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Stage Space and Social Space in Jaywant Dalvi’s Play Barrister

Ashok Kolekar and Dr. Tripti Karekatti


Department of English
Shivaji Universty, Kolhapur. Maharashtra
triptikarekatti@gmail.com
ashokb_kolekar@hotmail.com

Abstract:
This research paper studies the use of space in the play Barrister (1977) written by
the acclaimed Marathi playwright Jaywant Dalvi (1925 - 1994). Topics like sexuality, old
age, madness, social inequalities were explored by Dalvi in his plays like Sandhyā
Chhāyā, Purush, Sooryāsta, Nāti-Goti, Mahāsāgar, Paryāy and Barrister. The play
Barrister has received critical acclaim for its dramatic structure, characterization and
psychoanalytic probing. It has at its backdrop Maharashtrian Brahmin society of 1910. It
is about a nonconformist Barrister who supports gender equality way back in the 1910s.
He goes against the exploitative patriarchal strictures that deprive a young widow of a
normal life and opposes the tonsuring of young widows. Jaywant Dalvi had a penchant
for psychologically disturbed characters and Barrister is no exception. The protagonist of
the play has been ever afraid of his slow capitulating to madness.
The present paper analyses the way stage space and dramatic space is used by
Dalvi to delve into the psychological and social layers of signification and to depict the
social milieu of a typical pre-Independence Maharashtrian town with all its social,
political and cultural specificities. The play has a protagonist who is at once a strong
rebel who stands against the hegemonic masculine model of the colonial Brahmin society
and also a weak man driven mad by his own fears and uncertainties. Dalvi reflects the
social structure with all its hierarchies and inequalities by dividing the stage space into
different units representing different entities in the social power game.
The paper shows that Dalvi achieves this by a skillful use of stage space, mimetic
and diegetic space and props and spectacle.
Key words: stage, space, colonial Brahmin society, sexuality, madness, masculinity.
********
Narrative Biodata:
Dr. Tripti Karekatti has been teaching postgraduate English Department classes for the last
twelve years in Shivaji University,Kolhapur,India. She is the Principle Investigator of a UGC-
funded Major Research Project on Masculinity Studies.
Mr. Ashok Kolekar is a Project Fellow in the same department and is doing a comparative
study of Marathi and Indian English plays for his doctoral research.

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Jaywant Dalvi (1925-1994) is a distinguished Marathi playwright who has ably handled
all literary genres except poetry. He has written 21 Marathi plays from 1973 to 1991. He
began his play writing with a comedy Sabhya Gruhastaho in 1973. His other famous
plays include Sandhyā Chhāyā, Purush, Sooryāsta, Nāti-Goti, Mahāsāgar, Paryay,
Kalchakra, Savitri and Barrister.
In all his plays, he has dealt with various socio-economic, psychological issues
like complications of a man - woman relationship, hereditary madness, love, marriage,
sex, old age, and mentally disturbed characters. He has transformed his stories and novels
into plays. Some of his stories, novels and plays have already been made into films.
Jaywant Dalvi’s famous play Barrister was written in 1977. It was initially
published in the form of a story with the same name in 1968 in the Marathi journal Veena
and then shortly afterwards it was adapted into a novel called Andhārāchyā Pārambyā
(The Roots of Darkness) and then finally Dalvi transformed it into a two act play called
Barrister in 1977.
Barrister was first performed at Sahitya Sangh Mandir, Mumbai, in 1977; on the
proscenium arch stage. The period of the action in the play is the second decade of the
twentieth century. It is a play about a legal professional who championed gender equality
way back in the 1910s. The various conflicts between the traditional and the radical
segment of Marathi Brahmin society have been vividly depicted in it.
Barrister Raosaheb and Nana are educated. Their father Appa was a barrister, but
after going insane he disappeared. As the barrister has returned from England, his
thoughts are progressive and modern. He has a standing in the social circle of the town.
His family has participated in the freedom struggle of India. Nana was a follower of
Lokmanya Tilak. Being an upper caste and well educated family in colonial British
period, they enjoy socio-cultural and economic power too.
However, the other characters in the mansion are neither educated nor of modern
outlook. Bhaurao, his tenant, who works in the court as a clerk, is also a Brahmin, but is
moderately educated. He has returned to Raosaheb’s Wada (mansion) with his beautiful
wife Raddhaka after his marriage. The Barrister is already smitten with her beauty. There
are two servants, Ganoji, an old man, and Shantoo, a barber from the lower castes.
Being a landlord, the Barrister’s socio-economic status is high, whereas the other
characters like Bhaurao, Ganoji, and Shantoo in the play are from lower strata. Barrister’s
Mavashi (Aunt) has become a widow at the age of twelve and now lives in the mansion.
She has been tonsured. She is illiterate, orthodox, and she does not re-grow her hair nor
remarry. She follows all the age old Hindu rituals imposed upon her which block her self-
realization as a person and reduce her to the status of an object. Her routine work in the
mansion is to fetch water from the well, grind grains, circle the Pipal tree, listen to
natyasangeet (Musical songs from the play) on the gramophone and take care of insane
Nana.
Barrister’s Tenant, Bhaurao keeps a mustache and grows a small pony tail on his
head, which is a religious practice in the Brahmin community. The Barrister wants him to
modernize but he does not change in spite of constant rebukes. The play represents the

