(Paper-2) 20th Century Indian Writing
3 MOHAN RAKESH: A RUDIMENTARY SKETCH
2. MOHAN RAKESH: A RUDIMENTARY SKETCH
A Brief Biography
List of works
Mohan Rakesh Interviewed by Rajinder Paul
There has always been a mystique around the author of Aadhe-Adhure. People close to him have projected him in puzzling terms-sometimes as a messiah and at others as a self-destructive personality. A well known biographer uses a very evocative image to describe Rakesh – ‘like a drop of mercury on the floor; trembling and disintegrating into pieces in an attempt to attain stability.’ Even a cursory look at the major events in his life points to an impatience with the world and a restless temperament. He was notorious for throwing up jobs and scoffed at people who continued with professions simply for financial security. A favourite prescription of his was, “You need five hundred to live? Then borrow three thousand on interest and work for six months and earn six thousand.” It was only after throwing up innumerable jobs, punctuated by periods of unemployment and financial crises that he settled down to full-time writing.
Rakesh was an emotionally intense person, generous towards his loved ones. He loved to spend money on his friends, frequenting the restaurants and coffee-houses of Connaught Place. A friend of Rakesh narrates an occasion when he frantically hunted around in Karol Bagh, looking for a toy for his son and when he eventually found it, kept buying toys till he ran out of money. This same man would haggle with ungenerous Indian publishers and editors for a particular price which he felt he deserved. He fought for his rights and his writings, and this attitude was unprecedented in the Hindi publishing world. Sentimental and idealistic, he was a stubborn individualist and hated pretentiousness and hypocrisy. He invited charges of irresponsibility and indiscipline by running away and living in isolated dak-bunglows in remote hill stations like Dalhousie and Srinagar. But Rakesh felt at his creative best in these places. His friend, the well known writer Kamleshwar wrote: “my friend did lead a disorganized life but deep underneath there was that fantastic discipline, the discipline of the mind of the creative spirit.”
The process of his writing was always well ordered and organized. Behind the cigarette-puffing, carelessly dressed Bohemian personality was an enviable clarity of artistic purpose. Rakesh wrote in his Diary.
The writer’s true commitment is not to any particular philosophy but to his self, his times and the life of his times. If the artist is truly committed from within, then like a blind man groping alone in the dark with a stick, he hits out at the powers of terror and darkness with his entire self.
Mohan Rakesh was born in Amritsar on 8 January 1925 into the family of a lawyer, Karam Chand Guglani. He was named Madan Mohan Guglani, later called Madan Mohan and finally Mohan Rakesh. His father was a prominent citizen of Amritsar – a social worker, holding offices in various literary and cultural organizations who took a keen interest in his children’s academic activities. Rakesh inherited a taste for music and literature from his father but not any money. His father died leaving behind many debts and Rakesh, along with an elder sister, had to shoulder the responsibility of his family. He was sixteen years old at that time. After his primary education in Amritsar he did his MA in Sanskrit from Lahore. In 1947, after the partition of India and Pakistan he, along with his family, shifted to Jallandhar and continued with his studies. He did his MA in Hindi, topping in the university.
Apart from his father Rakesh was also influenced, albeit in a negative manner, by his grandmother’s character. She was of an extremely superstitious nature, restricting his movements and forcing him to stay indoors in dark and damp rooms. There was a fetish for discipline and order and this fostered in Rakesh a deep dislike for both. Thus the seeds of revolt were sown early in life. Forced to rely on his own resources he passed the time creating imaginary worlds of his own,
In the house, our energy is suppressed. When I am kept inside, I cry for a while and make myself sick. Besides the world of the house and street, I have my own private world. Sometimes I travel with the rows of big black ants through holes in the dark. Sometimes I make tiny atoms fight with each other in the sun.
[A Self Portrait]
After completing his MA he taught in Elphinstone college, Bombay from 1947 to 1949. He lost his job and after a spell of unemployment in Delhi he taught for a short while in Jallandhar. Again due to the intrusion of politics into teaching he lost his job and taught for a while in Delhi. He also taught at a school in Shimla for two years but resigned from there. After that it was back to teaching in Jallandhar and quitting in 1957 to pursue writing. He briefly edited the Hindi journal Sarika, from 1962-63 but gave it up as he felt confined.
