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Makarand Sathe

They Went Ahead

 Translated by Ajay Joshi and Makarand Sathe

An excerpt from the performance: the final moments of the play


(In his late forties, an urban, spectacled, middle-class man, ‘A’, is sitting in a semi-nude state. He gets up with a start, and puts on the clothes lying around. He walks about restlessly, and looks around time and again as if waiting for someone.  His face shows the somewhat arrogant realisation that he is an intellectual. In the background, two unknown people, a man and a woman, are sleeping on the floor in the darkness. [It is not necessary for them to be physically present, but a mattress and blankets can be arranged to indicate they are asleep.] ‘A’ turns and looks at them now and then, as if twitchy at their presence. Another man enters. This man, ‘B’, is a middle class city dweller in his early forties, and looks somewhat hassled. ‘A’ quickly steps forward and pulls him under the spotlight. The stage is partly lit. The entire play takes place in tight spots. Circles of extreme bright light follow the action. The surrounding areas are pitch dark.)

A:     Come…come in. Come here please (In a tone that a shopkeeper in a small market place would call out to a buyer, beckoning him to his shop. A realises this. As a result he is a bit awkward. Still, he persists in his efforts.) You are an Indian, right? Marathi? (B hesitates.) …Yes, Marathi. I realised that as soon as I saw you.  I was nearly convinced… and you were mumbling something to yourself. (B looks down, abashed.) No, no, don’t worry. I like people who mutter to themselves. Even I talk to myself, na! Someone who talks to himself considers all aspects of an issue. (Now ‘B’ has completely stopped in his tracks.) Come, please, come inside. Good, now sit… So you were mumbling something. I couldn’t follow what it was. But the words were in Marathi…which is great! I wanted just that kind of a man. Perfect. (Bewilderment and doubt on B’s face) No… No, I mean I wanted somebody like you…for communication…brotherhood…otherwise just about anyone could have come here, isn’t it? You’re aware that this place is like that. It feels good to have someone like yourself, like your kin. Sit, please sit…Oh, no, don’t be scared. For one, I am not one of them. I mean one of those who you met on your way here. Now, what would you call them? Servants…or administrators or…well it is difficult…huh…forget who they are…what is important is that I am not one of them. At least if you look at it from the point of view of our world… I mean the previous one… Even then, the two of us are like… What do they say? Birds of the same feather… (B tries to say something. A stops him). No, no! There is no need to introduce yourself. It is quite clear that you are a Maharashtrian.  Your clothes tell me you are middle class and urban. Your face says the same thing. The twist of your lips, the way in which surprise flits across your face…and you still haven’t sat down. It means you are judging me, trying to decide whether to stay or leave. It means you think before you act…you don’t make hasty decisions…Look at your hands, just look at them. (Grasping his hand, A pulls him closer under the spotlight.) Just like mine — delicate and soft. Your finger and toenails are neatly trimmed and moisturised. Your face looks polished…how suave you are! You’re a good man…just like me. That’s enough for us to come together… Oh! It’s only me doing the talking. And I can see that you’re annoyed… But this urge of mine to talk to you…this…your muttering to yourself…what else could it mean? We’re birds of the same feather… (B gets up to leave.) Sir! Please…please do wait. Don’t you think I look just like you… see, like this…? But I am talking again… I’m sorry…sit, please do sit (B sits down.) Now speak.


A:     Go on. Speak. How are you?

B:     I’m fine.

(Pause. B looks beyond A’s shoulders at the two sleeping figures. Realising this, A promptly gets up and stands between B and the sleeping figures. A is a little frightened, his face both guilty and restless.)

A:     No, don’t worry about them…they won’t do a thing. They’re harmless, absolutely harmless. They too are Maharashtrians… but they’re not like us. In fact they don’t even talk, unless they are forced to. I’ve spent days with them. Believe me Sir, I defended them for so many days, just as if I was their lawyer.

B:     You mean…you’re a lawyer…

A:    (Smirking.) Yes, in a way…  I am a lawyer by profession…but when I said I defended them…I meant their being here…in this place…

B:     Here? You mean even here —

A:     No, this is not a court. This is not a place that doles out justice…but it’s close, very close. Still… you don’t get ‘Justice’ as you would think of it in the literal sense. This place is rather weird, the unexpected happens here… (B gets up. A restrains him.) Please don’t leave. Wherever you go, the result will be the same. At least here you have the company of a likeminded person…quite similar… forget caste and religion…let all that be… I will talk of that later… The point is that I need you. You are useful to me. I know you are a good man, like most of us. You need proof? Let me explain… Take for example…during the Tsunami you must have donated money to the relief fund. And very often you must have gone out of your way to help senior citizens and the blind to cross busy roads. You are a socially conscious person, just like me. You still want more proof? You must be philanthropic…I know. Yes, sir! People like us don’t speak of such things openly… Finding time despite my hectic schedule, I defended poor clients and fought on behalf of NGOs for low fees… cases which were socially important… That apart, just look at you…it’s so clear that whoever you may be… I mean whatever caste, religion, occupation… you have some intellectual social interest in this world… Do you watch a play or two? Read newspapers or Shekhar Gupta’s editorials in the Indian Express… Magazines? Which ones? India Today? Frontline?

B:     Not that. India Today, yes. That’s better…

A:     Look, didn’t I tell you?  You will definitely help me. In fact, we need each other. Now tell me. How are you?

B:     Fine.

(B looks restless. He looks at the two at the back again. A is now very agitated.)