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constant clash between Barrister’s progressive modern thoughts and Bhaurao and
Mavashi’s orthodox religious thoughts.
In both the families, men are dominant, especially; Bhaourao’s father Tatya, an
old man, a patriarchal figure, who is a lecherous man, who leers at his own daughter-in-
law. Both the women characters in the play are marginalized. Mavashi is very orthodox
in nature and Bhaurao frequently maltreats his wife. Both women are illiterate. Even
though they are from the Brahmin community they are not given education, and are
confined to the house. It reflects on the status of women in those times.
The Barrister often discusses with Bhaurao about Gloria’s passionate love for
him, her madness and her pathetic death. He also talks about his first love Damyanti who
had promised to marry him but withdrew later on seeing the recurrence of madness in his
family.
The Barrister is deadly against the exploitative patriarchal strictures that deprive a
young widow of a normal life and opposes the tonsuring of widows. He is severely
critical of Hindu society and its age old orthodox practices. After Bhaurao’s death,
Bhaurao’s father Tatya tonsures Radhakka in spite of all the efforts of Raosaheb to stop
him.
Bhaurao’s death, Radhakka’s tonsuring, Gloria’s madness and her death, – these
incidents in succession make Raosaheb lose his mental balance and he starts getting
delusions. Even if Mavashi suggests him to marry Radhakka and he is excited by this
thought, he is unable to grasp the happiness that has now come within his reach. He is
unable to decide. Postponing the crucial step, he collapses into Nana’s chair which has
always symbolized insanity in the play.

Stage Space:
In the play every stage prop is used significantly to create an appropriate
atmosphere and ethos of the period. As the curtain goes up, an old wada – (mansion) of
the Barrister is shown, which reflects the socio political status of the Barrister and his
family in the society. It proves that the Barrister’s family is affluent.
The most important incidents of the play take place in two different places on the
stage - in the courtyard of the Wada and in the small outhouse where the tenant Bhaurao
lives with his wife. Dalvi is well aware of the limitations of the stage space; nevertheless,
he skillfully explores the available space to reflect the whole gamut of social, cultural and
economic hierarchies of the time. It is interesting to know how the playwright by utilizing
the stage space, tries to present the social realities of the then social milieu.
The various props and properties which Dalvi lists in this play have a particular
piece of information to convey, and a dramatic function to perform. Most of the time sofa
is utilized when there is a talk between Barrister and Bhaurao. The chair is symbolic in
the play; it is in this chair that the Barrister’s father Appa, after going insane, used to sit.
Now it is occupied by his elder brother Nana, who has also gone mad; therefore, the
Barrister is in a constant fear of joining them by occupying it in the near future.
In those times a gramophone could be afforded only by affluent families. The
gramophone serves a dual purpose in the play –showing the economic and cultural status

