Devaki: A high school girl who is carried away by modern, fashionable and luxurious life. Yet she is sincere and idealistic.
Parvathy: Another high school girl. She is eager to lead an independent life dedicated to social service.
Savithri: A smart girl, diligent in her studies.
Devasena: A bold and courageous Namboothiri maiden living as an orphan in a family comprising her Aphan* and grandmother.
Amma: Devasena’s grandmother. An epitome of tradition and affection.
Sreedevi: An innocent devotee who frequents temples and is fond of chanting prayers. Advocate: A reactionary hypocrite in the guise of a sophisticated Advocate.
Aphan: Devasena’s paternal uncle; a supporter of the orthodox journal Pathaka which is opposed to social reforms introduced among the Namboothiris by the Yogakshema Sabha. An enemy of the community who makes wealth by selling girls under the pretext of liberating them.
Setting: A reading room in a girls’ hostel.
Time: Eight o’ clock in the morning.
(Parvathy, dressed in a white mundu* and blouse, is preparing for the exams after her breakfast. Eighteen years old, she wears a bindi on her forehead and only a wristwatch on her left hand. Devaki, nearly twenty years of age, comes in fresh after a bath and breakfast, carrying a tin of Cuticura powder, a bottle of perfume, a comb, a mirror and chaandu* bottle, Her freshly washed clothes hang on her left arm. She wears a lot of jeweIIery and enters, singing a song.)
This palace will not hold
The vast empire of my love
This coop will not hold
The paradise of my imagination;
Let’s sit together
And talk awhile
In the beautiful and
Of Mother Earth.
(Devaki wears the ornaments, powders herself, puts on the bindi and straightens her saree, singing all the while.)
Parvathy: Devaki, ‘this world is not the dream land you see’. (Sings)
Devaki: Enough, stop teasing me. You learnt those two lines from God-knows-where and recite them whenever I sing something! (Looks into the mirror and pins a slide in her hair.) How difficult to manage without a full length mirror! The warden did not permit me to buy one on my own.
Parvathy: Have you forgotten the proverb we’ve studied — ‘Why need a mirror if you have a good friend’? Aren’t we good friends? Frankly speaking, (Getting up) it won’t surprise me if Ramanan* himself materializes — you sing this song so often!
Devaki: Stop, stop. Don’t be sarcastic. I can’t do without a good saree, combing my hair wearing jewellery and so on. As far as reading romantic poetry goes, I am fed up with reading dull text books and newspapers.
(Savithri enters, carrying a notebook and a pencil in her hands. She is eleven years old, has a smart look and demeanour and wears a skirt and blouse.)
Savithri: Parvathy chechi*, please check this Maths problem, both the steps and the final answer. The teacher has said that we can expect such questions for the exam. Isn’t it so, Devaki chechi?
Devaki: Yes, of course. About passing the exam — so terribly stressed the students are about it!
Savithri: (Holding on to Devaki’s saree) Chechi, you failed last year because you were not stressed enough. Instead of studying in the morning, you waste your time in front of the mirror — mark my words, you won’t pass this year either. If I pass the exam next year and you do not, then we will become classmates! Won’t that be fun!
Devaki: (Straightening her saree) Do you think that I will continue my studies shamelessly if I fail thrice? I can go and happily stay in my Illam*. But I won’t fail this time. (Realizing that Savithri is touching her saree) No, no, Savithri. Don’t spoil my saree. (Brushes her away and arranges her saree once more.)
Savithri: It has not been spoiled now. Though I don’t wear sarees, know how to straighten it. (Attempts to put it properly but Devaki evades her.) Devasenaettatti* will not be coming to study any further, so the teacher said. Her Aphan does not want her to continue her studies after completing the Deeksha*. What should be done with such uncles? What’s your opinion?
Devaki: A lot can be done! But the problem is — who will do it? (Strikes an amorous pose looking into the mirror.)
Savitri: We should help Devasenaettatti. Aren’t you willing?
Devaki: Why shouldn’t I be? (Again striking an erotic pose.)
Parvathy: Here you are, Savithri, the problem is correct. (Returns the book and pencil. Savithri leaves.) What have you decided about Devasena’s Aphan?
Savithri: (Half-turning) Cut his nose and bring Devasenaettatti over here. In my opinion, both ought to be done! (Savithri runs away. Parvathy is immersed in thought while Devaki continues with her posing.)
Parvathy: (Heaving a sigh) There is a way out— to ensure Devasena’s studies. But Devaki, you should take the lead.
Devaki: What do you mean?
Parvathy: I’ll tell you. Isn’t Amarattattaphan Namboothiri a dependent of your family, Devaki? If your father puts in a word that Devasena should be allowed to continue her studies, her uncle cannot go against it.
Devaki: That’s true. But I have no idea why father remains silent on this issue. He encourages girls to go to school, even after puberty. In my case he had absolutely no doubt.
Parvathy: But that’s not enough. There are different types of liberals. There are some, mostly the rich, who will accept any reform if it suits them. And the traditionalists will choose not to see it.
Devaki: That’s for sure. Didn’t the Kapplingadu family that compelled Ishyallu to do penance for Parivedanam* actually abet the same practice in the wealthy Desamangalam clan?
Parvathy: But if the ordinary people adopt the very same reforms, the orthodox will persecute them. And these prestigious families will not lift a little finger to support the reformists. What’s worse, they’ll even invite the traditionalists to conduct their religious rites!
Devaki: How true! Didn’t Parvathy’s father lose his job as temple priest simply because he sent her to school after her attaining puberty?
Parvathy: Now the same Palapprathu senior Namboothiri is seeking your horoscope in order to arrange an alliance for his lawyer-son.
Devaki: (Shyly) So you know about it already? I was planning to tell you. Is anything wrong with the alliance? What’s your opinion?
Parvathy: Not bad! They’re very affluent. The boy’s a lawyer. So there’s nothing to be said about his studies. Besides, he’s very modern and handsome. Very eligible in all these aspects. But Advocate T. B. Namboothirippad also has all these qualifications. Yet he will not permit his wife to venture out without a chaperone, a veil and a marakkuda*. If the Athemmars* have to go somewhere he will not accompany them but instead entrust the duty to some servant or young Tamil Brahmin boys.
Devaki: Why can’t he accompany them?
Parvathy: What if somebody sees him accompanying a wife who is hidden behind a marakkud a. and a veil! Won’t it bring shame on him?
Devaki: The same shame that befell the Bhattathiri* should happen to such people. Only then will they learn a lesson!
Parvathy: What happened to him? I didn’t hear anything. I was away for two weeks, you see.
Devaki: Now, that’s something worth listening to! It’s very funny. The Bhattar’s wife had gone to her house. Reluctant to bring her back himself, he entrusted the duty to his manager and a maidservant. After a while, the servant returned with the child. But there was no trace of the wife or the manager. The Bhattar became very upset and anxiously set out in search. After much enquiry, he found them. Finally, he had to accept her and bring her back with him.