Rakesh was a versatile writer, experimenting with many genres. He breathed new life into plays, short stories, novels and travelogues – but it is as a dramatist that his work gave respectability to Hindi theatre. His first play Aashadh Ka Ek Din (1958) received the Sangeet Natak Akademi award for the best play in 1958. He wrote two more full length playsLehron Ke Rajhans (1968) and Aadhe-Adhure (1969). For his eminence in the field of drama and his contribution to its development he received the Sangeet Natak Akademi award for play writing in 1968. Along with Dharamvir Bharati’s Andha Yug he gave a new dignity and self-respect to Hindi theatre. All of Rakesh’s plays have been performed by leading theatrical groups. Rakesh is also regarded as an outstanding short story writer. In the last years of his life he received the Nehru fellowship to do research on ‘The dramatic word’; a subject that passionately engaged him. But he could not complete what would have surely been a major academic exercise and died in December, 1972. He was only forty-seven years old and it is alleged that excessive drinking led to his untimely demise.
It is ironic that a man who could portray the pain and complexity of human relations with sensitivity and understanding was, in his personal life, such a bad reader of people. He first married in 1950, a girl whom he had met briefly a couple of times. It was an arranged match and Rakesh did not try to verify their compatibility. The girl was egotistical, proud of the fact that she earned more than her husband. Rakesh admitted that “marriage means adjustments and compromises but it has to be made by both. But if both want to live life on their terms then the barriers are insurmountable and there is revolt”. They separated in a couple of years and Rakesh managed to convince his wife to a divorce in 1957. His quest for happiness led him to a second marriage in 1960. This time he married the sister of a friend, a girl he had met only twice. This alliance lasted shorter than the earlier one. His second wife had erratic behavioural patterns with extreme and volatile reactions to situations. Tired of his home he shifted to the office of Sarika but abandoned it when his wife came and created a scene in the office. This chapter too, ended tragically and he ended his second marriage. Both times the initiative to separate came from Rakesh and earned him the tag of a home breaker. The bourgeois mindset viewed his failed marriages in an uncharitable light. He lost faith in the institution of marriage. Finally he found a companion Anita, who shared his convictions and lived with him, till his death in 1972, on the basis of sheer commitment.
Rakesh once told Anita, “You have third place in my life; in first place are my writings and in second place are my friends.” He moved amongst an illustrious literary circle. Amongst his friends were Kamleshwar, Rajendra Gupta, Rajendra Paul and Om Shivpuri. Everyone remembers his intensity and warmth. Kamleshwar narrates how Rakesh would go to the airport to see off friends going abroad. Maybe this was unfashionable among the educated elite but “damn it, I’m Hindustani”, was what he said.
Individualism, sensitivity, a deep dislike for a mechanized existence and the pain of relationships that have failed. All these elements in Rakesh’s life are present in his plays and short stories. Aadhe-Adhure explores a middle class marriage that has turned sour and Rakesh does it with a great degree of success.
Mohan Rakesh (1925-1972)
Aashadh Ka Ek Din (1958)
Lehron Ke Rajhans (1968)
Pairon Tale Ki Zameen (1973)
(Left incomplete, later completed by Kamleshwar)
Ande Ke Chilke, anya ekanki tatha beej natak (1973)
Raat beetne tak, tatha anya dhwani natak (1974)
Andhere Band Kamre (1961)
Na Aanewala Kal (1968)
This is the first part of a series of ten or more tape-recorded conversations that Rakesh and I had planned a couple of months ago. He wanted them to be as ‘leisurely’ as possible, ironical as it now seems. Ambitiously, I had wanted to print these ‘conversations’ in book form – on such varied and general topics as Love, Friendship, Marriage, Literature, Theatre, Cinema, God, Death etc. I started like this, maybe because I dared not start on a ‘dialogue’ topic before getting warmed up. So I chose the easier way of asking him questions about his life when I didn’t know him.
Unfortunately, we could tape only one ‘conversation’. He has left so many things unfinished. To cap the misfortune, I can’t even locate the spill-over of this tape to another tape that I used. In that he talked of his life after he left Sarika.
R P Your writings, especially your plays, show an extraordinary sensitivity to the emotions of people under stress. Would it be right to trace back this sensitivity to your childhood? In plain terms, was your childhood unhappy?
