Untouchable in Pune: Mixed media by SAVI SAVARKAR
Untouchable in Pune: Mixed media by SAVI SAVARKAR
  Play: Scarecrow Theyyam
 

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  Omprakash Valmiki
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  Malkhan Singh
  Omcherry
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Omcherry

Ink on paper by VISHWAJYOTI GHOSH

The stage is imagined to be a paddy field. A scarecrow stands at stage front. Round eyes, wide-open mouth, curled moustaches — a horrible figure. It is clad in a long gown. Its arms are stretched out on either side, as if it has been crucified. From the raised stage rear — from the farmland — a youth with unruly hair, long beard and soiled clothes walks up slowly. A bag hangs from his shoulder with papers peeping out of it. There’s a rolled-up sheet of paper tucked under his arm. He is reciting the Vishnusahasranamam somewhat loudly:

Om Jayantaaya Namah

Om Swarnabindaveh Namah

Om Akshobhyaaya Namah

Om Mahaahridaaya Namah

Om Mahaagartaaya Namah

Attempts to climb down to the paddy field from the farm compound. Halts suddenly, seeing something ahead, looks hesitant and apprehensive. Then bends down, looks intently.

Amazing indeed! Where have I landed up while reciting the sahasranamam? On the brink of the canal! Mahaahridaaya, Mahaagartaaya. Hridam, gartam, a chasm, a vortex right in front of me. It may be ordained that I should enter the field after paying obeisance to the gartam, the deep pit. Let it be that way. (Reflecting) One should either vault across. Or, get down into the canal and cross over. Should I jump across… what if I fall short and fall down?

No. I can get down into the canal and wade across. But what if the water is very deep? The better of the two options is to jump across.

(As if something else has occurred to him)

Ten ‘reserved’, two ‘general’. No hope.

(Returning to his earlier ruminations) Suppose the water is not very deep? Better wade across.

No. I shall jump across.

(Putting a foot forward, intending to wade across, and halting.) No! Hadn’t I decided just now not to wade but to jump across?

(Looking accusingly at his legs) Their effrontery! When I said I was going to jump across, these start wading across! No! I am not inclined to walk, but to jump! Aha!

Holding his things together, lifting up the lower portion of his mundu1, he braces himself and jumps across. He lands in the field beyond the canal, sprawled in the mud. His bag and the rolled-up paper tucked in his armpit fall to the ground. Gets up, dusts himself off, picks up the papers and puts them in the bag, talking to himself all the while. Picks up some other scattered papers, unfolds them and says cheerfully:

No. They won’t be torn. Old and worn out. Yes. But they won’t be torn. These are the title deeds in which were enshrined the rights to possession of the landed property that formerly belonged to the Illam2, including this ten-para 3 paddy field. Now, we have no rights to possession. Only the title deeds remain as records. Historical records. Historical records of the time before ‘reserved’ and ‘general’ came about. My father, Mithran Namboodiripad, his father Jayantan Namboodiripad. It is said that the family had lost the rights to possession of land in the time of Jayantan Namboodiripad. All the property was gone. But Jatavedan, Mitran, and this (pointing to himself) Bhavatraatan are the ones who bore the curse of Jenmitvam4. And were subjected to untouchability in the matter of education and job opportunities. Constitutional outcastes. All the ancestral property I have is these invalid documents. Suppose the authorities demand to know one day: “Hey you, upper caste, outcaste man! What were your properties when you were a jenmi in your previous birth?”

Can one then say, “I don’t know?” Aren’t the pattas to be given away? There will be a pattayadana mahotsavam5, based on these original title deeds (laughs). Look at this Namboodiri humour! Looking far into the future, they had said, “illam, illam”. What they had meant was, “illa, illa”.6 Did the prophetic ancestors know that everything would come to naught one day? Property and Jenmitvam, all are gone. What else is left? Ah, as I said — unfortunately. Hadn’t we practiced untouchability in the olden days, based on the caste system? It is a punishment for that. Untouchability in the matter of higher education and job opportunities. No entry to those areas. Wherever one goes, one is kept out. “Get out!”

(Suddenly, his expression changes. A conversation ensues.) Who is it?

It is I.

Who is ‘I’?

That is…

You! Speak out! What’s your religion?

I have no religion

You fool! Is there any human being without a religion? What’s your religion… Come on, tell me!

I was… born a Hindu.

Do you think I was asking you what you died as!

I am one who believes in secularism.

What do you mean?

That I believe in all religions.

I think you’re crazy.

Right. I, too, think I am.

What?

That I have this secularist mania.

Stop playing the fool. What’s your caste?

Caste?

Yes. Your caste?

Human caste. One caste, one religion, one God for humankind. 7

This man should be sent to the madhouse.

Isn’t this a madhouse8, then? It was supposed to be a madhouse because of the intricate caste system promulgated here. Now they say I am mad because I maintain that there should be no caste system. Caste stands in the way when one wants to study, to teach, to apply for a job or to earn a salary.

Stop preaching and talk sense. In which caste were you born?

I was born and died a Namboodiri.

There, there. This is why you were prevaricating. Go on, get lost. There’s no place here for the likes of you.

(The conversation is over)

p. 1 p. 2 p. 3 p. 4

 

Omcherry or N.N. Pillai is a celebrated Malayalam playwright, winner of the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award
and principal of a management school in Delhi. Several of his plays have been translated and staged
in Delhi and other cities over the last four decades.