Parvathy: Even after suffering all this humiliation, his attitude has not changed at all.
Devaki: I won’t tolerate such behaviour towards me. However wonderful he is, I won’t let him interfere with my likes and freedom.
Parvathy: It’s good to have certain firm beliefs like that. But we shouldn’t stray away from the main topic with our prattle. Weren’t we discussing Devasena’s plight?
Devaki: I will speak to father about it very strongly. I am sure he’ll do whatever is needful.
Parvathy: Good if he does.
(The sound of a bell ringing from the interior.)
Devaki: Goodness gracious! Isn’t it the bell announcing the meals? Let’s go, Parvathy. I haven’t yet hung the wet clothes for drying.
Parvathy: See, I have finished setting the books in order.
Devaki: Isn’t Parvathy a smart girl?
(Both of them leave.)
[The sit-out on the eastern side of Amarattattu House, it is 3 p. m. Devasena, Parvathy and Savithri are seated, talking. Devasena is a grown-up girl of fourteen years. She is dressed in new clothes. Her face looks serene. Savithri is reading a book.]
When there are several unmarried women in his own caste
Why should the Namboothiri seek brides elsewhere?
Why should he?
We are not ready to lead a hellish wedded life
A fearfully hellish one
With the betel-chewing Namboothiri.
[The grandmother of Amarattattu house comes in, saying: ‘Narayana, Narayana, why don’t you bring in the karuka grass and the flowers?’ She carries a garland in one hand and an ‘Aavanapalaka’ in the other. She is nearly seventy-two.]
Devasena : Alright, I shall.
Savithri : We shall not live in sloth anymore and destroy ourselves.
Shouldn’t we live like women?
Devasena: That’s enough, Savithri! I’ve something to tell all of you. Parvathy: Isn’t that why we’ve come here? Savithri, you can read later.
[Savithri stops reading. Grandmother prepares the wick of the lamp.]
Devasena: I didn’t think Devaki would appear for the wedding all veiled!
Parvathy: She didn’t want to. But her father-in-law and the Othikan* insisted and her lawyer-husband was too cowardly to oppose them.
Grandmother: I don’t see your point! How can a brahmin bride appear unveiled for her wedding? To look at your groom seated before the holy fire, to expose your hands for the uncle to hold – how can you do all otherwise?
Savithri: Won’t she stumble and fall if she’s covered from top to toe? And isn’t that why her hand is held? If there’s no veil, why should he hold her at all? Grandmother: The uncle too has to hold the the bride’s hand – that is a part of the rituals, after all!
Parvathy: Devaki was very reluctant to attend the reception held in her honour.
Devasena: Small wonder! She has never had to put up with such orthodox practices so far. God knows what’s in store for her at her husband’s! She has always acted only according to her own will.
Grandmother:Once you become an Athemma there’s no going against your husband’s wishes. Otherwise you’ll pay a heavy price. Did you hear that Kotharshi Patteri’s wife eloped with someone to Madras? Such insolence!
Parvathy: But, granny, wasn’t it insolence to marry such a young girl to the old and ailing Patteri? Wasn’t the wedding a mere pretext to get someone to manage the kitchen? Such men should suffer a worse fate than that! In these modern times, girls cannot be married off without their consent. If it is done, such things are bound to happen. How can girls be treated like cows or vessels?
Devasena: It’s almost three o’ clock. Let me go and make tea. Parvathy: I shall help you with it.
[Both of them leave. Savithri starts reading again.]
It will not happen anymore.
We know what’s to be done.
Just let the agents go and find Brahmins
To destroy our lives!
Grandmother: Is this what is taught at school?
Savithri: Oh, no! We don’t have to learn this. I’m reading it purely for fun.
Grandmother: I didn’t find it so enjoyable!
[Sreedevi Antharjanarn enters. Nearly forty five years old, she is covered in a shawl and holds a marakuda. Her chaperone waits outside.]
Grandmother: (Staring hard) Who is this? Isn’t it Ittichiri*? Come in and sit down. Where are you coming from?
Sreedevi: On my way back from Palappurathu. I had an early lunch. You see, I’ve not been able to go to the Thrikka temple for worship. Should reach there before dusk and offer prayer before Sankramam*. I was passing this way and thought of looking you up. Can’t stay for long. [Sits on the threshold.] Ah, Thatri*, when did you come?
Savithri: Just an hour or two ago.
Sreedevi: Didn’t you have to go to school? Savithri: Today, tomorrow and the day after are holidays because of Mahatma Gandhi’s death. Grandmother:Itticheri, didn’t you say you’re on your way from Palappurath? Ah – ha. There was a wedding there two days back. The Panengali*and Sathram* must have been wonderful?
Sreedevi: They didn’t conduct those ceremonies. Everything was kept very simple. Grandmother: How about Onappudava*?
Sreedevi: No, only panam* was given – but not to all.
Grandmother: Tell me, Itticheri, the untouchables have begun entering the temples and yet you continue to go? I heard that many have stopped the practice!
Sreedevi: It’s true that I have not stopped. But it has become really difficult! I bathe in the temple pond and go to pray. But after that, I go elsewhere and take a bath once more. Even then I don’t feel like eating.
Savithri: If gods don’t practise untouchability, why should we? Are we above the gods?
Grandmother: If you question me like this, what can I say? But I cannot go against our customs, that’s for sure.
Savithri: But that practice is slowly disappearing. It seems, in the Olappamanna and Cherunnur Illams of Palghat, it’s the servants who do the cooking —not the Namboothiris.
Grandmother: Narayana, Narayana! It is a sin, even to listen to such things. Incidentally, Itticheri, isn’t your daughter-in-law rather fashionable?
Sreedevi: Oh! Yes! At first she had her ear lobes shortened. Now she has started wearing a blouse. But she doesn’t wear it when she prepares the offerings after bath early in the morning and while serving the Namboothiris.
Grandmother: That’s some consolation. You know, how many times I told Nangeta not to wear a blouse while going to the Namboothiris? But does she listen to me?
[Savithri leaves, on being called from inside.]
Sreedevi: It’s already late. Let me leave. What about marriage proposals for Savithri?
Grandmother: A proposal had come recently from the north. Nothing is fixed as yet. They will be coming again next month.
Sreedevi: If it is from the north, a lot of money can be saved. So much the better! No harm in giving money if the groom is a Namboothiri, but what if he turns out to be an Embran or a Nambiar!
Grandmother: This one is a Namboothiri. It’s his second marriage, it seems. Re-marriages are only for the Namboothiris, isn’t it?
Sreedevi: Now it’s really late! I should leave.
The living room in the Advocate’s house. Eight o’ clock in the morning.
