“At last we have a playwright who gives sixty million English-speaking Indians an identity. Thank you, Mahesh Dattani!” remarks Alyque Padamsee, a director who has directed many of Dattani’s plays. Mahesh Dattani was the first Indian playwright who received the most prestigious literary prize, the Sahitya Academy Award in 1998 for the collection of his plays, Final Solutions and Other Plays. The citation described his work as “a brilliant contribution to Indian drama in English.”
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The postcolonial subject in India and elsewhere is oscillating between two kinds of rationality-one represented by the traditional cultural thought and the other by modern western discourses. This conflict between the two cultures becomes apparent in the works of Vijay Tendulkar,Girish Karnad and Mahesh Dattani where moral principles find a new dimension. To them social suppositions are always different from the realities of life. For example one cannot expect a son always to be an obedient or a blind follower of his parents. Sadly the clash of traditional and modern values are an essential part of the life of the people at present. This clash is brought out brilliantly by Dattani in his first play Where There’s a Will Mahesh Dattani like Shaw, uses the stage to condemn many of the drawbacks prevailing in the society.
According to “Patriarchy is a social system in which the role of the male as the primary figure of authority is central to social organization, and where fathers hold authority over women, children, and property. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and is dependent on female subordination. The principle of patriarchy has been central to the social, legal, political, and economic organizations down the ages.
In his first play (1988), Dattani takes up the issues of the patriarchal code. Indian society has been a very traditional society with strong patriarchal values. Fathers have desired to have sons because they are supposed to carry forward the name of the family, and because in their sons fathers have hoped to live out their own dreams and aspirations. In the past this has led to a situation where a father demands unquestioning obedience from his son because he firmly believes that he alone knows what is best for him. Subsequently this denies the son any opportunity for independent growth. With changing times, this has begun to change. In Where There’s a Will, Dattani exposes the hollowness of the patriarchal code, which cannot be followed in the post colonial setting.
The play revolves around a supposedly ‘self made’ successful industrialist, Hasmukh Mehta.This patriarch is the supreme malcontent who tries to dictate to his son, Ajit, because he would not toe his father’s line. Though he makes Ajit the joint managing director of his firm, he does not allow him to formulate any company policy. However he fails to make Ajit do what he wants. This he succeeds in doing when through his will after his sudden death, he denies Ajit the ownership of his property till the latter becomes forty-five years old and in the intervening twenty one years , continues to run the company exactly in the way his father did. However, as the play unfolds the ghost of Hasmukh Mehta, who is watching everything with triumph, realizes with dismay the folly of his desire. It also depicts the traditional husband and wife relationship through two generations and takes a bolder look at the new woman of the society in the form of Hasmukh’s mistress Kiran Jhaveri. Dattani also shows the dark humour and irony through the form of Hasmukh’s will left in the care of his mistress.
The story has been narrated by Hasmusk Mehta, the conventional father who is of the opinion that a father knows what is best for his son, and Ajit, the son who believes in living his own life and dreaming his own dreams. The first-half of the play presents the father’s point of view where the dramatist seems to be taking the side of the father. When the play begins Ajit is talking to a friend on the phone and telling him how he would modernize the whole plant if he were given only five lakhs of rupees. Commenting on his father Ajit remarks,”â€¦But he just won’t listen to me. I don’t think he has ever listened to me in his entire life.”(CP 455). Husmukh regards Ajit as an incapable and irresponsible young man of twenty three who resists all his attempts to take him under his wings. Ajit on his part considers his father to be a head strong person who is just not ready to consider any other opinion except his own. When they talk to one another, Husmukh is blunt and contemptuous, and Ajit is defiant. In a series of revealing conversations, the dramatist makes bother their attitudes clear:
AJIT.Don’t have any rights at all?
HASMUKH.You have the right to listen to my advice and obey my orders.
AJIT.Thank you. You are so generous. I could kiss your feet.
HASMUKH.There’s no need to do that, just polish my shoes every morning
and I will be happy.
AJIT.You will never be happy. Not until all of us dance to your
tune. And I will never do that
HASMUKH. Don’t be so stubborn!
AJIT. You are stubborn too.