A:     Sir! Don’t look that way. Didn’t I tell you they do nothing? You will see lakhs of people all over the place like these… even here, if you look carefully! It’s we who are in the minority! That’s why we must cling to each other… Just ignore them…as if they don’t exist… Why is that so difficult? They are asleep. Let them sleep. They sleep a lot… And just in case they wake up, don’t be terrified… If they wake up I will speak to you in English or then maybe in Hindi… They don’t know a word in any language but Marathi… I’m telling you they’re not like us… Bloody shit… This place is weird anyway, and on top of that if you keep looking there, it’ll make things worse!  Listen, I’m going to tell you about something that happened here…and you… (B is restless.) Sit, please sit.


A:     Huh, See… Let me assure you of one thing. I wish you well. Look here, if I don’t do this, you’ll suffer the same fate as me. Then a terrible guilt will eat into you. Guilt makes life unbearable… We are suspended in limbo, you see… see, it’s we who are affected… In this place it’s we who brood and die…people like them will sleep like this…and the remaining bastards move ahead…  It is sensitive people like us who get trapped. Are you a sensitive person? Huh? Are you?

B:     Yes…I mean…I think I am. (Again glances towards the back.)

A:     (Yelling) Don’t look at them! (Momentary pause. He controls himself with difficulty.) See, I’ll try and explain. But mind you…I’m in a hurry…I’m tired of these hardships…can’t take it any more…I don’t want to wait… Do you understand? I know you’re sensitive, you can understand. I’ll try to explain everything briefly and properly. But like a person completely shattered, suspended at the edge of an abyss, a person with self-contempt, helpless because of human limitations, my talk is bound to go a bit off track. (Now he is very restless, nearly breaking down towards the end.) Even after death, look what destiny has in store for us!  For us middle class simpletons! See, people like us must cling on to each other…don’t you understand?

(B, though a little apprehensive, gets up, puts his hands on A’s shoulders to comfort him. A grasps his hand firmly. B frees his hand from his clasp. Gently patting him, he goes back to his place. A is now composed.)

A:     Thank you, I feel better now…sorry… How are you?

B:     I’m fine.

A:     Don’t you feel restless?

B:     I do…a bit.

A:      Relax…Sit back. There’s no hurry here.


B:     What did you die of?

A:     Accident.


A:     You?

B:     Heart attack.


B:     (Looking back) And these two…

A:     (Again irritably) Just leave them alone, will you? I will tell you about them. But only after a while. Have patience…ok? First tell me something. Did you fill up a form on your arrival…at that first place? That small place like a closet… with that person sitting at a table? And in front of his table, a smaller one, for us to sit on and complete the form?

B:     Yes, I did fill up the form.

A:     What did they ask? Name? Place?

B:     No.

A:     Occupation?

B:     Nothing of that sort.

A:     They only asked you to write twenty lines about yourself, didn’t they?

B:     Yes. And I wrote just that…Name, occupation, address, children, likes and dislikes, what else could I write? So they —

A:     Tore it to pieces? Correct. Then what did you write the second time?

B:     Briefly from my childhood to…

A:     History! They tore it too, your history was torn… Sir, they know all that… Then after this happened a couple of times, you handed back a blank form. Correct?

B:     I simply don’t understand… what do they want from us?

A:     Forget it. We don’t have the time. I just want to know whether you have come here through specific channels. See, finally, will Man ever be able to unravel the secrets of the universe?

B:     Right. And the irony is that if people decipher it, it may become even more difficult to live!

A:     Why do you speak of facing life? Don’t you realise that we are now dead, once and for all?

B:     You’re right. But it doesn’t feel the same. This is an entirely different feeling — I mean what we imagine what it would be like after dying.

A:     So do you believe in it? What happens after death according to this religion or that… but first tell me… do you grieve when you remember your wife and kids?

B:     Not at all! That’s what I’m trying to tell you. I had a feeling it would happen this way, but…

A:     That’s because of the second chamber. Second place! Intense purple light, lit circles, thumping sounds… it felt like an MRI or a CT scan, right? You stand in that light, and some of our common feelings simply freeze. I mean they don’t die, they just freeze – all those feelings about wives, children and  parents left behind, or all those unfulfilled cravings… Correct?

B:     Absolutely right! But why? If it was to be this way, then why keep those memories alive?


A:     Since coming here I have thought about it a lot. You know what I think? I think they want to keep us as we were. The same as when we lived our earlier lives. But… but now, after we are dead, those memories elicit entirely different feelings… We no longer behave as we did when we were alive. We change… they may not want it to happen that way! Those bloody bastards… (Pause) But “THEY” means who? …Shit!  Whom do you trust?

B:      Wasn’t that precisely what they asked in the third chamber? Do you have faith? What kind of a fucking question. I told them I believed in —

A:     Let that be, I got what I wanted. Now it is confirmed that we came here by the same route as the life we led. It’s not like the earlier ones. Horrifying things happen here. Just thinking about it makes my hair stand. This place strips you of everything. Then decisions have to be taken. It makes you act. Waiting too long without action and submitting blank forms just doesn’t help. You’ll realise that now that you are so restless. How will you manage yourself here, huh?

(B gets up and struggles to get out of the confines of the lit area around him. A follows to catch hold of him. B leaps ahead. But he can’t get out of the lit, in spite of repeated attempts. A, who had tried to hold him back out of fear, now eases down.)

A: (Fearfully) Don’t… don’t go anywhere… Wherever you go… it’s the same… Look! Look outside… believe me… at least here we have each other for company… (B, realising that he can’t go outside, sits down. A relaxes.) Huh… you can’t go outside, can you? It’s been more than ten minutes. You had ten minutes to make a choice. Now you’re stuck here. Sit down.

(There is a pause after the struggle. B is still standing.)