[The Advocate, the son of PalapprathNamboothiri is seen engaged in the, Volunteer practice of the R.S.S. About thirty years old, dressed in pyjama and vest, he holds a sword and a shield in his hand. His new wife Devaki enters singing.]
Advocate: Should you waste your time singing all the time? Can’t you read any newspaper or magazine after breakfast?
Devaki: My heavens! What are you up to with the sword and the shield?
Advocate: Ever heard of the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh? This is their volunteer practice.
Devaki: O yes, of course . . . . May I ask you something?
Advocate: Yes . . . tell me … what do you want?
Devaki: You see, on the second of Kumbham* there is the annual meeting of the Vellinezhi sub committee. I read it in the newspaper. Shouldn’t we attend it?
Advocate: For what? To listen to some slander by the communists?
Devaki: Why do you have to repeat this daily? I want to go and watch the play that was staged at the Mahasabha*.
Advocate: You want to attend the meeting and watch the play, isn’t it? Let’s go and attend the Hindu Meet at Thrissur. And we can watch Vaikkom Vasudevan Nair’s* play too. I shall arrange a taxi immediately.
Devaki: No, no. I am not interested in that. I must go to the Vellinezhi.
Advocate: But, if we mingle with those uncultured, low class people, we’ll be pulled into their squabbles.
Devaki: Why should there be any squabble? Aren’t they too human beings like us?
Advocate: No, they’re not like us at all. That’s the problem .. (Thinking) Oh . did you say … the second? (Looking into the diary) We won’t be able to make it … that’s the day when the Edathra case trial begins. I have to reach the court very early that day.
Devaki: Oh no! Do you have to go to court on Sundays as well? I have only heard of Sunday Advocates! (Someone is seen walking into the courtyard.)
Advocate: Someone is coming. Go in fast. We’ll talk later.
Devaki: So what? Answer me. May I go to Vellinezhi with Parvathy?
Advocate: I shall tell you later. Go in quickly. Can’t you see an outsider coming?
Devaki: What’ll happen if I stand here! Shall I go to Vellinezhi? If you answer that I shall go in.
Advocate: Do as you please. Now go in. Do that first, all else later.
Devaki: Listen, I will go to Vellinezhi. (Leaves) (Amarattattu Namboothiri enters. He is nearly fifty-two years old and is fashionable in a very superficial way.)
Advocate: Sit down. Shall I serve coffee?
Namboothiri: I already had coffee at the station. But I will have one more.
Advocate: Ok. Mani — Mani — Make some coffee and bring it over.
Devaki: (From inside) There is coffee here already. I shall bring it.
Advocate: No, No. I shall come over. (Goes in and brings coffee. The Namboothiri drinks the coffee.)
Namboothiri: It’s a huge setback for us! Looks like all the activities of the Hindu – Maha Sabha have to be done very cautiously.
Advocate: Don’t the communists have underground activities? We may have to do the same thing. The meeting at Thrissur is off, then?
Namboothiri: It’s highly doubtful. Many are trying to sabotage it, especially the Yogakshema Sabha people. It’s true that people like Thaloor are with us. But things look pretty uncertain at the moment.
Advocate: Why didn’t you come for the Yogakshema Sabha?
Namboothiri: Couldn’t decide, you see. There wasn’t even a faint chance of our getting the majority. If Kuroor and others take the initiative, why can’t we form an association of our own?
Advocate: Not impossible! But who will take the first step?
Namboothiri: What about C.K? He can do that and much else, besides. Someone has to incite him, though!
(Devaki half enters asking ‘Where did you place my watch?’ The Advocate jumps up saying ‘It’s there inside. Don’t come here. Go in.’)
Advocate (Unsettled): Namboothiri, any special reason for your visit?
Namboothiri: Why are you so worked up? Sit down.
Advocate: Nothing, nothing. just wondered whether you had come for the Congress party. After all, you are involved in the Congress as well as the Hindu Maha Sabha. Isn’t it so?
Namboothiri: Oh! Yes; Just a little! Actually, I came here to talk about a wedding at my illam.
Advocate: Has anything been fixed?
Namboothiri: Well . . . a proposal came from Mollur. And it seemed all right. So it’s almost fixed. It’s a Namboothiri, isn’t it?
Advocate: It’s a Namboothiri, isn’t it?
Namboothiri: That’s what the broker said. If that’s not true, it’s going to be an inter-caste marriage. After all, it’s better to practise than merely preach. That’s some consolation.
Advocate: What’s the dowry?
Namboothiri: That’s the most attractive part. The groom is very rich and doesn’t want dowry at all! What’s more, he has even offered to give us a gift of Rs 3,350! If he’s so happy, why not make it 3000 or 4000? Why 3350?
Advocate: If he’s so happy, why not make it 3000 or 4000? Why 3350?
Namboothiri: We demanded 4000 but fixed it at 3350.
Advocate: Namboothiri, when all’s said and done, will it be a Sirsi* affair?
Namboothiri: Hey, no! Not all. What can we do when he offers the amount as a token of happiness? Advocate: Don’t give this any publicity . . . By the way, what did you want to discuss?
Namboothiri: I took 350 rupees to cover the travel expenses. The rest will be paid when I take the girl there. That’s the agreement. After everything is over, if they refuse to pay, how will I extract the money? Won’t it be a shame to bring back the girl?
Advocate: That’s not possible. There’s no way out, legally. Ask for the entire sum now itself. What’s wrong about that?
Namboothiri: Nothing at all! But shouldn’t he be willing to pay? Let me see what I can do. I will declare that I’ll bring the girl only after the whole amount is paid. Let me leave . . . It’s time for the train.
Advocate: We’ll meet at Pozhissiry on the night of the fourth of Kumbham. Don’t miss it.
The bedroom in the Advocate’s house. It is eight o’ clock in the morning.
[The Advocate, dressed in a dhoti and vest, with a turkey towel round his neck, is engaged in shaving. A mirror, comb, Cuticura powder, Kaajal, Steel pen, paper etc., are scattered over the table. Devaki is heard singing inside.]
Fold your fists, sisters;
Let’s offer our salutes
To the free Devi
Let us express our red salute
(As she walks looking into the mirror, she stumbles on the chair.)
Advocate (Speaking in English). ‘What’s this?’ I would have cut myself now.
[Devaki is upset and about to leave with bowed head.]
Advocate (Again in English): Never mind —never mind — come on.
Devaki (Replying in English): Please excuse me. (Comes and sits near
Advocate: Knocking down the chair while I’m shaving! You’ve studied upto the tenth standard and still behave like a kid! Wouldn’t I have hurt my chin?
Devaki: It won’t happen again, ok? I was just trying to peep into the mirror. When you return from the court, will you buy me a good one? This mirror here is so small that I can hardly see anything. Please get a bigger one and a comb too. (Later) And . . . you see . . . do bring a book published by the youth group from the library.