M R So far as my childhood is concerned I don’t think I can call it unhappy. Till the age of 16, i.e. so long as my father was alive, we were quite well provided for. He had, by the standards of those days a quite comfortable practice though he gave most of his time to other activities. I must say I was quite the introvert type and, in my introversion, may also have been quite sad. In our house, or due to the atmosphere of the house, the people – my grandmother, my mother, my uncle, my aunt, my sister (my brother was born much later) – all of us lived in a sort of constant tension. I think the tension was part of the class to which we belonged. In most of the families that I knew at that time – my other relations, my father’s stepbrother, his family, other families that we knew-all of them lived in some state of conflict, and it seemed to me that very small things caused this tension. I mean, probably the reason for this tension could be traced to money. The sort of things my father was expected to do, and he thought he did to support the family and also some other relations, gave rise to all sorts of misgivings that he had more money than he would let on. That was the way most of the lower middle class families lived at that time, and still do. As a child I always felt he could not really flower out. You have to hide a few things. You are expected to be a hypocrite in certain things. Even if I possessed something which was nice and with which I could be happy as a child, I was supposed not to reveal it to others, treat it as a secret source of pleasure. It was that secrecy which marred all the pleasures for me. Then, since my father lived to a great extent beyond his means, which was not all because of his own spendthriftness, there was constant financial crisis in the house and of course hysterical situations, that one witnessed between the two great ladies of the house, i.e. my grandmother and my mother. All this kept me on edge.
R P You realized you had to live with this kind of tension and developed your own responses to them?
M R I think the consciousness of these things came much later. At that time there was only a day-dream of being able to escape all that one day. A tendency was growing in me in which I wanted the present around me to change into something else. For example, I always dreamt of living in another house and in other surroundings. Even the slightest suggestion of our shifting made me very happy because probably, subconsciously, I felt that new surroundings would impart some freshness to life, bring about a change in the climate around me. I was all for shifting, changing and it was a constant source of irritation to me that till his last day my father stayed on in the same house. I was born in a house in a small street in Amritsar, but I was hardly two when we moved to another house. That was actually also the office of my father where he practiced. I don’t think the capacity to analyse the situation was in me. I was merely an introvert, dreaming and feeling sad, wanting to change the situation somehow.
R P Your father unfortunately died when you were still a boy. Did you fend for yourself after that? Or were you helped by anyone?
M R Actually, my conscious life starts after the death of my father, because it was a sudden change in the whole environment. As I said he was always over-spending and he left us not only penniless but under certain debts and there was no other adult male in the house. My younger brother was four and a half years old. So for some time it was my sister who took over. She was a year and a half older than me. She worked in a school and looked after the family till I finished my M.A. But partly I looked after my own affairs, that is I took tuitions to pay for my studies. Then in the final year of my Master’s degree, the family circumstances were such that my sister could not support me any longer and I had also lost the tuition job. I was almost going to pack up and look for a job when my Principal, the late Dr. Laxman Swaroop of Oriental College, Lahore, came to my rescue. During the whole of my final year in M.A. it was he who was paying my expenses.
R P Did your father influence your life in any way?
M R He was a person who took a lot of interest in his children, in their education and everything. When I was 12, he almost started treating me as a friend, but today I know he was all the time talking to a child and trying to make me feel that he was talking to a friend. But he tried to impart whatever was in him to his children. He took a lot of interest in my sister going to debates and such things. He was also much interested to know that I had composed verses in Sanskrit at the age of about 13.
R P Were other people around you responsible, then, for the tensions you mentioned, and not your father with whom, you say, you had a good understanding?
M R I think I admired my father, but for one failing, that he did not leave us a bank balance. I think in all other respects I have no grudge against him and even this one grudge I cannot carry because I have the same temperament myself. I cannot try to collect money. But I do feel sad about the pattern of relationships that I experienced at that time. I think it was quite inhuman, the way people tried to eat off, chew off whatever was good and soft in others. The small economic demands or some small superstitions or small jealousies take such a vital part out of what is good in human relations that I feel I cannot lead the sort of life my father led.
R P What would you say about the formative influences in your boyhood?
