Theatre Play

Tughlaq in the Library – Part II

Review
Read Tughlaq in the Library – Part I here.

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The siege of Daulatabad (April-June 1633).
[Source – Wikimedia Commons]

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But the play is more than a political allegory. It has an irreducible, puzzling quality which comes from the ambiguities of Tughlaq’s character, the dominating figure in the play. All the other characters are dramatized aspects of his complex personality, yet they also exist in their own right. Kannada critics have made detailed analyses of the play, paying special attention to the symbolism of the game of chess, the theme of disguise, the ironic success of Aziz whose amazing story runs parallel to Tughlaq’s, and the dualism of the man and the hero in Tughlaq, which is the source of the entire tragedy. Yet no critical examination of the play can easily exhaust its total meaning for the reader, because the play has, finally, an elusive and haunting quality which it gets from the character of Tughlaq who has been realized in great psychological depth. But it would be unjust to say that the play is about an ‘interesting’ character, for the play relates the character of Tughlaq to philosophical questions on the nature of man and the destiny of a whole kingdom which a dreamer like him controls.

Introduction, U. R. Anantha Murthy

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[Image by Jagriti Rumi]

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Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq, in the play, commits to actions with a confidence of a master player, one who is certain of the ending, one who is far sighted somewhat like an ominous oracle – a skilful, wise puppeteer who runs the show singlehandedly, unaware and forgetful of his involvement in the drama.

People unlike puppets, even though tied to strings, quietly keep gathering the power to pull down and topple the king puppeteer, they always do.

The echo of a future that reached Tughlaq’s ears, the making of history that Tughlaq could see so clearly was nothing but an illusion, a time bound vision, a trick that tricked him.

Sure about a glorious tomorrow, he dragged his people along towards it – an ever evading tomorrow.

Sultan’s experiments done so as to unite the country as one, to build an ideal powerful state, failed pathetically, leading the kingdom to anarchy. With a staunch eye on greatness, Tughlaq couldn’t manoeuvre without ‘murdering’ the stubborn present – the present, so full of the past, so treasured by his subjects.

Subjects who wrote hate-letters, full of rebukes, all addressed to the Sultan.


Let us meet Tughlaq, whom we first met in the library, who is now placed, by the playwright, on the chess board and the game has begun –

Scene One

Old Man: You can go to the Kazi-i-Mumalik for small offences. But who do you appeal to against such madness?

Third Man: This is tyranny! Sheer tyranny! Move the capital to Daulatabad! Such things never happened in his father’s days – may his soul rest in peace. Now he’s got his father’s throne. He isn’t happy with that and—

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Tughlaq has set up the court of Chief Justice in the capital where people can file a suit against the officers of State or even the Sultan.

He talks about justice and equality after accepting the Kazi’s verdict; he declares to compensate and offers a post in the Civil Service for the Brahmin who had appealed against his land being seized illegally by the State.

The humanistic monologue ends with Tughlaq announcing his well-thought and thoroughly discussed decision of shifting the capital from Delhi to Daulatabad and without waiting for a reaction or a bird to fly by, he leaves.

The shocked public worries if their worst nightmare will come true – what are they to do? The guard shoos them away shouting “Go home! The show’s over!”

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Aazam: Anyway, why did you have to dress up in these ungodly clothes? Couldn’t you have come like a proper Muslim?

Aziz (scandalized): But then what would happen to the King’s impartial justice? A Muslim plaintiff against a Muslim King? I mean, where’s the question of justice there? Where’s the equality between Hindus and Muslims? If on the other hand the plaintiff’s a Hindu… well, you saw the crowds.

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Aziz, a thug, disguised as the Brahmin, seeking justice from the Kazi, truly understands Sultan’s ‘impartial justice’; playing along with the Sultan, he makes use of the State’s scheme and presents the Sultan a chance to make use of him – Sultan gets the tag of a “fair ruler” and in turn, Aziz makes some money.

Throughout the play Aziz maintains the stance that no one knows the wise Sultan as much as he does because it is only he who participates in the Sultan’s game.

Aziz will, sooner or later, dare to check-mate the Sultan, will he win?


Scene Two

Muhammad Tughlak orders his brass coins to pass for silver, A.D. 1330.
[Source – Wikimedia Commons]

Step-Mother (bursts into laughter): I don’t know what to do with you. I can’t ask a simple question without your giving a royal performance.

