“This religion cannot be reformed but only be rejected,” exclaims Ambedkar and declares his decision to change his religion from Hinduism, while Gandhi believes “Untouchability can be erased without disturbing the caste system.” Gandhi and his followers ask Ambedkar why changing of religion was important to him and in response Ambdekar asks Gandhi and Gandhians, why Swaraj is important to them. While Gandhi says “I will not let every village in this country be divided between touchables and untouchables,” Ambedkar cries out saying “I have no country.”
It is this kind of difference of opinions and thoughts in addressing and fighting the problems of history which takes the centre-stage in Aravind Gaur’s play AMBEDKAR AUR GANDHI, written by Rajesh Kumar. The play was staged at Sri Ram Centre, Delhi on 30 August.
Though the title of the play suggests that the play is about the debate between Ambedkar and Gandhi, as one watches the play one would observe that in several scenes it is Gandhians who converse and try to negotiate with Ambedkar and not Gandhi himself. Gandhi speaks but doesn’t speak all alone. This declares that the play is not about the conversation and debate between Ambedkar and Gandhi but the conversation that Ambedkar had with Gandhism as a whole.
In the play, once, while Gandhi is fasting demanding Ambedkar to soften his stand, Gandhians go to Ambedkar crying slogans against him. Ambedkar asks why they were not allowing him to live in peace to which Gandhians say, “Gandhiji’s health has collapsed and you are speaking about your peace of mind?” The heated argument between Ambedkar and the Gandhian’s end when Ambedkar asks them to make way for him as he is getting late to the court. The agitated Gandhians silently make way for Ambedkar and start crying slogans condemning Ambedkar after he walks off. The inability of Gandhism, through Gandhians, to “touch” Amedkar and the will of Ambedkar to face, challenge and march ahead with his head held high, all gets encapsulated in this one scene.
With references made to the Poona pact, Kala Ram temple entry satyagraha, round table conference and Communal award the play unfolds the limitation of Gandhi in addressing the problem of untouchability and also his failure in attacking the root of the problem. The play also voices out the dissatisfaction in Ambedkar about the efforts put by Gandhi for the removal of untouchability. The dialogue by Ambedkar saying, “Why doesn’t Gandhi fast unto death for the cause of removal of untocuhability?” summarizes the dissatisfaction and also the dialogue saying, “Efforts of Congress to address the problem of untocuhability is like getting a new dress stitched during the festive season, every year.”
The play is paused, at many places, with songs of IPTA, like “Uth jaa re musafir,” and “Raja Maharaj ka dola,” which draws a circumference for the play, standing at the centre and also lifts the play to a different height. Using of rustic instruments could have possibly created a better environment. Stage designing and lights were complimentary and nothing in the play spilled out of the edge.
The play ends with a soliloquy of Ambedkar, following the death of Gandhi. Earlier in the play Ambedkar once tells Gandhi that the upper caste Hindu’s will accept him as his leader only until he will safeguard their interest and the day he will fail he will face the consequences. Recollecting the same Ambedkar, mournfully, says: “Gandhi left the debate incomplete,” and says, “political freedom has been attained but not social.” Who will continue the debate? Who will fight for the total freedom? The play is over and the theatre has opened its doors to the world, for the audience to walk…..
04 September 2009