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as well as the extreme nostalgia that characterizes Barrister’s family. There are certain
other things which Dalvi has utilized to present the ethos of the period. For example,
Mavashi’s habit of listening to Natysangeet of Balghandharva (a great Marathi singer and
stage actor in the Marathi Sangeetnataka), Barrister’s horse-drawn carriage which he uses
for commuting, and the constant sound of the horse’s hooves. The use of the lamp, the
monthly rent of Bhauraos’s outhouse, use of the grinding stone and fetching of water
from the well create the socio-cultural milieu of Maharashtra of 80 years ago. The time
and milieu are the essential factors in this play as this play can only happen in that milieu.
Everything Dalvi uses on the stage, therefore, carries significance. The costumes of the
characters also reveal the life in Maharashtra during the early twentieth century.
Stage Space:
The opening stage directions provide a detailed description of Barrister’s Wada
(Mansion). To the right, is the rear side of the Barrister’s mansion - the backside veranda,
where a chair, a sofa, an old fashioned lamp and other furniture is placed and two old
photographs are hung on the wall. The courtyard consists of the space between the two
houses, the trunk of the Peepal tree, and the area behind the outhouse (where the well and
the horse cart are located) and in the corner of the veranda of the main house the
gramophone is kept. Opposite the main house and on the left side of the audience, there is
a small outhouse of two- three rooms where Bhaurao and Raddhakka reside; however,
only the outside room is visible to the audience.

Well Tree

Main House
Out House

The stage setup of Barrister

The trunk of a big Peepal tree is seen Up Central stage; on its left, behind the
outhouse, is the well. It is not visible to the audience. On the same side, the Barrister’s
horse-drawn carriage is standing and a small portion of it is visible. The horse named
Shyama is not visible to the audience, but only the sound of its hooves is heard. Up right
stage there is space for entry and exit. In the Barrister’s Mansion, only three people –the
Barrister, his elder brother Nana, who has now gone mad and their tonsured widow aunt

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(Mavashi) reside. Nana is shown always sitting in the chair and murmuring an absurd
sentence ‘Datta. Datta. Datta’s Cow. Cow’s milk, Milk’s cream. Datta. Datta’.

Social Space:
Jayawant Dalvi makes very clever use of the stage space to depict the social milieu
of a typical pre-Independence Maharashtrian town with all its social, political and
cultural specificities. The audience can identify the house as the house of an upper caste,
well educated and influential Maharashtrian family (probably living in Pune). The author
has to use the stage space not just to create a particular place but also a particular time.
The Wada, the tonsured widow Mavashi, easily establish that they are from a rich,
Brahamin family where things like gramophone, horse-drawn carriage are affordable.
Bhaurao and his wife Raddhakka are also Brahmin. However, their socio-cultural
and economic status is lower than that of the Barrister. They are less educated and poor.
Bhaurao while giving sweets to Ganoji and Shantoo, drops the plate from a distance into
their stretched palms avoiding touch which tells that he observes untouchability. The
landowner-tenant-servant trio are used to symbolize the hierarchy of the Hindu caste
system.
The play does not only create a particular time and place through dialogue and
action but reflects the social structure with all its hierarchies and inequalities by dividing
the stage space into different units representing different entities in the social power
game. The Stage is divided into different sections so as to represent the numerous
inequalities in Indian social life.

Up Right Up Centre Up Left


Lower castes Bark of the tree Upper Caste

Center Right Centre Centre Centre Left


Upper caste Space for all Upper Caste

Down Right Down Left


Upper Caste Down Centre Upper caste

CL: Landowner, Upper caste, educated, culturally dominant


CR: Tenants, Upper caste, less educated, culturally subordinates
UR: Servants, Lower castes, intruders, hidden part
UL: Exit -path of change also (largely unseen)
CC: Common space- used by all
UC: Bark of the tree where light is lit at dawn by the widow aunt
UR: Associated with servants, lower caste, and intruder like Tatya who is killed in
the well here.