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Tughlaq’s step mother is his confidant; well aware about his burdens, the Step-Mother always urges him to slow down and more importantly, to make every move not in secret, not from her.

The Step-Mother too is playing alongside the Sultan, sometimes delicately trying to use him as a game-piece, but never showing it. The crime of patricide and fratricide hangs heavily on the Sultan’s soul; the Step-Mother never brings this up, never, unless it is required to make an impact.

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Muhammad: Surely a historian doesn’t need an invitation to watch history take shape! Come, Barani, what does he say?

Barani: It’s as Your Majesty said… He says the Sultan is a disgrace to Islam.

Muhammad: That’s all? I could find worse faults in me. What else?

Silence.

Najib: He says Your Majesty has forfeited the right to rule, by murdering your father and brother at prayer time.

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First Tughlaq makes praying five times a day compulsory, then he completely bans praying in his kingdom, only to wait in the end for a messiah to bring back pious prayers for his doomed subjects.

Like a devotee crossing all boundaries – that of life too – to connect with the almighty, Tughlaq crossed all boundaries to win over the almighty.

The far-off dream seemed the biggest truth to him and making sacrifices the only way towards it.


Scene Three to Five

Muhammad: No one can go far on his knees. I have a long way to go. I can’t afford to crawl – I have to gallop.

Imam-Ud-Din: And you will do it without the Koran to guide you? Beware, Sultan, you are trying to become another God. It’s a sin worse than patricide.

Muhammad (refusing the bait): Only an atheist can try to be God. I am God’s most humble slave.

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One Sultan, one dream, one decision, and what did the thousand eyes see – bloodshed or sacrifice, deceits or promises, Delhi or Daulatabad? Perhaps they couldn’t see clearly, perhaps they were hungry – for prayers or food?

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Shihab-Ud-Din: I’m sorry. But you have never liked the Sultan, I don’t know why. After all that he has done for the Hindus –

Ratan Singh: Yes indeed, who can deny that! He is impartial! Haven’t you heard about the Doab? He levied such taxes on the poor farmers that they preferred to starve. Now there’s a famine there. And of course Hindus as well as Muslims are dying with absolute impartiality.


Scene Six to Eight

Daulatabad Fort, Aurangabad, Maharashtra.
[Source – Wikimedia Commons]

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Moving stealthily ahead, like an animal approaching its prey, Tughlaq finds it hard to remember that he is not an animal. Playing the game too well, he begins to lose the grip on reality; shuffling strategies, imposing with a hope to win once again.

Muhammad: I could have killed you with a word. But I like you too much.

Stabs him. Then almost frenzied, goes on stabbing him. Hits out at Shihab-Ud-Din’s dead body with a ferocity that makes even the soldiers holding the body turn away in horror.

Barani: Your Majesty – he’s dead!

Muhammad stops, then flings the dagger away in disgust.

Muhammad (anguished): Why must this happen, Barani? Are all those I trust condemned to go down in history as traitors? What is happening? Tell me, Barani, will my reign be nothing more than a tortured scream which will stab the night and melt away in the silence?


Scene Nine

Aziz, the thug, awaits a chance to be in the centre, right in front of the king; to be there not as a pawn, rook or knight, but to be invited by the Sultan himself, to be revered – he plans to replace Ghiyasud-din Muhammad, a saint.

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Aazam (giggles): So you want power, do you? What do you want to be, a Sultan?

Aziz: Laugh away, stupid. You’ll soon see. It all depends on whether Karim will bring the goods.

Aazam (seriously): But, no, Aziz, why are you so dissatisfied? We have such a nice establishment here. We take enough money from travellers and the other robbers are scared to death of you. There’s no limit to what we can make here.

Aziz: I am bored stiff with all this running and hiding. You rob a man, you run and hide. It’s all so pointless. One should be able to rob a man and then stay there to punish him for getting robbed. That’s called ‘class’ – that’s being a real king!


Scene Ten to Twelve

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Unlike the game of chess, the king wages a war against his own people; wounded and hurt, he tortures himself by giving his step-mother the death sentence.

Step-Mother: You had your share of futile deaths. I have mine now.

