Once, as a kid, while driving past a huge ground with my family, I saw a whole lot of men embarking a truck. India is full of people and crowds are a normal sight. Yet, I had never seen so many humans herded together. Their bodies shrunk horizontally, vertically, as if under the burden of guilt of occupying so much space in that truck and now on the earth they barely managed to stand on their twos. To my curious question about ‘them’, my mother gave a short answer, before drawing our attention to a new building that was now in our sight, ‘that’s a labor market.’
Humans sold and bought, like material stuff or animals. That stayed in my memory as a dirty picture of our society, humanity.
Decades later, when I look back at the employment agencies where piles of papers with CVs of hopeful job seekers, pre-internet, or at the job sites of today with millions of profiles crowd the screen, each screaming for attention, I realize that what I remember as a dirty picture is only a crude representation of the society. Culture and sophistication through abstraction hand us a tool like a piece of paper or space on the world wide web. But essentially and conceptually, the employment agencies, job portals are not that different from the ‘labor market’ I saw as a child.
Vijay Tendulkar’s Kamala shows both these pictures – the crude, concrete one and its sophisticated, abstract counterpart – side by side. On the surface, it is a story of this young woman Kamala – traded (for sex or slavery or both) in a village market. In fact, it started with a journalistic piece that Tendulkar had come to read about a ‘human market’ in Bihar. Beneath this surface, and beyond the naive and ‘crude’ character of Kamala, are layers and layers of pictures, initially draped in culture of class, higher values, intelligence but then stripped naked a scene at a time to expose the upper/ middle class hypocrisy and gender discrimination/ women exploitation across classes.
We meet Jaisingh Jadhav, a dynamic and ambitious young new-age investigative journalist, and his dutiful housewife Sarita (who, by the way, we come to know is a highly educated, dashing, horse riding modern and empathetic woman). With these two, we get a peek into their posh neighborhood, well-to-do Delhi house with several domestic helpers. We also get to see the typical husband-wife role playing of the time, their business and leisure, their compartmentalized roles in the house, their relationship. We also meet kakasaheb, Sarita’s uncle who is visiting them, a veteran journalist, editor of a newspaper in his small town. He is progressive but with strong ideals and Gandhian values. Through him, we get a different generation perspective, a senior voice on the couple, their lifestyle, on the profession of journalism and on incidents happening during the play in his front. On a side note, I’m amused by a remark in this 1981 play about ‘sensationalization’ in media/ journalism, where the whole objective is not reporting but hype creation. Wonder what Tendulkar would have written about the journalism of today, in 2022? We also meet Kamalabai (wondering why the same name), househelp but also a mother-figure from a Sarita’s village. Then, in between we meet Jaisingh’s friend (and we discover more about Jaisingh’s character through their boy talks and friendly banter). And then finally, we meet Kamala. Jaisingh has bought her from a market in some rural Bihar, as a proof to his shocking story on human (particularly, woman) trade and exploitation still prevalent in parts of rural India. What a poignant metaphor. Because it will be this rural damsel, Jaisingh’s secret weapon for the expose’, that will in turn be mutely responsible for exposing the ‘exploitation’ prevalent in the urban, educated, accomplished man that is Jaisingh, at both work and home.
What smart playwriting this is. Kamala (both the character and the play) talks less but leaves a lasting impression. If pen be literally the sword, Vijay Tendulkar’s cuts straight to the heart.