Photo by Kumar Gokhale


A:     Do one thing. Take a deep breath. And thank your luck that I’m around… this place is weird. Strange things happen here. But from what happens here, on those historic facts, our progress is decided…understood? I haven’t a clue what lies ahead…because I don’t believe in religion, God and such things. Chitragupta, Kayamat… Apocalypse and the rest… I don’t think they exist. But here, I’ve realised we will get justice. See, I am a lawyer. I can recognise the tell-tale signs… But don’t involve yourself in these matters. It’s not easy to follow these structures… and I have my experiences, right? See, I’m a unique person. I have gone through what happened here once, and I am going through it again — how often does one get a chance to go through the present more than once? To amend history itself? And who gets a chance — (B looks at the two at the back. A again gets irritated and nearly charges at him). Bastard! How often have I told you not to look at them? (Pause. Deliberately steadies himself.) Ok! Yes, even they have been around here for some time. They too got the chance… to pass through the same situation again. And the fear is that they might behave differently this time. But… but I know it won’t happen that way. To take advantage of such historic opportunities, you need privileged people like us… with our kind of background. (Momentary pause. B faints. A holds him and gets him to sit down.) Sit, please sit. See, actually I am trying to help you. I too am a very, very sensitive man…just like you. Usually you have to wait here for a long time, a long, long time. But I am going to steer you through quickly. I have been through it once, you see! Let me tell you that history. Then we can learn from it. You will, won’t you?

B:     Yes! Otherwise history repeats itself. Those who don’t learn from history make the same mistakes again.

A:     (Flaring up) What do you mean, history repeats itself? Marx himself has already stated that. But that statement is of no use to us. Because now we have understood that it isn’t that straightforward. (Pause. Restless with memories, yells.) History doesn’t teach us a thing! It only punishes us because we don’t learn from it, that’s all! Understood?

B:     Why are you shouting? I’ll do what you ask of me…

A:     I don’t want you to do it because I say so. Then it will lose its purpose. It doesn’t happen that way here. I want you…to do what I ask you to do, ON YOUR OWN. And that is a difficult thing. (Pause.) Anyway forget it, forget everything… Let’s do it this way, let’s first calm down. Now pay attention to what I have to say. Take a deep breath… release. Good, how do you feel now?

B:     Relaxed.

A:     Don’t be scared, tell the truth. I won’t shout.


A:     Come on, tell me…

B:    It’s like this, what will happen next… I mean that — I am waiting for something… I mean I feel that way… But I don’t know why… because of which… I  feel restless.

A:     Correct. This is like the life we lived, keep that in mind. The same thing happened to us. It started the same way. (Gets up, turns, and looks behind.) When I came here, of these two, this gentleman was already present… Now I can’t avoid talking about them. Let your curiosity be satisfied for once. This gentleman’s name is Khanduji. Khanduji Kale. He — (A stops mid-sentence, as if immersed in his thoughts, and comes forward and sits with his head down. Pause.)

B:     Then?

A:     Then what?

B:     What of Khanduji Kale?

A:     He died.

B:     That’s obvious. But of what?

A:     He committed suicide.

B:     Oh! I see. So that’s what you meant when you said they were not like us. Why did they commit suicide? A jilted love-affair?

A:     No.

B:     Less marks in higher secondary exams? Share market? I tell you it’s stupid to commit suicide. Even I put in my stakes in the share market. But I always took precautions. I played within my limits you see… I mean one should always play within one’s limits.

A;     He didn’t die because of the share market… he is a farmer.

B:     Farmer… huh…then why did he… Oh! Oh!

A:     Yes! He is a farmer. And he committed suicide. The rest we already know. Loans, cotton, daughter’s wedding, money-lenders…

B:     No…I mean, yes! Meaning actually I don’t know the details. I… meaning I know that many farmers are committing suicide. But I don’t know the intricacies involved. Anyway, so he is one of them, is he? I mean one of those farmer suicides we hear about all the time? In that case I want to see him. (Gets up and heads towards the back. A grabs him and pulls him back.)

A:     Sit here, sit. I can understand your curiosity. But their waking up at this point will not be convenient for us… For once listen to what I have to say.

B:     You tell me all about that, but… and you do appear to know about various things… I can imagine… a while ago you even had important information on Marx, and so I ask… can’t we find a simple solution? I mean —

A:    Don’t you think it’s too late now?

B:     Yes, but isn’t it alarming that so many people are committing suicide… I mean we can’t do anything… but I ask just out of curiosity. I know a little… but I am always interested in knowing about things. A lot of social work is done in India now. The RSS activists even work among the adivasis, that’s what I read in India Today. Do you —

A:     (Annoyed) Look here. I am not one of them. I believe in secularism. Whatever this Sangh activism did in Gujarat against the Muslims…

B:     Exactly! I agree. Caste, creed is all humbug… The same for religion… One should have respect for all religions… I agree.  But at least after death —

A:     We are already dead… There is no time to discuss all this now. It’s pointless. Listen to what happened next… So when I came here, I saw this Khanduji. I came to know him, and since I was well aware of the nitty-gritties of all these problems… you can imagine how sympathetic I felt. I was trying to make him speak… but it’s difficult — he doesn’t speak easily with people like us —

B:     Why?