M R I can tell you of one particular formative influence which has determined my attitude to human relationships. My father, who led a very tense life inside the house because of the oppression of the demands of all the people around him, found real relaxation among a set of his friends who gathered in his ‘baithak’ (sitting room) as we called it. Every evening, after his clients had gone, his friends would start arriving one by one and for about 2 to 3 hours the house would become a place of warmth. Lively discussions took place on literature. They listened to music. They laughed a lot. And, you know, it seemed that was the only part of life that was liveable. And not only my father, I think I also as a child looked forward to those evenings that I spent among adults. In a way it was precociousness. I don’t think I really liked the company of children. While that precociousness may have hampered me in many other ways, which I may not be able to analyse yet, it gave me a real sense of belonging with human beings which comes from communication with them. The real family of my father was the people with whom he had a personal communication and, I think, that attitude I have not only inherited from him but it has grown deeper in my life.
R P What sort of jobs did you take up? Did you visualize yourself as a creative writer who could live off writing?
M R That dream was very much there. After I did my M.A., even before my result was announced, because of the sort of regard or wrong estimation my Principal, Dr. Swaroop, had of me, I was awarded a research scholarship for two years. I did some routine reading of manuscripts and also prepared certain catalogues of religions from the Brahmans as directed by him. But I don’t think I took any real interest in the work. All that period for me was a period of looking around, trying to find some adjustment which would not take me to a routine job in a college.
The first job I took up on the expiry of my scholarship term was with a film concern, and even at the age of 21 I was able to talk someone into accepting a short story for a film. It was a difficult film story but I knew that I could sell it and I succeeded in selling it. I was not given any lump sum for it but I was appointed on the staff of a mushroom film concern which had come up in Lahore at that time. For about a year and a quarter I was associated with it as an ‘intellectual’. I drew a salary for about 15 months. The film never got to be made and it was actually at the time of the partition that I had to accept the realities of life. For three and a half years after my M.A. I had done almost nothing. That was the period of false intellectualism in coffee houses. It was just going to the office for half an hour or one hour during the day and for the rest of the time I was supposed to be indulging in the “intellectual” part of my work. It was after partition that I found I was left with none of the old associations of Lahore which could have given me some sort of a start in life. I went to Bombay. But my going to Bombay again was motivated by the desire to find an opening in films. I had some correspondence with film directors like Vijay Bhatt who made Ram Rajya. He had admired the letter I wrote to him, naturally since the letter was written to impress him. But soon after arriving in Bombay I discovered to my dismay it was not possible for me to have any sort of rapport with that set-up. He wanted to give the job of rewriting dialogue and that sort of thing, but the genius that I thought myself to be thought it was too small a thing for me to undertake.
That was the end of my connection with films at that time. And then there came a period when I remember I as thinking of leaving Bombay because I had no way of supporting myself. My family needed all my help. I had made my sister give up her job when I got the scholarship. So, at that time, I was experiencing great economic pressure. I applied for all sorts of jobs here and there and it so chanced that almost at the time when I was packing up I received an appointment letter. It was a small job worth Rs. 75 in the Sydenham College of Commerce as a part-time lecturer. But even that made me stick on to the city because the job came after a period when I had known hunger once for 72 hours at a stretch. I took up that job and soon it was made a full-time job, with a lecturership in Elphinstone College also. I think I worked there for less than two years. When the question of confirmation arose and I was sent for a medical test I was disqualified because of my eye-sight. The prescribed limit of eye glasses for government servants was – 0.6 and mine were – 0.10. So I was relieved of that job.
Then I still decided to stick on to the city with whatever little money I had in hand. I started an independent venture. It was a translation bureau. I sat in an office for a month or more waiting for people who would bring stuff to be translated so that I could make some money off them, but nobody obliged in spite of 2 or 3 advertisements in The Times of India. Ultimately, when I was left with less than a hundred rupees. I decided to leave Bombay. I came to Delhi. By that time I was quite a regular contributor to Sarika and I thought I could get a job on the magazine. The editor, who admired me a lot at that time, promised me a job. He first asked me to edit an annual number for him and then also promised to take me on the regular staff. But again, while I had cordial relations with him when I knew him through correspondence or casual meetings in Delhi, after my introduction to Delhi I started feeling I could not accept this new equation of working under him.
