One of the memorable productions of Ebrahim Alkazi was Dharmavir Bharati’s Hindi play Andha Yug whose title and theme are so relevant to the dark times we live in.

It was directed by the doyen of Indian theatre in 1963 against the backdrop of Purana Quila, the fort, and was witnessed by Jawaharlal Nehru.

The story hints at the perils that await a society that turns away from its wisdom culture and instead succumb to the logic of the moment that can be easily swayed by emotions. Bharati uses the war of Mahabharat as the theme to raise questions regarding moral uprightness in the face of evil, selfishness and violence.

Alkazi’s brother in law and reputed director Alyque Padamsee was often called God in a sort of tongue in cheek way because of his towering presence in the world of advertising.

Perhaps unwittingly Mr Narendra Modi has assumed a role even above God with his overweening presence at the foundation stone laying of the Ram temple at Ayodhya yesterday and his declaring that Ram has now been liberated.

In view of the theatre imagery arising from Alkazi, one would think the Prime Minister should be like a director, he should lead his team but he should be behind the scene, let the ministers and others be more visible, let them be on stage. Elkazi was the biggest name in Indian theatre for decades, commanded unusual respect, he shaped so many careers and created so many directors. Yet How many had even seen his photograph ?. Many people must have seen him for the first time in obituary notices.

Mr Modi struts about the stage all the time, hogging the limelight of every ministry, every event. The Indian drama tradition involves a large cast, sometimes in folk theatre there is no ready script, the expert actors improvise their own lines. Here Mr Modi is the director, the sole actor, it is a one man show, it is a total negation of the art of politics and theatre. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh represented another end, he remained behind the scene like a director but a good director also needs good qualities of an actor, he needs to come out before people which he did rarely, some would say he did not act enough as the director, let others run the show.. Again to use a theatre imagery, the Congress with its extremely incompetent administration ushered in the BJP centre stage.

Poets have been sceptical about the business of gods and temples.God has walked out of the temple. . That was theme of a sarcastic poem by Kusumagraj recited at a programme on book day in Dadar some time ago by playwright Suresh Khare. God has left in response to a call by a dalit to come out. The priests are not bothered. So long as the temple is there we will get 50 gods, they say. Another poem of sacrasm by Vinda Karandikar asks the readers to turn their hearts into stone since that is the only way to get along in this terrible world. Can’t afford to be sensitive.

Then there is a short story of Tagore in which the ruler has banished God from the temple

The present dark period in our democracy reminds of the influential book Men in Dark Times by of Hannah Arendt , a major voice against totalitarianism who covered the Eichman trial and wrote about the role of ordinary men in genocide by the Nazis.

But she was not a pessimist. She argues that in dark times — times of injustice, when certain groups are oppressed by certain other groups and personal liberty is imperiled — something magical happens to this in-between space, “a special kind of humanity develops,” a fierce fellowship between and among the oppressed. More than a century after Kierkegaard contemplated the power of the minority, she writes:

Humanity manifests itself in such brotherhood most frequently in “dark times.” This kind of humanity actually becomes inevitable when the times become so extremely dark for certain groups of people that it is no longer up to them, their insight or choice, to withdraw from the world. Humanity in the form of fraternity invariably appears historically among persecuted peoples and enslaved groups… This kind of humanity is the great privilege of pariah peoples; it is the advantage that the pariahs of this world always and in all circumstances can have over others.

And now here is Rabindranath Tagore’s story on God

Temple of Gold
By Rabindranath Tagore

From “Narratives”

“SIRE,” announced the servant to the King, “the saint Narottam never deigns to step into your royal temple. He is singing God’s praise under the trees by the open road. The temple is empty of all worshippers. They flock round him like bees round the fragrant white lotus, leaving the golden jar of honey unheeded.”
The King, vexed at heart, went to the spot where Narottam sat on the grass. He asked him, “Father, why leave my temple of the golden dome, and sit on the dust outside to preach God’s love?”
“Because God is not there in your temple,” said Narottam.
The King frowned and said, “Do you know twenty millions of gold have been spent on that marvel of art, and the temple was duly consecrated to God with costly rites?”
“Yes, I know,” answered Narottam. “It was the dread year when thousands of your people lost their homes in fire and stood at your door for help in vain. And God said, ‘The poor creature who can give no shelter to his brothers would aspire to build my house!’ Thus he took his place with the shelterless under the trees by the road. And that golden bubble is empty of all but hot vapor of pride.” 5
The King cried in anger, “Leave my land!”
Calmly said the saint, “Yes, banish me where you have banished my God.”

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book seeking democratisation of urban planning and transport


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