A:     He feels… but leave that. What happened is more important. As I was trying to convey this to him, a group of eight to ten people barged in. All men from the same work place… middle level managers from the same company. Two were youngsters. The others were middle-aged and some could pass off as elderly. But what is more important is that all of them were mostly like us. Suddenly I felt relieved. I introduced Khanduji to them. All of them were sorry. Just like you. Now I won’t get into details about all of them. Of the lot, two were believers. Another one was an economist, financial advisor…an atheist like me. It was he and I who gave the information to the others — about this farmer and his woes. (While he presents the following theory, looking pleased with himself, his face assumes an expression of the high moral ground.) We clearly presented both sides of the situation. I mean at one end: poverty, the condition of agricultural practices, exploitation, globalisation, American subsidy… and at the other, the mad scamper of farmers to shift from traditional crops like jowar and bajra to cash crops like cotton, increasing expectations of farmers, the global market, capitalism… And on the third front, new technologies – yes, and also about how the entire system is changing, how we are progressing on the social and economic fronts, how attitudes are changing as one moves from the agricultural system of production to industrialisation and its compulsions. But in spite of all this, what was equally important was that people mustn’t die. So why is there no alternative? You observe England from the middle of the eighteenth century to the Second World War. (B is now listening, awestruck.) Look at Europe, look at America. Consider Japan till the Second World War. It is a ‘DARK’ period, a period of hardships for the poor. There is no way out. It happened to them earlier, and now it is happening with us. It does not mean that men should die. But this is inevitable… And no matter how strongly we feel that this technological, capitalistic, democratic establishment must collapse, there is no sign of its happening in the near future. This system is going to flourish, that’s obvious. So there’s no point harbouring false hopes. We have to find a way out …yes I repeat…suicides are deplorable but —

B:     What you are saying is very important! You are so knowledgeable… May I repeat what I just asked you? See, is there no simple solution? There must be… Does no one give this a thought?  I mean, has this been thought about at a global level?

A:      Look, there’s no time for that now. Like you, everybody was moved… And they all asked this same question, Is there an easy solution? (B wants to ask something.) No! We don’t have the time. Listen. As these people came here, like this, together…

B:     But how did so many of them come here together?

A:     Hmm! From what I’ve gathered, they were in a company bus on their way to a picnic. There was a road block because of a farmers’ agitation. It’s not clear if the driver was drunk, but he rammed the speeding bus to the right side of the road, toward a pit in some agricultural land. The bus crashed. All of them died and came here. As they said all this, Khanduji stood there, listening. The others were jostling each other, excited, there was total mayhem. I tried to calm them down. Just then this woman arrived —

B:     (Surprised, his voice louder than usual.) Which woman?

A:     That one, sleeping at the back…

B:     (Gets up and moves to the back.) That one? The other one sleeping behind him is a woman?

A:      (Pulling him back.) Sh…! Sit here…yes, that’s a woman…Godavaribai. She was standing with the others there…protesting where the bus that plunged… on that farmland. The bus ploughed into her… she died… her name is Godavari. She is Khanduji’s wife.

B:     Oh! That’s why they are sleeping together.

A:     No. And they’re not sleeping together! They’re sleeping wherever they can find a place to lie down… (Pause.) Then everybody quietened down a bit —

B:     Oh! I see! It means this woman finally found her way here… I mean a woman here — I mean just like that… amid all these men… a woman.

A:     It’s not that way… I think we should talk frankly. We are both men so why be shy? Look here, that woman came here, but she’s not like the women of our class. She is like Khaduji. Ever since she arrived she hasn’t uttered a word. She is absolutely horrible… (Suddenly irritated.) It’s not like that, you see, and… what can you say of such a woman…emancipated…but what can you expect Khanduji’s wife to be?

B:     Oh, no! That’s not what I meant.

A:     Then what did you mean? Are we going to deceive one another…you know this guilt…In the end, it’s all meaningless. But men die of that, what the fuck. For so many days that’s what has been happening… the same thing —

(Temporary pause.)

B:     I’m sorry… I mean —

(Long pause)

A:     Tell me one thing. What part of a woman’s body do you fancy the most? Should I guess? Should I? You are just like me. You like breasts, like I do. What a miraculous creation… a marvel of nature. They are the most beautiful thing in the world. Her breasts…the possibility of milk in them…that’s what you favour the most, right? (B is silent.) Don‘t be shy. (Suddenly raises his voice.) But this is not true of Godavari’s breasts. With such sexual fantasies, at that crucial moment people like us just… anyway. So this is his wife Goda — Godavari. Even when she came here her forehead wasn’t adorned with kumkum. That means he obviously died before his wife. That’s why she was standing there in protest. She is not too bad…kind of charming in fact. But…her face is so numb…dreary. Just like his. Seeing her, they went kind of insane…excited. Khaduji and Goda stood in a corner. They hadn’t even spoken a word to each other. They just stood there. We sat down all over the place. Now and then we would look. (B too looks at them. This time A does not protest.) Look… now look. And why’re you so restless?

B:     No, I’m not.

(He gets up and tries to peer out of his contained space.)

A:     Look, look outside as well. That would be even better. You can see what’s outside. Spaces just like this, even out there… Look. (Sharp lights on the audience, moving all around.) Look, just like us, people all queued up, waiting… (B walks about restlessly.) Hey, such restlessness is not good… You’re waiting? For what?

B:     Why aren’t we going ahead? What happens next?

A:     The same feelings haunted us. Just then my attention was drawn to these two. They were sitting calmly. Then it struck me. I spoke to – you know that financial adviser I spoke of a while ago — I spoke to him first. Then the two of us, once again, explained a few things to the others…

B:     What things?

(There’s a pause. A doesn’t reply immediately. Cautiously goes near the two sleeping at the back and returns. Then looks at B.)

A:     Actually that should be told a little later. We had to linger over it for a long time. So why should it be any different with you?

B:     But why waste time? There’s nothing as boring as waiting… (Looking behind.) I don’t know how these people can sit about so coolly —

A:     How can these people! (Pause.) You’re correct. Let me tell you. You must be put through these stages. Otherwise people like us see exactly the unwanted side at a very inconvenient time. Then a momentary asceticism envelops us! …For once, let there be a purging of all the wrong ideas. Let no unwanted thought come to us at the crucial time. Otherwise we lose the vigour just when we need it. Our friends who were here before us — they didn’t have such unwanted thoughts, so they went ahead. And I stayed behind. (Momentary pause.) Who tried to stop all this from happening? Me! (Glancing backward.) Who went out of his way to protect them? Me! …You know, just five minutes after these two arrived, the others immediately got them to do their work – “Lay out the mattresses, fetch water”… I pleaded with them not to do that. But they went ahead, and who remained behind burdened with a feeling of guilt? Me! Fuck, there’s no place for the fair-minded in this world… Others do fine… whether it’s those from that crowd or these two… (B gets up and glances about.) What do you want now? (B gestures for water.) Water? Look, it’s there… to the left of those two sleeping…  No! Don’t wake up Goda. Fetch it yourself… Go get yourself a drink, and get one for me too.