Advocate: Fine! Don’t you know that the Bar Association Library does not have such books? Novels and poems are meant for people like you who idle away their time.
Devaki: (Pulling a face) Don’t tease me! Didn’t I tell you to send me to the work place so that I can learn stitching or weaving or some such thing. But you would not permit me. . .
Advocate: Going to the work place indeed! You’ve been mixing with uncultured people. That’s why you have such ideas! It would be far better for women to look after the needs of their husbands and obey them, instead of showing such impudence.
Devaki: If the husbands were to behave properly, no wife would seek to earn their displeasure. But if like Dr. Chadangan, they start beating and shouting at their wives? Do you feel that we should put up with it?
Advocate: In my opinion, the doctor is a gentleman. Hasn’t he made his wife write testimonials to many that he does not beat her?
Devaki: That itself is ample proof that he is a wife-beater! At the last sub-committee meeting, he insulted the antharjanams who had given up their veil. Didn’t he come here the other day to get a memorandum signed so that the practice of giving meals to students at the Brahmaswam Madhom could be stopped?
Advocate: Isn’t he right? The free meals distributed at the Madhom will only make them lazy! After all, what is the difference between begging for meals at the Oathu* and doing the same at the Brahmaswam Madhom? I still feel that the doctor is a real gentleman.
Devaki: If such roguery can be counted as gentlemanliness, he is a gentleman indeed. But we women are not prepared to accept any of these Pathaka* people as good.
Advocate: What’s their fault? That they don’t laud women?
Devaki: They treat women as slaves, as objects of pleasure for men. Didn’t you listen to the slander they raised against Antharjanams at the Yogakshema Sabha?
Advocate: So what? Isn’t it partially true? (Looking at the watch.) It’s already late. By the time I reach the court after a bath and a meal, it will be really late. Devaki: Will the late-comers be made to stand outside the court, like school children ?
Advocate: Don’t talk nonsense. Fancy comparing school children and Advocates! Even if I don’t go to court for a week, nobody is going to question me.
Devaki: Then why bother to dress up, sit there from eleven to five and suffer the bite of bed-bugs?
Advocate: As though you’ll understand my reasons if I tell you! Will you serve me food by the time I finish my bath? Are you smart enough for that?
Devaki: O, yes! Don’t forget to bring the comb and the mirror. Advocate: No, No, I won’t forget (Leaves).
(The setting is the southern side of Amarattattu Tharavadu and the time is three o’clock in the afternoon. The Grandmother is seated at the entrance of the house, sleepily chanting prayers. The prayer beads fall from her hand frequently. The following words are heard from the interior ‘I may return tomorrow evening. Or by evening, the day after tomorrow, definitely. if that fellow comes, tell him that it’s impossible to agree to the lease. Also, ask him to complete the measurement work by tomorrow itself And don’t forget to put up the fence around the temple – or else the intruders will barge in. It’s so difficult to stop them. Let them realize that it is a private temple.’ Aphan Namboothiri comes near his mother.)
Aphan: Mother, I’m thinking of leaving for Mollur now. Shall we fix it?
Ama. Amma: Yes,definitely. But so far away! I guess it can’t be helped It’s her fate.
Aphan: Actually it’s not so far off, mother. Think of the olden days—it used to take us a full day to reach there! Now if we set out in the morning, we can reach there in the evening.
Ama. amma: Then why should you set out now? Why not go in the morning?
Aphan: Now, I’m going to Shornur. I will leave for Mollur only tomorrow morning. There is a meeting this evening at Pozhisseri and the Namboothiri has asked me to attend it.
Ama. Amma: What for? I’m scared of the word ‘meeting’. Is it to stop any wedding or to allow untouchables to enter the temples?
Aphan: There’s no need to worry. It’s only to discuss the Kavalappara fund.
Ama. amma: What ?
Aphan: It’s the money Kummini Raman and I collected, after literally begging at all the houses in Kavalappara. Now certain reformists like V.T. and Pandam are trying to take it away. I am just going there to say that it can’t be allowed.
Ama. Amma: V.T.? Isn’t it the dark Bhattatiri who had come here with Kuttan preaching that the untouchables should be admitted into temples?
Aphan: Yes, the very same man. They are now out to create problems. Things were far better earlier. Now everything has gone haywire. Let me go. (Curtain)
(The scene is set in the drawing room of the advocate. It is three o’clock in the afternoon on Sunday. The Advocate is busy with some figures, examining some papers. Devaki can be heard singing indoors.)
All is set for the battle, all is set for the battle
The preparations are made inside the kitchen
We are the Sapatnis* who are dissatisfied but
We will not destroy each other.
Advocate: Such impudent songs! What is the need to sing it so loudly? Shouldn’t others work in peace?
Devaki: The marriage chain of patriarchy – (Enters) Cannot hold us down
Advocate: (Covering his ears) Will you stop hollering? I can’t do a thing, sitting outside! Feel like cursing those song-writers!
Devaki: (Sitting on the chair) If there is no freedom even to sing a song, life’s going to be very difficult. I will sing what I feel like.
The antharjanams are no longer slaves
To bear the harassments of their torturers.
Advocate: (With obvious irritation) If so I too will do as I please. Don’t drive me to it. You are crossing all limits. Don’t goad me any further! What’s the meaning of all this commotion?
Devaki: The Antharjana Samajam* is planning to take out a propaganda procession from Shornur the day after tomorrow and I have been included in the Malabar batch. I have to reach Shornur by tomorrow evening.
Advocate: The activities of the Antharjana Samajam are going from bad to worse day by day. What business did they have to go to Paliyam*and get beaten up by the police?
Devaki: Whether it served any cause or not, it’s the duty of any organization to help a public cause. And that’s just what the Samajam did.
Advocate: Can’t they do something that’s more useful and less dangerous? Such activities will only turn the people against them. Why can’t the Samajam contribute a charka to each Illam? Won’t that keep women engaged in some creative activity at home? Of course, they’ll have to be given instructions. Maybe one can think of a magazine which will focus on the technical side. Such activities will benefit all sections of the society.
Devaki: The office bearers are only doing what the members of the Samajam have accepted. That’s the practice with any organization.
Advocate: Your organization itself is wrong. The speech that Kochutttiamma* made at the school – how right it was! Nearly ninety percent of the Antharjanams who have come out of their confines are all fallen ones – forgetting their own personality and trying to be like men, all in the name of the freedom struggle! If Mrs O.M.S. or Devaki Nilayangode were the office bearers, we could correct them. But it is very hard even to speak to Arya Pallam and. Ganga Devi!
Devaki: Why? Because of their retorts?
Advocate: Fancy spreading slanderous slogans about decent people and calling it awareness campaign!
Devaki: Aren’t there ever so many Namboothiris even in our times who thrash their wives in the name of fashion-. This campaign attempts to expose such shameless brutes.
