Play: Dekh Rahe Hain Nain, 1992
Written and Directed by: Habib Tanvir, Naya Theatre Delhi
The play ‘Dekh Rahe Hain Nain’, a play in Hindi, was written and directed by Habib Tanvir. It was performed at Shri Ram Centre by Naya Theatre Delhi in 1992. The play is about a senapati (commander of the army) and his journey toward the discovery of justice. The play begins with a discussion on the availability of rice grain and its price. Soon, there is news of an attack on the kingdom and the king summons the senapati to prepare for war. The war is won because of the commander’s wisdom and valor; however, in the process, the senapati kills his own brother who served the enemy kingdom. At the senapati’s request, the king awards him the position of judge. Anjum Katyal in her book, Habib Tanvir: Towards an Inclusive Theatre, observes that “in the play, the loyal senapati, under cover of darkness, undertakes a wholesale massacre of the enemies of his king. In the morning he sees that his own brother was one of those he had killed. When his king makes him commander, how can he be ruthless while he feels the eyes of his dead brother upon him? When he is appointed judge, how can he (the senapati), with a clear conscience, convict a killer?” (Katyal, 2012, 98) Struggling with such questions, the senapati again requests the king and resigns from his office.
Soon, the plague and disease spread across the kingdom. The senapati takes up the task of burning the plagued corpses. People forget who he was and mistreat him. However, the senapati keeps cremating the deceased bodies with dignity. At the end of the play, both the king and the senapati die. Through the senapati’s conversations with the king, the play inquires into questions of the rightful duty of a man, ethics, and the concept of justice. In Habib’s words,
“There are moments in our life when we are assailed by doubt… The humblest man wonders. The man at the highest station has restless moments. The social worker doubts. The bureaucrat does not know the object of his life and career. Even the worst politician must on occasion question which way he is going. And artists universally are so prone to these nagging[s] of self-abnegation.” (Brochure for Bharat Mahotsav 2000, 3 March–11 April. 4 April 2000).
Inspired by Stefan Zweig’s story “The Eyes of the Undying Brother”, the play traverses “a complex gamut of motifs from the abstract, almost metaphysical, quest for inner peace to the concrete, material problems of the ordinary people in wake of war, economic inflation and political corruption.” ( Katyal, 2012, 99) The play foregrounds the contradiction between the philosophical and the political; the individual and the collective. In anticipation of the next, new millennium, the play seeks out answers, explanations, rationalization, and delusions. One can say that these plays were reflective of the myriad contemporary questions posed against the homogenous identity forged by the national canon, as opposed to the regional practice that challenged the dominant political discourse and represented for itself an alternative post-colonial identity, reflective of its time.Dekh Rahe Hain Nain, 1992
Source: Still from the play ‘Dekh Rahe Hain Nain’. Image Courtsey – Nagin Tanvir Collection