Absurdism in Badal Sircar’s Evam Indrajit

                                                 Nidhi Thakur1 & Prof. Arjun Kumar2

1Research Scholar, Department of English, Patna University, Patna
2Research Supervisor and Professor, Department of English, Patna University, Patna
           


Abstract:

Badal Sircar is one of the most prominent post-colonial playwrights in Indian English Literature. The socio-political turmoil of the contemporary period is very much depicted by him in his serious plays. His play, Evam Indrajit (And Indrajit), demonstrates or examines some of the frustrations and dilemmas of the Indian middle class and the reality of poverty and unemployment prevailing at that time. This article tries to locate the motifs such as identity crisis, meaninglessness of modern life and meaninglessness of existence that ultimately produces Indrajit as an Absurd Hero in the post-colonial period. The study also tries to present how the loneliness of post-independent urban youth makes Indrajit question his existence and identity in this society. Indrajit as an Absurd Hero perceives the world as meaningless and irrational and thereby revolts against the dynamics of power which are pervasive within societal institutions. The objective of this study is to scrutinize the ways in which Indrajit in Badal Sircar’s play, Evam Indrajit resists the absurdity of modern existence, ideological expectations and the dialectics of power in social institutions. Indrajit, to rebel and resist typifies Camus’s Absurd Hero, Sisyphus, and like him Indrajit continuously struggles to find meaning and purpose in this meaningless, purposeless life.

Keywords: Absurd Hero, Identity Crisis, Absurdity, Sisyphus, Post-colonial

Introduction

Albert Camus in his The Myth of Sisyphus defines absurd as: “The absurd is born as a result of the confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world” (Camus 78). In literature, this world seems irrational and meaningless to the absurd heroes. Because of this perception of the world absurd heroes revolt, struggle, and raise their voice of resistance against the dynamics of power which are pervasive within societal institutions. According to Foucault, “power is in a constant state of flux as it is - everywhere, - comes from everywhere” (Foucault 63) and operates as a means of disciplining individuals. Foucault says that these dialectics of power function within the structures and institutions of administration, authority and bureaucracy within society. Such institutional structures can be identified as the government, prison, school, church, factory, office and hospital etc. (63).

Evam Indrajit based on the philosophy of the absurd, engages in a critical analysis of the dialectics of power within societal institutions to examine how they operate in absurd, meaningless and irrational manners. This research is based on a study of the absurd and revolt of protagonist, Indrajit of the play namely Evam Indrajit by Badal Sircar (1925-2011). He is widely recognized as the unofficial leader of experimental theatre in Kolkata, and his works have been translated into several Indian languages. Badal Sircar’s Evam Indrajit was born at and out of a time of political and cultural flux. This play was originally written as a poem in the year 1957 in London. However, later on, the play was produced in Calcutta (formerly Kolkata) in 1963. Sircar had been written when Indian, and especially Bengali society and culture, were in the throes of a conversion. The Government that was in power in the State of West Bengal at that time was a Congress one, but the Communist Party of India was growing increasingly popular. Part of the reason for this was that millions of refugees from the erstwhile East Pakistan had poured into Bengal and that food, employment and even shelter was in short supply. The deteriorating economic condition of the state coupled with what was perceived to be widespread corruption in the functioning of the government led to feelings of dissatisfaction and even frustration spreading amongst large sections of the populace, particularly of the lower middle-class segments. The middle class which was economically more secure, had their own aspirations. Since a great many of them were educated with college degrees and they had found employment in jobs that left them with a certain amount of leisure time, they turned to the pursuit and enjoyment of culture.

