Searching for Tukaram
Looking for salvation
Khemani was introduced to the novel through Vijay Lele’s English translation of Atul Pethe’s stage adaptation, as edited by Vijay Tendulkar, and first performed almost a decade ago by Kishore Kadam as a one-man show. Khemani’s version is not a straight-up adaptation. He introduces the character of Mokashi himself as one who provides a third stance. “I was interested in finding a device through which I could approach this text. Tukaram has found salvation, what about the writer?” posits the director. In the same way Tukaram’s wife Avali roams the hills of Dehu in search of a husband lost in his moorings in Prajakt Deshmukh’s Sangeet Devbhabali, here too, Kanha spends long hours looking for his brother. This tiring physical search is a corollary of Tukaram’s equally onerous spiritual quest, and Khemani layers in the metaphysical, “A writer is in search of his version of Tukaram and the meaningful silence beyond his words. These quests interpenetrate and illuminate each other.” Even if Tukaram’s devotion to God is central to the narrative, quite incidentally, the play isn’t about religious matters as much as it is about the creative consciousness of a poet, and his ideas rather than his beliefs, if a thin line could be drawn between them. At one point of time, even Vithhal joins in the eternal quest that has all players in the play caught up in its swirl.
Mokashi was an important figure in a new wave of Marathi novelists who entered into their prime in the decades post Independence, and his style has been described as one of “shrewd discernment from an alienating distance”, by scholar A K Bhagwat. Anandowari, the novel, owes a debt to Kanha’s own sharp-eyed poetry on his brother, in which he emerges as much more domestically settled than thought of conventionally, as “a loving elder brother, a responsible family head, an affectionate man who is equally loved by his family,” according to one of many blogs on Tukaram.
Khemani’s use of the character of the writer is self-reflexive to an extent, and the fictionalised Mokashi isn’t quite so much a biographical entity as he is a surrogate, perhaps, for Khemani’s own preoccupations, which he describes as, “the tremendous longing for the absolute and the infinite in a creative process dealing with the search for meaning in existential desperation.”
As in any devised process, the actors contributed in no small measure to the dramatic texture of the finished play. They also added a colloquial and accessible flavour to playwright Yugandhar Deshpande’s Marathi translation of Khemani’s English script. As is di rigueur in plays associated with Tukaram, a melodic arrangement of traditional abhangs has been created by Ruturaj Bhosle. After working with a large ensemble in his earlier play, In Search of Dariya Sagar, a treatise on Sindhi pride, Khemani wanted to work with a smaller cast. “The transition was wonderful, since managing a large cast takes a lot of bandwidth. Anandowari was more exciting and less stressful. We connected well with each other, and were able to focus on the task at hand,” he says. It was also a project which they took their time in mounting, with the outcome finally available to audiences.
Anandowari will be staged at St. Andrews Centre for Philosophy and Performing Art on January 19 at 7.30 p.m.; more details at bookmyshow.com