you in his better days. (A pause) I grant though that for the past few days he has been funny and trying. Maybe his age is telling on him.

Natarajan: He is senile in his fifties. He is congenitally predisposed to senility.

Sivakami: Don’t be too hard on father. You know mystics – God’s devotees – are called God’s fools.

Natarajan: That’s the word for it. They are fools.

Sivakami: I shall change the word. I shall call him a Siddha.

Natarajan: What’s that?

Sivakami: Don’t you know the Siddhas – the adepts – of our Tamil land? They defied and transcended the limitations of the flesh to achieve even the physical attributes of immortality.

Natarajan: Do you believe that?

Sivakami: They had superhuman powers. It is said that they could make themselves invisible, get out from one body and get into another. They could be here one moment and a thousand miles away the next moment. They could be in two or more places at the same time.

Natarajan: Do you believe in all that stuff?

Sivakami: They were walking examples of superhuman powers.

Natarajan: And so what? I suppose your father is a lying example of superhuman powers.

Sivakami: He is not lying, as far as he knows.

Natarajan: Is that so?

Sivakami: Certainly, he has telepathic communications with his friends and neighbours. He suffers with their illnesses and operations.

Natarajan: India is the land for these. We don’t know where our imagination should stop. We run away with our imagination. Imaginative empathy one can understand. Literary artists have that, although they are very often callous and even cruel in their own lives to the people in their lives.

Sivakami: I see.

Natarajan: Keats is the supreme example of imaginative empathy. He said that when he saw a sparrow pecking at gravel, he became a sparrow pecking at gravel.

Sivakami: I see.

Natarajan: Stop that ‘I see’, please.

Sivakami: Kalidasa is a better example than Keats. What Keats said in so many words about himself, Kalidasa showed in his poetry – which Keats didn’t do half as well. (A pause.) Keats said he had no personality of his own because it embraced and identified itself with so many personalities that it became non-existent. And yet he sighed for Fanny Brawne. That was his personality, I suppose.

Natarajan: Excellent! I hardly expected that of you. But you are contradicting yourself. You, mark the limitation of poor Keats, and yet you will allow a lot of preposterous stuff to the siddhas.

Sivakami: But how do you explain father? When I was in labour pains in Bombay, he got into similar pains here in Madras.

Natarajan: Has he a uterus or an ovary?

Sivakami: (sarcastically) How clever! (A pause.) You’re right. He does not have a uterus or an ovary.

Natarajan: You’re returning to sanity, my dear. I hope your father does.

Sivakami: Do you know, mother told me that when she was in labour pains – at my birth and at Sumati’s – father suffered from similar pains in the abdomen.

Natarajan: As he is having now!

(Both are silent for a while.)

Sivakami: But when all is said, it is a bother, when we’re attending on mother, to have to attend to his pains.

Natarajan: Say, imaginary pains.

Sivakami: We are anxious about mother. Meanwhile here is a nuisance.

Natarajan: My dear, you are wonderful!

Sivakami: (thoughtfully and guiltily) Or maybe he has some trouble – who knows?

(A short silence. The telephone rings. Natarajan takes the phone.)

Natarajan: (listening) Oh, thank you, Dr. Sundaram. We’ve admitted her to the hospital. Sumati is with her. Here father-in-law is still groaning with pain. Thank you.

(Puts down the phone and returns to the sofa)

Natarajan: Dr. Sundaram will be coming here in a few minutes. He is in the next house, attending on that hysterical girl. After that he will attend to the psychotic here.

(Nods towards the bed-room.)

Sivakami: I shall get ready some coffee for the doctor.

(Gets up)

Natarajan: No, sit down. Sankaran can do that.

(Sivakami sits down.)

Natarjan: (Loudly) Sankaran, get coffee and biscuits.

Voice: (from outside the stage) Yes, sir.

Sivakami: For three.

Voice: (from outside the stage) Yes; madam.

(A short silence. Groaning is heard from the bed-room. Sankaran comes with coffee and biscuits and lays them on the table. Enter Dr. Sundaram. Exit Sankaran.)

Natarajan: Hallo, Dr. Sundaram. Please have a cup of coffee.

Dr. Sundaram: It is always welcome,

(Satyanathan tosses in his bed and groans in the bed-room.)