(B goes in the dark to get water. There’s a pause. A has calmed down.)

A:     Ok. So you’re bored, waiting. And you’re surprised that those two are not bored. Even the others were equally surprised. At that time, I once again stood up for those two.

B:     And earlier? When did you stand up for them?

A:     Oh, come on, didn’t I explain the reasons for his committing suicide to the others? Did you know of them before? …And then I tried to stop the others from getting them to do all sorts of work… But let that be. With you, everything will happen quickly. Some things will have to be explained to you. There’s no option. Listen… Pay attention. Just as I have been laying out the facts till now, I’m going to continue to show you both sides of everything. For people like us, such subtleties, such intricacies, matter. Now this sensitivity itself gets us into… but that apart… listen carefully — we are waiting, aren’t we? Don’t you feel it’s the same as the waiting when we were alive?

B:     Absolutely.

A:     That’s the beauty of this place. We remain what we had become. What had become of us when we were alive remains intact. We have got used to waiting for something or the other. Look at it this way: we have got into the habit of waiting for something or the other — what is yet to come, a good future. Once we progress to a certain level, this invariably happens… (A’s face amply exhibits his self-absorbed, pretentious, high moral stand.) Look at Khanduji… after quite a bit of time, he too became a bit restless. Because he too has entered this new system, this capitalist world, you see. When that happens then…people, that is, us, become greedy… see, we must accept it. There’s nothing wrong in it. It happens to everyone. It’s like this — even as we begin to rejoice at the birth of a new baby, different worries befall us. Can the child hear well? Are his growth parameters correct? Hope he is not retarded? And his memory? …Teach him songs…Which school will admit him? …What about his profession, foreign education, monetary planning…his marriage? Then his children and their problems! And to top it all, what if it is a girl? Hope she will not be assertive, and the “women’s liberation kind”… Take another example. Now if I win a nice case as a lawyer, I won’t enjoy this victory in itself… See, I am openly using myself as an example. What happens when I win a case is that I get worried, wondering whether the next case will be better than this one, or if I will get good publicity.  …See how openly and frankly I am saying all this… but that’s the point… we look at everything in an instrumentalist way in this modern world. I have some American friends who worry whether the next Christmas party hey are invited to will be better, and they’re restless for the whole year. It’s as bad as commodity fetishism, the other problem of today. It’s the other side of the coin…an avarice beyond one’s needs…and then this greed is satiated by somebody, in fact used by somebody. And our participation decreases. Someone else starts controlling our lives — whether it is the advertising world or the corporates or the media…we have become extremely greedy…there’s solace even in understanding and accepting it. You feel relaxed for a while, even by that… (Temporary pause.) Sorry! It’s only me who has been talking.  I am an extrovert… And to top it, because of all that transpired here… Somehow I need to get over it.

B:     No! No, you speak very well. You are absolutely right… any easy solution?

A:     Why, are you feeling restless?

B:     Yes I am a bit restless — is there no solution?

A:     There is… Don’t you feel a little comforted knowing this? At that time we felt the same. Later we felt we should become like those two. That was the solution. Do you too feel the same? You feel envious of them, right? One should be able to be like them. Quickly, let’s do what we did then. Let’s first do some Yoga…a bit of Shavasana…Anulom, Vilom…

B:     Because of that will we go ahead? It’s unbearable here, claustrophobic… what a fucking small place this is —

A:     What do you mean by “a fucking small place”? This is SPACE… call it a space. Pay careful attention to this entire space… then you will realise that after death, space becomes elastic.  When all those other people were here, it had become huge, this same space… After they left… (B more restless.) And as restlessness increases, the space shrinks and time gets stretched…as restlessness increases, the space shrinks even more, and then time is stretched to the extreme… What is space according to Jain philosophy? Space is something that can accommodate things…and time is a thing that accommodates events… According to the Jains…

B:     Let your Jains go to hell… how long do we wait —

A:     You have to wait here for a while. Still, I am taking you ahead, on the fast track. It took us three to four days to get to the stage of Shavasana.

B:     Oh, my God! This is killing.

A:     Come on, lie down over here. Now do as I tell you. Take a deep breath. (B is prostrate. A is constantly talking, but it’s obvious he’s agitated. His words and his actions contradict each other. He walks about restlessly. Occasionally he goes to the back and looks at the two sleeping figures.) Take another deep breath. Release. Now without moving a single part of your body, do as I say. Imagine that you’re sleeping on the shore of a calm ocean. Now imagine that you’re looking at your own body from outside…at your Shava…your corpse. Do as I tell you and concentrate  on different parts of your body… now one at a time, relax your toes… now the soles of both the legs… relax your ankle joints… rest your entire weight on the ground — don’t burden yourself with anything. Loose… relaxed… Let both the calves loosen up… both the kneecaps… the part below the knees… loosen both the thighs… outer side loose… relaxed… slowly pay attention to the slackened breathing… the inner part of the thighs… the fork between the legs. (B abruptly jerks his legs, shaking his neck as if in the midst of convulsions.) Hey, why are you moving? (B sits upright.) Huh, you got up? You completed this phase much faster than we did.  Your body is now nothing but a corpse — Shava — and still you can’t do Shavasana… do you follow anything? Actually our sensitivity increases here… and yours has, much more —

(Pause. B sits upright.)