It is a landmark play by Badal Sircar in which he tries to present the loneliness of post-Independence urban youth with remarkable accuracy. His main concern is the meaninglessness of modern life where the youth have no goals to live by and this makes people like Indrajit angry at the meaninglessness of their existence. Satyadev Dubey in the Introduction of this play wrote:

With the performance of Sircar’s Evam Indrajit in Bengali in Calcutta in September 1965, theatre practitioners all over India became aware of a major talent and a major play. The play provided for them the shock of recognition. It was about the Indian reality as they knew; it was a theatrically effective and crystallized projection of all the prevalent attitudes, vague feelings and undefined frustrations gnawing at the hearts of the educated urban middle class. (2)

The objective of this study is to scrutinize the ways and means in which the character and protagonist, Indrajit in Sircar’s play, Evam Indrajit revolts against the absurdity of modern existence, ideological expectations and the dialectics of power in social institutions.

 

Absurd Hero

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, absurdism refers to - a philosophy based on the belief that the universe is irrational and meaningless and that the search for order brings the individual into conflict with the universe. The devastation, massive destruction and loss of lives in Europe during the twentieth century such as the two world wars, led to a shattering of faith, religion and belief on God. People started questioning the innate goodness of humans who were capable of such overwhelming violence, terror and bloodshed. At such a chaotic time people started problematizing essentialist views on humans being offered a predestined fate by God. It was during these times that absurdism started getting more popularity as a philosophical doctrine. It enabled people to embrace the ―complexity [of the] human condition [in an absurd world] to confront [themselves] with the bitter truth that most human endeavor is irrational and senseless. (Esslin 13). Thus, absurdism offered individuals means of coming to terms with their absurd reality in life.

In his ―The Myth of Sisyphus Camus elucidates on the absurd hero by reinterpreting the Greek Mythological tale of Sisyphus. Sisyphus was the King of Ephyra and was condemned by Zeus for his deception to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it come back to hit him, repeating this action for eternity. Camus reflects on the return journey of Sisyphus and instead focusing on the futility of the laborious task of Sisyphus, identifies him as an absurd hero who carries a tragic fate but still struggles against it. It is this struggle which gives him his dignity. His fate belongs to him (Camus 76).

According to Camus, it is not only the struggle which gives the absurd hero his dignity, it is the revolt as well. Camus says that the revolt is ―the certainly of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it. (Camus 31). He further deliberates upon the notion of the revolt to state that, ―[t]he struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man‘s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy!  (Camus 78).

Thus, the absurd hero according to Camus resists by struggling and revolting against a tragic fate before succumbing to it, instead of despairing with resignation when faced with it.

 

Methodology

This study is based on the methodology of a textual analysis of a play namely, Evam Indrajit by Badal Sircar. This story is also the primary source of data used in this research. It was originally written in Bengali and then translated into English by Girish Karnad. In this research the version which has been translated to English has been used. 

The Absurd Hero, namely Indrajit in the aforesaid play, Evam Indrajit is subjected to an absurd fate due to the dialectics of power in modern society and is surrounded by overbearing social systems. These systems represented in Sircar's play are significant in this research. They are beneficial in terms of engaging in a study of how the protagonists resist such overwhelming power and control in overt, direct and confrontational ways.

Furthermore, this study incorporates a deductive theoretical approach. This facilitates the engagement with already established theories on the philosophy of the absurd, revolt, ideology, power and discipline. These theories are the secondary sources of data incorporated in this research. These are applied to conduct a thorough and comprehensive analysis of this play to scrutinize the engagement with the absurd and revolt in these fictionalized postcolonial settings of Sircar’s narratives

Results and Discussions

The protagonist‘s revolt against the pervasive power of social institutions and ideological expectations can be interpreted from the title of the novel itself. The very title Evam Indrajit (And Indrajit) suggests that the protagonist is having so many identities in the society along with one of his own identities as Indrajit and that is why the title is And Indrajit. Indrajit observes that:

Writer: ...Tell me truly, what’s your name?

Fourth: Indrajit Ray

Writer: Then why did you call yourself Nirmal?

Indrajit: I was scared?