Then I applied for teaching jobs in Punjab and elsewhere. I was appointed in the D.A.V. College, Jullundhur, and I took up a job there as fifth man in the Department of Hindi where I was for five months. I was not confirmed because they wanted me to teach Scripture as part of a Hindi lecturer’s job, which I refused to do. They were willing to gulp that. But then came the sudden senate elections and there was a candidate from the Teacher’s Union whom I decided to support against a candidate put up by the Principal and that decided the matter. I was not confirmed and I thought the Teacher’s Union would fight for me but to my disappointment they took no action. Then I again found myself looking for a job. This time, someone told me there was a job in a school at Simla. When I needed a job, teaching was the job that was first suggested. I went to Simla to be interviewed by the head master. The school was Bishop Cotton’s School. Well, I got that job and stayed on in Simla for two years. It was during this period that I seriously started thinking of living on writing, maybe because my first collection of short stories had been published by that time and it seemed it was just a matter of taking the decision one day and once one took the plunge everything would look after itself. Because during those two and a half years in Bishop Cotton’s School, I resigned twice but was persuaded by the head master to carry on. By the end of 1952 I finally resigned and this time resolved to devote all my time to writing.
R P Did you do that?
M R For about 8 months. It was after leaving Bishop Cotton’s School that I went on that trip of the West Coast. I made that trip between December’52 and February’53. I wrote Akhri Chattan in March-April’53; it was published in July ’53. But by the time this book was published I found it was easier to get a book published than to get any money out of the publishers. Well, for quite some time I kept hovering around those people asking for small bits of the money they had promised but I found it a very humiliating experience.
One thing which I have not yet mentioned. About two and a half years earlier I got married, at the end of 1950. When I had resigned my job, the feeling was that my wife, who was teaching in the Women’s Training College, Dayalbagh, Agra, could support my family, that is my mother and brother who were entirely dependent on me and who were living at Amritsar. And then, maybe, I could make a scanty living from writing and things would be managed that way. But even this scanty living I could not manage for myself from writing and I also found my wife was not quite adjusted to the idea of supporting my mother and brother though she was sending a certain amount to them at that time. But that was out of the deposit that I had made with her of my provident fund. And that money was getting exhausted. I found that she was becoming rather fidgety so I decided to take up a job again and I applied here, there and everywhere. I went for interviews at a couple of places where I knew people who had qualified much later than myself were holding senior posts by now. But, unfortunately for me, or I should say ironically, the job that I got was that of the Head of the Hindi Department in the same D.A.V. College, Jullundhur, where I was not confirmed a few years earlier. This was mainly because of Dr. Inder Nath Madan who was Head of the University Hindi Department. Since he knew me at Simla, and admired me a lot, and by that time I had also done M.A. in Hindi, getting a first class first, he persuaded Principal Suraj Bhan to take me. I think that is the longest job I have done in my life. I was there for four and a half years till the end of ’57.
R P Why did you leave that job?
M R One reason was the basic restlessness which I felt all the time. I was planning out ways in which I could live by writing. The most important reason probably was my divorce in August 1957. In that small city people were quite conservative. I found the pupils and my Principal still liked me for my work, but there was hostility in the minds of the people in the city as well as among the staff. So I decided to resign. But when I resigned I had made up my mind that this time, as far as possible, I would not take up a job. I thought I could reduce my demands on life. My short stories had started bringing a little renumeration. I made all those calculations which every one of us makes in such a situation, that I will write, I will produce at least 2 or 3 short stories every month and then I will be able to publish a book every six months and that way be able to earn about Rs. 200 per month and live within that amount.
R P Did you take up any other job? If so what were the circumstances which made you decide against your earlier decision?
M R The job that I took up after that was after almost four years; ’58 to ’61 I did not do any job. I somehow managed to make a small living on my writing. When I took the next job, it was because of the temptation of the job, not the need. I was offered the editorship of Sarika. I did not apply for the job. The proprietors of Bennet Coleman & Co. wired me to come to Calcutta and they straightaway offered the job to me. It seemed quite lucrative in the sense that for Hindi literature or anybody connected with the Hindi language a job which would bring in emoluments to the tune of about two thousand rupees was quite lucrative at that time. So it was, I think, the temptation of being editor of a literary magazine as well as being economically comfortable that made me take up this job. But within months of sitting in that office I again started feeling very uncomfortable. I was temperamentally unsuited to this life of sitting in an office room, say 10 to 5. One handicap with me is that I could not take a job casually. So after doing that job for six months I resigned. But I was relieved after another five months. So in total I spent about 11 months in that office and that was the last job I did.
R P You say you continued working for 5 months after deciding to quit. Were you not confident enough of being able to live by writing?