Advocate: Enough of your idiocy! You cannot go for this campaign.
Devaki: Why? Why so?
Advocate: Next Sunday I’m planning to host a party for the Munsiff and the Bar Association members. When their wives arrive, it will be a shame if you are not here.
Devaki: That can wait till next week. After all, it’s not an emergency. It’s impossible to postpone the campaign. It was fixed much earlier.
Advocate: Let them hold it if they want. After all, one member less won’t do them harm.
Devaki : I had given my word. I can’t go back on it now.
Advocate: (In deep thought) Moreover, from day after tomorrow onwards, the cook won’t be here. I’ve dismissed him.
Devaki: (Shocked and grieved) What for? Advocate: I ‘ve been thinking for some days — why not manage without a cook. Hasn’t E.M.S. said that one should earn one’s livelihood by labour and one can do any labour to earn a livelihood? That’s very true. Devoid: I am not ready to prepare lunch for you by 10 o’clock and make endless cups of tea for your visitors.
Advocate: It’s because of your ignorance that you say so. First of all, be aware of your duties. How can women discard their husbands, forget their duty of child rearing and go away? How will this world function? Just imagine, if the blacksmiths refuse to work! Or the washermen don’t wash clothes! It wasn’t for nothing that our ancients devised the concept of division of labour!
Devaki: When I am here, I will do what I can. But I am not prepared to quit social service because there is no one to cook. won’tbe here for a week from tomorrow onwards.
Advocate: It won’t be possible to get a cook for a week. I don’t feel like managing alone, either with the manservant or the maid. There are many clients from the upper class who may come and stay here.
Devaki: In short, you mean that I should give up all else and become the kitchen woman, isn’t it?
Advocate: If it’s an honour to work in a company or to role beedis, what’s wrong with kitchen work? In the Wardha Ashram* for women, the cooking, sweeping and even scavanging work is done by the students. You can ask Devaki Narikkattiri. Try to understand the significance of ‘dignity of labour’. Take the instance of your work place. Are there paid employees for such work there? You are prepared to do any work anywhere. Then why you can’t do it in your own house? ‘Charity begins at home’, understand? If I didn’t have to read the newspaper in the morning, go to the court at 11 o’clock and play chess with the Munsiff at the club, I would have no trouble doing the work here. (Devaki is unable to find an apt reply and stands thoughtfully while the Advocate gets up looking at his watch.) Oh! it’s five o’clock! please get me my walking stick and shirt. The Munsiff must have got fed up, waiting for me.
Place: Devaki’s room. It is three thirty in the afternoon
(Devaki is looking into a book with a disappointed expression. Parvathy enters dressed for a journey.)
Devaki; Parvathy, come in. Sit down. Ready for the journey to Shornur?
Parvathy: (Looking at Devaki’s face) Why do you look so dull?
Devaki: Oh, that doesn’t matter. Let’s have a cup of coffee. (Pours coffee into two glasses and the two of them drink)I can’t come to Shornur.
Parvathy: Why? What happened?
Devaki: I don’t know what to say! I’m not permitted to join the awareness campaign. Moreover, he has plans to host a party for the Munsiff and the advocates next Sunday. And, to cap it all, he has dismissed our cook.
(Thoughtfully): So it’s an attempt to distance you from the activities of the Antharjana Samajam and tie you down to the kitchen, eh?
Devaki: The reason cited was not that. Going by the principle of self-reliance, it seems it’s wrong to maintain a servant. His argument is— whether it be the workplace or Wardha. Ashram, isn’t all the work done by the girl students?
Parvathy: Touche! The crooked mind of the Advocate! You should not take part in the campaign. That’s his sole aim. All this talk about the party and the dismissal of the cook in the name of work ethics is just a crafty trick. His argument that one should work to earn one’s livelihood and do any work for a living is really laughable. Let him give up his visit to the club and the card and chess games there and come here to help you prepare dinner—is he prepared for that? He needs a servant even to dust his shoes, doesn’t he?
Devaki: I was not able to realize all this then. But what you say is absolutely right! He should be made to realize that others can see through his tricks. One day I should speak to him directly. Parvathy, you must be there with me. Only then will I be able to straighten things out.
Parvathy: I have no hesitation. I will speak out frankly to him.
Devaki: Yes, that’s what we should do. Speak to him frankly.
Parvathy: Devaki, hadn’t you promised to contribute one hundred rupees to the work place? The secretary has written to me saying it would be nice if you could pay now.
Devaki: Oh, yes, of course. (Looking at the watch) It’s time for him to return from the court. Once he reaches, I’ll get the money from him.
Parvathy: In the mean time, let me go and get the camp of the participants ready.
(Parvathy leaves. Devaki is in a pensive mood and is stunned by the thoughts that race through her mind. Two minutes later, the advocate enters and hangs his coat on the stand. Sits down to have coffee.)
Devaki: Did you see Parvathy?
Advocate: Oh! Yes. Met her at the gate. What did she come for?
Devaki: We may have many things to talk about and discuss. Why should you know all that?
Advocate: Not for anything in particular. Just wanted to know what she has newly injected into you.
Devaki: Why should you object to Parvathy’s visits? After all how many of your clients come here and bore me with their false cases? Have I ever complained?
Advocate: How can you compare the two?
Devaki: I don’t see any difference! (Drinks coffee) By the way, I had promised to pay one hundred rupees to the Work Place. I need to pay it now.
Advocate: One hundred rupees? That too for the Work Place? Let me tell you something! I won’t pay a single rupee.
Devaki: I gave my word and even got the receipt for the amount. It’s not possible to go back on it now.
Advocate: Where’s the receipt? Let me see.
Devaki: Here. (Gives him the receipt.)
Advocate: Haven’t you got the receipt? Now why do you need to pay the money?
Devaki: What a question! If the receipt is drawn up, does it mean there’s no need to pay the money?
Advocate: How will you get the receipt without paying the money?
Devaki: Didn’t they issue the receipt in the faith that the money will be paid?
Advocate: That’s no problem. You can cancel the receipt.
Devaki: So my word has no value. Is that what you mean?
Advocate: If you had consulted me before giving word, you wouldn’t have had this problem. Even if you want to contribute, there are so many other worthwhile institutions in the world. All kinds of roguish activities are carried out at the Work Place. Just read ‘The Conversion of the Comrade’.
Devaki: Yes, yes. What a book to read! Isn’t it written by the Pathaka people?
Advocate: What’s important is not who wrote it but what’s written in it.
Devaki: Anyone can write such lies under false names.
Advocate: Whatever you may say, don’t tell me to give you money for the Work Place.
Devaki: Mind you, I’m not a beggar seeking alms. I didn’t come here empty-handed either. What about the ten thousand rupees I brought as dowry – have you forgotten that?