Dr. Sundaram: I’ve no doubt he heard my voice and is doing that ... Funny to see a man hysterical, and at this age! It is a record! Yes, in many ways! Has a mystic element to it. Like Ramakrishna’s ecstatic trances ... Indian contribution to hysteria or epilepsy. I’m tempted to write a paper on it.

Natarajan: You have our permission. We shall give you a full history with genetic details. (Looks at Sivakami.)

Dr. Sundaram: Genetic details are not necessary. We, Indians, are congenital mystics and philosophers. I would like to have all details though.

(A short silence while the three are helping themselves to coffee and biscuits)

Dr. Sundaram: Sumati is in the hospital with her mother?

Sivakami: Yes.

(Satyanathan’s groaning is heard from the bed-room)

Dr. Sundaram: Satyanathan, please join us for coffee.

Satyanathan: (from the bed-room) I’m having pain. But I shall come.

Dr. Sundaram: Can you?

Satyanathan: I can. I can ignore my pain if I make up my mind.

Sivakami: Sankaran, one more coffee!

(Satyanathan gets up from his bed, crosses the communicat­ing door and joins them. As he sits down Sankaran comes from the left side of the stage and places a plate with a tumbler of coffee and biscuits on the side-table and leaves the stage.)

Dr. Sudaram: Come, it is good to see you on your feet.

Satyanathan: I’m glad to have someone to talk to.

Dr. Sundaram: Satyanathan, why don’t you make up your mind to cast away the pain for good – since you can do that it you make up your mind, as you yourself said just now.

Satyanathan: No, I’m not a Ramana Maharshi. I can control the pain only for short periods of time.

Dr. Sundaram: Don’t you realize the absurdity of your situation? And you were once a practising doctor!

Satyanathan: I took the degree but then I was quits with Medicine.

Dr. Sundaram: Can your grey matter be no better for having undergone the discipline of medical education?

Satyanathan: My grey matter is better for that. But the one who says, “My grey matter is better for that” is different from his grey matter. What is perceived is always different from the perceiver – the Saakshi.

Dr. Sundaram: There is no talking to you.

Satyanathan: Don’t talk to me. Read Sankara.

Dr. Sundaram: You said you were glad to have someone to talk to.

Satyanathan: Of course. How can it be otherwise?

(Turning to Sivakami) Do you know, Sivakami, he is the only man whom I am in touch with since my college days?

Sivakami: You’ve told me that before, father.

Satyanathan: Listen. He and I took up military service together. Just when my training was over I got a telegram from my father that he was down with a heart attack, and he asked me to return home. I gave up my commission and came home. I gave up my career while Sundaram climbed up and up in military service.

Natarajan: But why did you have to give up your career because you gave up service?

Satyanathan: I took the break in my career at its crucial point as a pointer of destiny.

Sivakami: Do you want some more coffee, father?

Satyanathan: Yes.

(Sivakami hands him a second cup.)

Satyanathan: (Takes a few sips) Ah, the coffee brings on the pain! (Sets down the cup, holds his side and gives a groan. To Dr. Sundaram) These are exactly like uterine pain – the bearing-down pain of uterine spasm, starting at the , coming forwards, downwards and medially on both sides to the front. How do you explain this, Sundaram?

Dr. Sundaram: I suppose it requires an autopsy. I suppose we won’t find a uterus in your abdomen.

Satyanathan: That reminds me. Shall I tell you a story?

Dr. Sundaram
Natarajan                     Yes, please do.

Satyanathan: The women – shall I say the fair sex? – all got together once. They felt themselves to be the victims of men. They felt themselves to be cheated by God. Men had the best of everything and left the worst of everything to women. It looked as if God had made man so as to be able to free himself of all shackles at woman’s cost. It looked as if God had let man have the nectar and woman have the poison, just as he had let the devas have the nectar, and the asuras the poison, in the churning of the milky ocean. They said, “Why should the task of conception, labour and pregnancy be woman’s only? Why should man go scot-free, like the bee tasting the honey of the flower and buzzing away?” So they prayed to God for justice and a proper apportioning of the mingled tissue of life. God appeared before them and said, “Yes, hereafter while you deliver the baby, man shall have She labour pain.” (Takes a sip of coffee.) Ah, the pain is on me now!

Natarajan: All the pain transferred to man? That’s not fair.

Satyanathan: Why not? Woman bore the nine month’s pregnancy earlier. And then, God ...

Dr. Sundaram: And then, I suppose, many adulterers were revealed in the process. Such a situation will be very awkward.