M P I was confident enough. As I told you, I was living off writing even before that, that is four years prior to taking up this job. It was a scanty living. Sometimes you felt there was a crisis, but still I could manage to pull on. It was this very calculation which made me resign the job. I really did not need, I thought to myself, all that I could buy with extra money. Whatever my needs were could be met by whatever I could earn by writing. I must say I have passed through financial crises many times after that. It is 9 years now. But I have never regretted. Even if asked to I could never go back to doing a job.
R P You didn’t have a family to support at the time you took the plunge?
M P I don’t know what I would have done if I had a family to support. But I think I would have resigned all the same, though maybe a little later, because I could not reconcile myself to sitting in that cabin. I was trying to do the job well but I was doing it under strong protest from my inner self. I knew that there was some satisfaction in the job also, but still my mind was rebelling. I needed my mornings, for example, for writing. That is the sort of feeling I had. Not that all these years after leaving the job I have been sitting down to write every morning.
R P Don’t mind my asking one or two personal questions. You mentioned that you got a divorce from your first wife. It is not so very easy for a middle class marital relationship to get severed even if you don’t like it. Somehow you live with it. How did you handle the situation?
M R Actually after marriage, i.e. in 1950, it was only for a year and a half that my wife and myself stayed together. That was in Simla. Then she did her B.T. and got a job in the Women’s Training College in Agra. We had discovered, at least I had discovered (I can talk with confidence only about myself) that we were temperamentally so different that we had absolutely no meeting ground. It was a life which was a source of constant tension, if not for both at least for me. I think she had much stronger nerves than I had. It was a sort of living arrangement that was struck. We both worked at two different places. After Simla, I took up a job at Jullundhur. She continued working at Agra and we carried on like that from the middle of ’52 to the middle of ’57 that is five years. For about five years we were living away from each other, working at our respective places, and meeting off and on. To cover up the estrangement we used to pretend that it was a modern way of living, that we were two separate entities, that each of us was cultivating his personality. But the real reason was that right from the beginning we had been strangers to each other. She, as a Hindu woman found marriage an unchallengeable reality; so it had to stay, it was to stay just because we were married. But I had quite a strong ego and she had both a strong ego and a stronger personality, and there was nothing on which we did not clash. So we carried on with this arrangement for five years. Then I came to know that she had conceived. That was in spite of my best efforts not to let it happen. After I got this news I suffered from another mental dilemma. Whether I will have to accept this marriage as a life-time reality because of emotional reasons. So, I thought I should take a decision before the child was born and I told her, ‘You and I cannot live together. When the child is born one of us can take the entire responsibility for bringing it up.’ She thought I was only talking in the air and that after the child was born everything would be all right. Well, the child was born. After that we met once or twice; we talked about things; she resisted the idea of divorce vehemently at this stage, particularly because of the child, and said she would fight upto the Supreme Court if I took any such step. I could persuade her ultimately that it was no use because we could not under any circumstances live as husband and wife.
R P Continuing on that personal note you may or may not answer this. Did you have any other female company? Were you unfaithful to your wife?
M R Very much, yes.
R P Was it one of the reasons that took you to this drastic step?
M R No. That wouldn’t lead me to any drastic step. It was not for the sake of that I needed a divorce. Actually, much of that clandestine life was the result of this bitter married life in which we stayed away from each other. Well, I must confess, I needed female company very much in whatever arrangements I could make. I did make those arrangements.
R P Did your wife know about this and what did she think of it?
M R She might have suspected a little bit but not much.
R P Could you describe your life after you left Sarika and were divorced to the time you got happily married?
M R After I left Sarika I roamed around for a couple of years. Then I met Anita, the girl I’m living with now. I must mention here, as you may also be knowing, that in between I got married to one of my friends’ sister. I couldn’t even live for a day with her. I needed a home, a wife, a female companion; maybe for that very reason I plunged into the second marriage without much thought. But we weren’t suited to each other at all. I would have gone mad if I had continued. It was a nightmare – and I just decided to walk out on her and marriage once again.
R P Rakesh, I hope you don’t mind my asking you these delicate personal questions. You’ve been often accused, rightly and wrongly, of having been a home-breaker, and rather restless with your women and jobs. How is it that you have what to me seems a happy home now, shacked up with Anita for nearly 8 to 9 years?