Advocate: So what? Do you want to squander it away? That’s all Brahmaswom* wealth.
Devaki: Don’t you have the five thousand rupees my father gave you from his personal wealth? You can pay me from that.
Advocate: Once it reaches my hands, the personal and the Brahmaswom become one. I’m not prepared to give you anything from that. You’ve learnt this stubbornness and rudeness from Parvathy. Let me see her. I’ve quite a few things to tell her.
(Parvathy enters. The Advocate is stunned.)
Parvathy: What’s it that you have to tell me, Namboothiri? I’m ready to listen to you.
Advocate: I don’t welcome your frequent visits here. You are chiefly responsible for misguiding my wife. There is no need of you or your Samajam to modernize my wife. That can be done here.
Parvathy: Namboothiri, why on earth did you get educated? You should realize one truth. There are certain reactionaries like you who pretend to be progressive. Such people even beat their wives in the name of new principles. The aim of our Samajam is to help such sisters. I will work accordingly. If you don’t approve of my visits here, I won’t come here anymore. But I can very effectively work from outside.
32 Antharjana Samajam
Advocate: Stop, stop your preaching. You’re simply jealous seeing wedded couples living happily and want to inject disobedience and rudeness so that they begin to quarrel. Isn’t that what you do – cheat women?
Parvathy: You . . . use your words carefully. Who are the ones who cheat women? We or you? You dismissed the cook in the name of self reliance. What for? Just to stop Devaki getting involved in social service , isn’t it? In the name of prestige and ancient culture you prevented Devaki from attending community meetings. Why? To turn her into a kitchen manager and a slave, isn’t it? You’ve cloistered her indoors in the name of aristocracy. For what purpose? You are afraid that Devaki will experience at first hand the winds of change blowing around her. Isn’t it so, Namboothiri? Admit it. Did you imagine that you could deceive everyone with your falsehoods? The Antharjanams are fully prepared to work. But not us slaves – only as equals, as free birds.
Advocate: Free birds! Don’t provoke me to say anything more.
Parvathy: Oh yes, say what you please. I’m not a coward to be cowed down by your words. Speak out, I say! (The advocate remains silent.) What’s wrong? Aren’t you ready to speak out your mind? Then I’m leaving.
Devaki: Wait. Parvathy, stop! (To the advocate) Give me one hundred rupees that I demanded. I have to send it through Parvathy.
Advocate: I won’t.
Devaki: Why can’t you? After all I demanded only one hundred rupees.
Advocate: (Angrily) Didn’t I say I won’t ? Still why do you insist?
Devaki: Who else will I ask? Do I have anyone else? Please give me a hundred rupees (Her voice breaks.)
Advocate: Don’t utter another word. I won’t pay a rupee.
Devaki: (Sorrowfully) What a pity! Don’t you love me at all? If you do, please give me.
Advocate: N… o! N…e..v…e.. r!
Devaki: (In tears) Here take my contribution, Parvathy. (Removes her gold chain. Parvathy takes it.)
Parvathy; This is a fine example of the nobility of our organization’s intentions. When you tried to withhold the hundred rupees promised to us, we got five hundred instead. Let me leave now, Devaki. We’ll meet after a week.
Advocate: You do not have any legal right to take that chain. I will take action against you.
Parvathy: Then come up with a suitable answer in the court.
(Parvathy leaves. Meanwhile the Advocate sits with bowed head and a defeated expression.)
(The scene is set in Parvathy ‘s lodgings and the time is two o’clock in the afternoon.) Parvathy is engrossed in reading letters and writing replies. Devaki enters.)
Parvathy: Come in. Devaki, sit down.
Devaki: I was about to have my lunch when this letter was brought to me. What’s the emergency?
Parvathy (Giving a letter to Devaki) : Just read this.
Devaki: (Looking at the letter) Resembles Devasena’s handwriting.
Parvathy: It’s hers.
Devaki: (After reading) Never imagined this would happen! We must try our utmost to save Devasena from this grave danger.
Parvathy: If we fail to help a bold and modern girl like her, it will be a defeat for our whole movement.
Devaki: I hope Devasena has the courage to overcome the opposition and imprisonment in her own house.
Parvathy: She is smart enough to guess how miserable it will be if she is married off to Sirsi or Sidhapur*. What we need to do is give her the courage to break away from her family and, later, arrange for a decent means of livelihood. And that’s what she has demanded too.
Devaki: After she escapes from her illam, let’s enroll her in the Work Place , once she leaves her household. If she’s able to stand on her own feet, she will never be a burden to anyone. We must go to her house now.
Parvathy: Yes, we should reach there tomorrow itself. That’s why I immediately sent word to you. It’s better to go in the morning itself. Let’s take a car.
Devaki: be here by eight.
Parvathy: The Advocate may try to raise some objection.
Devaki: I’ve thought of it. It’s our responsibility to save Devasena from danger. I’m prepared to sacrifice anything to fulfill it. There’s another thing, Parvathy … however rich or however handsome he is, I’m not prepared to live as his slave – that’s for sure. If he pushes me too much, I’ll leave him and his family and walk away, proclaiming my freedom.
Parvathy: Our ideal is not to encourage wives to walk out on their husbands; rather, to ensure that they live together enjoying equality and freedom. We should prevent separation, at all cost. Deserting the husband should only be the last resort. Such a step is final and should be taken only after considering all the consequences. Make sure that you won’t have to repent later. Any daredevilry is commendable, if it is to escape slavery. But that should be done only after weighing the pros and the cons thoroughly.
Devaki: I fully realize the gravity of the situation. This issue has been plaguing me for some time now . . . I’ll be here by eight o’clock tomorrow morning.
(The Advocate’s room, It is seven o’clock in the morning. The advocate is seated in a chair drinking coffee. Devaki enters dressed to go out in a scree and sits down to have coffee.)
Advocate: Are you going out somewhere?
Devaki: I’ve to visit a place in connection with the activities of the Antharjana Samajam.
Advocate: Where to? Let me hear.
Devaki : Not too far off. I’ll be back by evening.
Advocate: Tell me where you are off to and for what purpose. Shouldn’t I know?
Devaki : It’s none of your business.
Advocate: Going off somewhere when you please and as you please, without telling me anything – that won’t do.
Devaki : If I tell you what I intend to do, you won’t allow me to go, that’s why.
Advocate: If it’s for something good, like listening to religious discourses or to visit the Munsiff’s house, I won’t object. I’ve never opposed them earlier either.
Devaki : No, I’m not going to any such place -but to Amarattattu.
Advocate: Why? For what?
Devaki : There’s an attempt to sell Devasena to someone in Sirsi or Sidhapur . She had written urging us to go quickly and save her.
Advocate: What can we do?
Devaki : Go and save her, that’s what.