Photo by Kumar Gokhale


B:     I’m sorry. I’m troubled. What you say is correct. But — (Pause. Sitting up, B shakes his hands and legs.) What happens next? Um? Re-birth?

A:     No! What are you talking?

B:     Then why is this happening only to me? Am I at fault? What is to happen to me?

A:     Don’t be afraid. The same thing happened to us too. Just that it happened faster in your case… because I am preparing you. Think of this as a preparation for the life ahead, for our future —

B:     But I don’t seem to be able to handle it.

A:      There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s another side to it, as I said earlier. Every time I will present the other side of the story. We people are like that.  We probe deep… into subtleties…sensitively. You know why it is happening like this? Because, basically, there’s nothing wrong with such a thing happening to us. See, this society has regressed by being satisfied with the little we have… there’s no positive attitude. We’ve stopped being proactive. We must look to the future… what’s wrong with that? Um? Consumerism and commodification, it’s fine mouthing such big words, but basically what is wrong in wanting a better life? Um? And then these things, anyway, are beyond us… we are not to be held responsible. That man progressed and came this far, is that our fault? There are problems at every stage. In the earlier days, people died of influenza and malaria — what was the life expectancy then?…Haven’t we progressed? It’s bound to be like this… What is the harm in being ambitious? And what’s wrong with being restless because of that?

B:     You’re right! If everyone thinks of his own good, eventually everybody will benefit. One should think only of how good things will come your way — then automatically —

A:     (Suddenly annoyed.) Oh no, it’s not that way.  That’s not what I meant to say. What you’re saying is all wrong — it doesn’t happen that way, that’s been proved beyond doubt. What I’m saying is deeper, more subtle…try to understand. You’re saying what that bald, fair, sloppy man from the other group said, condemning Khanduji. We had a fight, with Khanduji and I on one side and the rest on the other…And in spite of all of this, if one of them asked for anything, Khanduji would promptly comply…I tell you it’s just this way with such people, but that apart…What I’m saying is entirely different. You said that one should only think for oneself, that is not what I’m saying…it is such an escapist logic. How can you say such a thing? You are all scoundrels —

(Abruptly stops. B astounded. After a while, unable to bear it, B speaks. He is irritated.)

B:     What do you mean? Huh? You can’t yell at me like this…I am not a nonentity like those two friends of yours — like that Khandu, and that Godavari or Narmada, whatever she is called…Defended them? You defended them? Then what should I do? Because I am stuck with you here, you… It’s only because you have been here from the start that I’m listening to you. Now I feel you’re manipulating me. You have a hidden agenda. You’re not as saintly as you claim to be.

A:     I’m sorry. I’m not saintly. I’m a simple man, you see —

B:     Now look here, stop talking from every side. Anyway it’s getting unbearable, waiting here so long. If I could have gone outside, I wouldn’t have waited here even a minute.


A:     Please listen to me. Now I’m feeling even guiltier. Believe me, I am doing all this for our own good… It was fine till now. What will happen here after this is even more —

B:     What is going to happen here? You keep harping on that.

A:     Just look around you. Like in an apartment in a city, you can look into the neighbouring apartments here too. Don’t you see the same scene all around you? As if all the walls are of glass. Look, there are numerous spaces all over, just like ours, as far as the eye can see. (Here the harsh lights are on the audience.) Look there to your left. A while ago there was a big group, remember?

B:     Yes. You’re right.

A:     It went ahead… and that girl there, who was all alone some time back? A sweet, adolescent girl of sixteen — you remember, you were ogling at her?  She too left. Now some others have replaced her. That… that old man there — (Indicates with a wave that he too has left.) … In the last ten minutes — I mean from the time we started doing the Shavasana, half the people around us have been replaced —

B:     That’s right. But where did they go?

A:     Where? They went ahead… further. After having gone through the chaos, the restlessness, they went ahead… See, there are numerous spaces — see how many people there are — between them and us, do you feel any difference?

B:     Yes. I feel it… we are relatively calm… they are more restless. They are desperately in wait–

A:     Correct — they are moving about in tortuous circles, glancing at their wrist watches… pulling at their hair… thrashing each other… once it becomes uncontrollable… moving ahead. (Looking at him.) But we are still stuck… people are trooping in… getting restless… when sufficiently restless, they move ahead… if you keep looking, it gets maddening… and a frightening feeling takes over. It is just we, alone, who are stuck. The rest are moving ahead. We alone are stranded. The rest are going ahead. Stuck alone, the rest all —

(B is extremely restless. A is also in the same condition.)

B:     I can’t stand still like this any longer.

A:     That’s good!

B:     Good?

A:     Yes, that means now you have a chance to move ahead.

(B feels a bit elated. Pause. B paces. Both look outside.)

B:     My hands seem to be twisting–

A:     I know.

B:     I mean they are twisting but not hurting… Twisting —

A:     In medical jargon, it is called a state of Extreme Muscular Discomfort.

B:     You’re right. It’s extreme… muscular… discomfort. Why are we waiting? …Oh, my legs and my back, even they are twisting. That’s the worst.

A:     This is what happened to us. The body turns about grotesquely… it is uncontrollable… like squirming out of an unbearable sexual urge… wriggling, writhing, insatiable, ravenous… and that’s just the beginning. And do you know what one of them thought of? He was thin — short guy with thick soda glasses… seemed like an accountant. He had a runny nose. You know what came to his mind? He thought he we would get relief if someone gave him a vigorous massage. Then all of them got a massage by Khanduji and Godavari.

(B looks back at the two.  Moves in their direction.)