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To the left of the centre stage, the Barrister’s mansion is located. Being an upper
caste person, a landowner, and an educated and culturally dominant family; this side of
the stage remains the dominant space on the stage throughout the play. To the right of the
centre stage is the outhouse where Bhaurao lives. This is an upper caste family belongs
but is less educated and culturally subordinate. However, this side of the stage is
constantly changing – through marriage, birth, and even deaths. On this side there are real
(not imaginary) man-woman relationships blossoming. This is the side of young blood, of
reproduction, and of the death of the old blood. Therefore, the Barrister rightly
comments:
“Bhaurao you are flowering…you are flowering ...” (Dalvi, 65)

On the other hand, there is no real change on the dominant side – there are no marriages,
no sexual relationships, no births, not even deaths on this side. The old insane father has
only ‘disappeared’; so also Nana disappears. None of them really dies, they just
disappear. Commenting on this condition the Barrister says,
“Otherwise, we, Mavsi,Nana and me! Our bloody environment… the whole
of it is static and stagnant… we are non flowering people” (51).

The Up Right section of the stage is used by lower caste people, servants, and intruders
like Tatya. On the left of the up stage, there is an exit (path of change also) which
remains largely unseen; and the centre- centre stage is a free space which is used by all
characters in the play. Up stage centre is used for the bark of the tree, where light is lit at
dawn by the widow aunt.
The stage space is divided with huge imbalance between two, and sometimes
three, parties. For example,

Barrister Bhaurao Tatya


Unmarried male Married male Father and patriarch
Believes in Believe in hegemonic Practices a belligerent
the equality of sexes masculinity version of hegemonic
masculinity

Raddhakka Mavashi Gloria (no stage space)


Married woman, Childless Widow romantic love interest
Regressive/traditional Regressive/traditional
Change/progress possible Change not possible

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The most significant thing about the play is that these inequalities in Indian society
(especially Marathi society in a town like Pune) are not just a part of the story but get
crystallized on the stage through clever use of acting space and stage space.
The imbalance in power between Barrister’s position and the tenant Bhaurao’s
position is reflected in the stage space accorded to each:

OUT HOUSE MAIN HOUSE


Upper caste Upper caste
Lower-class Upper-class
Tenant Landlord
Orthodox and Traditional Progressive
Less educated Highly educated

The above comparison shows that all the positive, superordinate terms
characterize the Barrister’s family: the Barrister is a rich landlord; is progressive and
highly educated; his brother Nana is educated and was active in freedom struggle with
Lokmanya Tilak. On the other hand, Bhaurao is a poor Brahmin; less educated and quite
a traditional male. He is not as orthodox as his father Tatya, but is not progressive like the
Barrister too. He lives with his illiterate wife in the outhouse (rented to him because he is
also a Bhramin).
The servants are from lower castes and on a very lower rung of the society than
the Barrister. The part of the stage they use and move through reveals the social
stratification. They work mostly in the up right area of the stage which is hidden from the
audience behind the outhouse, just as the inequalities in the Indian society and the
exploitation of the lower castes in real life remain to a large extent hidden.
However, Dalvi achieves complex combinations by attributing some qualities of
common binary opposites in an unexpected fashion.

OUT HOUSE MAIN HOUSE


Young people Old/ middle aged People
Present moment Past time
Progress Stagnancy
Happiness Sadness

The above comparison represents vividly the negative side of the Barrister’s
mansion- despite their socio-economic status, there is a hollowness in the mansion, The
Barrister, Nana and the widow Mavashi are old people, whereas, Bhaurao and Raddhakka
both are young and newly married. Later on, a child is also born in the family. Therefore,
there is freshness, happiness, progress in this family. However, in the Barrister’s family,
time has stopped. The atmosphere there is gloomy, sad and there is no progress at all.
Everyone in this family is lingering in the past memories.
However, it is the same Barrister who fights for change, for modern outlook and
for emancipation of women. On the other hand, Bhaurao’s family is quite orthodox. In

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the struggle between the orthodox views and the modern outlook, finally Tatya wins in
spite of the affluent position and inner strength of the Barrister. This is possible solely
because of the strong patriarchal social structure. Tatya, even if violent and lecherous,
“owns” his widow daughter-in-law Radhakka. Being the family head, Tatya successful
tonsures Radhakka and overthrows intruders like Barrister and the educated emancipated
foreign culture that he represents.