Sivakami: And so, I suppose, God restored the status quo.

Satyanathan: Yes, and that was again at the request of women.

Dr. Sundaram: What’s the point of the story?

Satyanathan: I wished to say that I’ve been sharing, in a mystical way, the pains of my wife’s confinements ... Ah, the pain is coming on again ... And I had also shared the pains of my daughter’s confinements.

Dr. Sundaram: Does your story explain your condition?

Satyanathan: Forget the story. I say I have some siddhic powers.

Dr. Sundaram: It’ll be better if you don’t have. You’ll then be not having these pains.

Sivakami: Our old siddhas did not have these pains.

Satyanathan: We have siddhas even now amidst us today.

Dr. Sundaram: For example, yourself – if you did not have these pains.

Satyanathan: No, I’m not a siddha, although I’ve some powers. I do have some powers. I shall tell you. My sister in America, who had not come to India since she went there years ago, was having her delivery there. Long before that, I knew when that was to be. They phoned to me from Washington to ask me for an auspicious time for the delivery – the doctors were going to do an elective Caeserian section on her in the hospital, and they were willing to oblige. I told them that I had already cabled them the date and the time. Then, of course, I told them these rightaway on the phone also.

Natarajan: The astrological abracadabra. Funny how people are. (turning to Sivakami) What does Shakespeare say?

Sivakami: Please don’t draw me into the matter.

Natarajan: You’re the scholar in the house. Authority on Shakespeare and Kalidasa.

Sivakami: You refer to the lines in King Lear?

Natarajan: Yes, the same that you told me long ago.

Dr. Sundaram: Please let us have it.

Sivakami: Well, here goes! (Walking to the book-shelf, taking a book, turning over some pages, and reading from it) It is the bastard Edmund’s assault on the stars:

This is the excellent foppery of the world that,
when we are sick in fortune – often the surfeits
of our own behaviour – we make guilty of our
disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars; as
if we were villains on necessity, fools by
heavenly compulsion, knaves, thieves, and
treachers by spherical predominance, drunkards,
liars and adulterers by an enforced obedience
of planetary influence, and all that we are
evil in by a divine thrusting; an admirable
evasion of whoremaster man to lay his goatish
disposition on the charge of a star! My
father compounded with my mother under the
dragon’s tail, and my nativity was under
ursa major; so that it follows I am rough
and lecherous. Fut! I should have been
that I am, had I the maidenliest star in the
firmament twinkling on my bastardizing.

Satyanathan: Again it comes! The pain! It is terrible! I can’t bear it! I am not a siddha! There it is – the pain! It is unbearable! Ho! It is beyond me! (Howls, holding his sides, shaking violently, and gets up) I must get to bed!

(He runs to the bed-room to his bed and lies down. Dr. Sundaram follows him and hurriedly examines him, feeling his abdomen, pulse, heart and lungs, taking his blood pressure and examining his eyes with a torch and ophthalmscope. While he is thus engaged, Natarajan and Sivakami keep sitting in the drawing room, staring at each other.)

Sivakami: You ... I ... You ... I ... I ... am responsible for this. My reading this stuff has thrown him into a fit.

Natarajan: No, my dear. It is his own making.

Sivakami: I should not have read this stuff in his hearing. It was because of you that I read it.

Natarajan: Don’t worry, dear. Neither you nor I am responsible for this. It is Shakespeare who is responsible for this.

Sivakami: Don’t be funny .... Thank God, the doctor was here.

Natarajan: He will come round.

Sivakami: I hope so.

Natarajan: I dare say.

(The telephone rings. Sivakami runs and takes the phone.)

Sivakami: (into the phone) Hallo! Is it you, Sumati? What’s the matter? ... Yes ... I see ... O Lord! O Lord! ... Dear mother! … We’re coming immediately ... O Lord!

(She lays down the phone, walks slowly, as if dazed, to the sofa and slumps into it.)

O Lord, mother died on the operation table. Cardiac arrest, they say.

(Sivakami and Natarajan stare at each other. Dr. Sundaram walks from the bed-room to the drawing-room.)

Dr. Sundaram: He is gone.

(A short gaping silence.)

Dr. Sundaram: He is dead.

(Natarajan and Sivakaml stare at Dr. Sundaram and at each other.)

Dr. Sundaram: Nothing doing. A massive heart attack.


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