Advocate: I am not supporting the sale to Sisi or Sidhapur. But if the girl’s Aphan has fixed the alliance and a groom has come forward to marry her, it’s legally difficult to save her. There are many legal hassles involved too.
Devaki : Whether there are hassles or not, we’re determined to go ahead and fight till the last to save her.
Advocate: Who do you mean by ‘we’? Who are the others? Parvathy, eh?
Devaki: Yes, she’s the one.
Advocate: So what’re your plans?
Devaki: We’ll go there and just bring her with us, that’s all.
Advocate: Why? Is she mad to just accompany you when you call her?
Devaki: No, she’s not mad. That’s why we are sure that she’ll come with us.
Advocate: Even if she comes, where will you put her up? Who’ll pay for her expenses? There are many factors to consider.
Devaki: We’ve made arrangements for all that. She can be put up at the workplace.
Advocate: There’s every likelihood of a case made against you for brainwashing the girl and kidnapping her against the wishes of her family members. It’s a shame to our family status. Suits people like Parvathy fine, though!
Devaki : Saving a poor orphan girl from hell may appear a shameful deed to you but in my view it’s a matter of pride.
Advocate: A matter of pride indeed! To goad a girl to revolt and then to leave her in the lurch? It’s easier said than done. Better keep off. If you create a mess, the rest of us will be in trouble.
Devaki: No need to say all this now. I’ve made up my mind and I’m fully prepared to face any consequences.
Advocate: (Angrily) Without my permission? Such impudence! I won’t tolerate this!
Devaki: Don’t get furious. I’m not being impudent but only acting according to my conscience and I’m not willing to sacrifice it to suit anyone’s whims.
Advocate: What? I can’t permit this audacity. I decide things in this house. You will not go.
Devaki : Why shouldn’t I go? What is the nature of our relationship? We are husband and wife – not master and slave. All this while I endured you, thinking that you’ll mend your ways, hoping that you’ll be a changed man some day. But I’m not ready to put up with your autocratic methods any longer. I have the absolute freedom to live and act according to my will and pleasure. I’m leaving.
Advocate: (Catching hold of her hands) You mad woman, will you go to the Workplace without my consent? Let me see … your going to that brothel.
Devaki: (Shaking off his hands quickly in anger and sorrow) Brothel! Mad! Oh! You’re a man, isn’t it? Freedom is the monopoly of man and slavery that of women, isn’t it? Brothel! Mad! (Breaking his sacred thread of Brahrninhood) When you come there as a client bring this as well with you–(Throws it on his face and walks off).
[The drawing room of Amarattattu House. The time is ten a’ clock in the morning. The Aphan Nambothiri enters, after the wedding ceremony, dressed as though just back from a journey and sits down preparing to chew the paan.]
38 Antharjana Soma jam
Aphan: Mother, Aren’t you inside? Can you come over here? (Mother enters ad looking out at towards the gate.)
Ama. Amma: Who is coming? Should I go inside?
Aphan: No. They’re women. Probably some teachers from the school.
Ama. Amma: Two of them come often to meet Nangeta (Parvathy and Devaki enter through one side and go in through the other). Did you bathe and have food from there before returning?
Aphan: No, there was no time for all that. The time was very early and after getting down at the bus stop, I couldn’t find any buses due to the strike. So I went to the ‘kaavu’, took a bath and had coffee before walking down here.
Ama. Amma: What do you mean by strike?
Aphan: Simply refusing to work.
Ama. Amma: Oh, I see! If you get into the bus and ask them to drive they won’t, isn’t it?
Aphan: Yes, that’s it. The plan is to set off day after tomorrow evening after the marriage feast in the morning. The grand reception can be held in the evening when the Advocates and magistrates will be free to attend. After that we can leave by the night train. A car has been arranged.
Ama. Amma: That’s a good idea. I’m scared, you see. It seems somewhere in the south, a ‘Kanyadanam’ was stopped by some athemmar and people of the Sabha. Finally the ritual was completed by police intervention. Now … who gave me this bit of news? It must have been . . . Itichiri . . . when she came for the birthday feast.
Aphan: I’m not afraid at all. It’s not without reason that I have invited the magistrate,. If anyone tries to act smart, have them beaten up — whoever it be.
Ama. Amma: Let’s hope nothing untoward happens.
Aphan: There will be quite a few people from outside. The food should be excellent. But here there’s no one except you, mother.
Ama. Amma: I am too old to take up that responsibility. If I enter the kitchen, I will probably knock something down.
Aphan: Haven’t you told the servants?
Ama. Amnia: Yes, I will do so right now. Come after your bath. It’s already
late. I am going to have my meal. (Leaves.)
Aphan: (Calling out to the servant) Haven’t you arranged for three pots of curd?
Servant: (From inside) Yes, without a drop of water and at the lowest rate.
(Amarattattu Anima enters very agitated holding a ‘Palaka’ in her hands)
Ama. Amma: Look here son, Nangeta is getting ready to leave with these
people. She’s not prepared to listen to me.
(Parvathy, Devaki and Devasena enter through the other side)
Aphan: (to Devasena)Stop there. Where are you going?(To Parvathy and Devaki) Yes, you may go.
Devasena: I am leaving with them.
Aphan: What do you mean? You beast! Have you forgotten that you are a grown-up girl? (To Parvathy) Didn’t I tell you to leave? So is that why you came? Comets of ill-omen!
Ama. Amma: I never imagined! It seems they’re from Palapprathu and Parambur Illams.
Aphan: Doesn’t matter to me who you are. Why are you waiting? Didn’t you get enough from the police during the Paliyam Satyagraha? Do you want more from me as well?
Parvathy: Try beating us! We’ve come to take away Devasena and we’ll leave only with her.
Aphan: That won’t happen here.
Devaki: Tomorrow you’re planning to get rid of her by giving her off to someone about whom you’re totally in the dark. It’ll be far better to let her come with us. This way too you’ll be rid of a burden, isn’t it so, Namboothiri?
Aphan: That’s exactly the reason why she cannot be taken away.
Ama. Amma: But I’m not prepared to be given away in this manner. I’ll go and look after myself elsewhere.
Aphan: Who’s seeking your permission? Things have not reached a stage in this house! Didn’t I tell you to go inside?
Devasena: You’ll definitely have to seek my consent in matters that concern me. It’s not going to be possible to sell me to someone. And I’m not going in but out — that’s for sure. Come, let’s go, Parvathy.
Aphan: Let me see that happen! Stop there!
Devaki: Move over! How dare you stop us? Don’t try to act brave, hiding your cowardice. That’ll be better for you.
Ama. Amma: My goodness! Can girls go to this extent? What will happen next?
Parvathy: Nothing at all. Just allow Devasena to come with us. Don’t stop her. (To Devasena) Come on. Let’s go. (Three of them prepare to leave.)
Aphan: I order you. Remain where you are. (Catches hold of Devasena’s hands.)