M R Whether I mind it or not, you’ve asked them. So I might as well answer. And as I answer them, I’m not afraid of their being made public. Yes, I know I’ve been accused of being a home breaker. I’ve broken two homes. I’ve been called a person who shifts from inn to inn or from wife to wife. I can’t stop other tongues from wagging. I only do what I think my conscience allows me to. And I should say I’ve always done that. At least consciously I’ve broken homes, and that in a middle class Hindu society, is unpardonable. I know that. But I’m not the type who goes on having a superficial or surface relationship with anyone. I cannot be a debauch and pretend to being a model husband at the same time.
Whatever you may call this present relationship with Anita, you know I’m not married to her. I admire her for her boldness and love her for her infinite love for me. I’ve never felt so settled in my life. She is really a noble girl-naïve at times, but full of love and innocence. We’ve had hysterical situations in the house. But there’s been nothing to make me walk out on her. Whatever I may do, I’ll never leave her. When she came away with me I told her I was morally committed to her for the rest of my life. Contrary to what people have been thinking or might think of me, I feel very settled now. I love Anita very much and my kids Purva and Shelly. You were in Simla with me when I used to phone Purva every evening at 8. She misses me too much. You know….
“Of all the plays published in Hindi, Aadhe-Adhure has been the most fortunate as it has been appreciated and staged many times in different cities,” wrote Mohan Rakesh soon after the play was published in July, 1969. Even after the initial excitement that it generated had settled down it is acknowledged as a milestone in not only Hindi, but Indian theatre.
One of the first reviews of the play appeared in The Hindustan Times; J.D. Sethi initiated a discussion by callingAadhe-Adhure “the first complete modern Indian play.” This critic found elements of existentialism, Brecht, Miller, Ibsen and O’Neill in the play. He feels the play succeeds in depicting the Indian middle-class, who have “completely lost touch with tradition, history and any value system that could remotely be called Indian.” Other aspects underlined are its simple and realistic language and establishing a new trend in Hindi theatre.
After the play was staged for the first time in Delhi during the annual festival of the Sangeet Natak Akademi a number of reviews appeared. The drama critic of The Navbharat Times (4 March, 1969) wrote, “the play is enjoyable. But it is the story of a particular middle-class family-one which is adversely influenced by Western openness and characterized by mutual distrust. It is not the story of an average middle class family.”
In The Hindustan Times (6 March, 1969) Rajinder Nath felt it was the first significant Hindi play because it “exposes the utter rottenness of the value system which governs the middle class and with relentless logic he brings us to the point of utter despair. It reminds you of O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night and its brutal bickering of Albee’sWho’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. He found the dramatic innovation of making one man play five roles interesting and able to convey the point of interchangeability of character. But he doubted the audience’s ability to comprehend the significance of this device. Moreover, he admitted, it is a difficult task for any actor / director to sustain the sense of suffocation and tension throughout the performance. But whether these shortcomings are those of direction or acting, or limitations in the text of the play is a thought-provoking topic.
Saaptahik Hindustan (30th March, 1969) also carried a review of the play’s first performance. The critic found the play well crafted, the action pacy and the dialogues sharp and well regulated. He says that even if one were to side-step the play’s philosophical implications, on the basis of sheer realism Aadhe Adhure deserves to be placed in the category of significant plays. Unlike the reviewer in The Hindustan Times he feels that the device of having one actor play five parts only exists to prove the saying of the man in the black suit in the Prologue, “I can be any one.” Take this gimmick and the Prologue away and the play could be the tragedy of an urban middle-class family. The reviewer feels it would be unjust to blame the director for any shortcomings in interpretation because it was staged under the supervision of the writer himself.
Frank Thakurdas (in Enact, April 1969) found the Prologue superfluous, involved and contradictory. He says it is unrelated to the events in the play. But he praised Rakesh’s stagecraft and his effective use of the language familiar to the common man. In this respect Rakesh is a ‘model’ for aspiring dramatists.