OUT HOUSE MAIN HOUSE


Orthodox Indian culture Modern life style & foreign culture
Hegemonic masculinity Non hegemonic masculinity
Ill treatment to women Desire for equality of sexes
Tonsuring Desire of widow re-marriage

In this struggle, however, the Outhouse side proves dominant over the Main house.

Status of Women and Stage Space


OUT HOUSE MAIN HOUSE
Raddhakka Mavashi
Married Widow
Has a child Doesn’t have a child
Happiness Sadness
Change/ Dynamic Static
Dreams Nostalgia
Lives in the present Stuck in the past

The above chart talks about the depiction of women, the space given to them in the
play and the gender inequalities of that period. The Barrister’s Mavashi became a widow
at the age of 12 and was tonsured. She follows all orthodox Hindu customs. Mavashi’s
life is static, because she is stuck in the past. Having been tonsured she does not look
beautiful. Moreover, she does not have a child, therefore her status in the society is lower
than Raddhaka’s who is young, married, beautiful, and has a son. There is happiness in
Raddhaka’s family. There is change, and motion in her family. She lives in the present
and has dreams. However, both women are illiterate, and have very limited social space.
Dalvi shows this limited space available to women during that time through the space
available to them and their movement on the stage.
Dalvi uses the stage space to show the socio-political and economic space of the
Maharshtrian society around 1910s. There are various circles through which the different
characters have access to (or which are unavailable to the characters) and this is
underlined through their movement on the stage.

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The inner circles of each family
The common inner circle of the two Brahmin families
The outer circle of the town
The outer circle of the country
The wider outer circle outside the country

The innermost circles are available to the two women. They are also available to
the two males- Barrister and Bhaurao, but unavailable to Tatya as he is an unwelcome
guest trying to usurp his son’s position and rights. The outer circle of the town is
indirectly available to Mavashi (Balgandharva’s visit; she can listen to music and interact
with servants) but is not available to the same extent to Radhakka. Both have no access to
wider outer circles. The national and international circle is available to Barrister alone
due to his social economic status and education.
The Barrister is a modernized man who has taken up cudgels against the orthodox
society to oppose tonsuring and to promote widow remarriage. However, he is not able to
stop the two incidents of tonsuring in the play. He could not stop Mavashi’s tonsuring
because he was comparatively young and inexperienced and did not have that much
power at that time. He cannot stop Radhakka’s tonsuring as he cannot fight as an outsider
with Tatya- the patriarchal head of another family. He cannot enter the private inner
circle of Bhaurao’s family, and so, finally patriarchy proves to be the strongest force and
the Barrister’s all socio-economic power is reduced to nothingness in front of Tatya, the
head of another family.
The play at the end shows almost complete movement from the Right side to the
Left. There is no one occupying the Right side at the end - Bhaurao has died, Tatya is
killed, Radhakka wants to move over to the left by marrying Barrister. This symbolizes
the possibility of the superordinate social factors overpowering the subordinate section.
However, the Right side also symbolizes the possibility of change, of happiness, of
novelty, and all this is lost when that side becomes empty. But, ironically, the left side
which has also symbolized emancipated outlook is not in a position to accept Raddhaka
as the Barrister Raosaheb is succumbing to insanity.
Jaywant Dalvi, has very cleverly used the available stage space to depict the social
milieu of a typical pre-Independence Maharashtrian town with all its social, political and
cultural specificities. He has not only created a particular time and place through dialogue
and action but reflected the social structure with all its hierarchies and inequalities by
dividing the stage space into different units representing different entities in the social
power game.

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