Muhammad (shouting): No, they were not futile. They gave me what I wanted – power, strength to shape my thoughts, strength to act, strength to recognise myself. What did your little murder give you?

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The Step-Mother too wanted power, power to rule Sultan’s heart and mind and through him the Sultanate; Tughlaq knew it, but couldn’t accept it anymore, not after she had Najib, the royal adviser, poisoned.

Muhammad: God, God in Heaven, please help me. Please don’t let go of my hand. My skin drips with blood and I don’t know how much of it is mine and how much of others.


Scene Thirteen

Aziz is finally face to face his idol, unafraid and gleefully meek, he praises every move of the Sultan, revealing it to him unabashedly who all profited from his ‘just schemes’ – some goons like him and the generous Sultan himself.

The only character who manages to break Tughlaq’s dream and show him the ugly reality, the present that is far off from his historically grand future. He brings forth the truth as a twist.

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Barani: This man should be buried alive this minute!

Aziz: I only acted according to His Majesty’s edicts.

Muhammad (exploding): Hold your tongue, fool! You dare pass judgement on me? You think your tongue is so light and swift that you can trap me by your stupid clowning? Let’s see how well it wages when hanging from the top of a pole. I haven’t cared for the bravest and wisest of men – you think I would succumb to you? A dhobi, masquerading as a saint?

Aziz (quietly): What if I am a dhobi, Your Majesty? When it comes to washing away filth no saint is a match for a dhobi.

Muhammad suddenly bursts into a guffaw. There is a slight hysterical tinge to the laughter.

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Aziz wins without check-mating the king – his life is spared and a job in the deccan is offered by the Sultan – as he seals a deal to continue fooling the crowd for a while and then to vanish. He makes the king adhere to his wish.

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Judgement day!
[Source – Pixabay]

Muhammad: If justice was as simple as you think or logic as beautiful as I had hoped, life would have been so much clearer. I have been chasing these words now for five years and now I don’t know if I am pursuing a mirage or fleeing a shadow. Anyway what do all these subtle distinctions matter in the blinding madness of the day? Sweep your logic away into a corner, Barani, all I need now is myself and my madness – madness to prance in a field eaten bare by the scarecrow violence. But I am not alone, Barani. Thank Heaven! For once I am not alone. I have a Companion to share my madness now – the Omnipotent God! (Tired.) When you pass your final judgement on me, don’t forget Him.

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Barani, the historian, Sultan’s only friend, prepares to leave Daulatabad; Tughlaq will soon be all alone in the magnificent palace, alone with his deeds and this terrifies him.

As a king Tughlaq took responsibility of his subjects, confident of his vision, that when it breaks, he knows he has fallen and with him, so has his people. The cries, chaos, mayhem follow him like his shadow.

But if not a king, yet a ruler, a group of elected rulers, what does responsibility of the citizens mean to them? Who falls, if they fall? What do their shadows sound like?

The play ends with the fake Ghiyasud-din Muhammad performing at the prayer time in the background (Muezzin’s call to the prayer is heard), Tughlaq, sitting on his throne, takes a short nap, then suddenly wakes up unsure of the place or time.

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Here’s why Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House touched my heart!

Embracing, accepting, forgiving the doll walks on. Struggling, fearing, hoping the doll looks around. Learning, recognizing, changing the doll steps out, no longer a doll, but an individual.

The reign of the Doll ends.
[Source – thelodirampage.com]

It is Christmas Eve and the doll has told maids to hide the Christmas tree from the children until it is decorated and lighted up, and she is going to dress up and perform the Tarantella in the party as it is her master’s wish.

On the day after Christmas she will leave, changed forever, no longer a doll, but as Nora, Henrik Ibsen’s Nora.

At the time when the play A Doll’s House was written, marriages were sacrosanct, women were meant only to look after their husband, children and the house, in return the husband was to provide her with everything that she needed for maintenance; a rich man was a good prospect of making a happy married life.

Nora – managing the Helmer House and all the maids, taking care of her three little children, jumping around like a squirrel for her husband, Torvald Helmer – is struck by a calamity and there is no one on her side to support her, not even her master, Torvald. When the time approaches for the miracle Nora very much hoped and dreaded for to happen, she is left with absolutely nothing in her life.