Devasena: Leave my hand. (Shakes him off)
Parvathy: (Pulling Devasena away) Stand over there. That’ll be better. Selling girls for money under the guise of marriage! Do you think no one can see through all these tricks? Did you think that simply because Devasena is an orphan, she can be sold? Don’t you feel ashamed to act so brutally, without any human feelings? And, to top it all, claiming to be fashionable! What’s over is over. If you try to be violent again, you’ll pay for it. Come on, let’s go.
Aphan: Who’re you to advise me?
(He tries to push off Parvathy and catch Devasena. Parvathy asks ‘Is it so?’ and pushes him off and all of them leave!)
The play ends.
The historical distinction of having created the first feminist play in Malayalam literature belongs to the Antharjana Samajam, a Commune of Malayali Brahmin Women (Antharjanams) formed in 1931 primarily to reform the Namboothiri community by preventing crude practices like polygamy, the marriage of young girls to old men and enforced widowhood. The play To The Workplace written and staged in 1948 raised a whole lot of issues related to the liberation of Antharjanams which were voiced forcefully within the Namboothiri reformist circles —women’s education, dress-reform, monogamy, widow-marriage, intra-caste marriage, freedom of travel, etc.
The necessity of such a work arose from the fact that gender discrimination was at its worst in the pre-independence, pre-reform, traditional illam or mana (the Malayali Brahmin joint-family homestead and also the lineage that went with it). Antharjanams were subjected to such extreme seclusion that if they had to venture out of their homes they were compelled to cover themselves with a cloak (puthappu) and a large cadjan umbrella (marakuta). Besides, they were forced to carry out a great degree of domestic labour and brought up with a sense of inferiority right from childhood. Polygamy was allowed to the eldest son of the illam who alone was allowed to marry from his caste, in order to produce the necessary male heir. The number of young widows in this community Was staggeringly high because their husbands were invariably very old at the time of marriage and often accepted them only to facilitate the wedding of their own daughters. Their plight was especially pathetic because remarriage for women was impossible. A greater ignominy Attached to this community was the dowry system. The demands put forth were often exorbitant as women could not inherit land and therefore the dowries had to be paid as moveable property.
The winds of change began to blow strongly when both nationalism and radical leftist thinking began to exercise a strong influence on Malayali Brahmin reformism. The best example is provided by the renowned Malayali Brahmin reformer, V. T. Bhattatiripad who took part in the Ahmedabad Conference of the Indian National Congress, while he was a student at the special school set up at Edakkunni by the Yogakshema Sabha to impart modern education for Malayali Brahmin boys. The Yogakshema Sabha was formed in 1908 to strengthen the community-building efforts among the Namboothiris without jeopardizing the Malayali Brahmin ‘essence’ but it underwent great changes subsequently. Hence the special references to V. T. Bhattatiripad and E. M. S. Namboothiripad within the play assume great significance. The allusions to the Temple Entry proclamation which allowed the lower castes to enter the temples and the opposition to it by the orthodox elements in the Brahmin Community- find special mention in the play.
As a natural off-shoot of these developments, the transformation of women’s lives became a top priority with the radical reformers. Slowly Antharjanams themselves began to break the traditional codes of conduct and started donning the reformer’s mantle. Women reformers like Parvathy Nenminimangalam, brought in a spirit of militancy into the movement and introduced Antharjanams to revolutionary ideas. By the 1940s revolutionary political leaders sprang up from among the Antharjanams – like Devaki Narikkattiri and Arya Pallom – who participated in the Paliyam Satyagraha, an incident mentioned in the play. J. Devika writes in En-gendering Individuals: The Language of Re-forming in Early Twentieth Century Keralam:
By the late 1940s, a girl’s hostel for college-going Antharjanams was begun in Thrissur. Antharjana Samajams were active in propaganda urging them to be independent financially, especially in the background of the furore raised around reports that young Antharjanams were sold off to Sidhipur (Karnataka) and Sirsi (Maharashtra). Worth special mention is the play Tozhilkendrattilekku (To the workplace) written and performed by women of the antharjana samajam of Thrissur in 1948 (166).
The drama itself was born out of the female collective that started functioning in Tiruttimel Illam at Lakkidi in Palakkad District. It was the direct outcome of the 1944 Ongallur Conference of the Yogakshema Sabha which urged the Malayali Brahmins to enter the mainstream of modern Kerala society, by setting aside caste pride and status. The Women’s Commune was a solace to orphaned Antharjanams because they could lead a life of dignity, engaging themselves in spinning or weaving.
To the Workplace, created to propagate the aims of the Commune, drew its ideas from the real life experiences of Kavungara Bhargavi, a thirteen-year-old inmate whose marriage had been fixed to a very cruel Namboothiri. As an orphan, her affairs were decided by her uncle who had decided to sell her off without offering any dowry. Taking money from the groom, her uncle claimed that it was a marriage that was conducted without any money passing hands. Despite her protests she was forcefully married off but she spent her days in grief and mourning. Once the news of her plight reached the outside world, the workers of the Antharjana Samajam rescued her.
Several attempts were made by the fundamentalists in the community to brand the women of the commune as prostitutes. The leading role in such attempts was taken by a newspaper Pathaka run by a man named Thekkedathu Bhattatiri and such orthodox elements are attacked during the course of the play. The whole play is created as much to refute the charges against the commune as also to establish its relevance.
The play’s theme and the fact that the roles including those of men were enacted by women during the first staging reinforce the importance of the play as the earliest experiment in feminist theatre in Malayalam. The stories and plays penned by male social reformers like V. T. Bhattatiripad and M. R. B. invariably depicted the reformer-husband as the teacher, guide, protector and lover while the Antharjanam remained the object to be reformed as well as object of desire. She becomes both a desirable object and an active subject of love thanks to the male reformer and always remains within the enclosed domestic domain.
To the Workplace, despite being the first play of its kind, is an independent attempt made by Antharjanams to break away from the stereotypes created by their male counterparts. Unlike the First Wave Feminist Movement in Europe which relied on male members for support, here no special help is sought from them. It is for this very reason that Devaki, the protagonist who breaks the sacred thread and throws it on her husband’s face before walking out from his house, appears a far stronger and more revolutionary character than Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.
The propaganda plays by V. T. and M. R. B. discussed issues exclusively related to women. But To The Workplace occupies a unique position in the history of Malayalam drama as the first play to evolve out of women’s initiative and to depict the way to overcome their problems. The fact that it took shape in Kerala much earlier than it did in Europe and America in the late 1950s and early 1960s is a special matter that deserves mention.
The effort taken by Dr N. R. Gramaprakash of the University of Calicut to retrieve the play from a dark, forgotten corner of Appan Thampuran Library and present a rich historical text before the discerning Malayali reading public needs to be specially lauded.
(Translated by Anjana Sankar S.)