A:     (Loudly) Please don’t wake them up. It was wrong on my part to have told you everything… Please, please control your twisting body and listen. I need you, we need each other. If they get up and if we keep looking at them, a feeling of camaraderie will develop between sensitive people like us and them. What we are expected to do later gets delayed… then we get left behind — look what happened to me. I have observed all these spaces, studied everything carefully. People like my erstwhile friends move ahead, and millions like Khanduji and Godavari are left stranded. In fact they are the ones in the majority. But they are not easily visible… they simply merge… just like that… into the darkness! They do not shine, you see. But basically they don’t experience this restlessness, so they don’t see it as a problem. But we can’t be like them. So we don’t belong to either group… then where do we stand?

B:     Now you are speaking against them–

A:    (Shouts.) No! You’re stupid!

B:     You’re yelling again. I can shout too.

A:    Look, I’ve spent a lot of time here. It’s maddening. I tell you, even when the others got their massage, I stood firmly in support of these two. I tried to get away from the others, sit near these two. It’s not easy. People like us can’t manage it. I’ve spent a lot of time here and you’ve just —

B:     Shut up —

A:     Listen to me. It took us a lot of time to see the solution. Actually it’s not out of this world. It has always existed… we always knew it but it was at the back of our minds…now we have to put it into practice. I’ll tell you what happened, it’ll save time.

B:     You’re manipulating me — keep quiet. I’m not going to listen to you.

(A tries to say something. Then keeps quiet. He clutches the chair firmly till his face reddens. He sits firmly, unmoving, suppressing his restlessness. B’s restlessness increases. He is staring outside.)

B:     (At his wits’ end) Hey, all of them keep going ahead… that old lady who was there a while ago, even she can’t be seen… and all them over there —

 (A is quiet. B looks at him angrily, but A remains quiet. B gets even more restless.)

B:     (Again looking outside, bellows.) Look, look! If this continues, only people like these two will remain behind. And the two of us in their crowd! Even that long-nosed, beggar-like person who had been waiting so long has left…  Say something… I beg you…I apologise…I am at fault. I don’t want to get left behind. Please… tell me why it’s happening this way? Why is it that only the two of us are left behind?

A:     I’ll tell you, but don’t interrupt. Even speaking coherently is getting strenuous. I can’t concentrate any more. If I wait another ten minutes, I’m not sure what will happen. Maybe I will beat you up…clobber you. Even if we are dead, our bodies still exist. Remember we’re able to feel pain even now… If it gets unbearable I will gouge your eyes out… I —

B:     Talk, please! Don’t stop now… I’ll agree with everything you say.

A:     (In a restrained but chilling voice, like a cold fire, trying to be matter-of-fact, but also trying to influence and manipulate B with the sheer horror of the narrative.) The same thing happened to us. Then we realised that the people moving ahead — the ones released from here — mostly moved ahead as a group from a specific area. The entire group would be restless, then move ahead. We realised that Khanduji and Goda were still calm, never restless.  And till this restlessness was felt by everyone, we would be stranded. Everybody had to be restless or we had to find an alternative so only those who were restless could go ahead. Some of the group asked these two to be restless. They couldn’t manage that. One of them — the economist I spoke of — he tried explaining it to them. No change… No! Don’t you go near them. All our efforts were exhausted. One smart youngster tried coaxing them with a description of all the goodies they could get ahead, as if he was running a marketing campaign… assured them that if they became restless they would go to heaven next… Khanduji was partly carried away by this… I noticed his hands curling up. But Godavari was numb — a cold glob. It was also difficult for Khanduji to be restless for too long.

Then someone abused them, slapped them, and much more. Still it was difficult for them to make them restless… Goda, the poor thing, she was trying, her sari pallu fell off her withered breasts… they harassed her to the extreme … but all in vain…

(There is an uncomfortable silence. B attempts to say something. A gestures that he should remain silent.)

Our bodies throbbed, just like yours is now. We hit our hands and legs against the walls and the floor. I was convinced we would begin to thrash one another… No one could contain their anger at these two. In the end — do you remember that bald, fair, fat guy I spoke of? He dragged Godavari onto the floor. That long-nosed person pushed Khandu to one side. The others encircled the two.  I spoke up, but the two of them held me back. That fatso ripped Godavari’s torn sari, stripped her of her undergarments. Lowering his trousers, he fell on her. I freed myself, turned away. I could hear the sounds — of struggling, of the fat man and the others grunting.  Goda made no sound… That fat man raped her.

Fatso got up and sat across from me. The thudding of his body gradually eased off. His face still contorted into grotesque expressions. But his face also showed a sense of confidence about the future. There was no worry. Every breath of his was confident. (Pause.)

He said to me in a husky voice, “Now you do it… don’t think twice… that’s the only way. Let’s see if at least this will make the bitch restless…Let’s see if she can crave for the future… How can she not long for a better future? The future can’t be worse than this… it can only get better.  At least now she will want, crave… Let’s see…this fucking breed of women…and whatever happens…I’m already feeling good. I have this gut feeling…my work will get done…now it’s your turn…go.” I yelled at the fatso. I called him a motherfucker… he just laughed.

Hearing my shout, the others stood frozen. I felt a little better but the restlessness was intense.  Fatso sat there, looking at us. His body grew steady, but his face continued to twitch. He was now laughing with self-confidence.

Nobody knew what exactly to do next.

Suddenly, something charged in from the darkness on the left. It wasn’t clear if it was a man or something else. It looked like a human, but it was pellucid, translucent. The creature went up close to the fatso and muttered something in his ear… then immediately disappeared into the darkness.

Remember I told you there was a short, thin guy with thick soda glasses? He was the first one to gather his courage and approach the fatso. The fat man with the twitching face lay prostrate. Despite the twitch on his face, it looked carefree, completely satisfied. He looked at the bespectacled man silently, his hands raised as if blessing him, then ordered him to go to Godavari. The bespectacled man went to her. The others encircled them once again. The sounds of scuffling once again, but less grunting this time. And this time, a momentary moaning sound from Khanduji… The bespectacled man raped Godavari.