Aadhe-Adhure has always been at the centre of literary debate and discussion. Elaborate commentaries, presenting two diametrically opposite viewpoints, appeared in Dharamyug (11th May 1969) and Saaptahik Hindustan (11th May, 1996). These two articles by K.L. Nandan and Nemichander Jain respectively, illustrate two significant ways of interpreting the play. K.L. Nandan was impressed by Rakesh’s portrayal of declining urban middle class values and described its language as original. This critic is singular in his praise of the Prologue and the device of one actor, five roles is a challenge for any actor and it also underlines the theme of fragmentation of personality. Nemichander Jain, a venerable name in criticism, feels the play is well suited for performance. It captures the contemporary sense of despair and presents modern life in modern idioms. But it fails on many counts:
The play succeeds in presenting only the misunderstandings and discord between two people
or at most the inevitability of their friction… It does not delve deep enough into the conditions
that arise between two human beings or even between man and woman. It manages to establish neither the universal nature of human relations nor the imperatives of the human condition.
The area of experience of the play is small, narrow and limited to particular people.
This dissatisfaction has been echoed by many serious readers. N. Jain found the Prologue irritating and meaningless, unrelated to the characterization. Many devices in the play are too obvious and jaded-like Ashok’s constant use of scissors, Mahendranath dusting the files, Savitri seeing her husband’s face in Ashok’s sketch of Singhania and Kinni closing the door in the end. According to Jain the characters are flat and too much attention hasn’t been paid to fine details.
Natrang (Apr-Sep 1969) was devoted to Aadhe-Adhure. The editor acknowledges that the commotion caused by the play is justification enough to devote an entire issue to it. Here is a glimpse of the divergent opinions expressed in this collection. Kunwarji Aggarwal says,
The fundamental issues in life are bypassed and the dramatist gets lost in the labyrinth of psychological aberrations. The play is in danger of becoming the picture of a mentally sick couple and the consequences of this on their children. The writer’s philosophy is defeatist and his familiarity with middle-class values partial. The characters are unidimensional and lack depth.
But surprisingly, in spite of such strong objections to the play this critic agrees that Aadhe Adhure advances realism in Hindi theatre by many steps. Brijmohan Shah, in the same issue, says that the plot of the play is constricted and lacks tautness. Still it manages to grip the audience’s attention. That is because of the language and dialogues. In the same vein Shobana Bhutani alleges that “the characters are not individualized and the situations are contrived and artificial.” Like most other critics she doesn’t appreciate the need for a Prologue and feels that the play’s language is its greatest achievement.
All these opinions and critiques should be read with a detached mind as they sometimes border on the extreme. This may be due to the initial excitement the play generated. Girish Rastogi makes a correct analysis:
Of all the plays that Rakesh wrote, Aadhe-Adhure, perhaps, has received the most attention. Since it is performed regularly and also because it was so different from the run of Hindi plays, reaction was swift and abundant. Some critics praised it highly and put it in the same category as the plays of Brecht, Ibsen, Strindberg, O’Neill and Arthur Miller. On the other hand, however, the play was seen as being sentimental and commercial, superficial and hollow. These extreme reactions, highly laudatory on the one hand and severely hostile on the other, were not only hasty and prejudiced but to some extent such reactions did not allow the play to be evaluated properly and fostered instead a stereotyped critical approach.
What the directors have to say
After Mohan Rakesh’s death many journals brought out tributes. Of special interest to us is Natrang (Oct.-Dec. 1972) in which some well known directors have expressed their views. Om Shivpuri, its first director, called Aadhe Adhure “the first successful play of contemporary life. Its most significant contribution is its use of language-common, everyday language which succeeds in capturing the tensions of modern life.” He found its depiction of the attraction and repulsion between opposite sexes was meaningful. Sushil Chaudhry translated and presented the play in Bangla. He chose to stage this play because it deals with ordinary, middle class people and the treatment is a refreshing change.
Famous drama director Ebrahim Alkazi has included the play in a collection of plays representing the modern Hindi stage, which he has edited. He admires the play for its ruthless depiction of the aridity, depravity, self-destructiveness and double-faced morality of the middle-class. The play exposes the lurking demons of fear and insecurity behind its self-respect and propriety. The language of the play, he feels, is simple, straightforward and uniformly tense. It captures the minutiae of human experience.
The first complete book on Mohan Rakesh was published in 1974: Natak-kar Mohan Rakesh by Sunderlal Kathuria. There has never been a shortage of articles in literary journals and books on his oeuvre. Enact, the journal of drama criticism, has some valuable essays in its back numbers. Most of the criticism subsequent to the initial responses has focused on the issues raised by Mohan Rakesh’s early critics and commentators. Prominent amongst these is his exploration of man-woman relations, his use of colloquial Hindi and depiction of middle-class decay. More of this in the next section.