Henrik Ibsen
[Source – Wikipedia]

From the year 1879 when A Doll’s House was performed for the first time on the stage to the modern 21st century, this play has continued to be appreciated both by the academia and the audience.

Free from the in-style verbose poetical soliloquies and with the woman as the central character, it was both a pioneering and a controversial play; pioneering for bringing the element of realistic drama in the theatre world which till then had been occupied with the historical romance and the thesis plays, and controversial for a woman behaving the way Nora did was unheard of, which is why Ibsen, on one occasion, had to present a leading actress with an alternate ending as she refused to act in the play as a woman who abandons her husband and children.

Many playwrights have also criticised the sudden awakening that Nora undergoes, which then gives her the strength to walk out; the Swedish playwright, August Strindberg, questioned Nora’s decision to leave her children with a man whom she doesn’t trust any more.

But, with or without any flaws, Nora’s story has touched many hearts and has made it a timeless piece of work. Its simplicity, conversational tone and ‘the slamming of the door’ climax gives us a truly dramatic, cathartic and a classic three act play. If the change of heart that Nora’s character goes through in the third act is unacceptable and absurd, then it only magnifies the fact that A Doll’s House is an absolutely realistic work because reality is stranger than fiction.

The storyline moves and grows and evolves and complexes with every scene. Nora, shifted from her father’s doll’s house to her husband’s, from past eight years had been working to decorate it. She, Torvald’s little lark, little spendthrift, knows nothing but to be at her husband’s disposal, by thoughtless choice of course. Ivar, Emmy and Bob are Nora’s dolls with whom she happily plays and she is Torvald’s doll, whom she happily obeys.

Torvald’s little lark.
[Source – cocosse.com]

Nora (goes to the table on the right): I shouldn’t think of doing what yon disapprove of.

Helmer: No, I’m sure of that; and, besides, you’ve given me your word. (Going towards her) Well, keep your little Christmas secrets to yourself, Nora darling. The Christmas-tree will bring them all to light, I dare say.

Uninformed and an act of love becomes unreasonable and an act of forgery for Nora Helmer; she took loan to save her sick husband and forged the documents because that was the only way out. Later when Krogstad present her with the facts, Nora replies,

Do you mean to tell me that a daughter has no right to spare her dying father anxiety? That a wife has no right to save her husband’s life? I don’t know much about the law, but I’m sure that, somewhere or another, you will find that that is allowed.

Krogstad is determined to reveal her secret and Nora is worried only for Torvald as she is sure he will take the blame for her sake and spare her any shaming. This is her fear for she knows Torvald would do anything in the world for her safety. What happens, though, is the stark opposite of this; Trovald is only worried about his own reputation and is even ready to bow and accept Krogstad’s demands. When Krogstad sends the IOU (I Owe You) and apologies for troubling Nora, Trovald changes euphorically and assures Nora that everything is fine.

“I must make up my mind which is right – society or I.”
[Source – cocosse.com]

But nothing is fine for Nora as she finally sees herself; Torvald becomes a mirror for her and the quick personality shifts he presents her with, shatters the mirror altogether and a real view of things comes in forefront. Nora starts to question – question her life, her relationship with Torvald, her role as a mother, her understanding of what society teaches and what she wishes to learn. Torvald’s little lark realises that she can fly and she, thus, chooses to do so.

Helmer: Nora, can I never be more than a stranger to you?

Nora (Taking her travelling bag): Oh, Torvald, then the miracle of miracles would have to happen.

Helmer: What is the miracle of miracles?

Nora: Both of us would have to change so that… Oh, Torvald, I no longer believe in miracles.

Helmer: But I will believe. We must so change that…?

Nora: That communion between us shall be a marriage. Goodbye.

With A Doll’s House Ibsen had no intention to serve the women’s rights movement, rather it was to present the significance of individual responsibility, the importance of understanding oneself, ones’ purpose in life and then striving to achieve it.

By the end Nora is ready to take a stand for herself, without any fear of the society or her master, without her own fears and inhibitions, without any support, but only with a determined and awakened mind, heart to know about herself and her life. And this certainly is why A Doll’s House still charms its readers, after all, the field of studying oneself is not well explored and many discoveries, many inventions are yet to be made.


Originally published at SWA – Blog on January 11, 2017.


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