He too became calm and his face began to twitch. Looking at this, the financial advisor moved forward with determination. I couldn’t bear it anymore. I had spoken at length with him. I had found him far more sensible than the others. I moved, stood between him and Goda. I didn’t utter a word. He said, “See, we are dead. These bodies of ours are not real… In fact, if these two cooperate like we did, this illusory body you seem to have — this maya — even that won’t remain… Even this rape is illusory… all you see is unreal… Look at the fatso, then these two… See, they should actually join hands with us. But instead they…try to understand. I mean it’s they who are responsible for this whole goddamn thing.”

I was dazed. I didn’t even register his going past me. When I came to my senses, he was pushing Godavari, who lay groaning on her side, onto her back. He spread her legs, bent forward and lay on her.

There was no sound this time. I looked away. After a while, that intellectual, that economist and financial advisor came to me and said it was my turn.

I shook my head in denial.

He raised his fist the fatso pulled him away.

In twos and threes they went to the back and did the same thing. Now that youngster. Then the one with the big nose… the others pushed and dragged him to Godavari. They removed his trousers and pushed him on top of her.


Once they were all done, they lay on their backs, writhing and moaning. If you ask me, that long-nosed youngster was not able to rape Godavari. I’m sure of that. I think that’s also true for a few others. But all of them acted as if they had done it.

Then they sat up and waited. Only the fatso still lay on the floor. The others didn’t have to wait for long. The apparition of the man-creature reappeared. He whispered something in each one’s ear, even the ear of the long-nosed youngster, the one who feigned the rape. They quietened, rolled about, their faces twitching, laughing now and then.

I turned. Godavari lay motionless. Khanduji was restless. But he couldn’t do a thing. There was not a single sound from him…

Crouching in a corner, my head tucked between my knees, I sat, clasping my twisting hands and legs. I wept bitterly… pitying myself. Only I remained restless. It was unbearable. The loneliness was eating me up. Then I decided I too should rape her. I too wanted to meet that illusory man. I became aroused, looked at them. Khanduji and Godavari sat silent as before. I looked at the others for support, but to my horror the entire lot had disappeared! I got a terrible shock. I stood up with difficulty and went toward Khanduji. I shouted, “Where are the rest?! Where have they gone?”

He sat dumb, the motherfucker. I charged at Goda. She… whether she was sleeping or unconscious, God alone knows. I had to rape her without any support… They’d all left…those bastards. They should be shot…only I remained. Alone! As I bent to straighten Goda, I heard a tiny sound from Khanduji. I looked up, startled. Khanduji hadn’t moved, but suddenly I was shit scared. I hated myself. I tried, but… Try to understand… It’s difficult for me to say this… You see, I was left alone…without help. I didn’t have even the courage to pretend to rape like that youngster. I accept this.

I turned away, terribly upset with myself. I slapped myself till I bled… how could I have so little courage?  I hit my head against the floor, right here at this spot. Khanduji just sat there, numb.

(There is an extremely uncomfortable pause. A is again sitting, tightly clutching his hands and legs. B, highly agitated, writhes. That B is not yet ready to commit the rape is obvious. He attempts to say something to that effect. But A stops him with a wave of his hand and continues to talk.)

I realised it fully. I would need help… I am not impotent, but I need help…I need help to commit the rape… This is a fact and I have to accept it. I know you too will need help…we are sensitive people. I knew this the moment I saw you! See, it’s nothing to feel ashamed of…  It was easy for the group because they knew each other, you see —

No, don’t speak… I know we’re horrible…that’s a given fact… What now… what do we do about it? What he said earlier was so true. These aren’t our real bodies…and these two are the ones really responsible — shit, why should we suffer? They have to be rammed…I mean we have to act. We can’t sit about passively…

And look here… you can confess at the end. Just accept the whole thing and forget it… that’s what I’ve been doing all this while after you came. Now I am drained… It’s catharsis — but somewhere down the road you have to participate in the actual act… And such an opportunity is rare. There will be many occasions to confess later – that’s invariable… it’s always there for people like us…please trust me…  (A momentary pause. B is still in two minds, petrified.)

Look here, are you getting unbearably restless or not? It’s not happening to them. Let me repeat: they’re responsible — finished. There’s only one way out… rape… That’s it!

Like I said earlier, we are always doing it anyway. Always raping, always using our might to exploit somebody. But the systems are such that it goes unnoticed. The only difference here is that it is bare, visible to all. At one stage of progress this happens. History proves it… Your hands and legs are twitching, aren’t they? Now is the point of no return. You’re addicted to it…

(B is still flabbergasted. A abruptly changes his stance, and assumes an aggressive tone.) Do you wish to become like them and stay here? If you’re committed, you can become like them. There is a need for people like them. Otherwise who will we rape? Would you like to become like them?

(B takes a few steps forward, stops. A is aware that he can control B. This makes him even more impatient.)

But like I said, it’s your choice… Nobody can force you… This is a democracy… You may stay here with them if you wish… But at least help me… please. I’m not asking for much. She is completely bedraggled. How can she resist? But even on such a bedraggled… I mean, it’s tough! Spread her legs like this… here… (B goes towards them. A sees this.) Good! Come… come quickly.

(B stumbles toward A. A pulls him up. Both stand there nervously in a moment of silence. Then holding hands, they move, roll Godavari onto her back. Suddenly it is pitch dark. The continuous, deep, moaning sound of a woman can be heard. When the lights come on, A and B are no longer on stage. They have gone ahead. Goda and Khandu are lying in a dishevelled state. Goda’s torn saree is spread out in the front.)


Photo by Kumar Gokhale


The original play in Marathi was titled Te Pudhe Gele.