HASMUKH. I’m stubborn because I know I’m right. You’re stubborn
because you are a nincompoop.( CP 468)
Hasmukh’s father is a typical patriarch. When his elder son runs away from home to join a group of hippies, he tightenes his control over the other son, Hasmukh, who is taken out of school and put to hard work in the factory that his father had set up. Hasmukh is obliged to his father for the training that he has given him. He holds that if today at the age of forty five he is a very successful industrialist and one of the richest men in the city, it is all because of the schooling that he has under his father. He is unhappy with his son, Ajit, because he would not follow in the footsteps of his father. He tells him that he needs ‘seasoning’, to make him fit to run the company when his father would no longer be there. The conversation reveals the dominating tendency of Hasmukh :
HASMUKH. …I will retire one day, either from the company
or from this world. What will become of you then? I have to
season you now. You need seasoning.
AJIT. Seasoning! What do you mean seasoning? I’m not a block
of wood! (CP 4)
[Ajit reacts to this and says,]
AJIT.â€¦You want to run the show. Play Big Boss as long as you
can or as long as God permits. And when all of a sudden you
are called to a better world, you still want to play Big Boss.
and you can do it through me. In short you want me to be you.
HASMUKH. I should have prayed for a daughter. Yes I want you to be me!
What’s wrong with being me?
AJIT. And what becomes of me? The real me. I mean. If I am you,
Then where am I? (CP 461)
This is the basic conflict between the father and the son in this play. The father wants a typical submissive, hardworking and obedient son. He does not want a son who is imaginative, individualistic and independent. The son, on the other hand, is not ready to be merely a prototype of his father. He believes in living his own life and thinking his own thoughts. “Why is it that everything I say or do has to be something that somebody has told me or taught me to do?”(CP 459). Dramatist presents here not an individual case but a representative of the changed society.
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The postcolonial Indian society has undergone some fundamental changes. Even when a young man is working with his father or other elders of the family, for example, in the family business or industry, he has his views on different aspects of the work he is involved in, and wants them to be heard and respected.Such issues have greatly affected the patriarchal code. Dattani’s play shows both the strong desire of the older generation to preserve its authority over the young and the determined bid of the young to break free of this patriarchal code.
Husmukh does not spare his wife and daughter in-law too. His will after his death is a shock to his family members. He has not left his property unconditionally to his son or his wife. His wife Sonal is a powerless woman as she is confined to the house and financially dependent on her husband. Dattani also questions the patriarchal moral code which demands the faithfulness of a woman to her husband but not the faithfulness of a man to his wife. Sonal is surprised to know about the mistress Kiran Jhaveri only after her husband’s death.Sonal remembers well that Husmukh is exactly the same like his father. Kiran Jhaveri, his mistress also recalls how her father is a real patriarch who beats his wife and her brothers also behave exactly the same way like the father.
Following the patriarchal code, Husmukh Metha while alive remains an utter failure as a father and a husband. The genuine relationship of love, concern and compassion that should form the foundation of an ideal family is thoroughly missing in his life. His life proves the hollowness of patriarchal code. Bill Gaither, in his song Love Can Turn The World stresses:
If coal can turn to diamonds
And sand can turn to pearls
If a worm can turn into a butterfly
Then love can turn the world.
The life of Husmukh Metha establishes the fact that with no love the patriarchal system which he follows becomes hollow and meaningless.
Dattani thus powerfully brings out the denial of individuality and opportunity for individual growth in a patriarchal code. In the name of tradition and good manners and even duty, the family is expected to follow blindly whatever they are asked to do which deprives them of their drive and of their initiative. In Where There’s a Will Dattani makes a bold statement in favour of the individual’s right to live his or her life according to his or her own right. Even one may fail or come to grief he or she may be bold enough to face life on his or her own terms.
Dattani,Mahesh. Collected Plays. New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2000. Print..
Prasad, Amar Nath. The Dramatic World of Mahesh Dattani: A critical exploration. New Delhi: Sarup Book, 2009.Print.
Gaither vocal Band. ‘Love Can Turn The World Lyrics’. Uulyrics. Web. 24 Jan. 2011.
‘Patriarchy’. Wikipedia. Web. 3 Feb. 2011.
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