Writer: Scared of unrest. One invites unrest by breaking the norm. (Karnad 5)

Through the protagonist, Indrajit, Sircar is able to engage in a subversive social critique of the absurdity and meaninglessness of social institutions, power structures and governing mechanisms by revealing how they are deeply entrenched within the society. These overwhelming power dynamics which are in place in the social institutions serve as a disciplinary mechanism to deprive the individual of his power and agency. Thus, Sircar’s hero in this play is usually oppressed, suppressed and restricted as Indrajit in order to discipline himself according to the rules and regulations imposed by the authoritative social institutions within the narratives.

In engaging with his absurd crisis Indrajit confronts and revolts against the social expectations imposed upon him by the overwhelming power wielded by the governing authorities within social institutions in an overt and direct manner. He asks:

Indrajit: Is there a rule that one has to abide by rules?

Mansi: What else can one do?

Indrajit: One can hate rules. Why should they be there at all?

Mansi: What would be the point of hating them?

Indrajit: What’s the point of worshipping the rope that binds you?

Mansi: I’m not asking you to worship it.

Indrajit: But you are! If the rope is a rule and you accept it happily- that is worshipping it.

Mansi: What else would you do with it?

Indrajit: Perhaps- tear it into shreds. Bring down all these walls which surround us.

Mansi: And who are you supposed to be fighting?

Indrajit: The world! The people around us! What you call society...  (Karnad 21-22)

To interpret the above dialogues, this research refers to Camus‘s theoretical concept of the absurd hero‘s revolt. For Camus, the absurd man is the one who accepts the challenge lucidly as the basis for his revolt is to struggle against the absurd fate which is imposed upon him. Camus believes that this revolt and resistance will give the absurd hero dignity. This is the reason why he does not identify Sisyphus from Greek Mythology as a tragic character who has been subjected to damnation. He says that, ―[o]ne must imagine Sisyphus happy‖ (Camus 78) despite the eternal punishment he is made to undergo by Zeus.

The implication of imagining Sisyphus as happy despite his tragic fate can be likened to the absurd crisis which Indrajit undergoes as well. This is due to the fact that, it is actually Indrajit‘s assurance of himself and how he abides by his own principles that give him dignity as an absurd hero. He says, “If I hadn’t tasted the fruit of knowledge, I could have gone on living in this paradise of your blessed society of rules. Now I can only batter my head against the wall.”  (Karnad 23). Sircar is thus able to emphasize on the subversive potential of this play against social institutions by demonstrating Indrajit‘s strong individual streak and passionate outburst of his own individuality after realizing the absurdity of his world and his existence. Like the absurd hero Sisyphus whom Camus imagines to be happy in his essay, Indrajit knows that his struggle is hopeless but still continues to do so. This gives him dignity.


Works Cited

  • Althusser, L. Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. Monthly Review Press. 1971.
  • Camus, A. The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays. Vintage Books, 1991.
  • Esslin, M. The Theatre of the Absurd. Third ed. First Vintage Books ed. Vintage. (Orig. pub. 1961.), 2001.
  • Foley, J. Albert Camus: From the Absurd to Revolt, McGill-Queen's UP, 2008.
  • Foucault, M. Discipline and Punish. New York, NY: Random House Inc., 1979
  • Karnad, Girish. Three Modern Indian Plays. Oxford University Press, 1989.
  • Absurdism. (2020). In Merriam-Webster. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/absurdism

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Author’s Bio: Nidhi Thakur is currently a Research Scholar at the department of English, Patna University, Patna. She received B.A. (Hons.) Degree in English from Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, and master’s degree in English from Banaras Hindu University only. Her area of research is the Theatre of Absurd and the philosophy of Existentialism. Apart from this, she is also interested in Metaphysical Poetry, Film Studies, Comparative Literature, Feminism and Post-Modernism.

Co-author's Bio: Prof. Arjun Kumar is currently working as a Professor and Head of the Department of English, Patna University, Patna. His area of research was American Literature (Jewish writer, Bernard Malamud). He is also interested in English literature and language. He has teaching experience of more than 26 years at various universities. Several research papers were published in national and international journals of great repute. There are several books to his credit. 


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