Shanta Gokhale


        Vaze College in Mulund has a small, well-appointed auditorium, perfect for an intimate performance. Its acoustics are so good that every clap in a shower of applause is heard separately as a crystal clear drop of sound. The applause at the end of “Anandovari” shone with that kind of liquid brightness.
        “Anandovari” is a one-man presentation of D B Mokashi’s 1974 novella of the same name, edited for the stage by Vijay Tendulkar. Atul Pethe, the director, is serious about theatre because he’s serious about life.
        His work over the last decade has arisen out of his deep frustration with the hypocrisy, corruption, cynicism and pretensions that have got hold of our private and public life. His actor Kishor Kadam too is serious about theatre. Both have made professional choices that reflect their personal convictions. Since money comes only to those who choose to serve the market, their theatre suffers from an absence of funds. Pethe overcomes this by clever management of resources, helped by a music composer and set and light designers who use the very paucity of means to create rich effects.



        “Anandovari” is an extended monologue spoken by Kanha (Kishor Kadam), the younger brother of Sant Tukaram. Tukaram has disappeared from home yet again in search of his god, Vitthal. The distraught Kanha forsakes family, fields and business to look for his lost brother.
        In the course of the search, he addresses Tukaram, reminding him of their shared boyhood and adolescence. He speaks of Tukaram’s early worldliness, the power and magic of his poetry, the heavy burden that devotion to Vitthal has placed on their entire family.
        He confesses that he himself has felt the danger of this bhakti but pulled out before he drowned. He chides Tukaram for abdicating his duty as a householder and head of the family in favour of a personal search for his god. As it happens, this is the last time Kanha will go in search of his brother, for on the third day he finds Tukaram’s rug and pair of cymbals in a ditch between two rocks on the banks of his beloved river Indrayani. That’s it.
        Tukaram has disappeared forever, nobody knows where or how. The play begins and ends with the rug lying in a spotlit heap at right of stage. When we see it first, we don’t know what it is. When we see it at the end, it has become a potent symbol of worldy tragedy and spiritual bliss!
        That Atul Pethe should choose to do this play today is significant in a way that’s not immediately obvious. But we begin to see its contemporary relevance when we remember that Vitthal is not a fair-skinned god. He is the deity of the common man.
        His devotees, the Warkaris, refer to him as “maulee” — mother. They have rejected caste and class divisions. They are all equal before him. No amount of mischievous interpretation can ever distort Vitthal into an armed warrior who can be pressed into the service of divisionists.
        Tukaram himself was a shudra, harassed and socially ostracised by the brahmins of his village, Dehu, for daring to write devotional verses at all, and for compounding his sin by writing them in Marathi when Sanskrit, available only to brahmins, was the language of the gods.
        The bhakti marg was anathema to brahmins because it made their mediation with the gods redundant. It gave people the right to speak directly to their god without the help of elaborate rituals, presided over by priests.
        Tukaram’s abhangs have permeated the very language and being of Maharashtra. Vitthal’s devotees know they cannot be scared into violence by upstarts pretending to represent their religion. In doing “Anandovari” today, pehaps Atul Pethe is reminding us of this.

Courtesy : Mid-day December 31, 2002