‘Man is a social animal and any attempt to strike out on your own is bound to have sad and far-reaching consequences. Sakharam Binder’s credo of ‘my-way-or-the-highway’ makes him a ‘marked’ man who meets an ignominious end.’
The play title stands for Sakharam who is a loner, bereft of familial ties, and whose profession as a book-binder enables him to cock a snook at the conservative society milieu and live a bizarre life on his own terms. It was written by Vijay Tendulkar in 1972 and banned in 1974 for its outrageous narrative. Eventually the view changed and the play is now acknowledged to be one of the most popular works of the writer.
Among other themes it highlights the conflict that can happen between an individual standing up for his own beliefs in contrast to the society that claims to have the moral high ground. It reflects the reality that the society is indulging in hypocrisy by turning a blind eye to the moral decay that is prevalent, but shrouded in the veil of tradition and culture.
Vijay Tendulkar certainly was a man of revolutionary ideas – he joined the Indian freedom struggle in 1942 even though it meant alienating his family and friends. I read about the play in Naipaul’s book, ‘India : A Wounded Civilization’. Naipaul mentions, “Sakharam has rejected all faith, all ties of community and family. He stands alone and in the end he is destroyed; but he has been presented as heroic”.
It is an interesting concept to think of any individual trying to take on the might of the ‘collective’ culture in a traditional and conservative society. India in the 70s, decades before the globalization and consumerism wave attacked the prevalent social set up, was a very closed society wherein the cultural and religious mores anchored the individual.
Typically one merged into the collective since trying to be individualistic and assertive would make one a social outcast. And many wanted to have the cake and eat it too – this led to people leading dual lives that the writer attacks as being at the root of the double standards practiced by the élite in the society.
The play is rightfully regarded to be a classic and it is to the credit of the writer that he was able to create a sense of sympathy for Sakharam, who seems to live a reprehensible life and contributes no less to the ‘objectification’ of the fairer sex. I think the strength lies in the writer’s ability to convey the message early in the play that Sakharam is a ‘doomed’ character who will find no redemption. The premonition adds an edge to the story as one is curious about the final end of the adventure.
Sakharam is really no hero – he seems to be a creäture of peculiar circumstances. In the traditional society it is quite rarity to find an individual to be all alone without any familial ties anchoring him. The writer chose to set up his character on such contrasting terms possibly to provide some justification to his outlandish ideas, even though one does not approve of them. So one does have a dreadful foreboding of the disaster that has to inevitably unfold.
The play may sound to be a grim one – much to the contrary it is rather lively and there is a lot of mordant humor at play. Even the two ladies, who are the ‘victims’ playing marginalized characters, are well fleshed out and have distinct personalities. The success of the play has endured over time and traveled to other countries. The play has been adapted in English as well.
It represents a powerful voice for the individual. I am sure, like most intellectuals, the core message at heart of Tendulkar’s work is to support man in his quest for the freedom to pursue his happiness. Freedom of thought and freedom of action are blessings that we all cherish and enjoy to exercise. Perhaps we need to say a silent prayer in gratitude for the many who have struggled and contributed to the privilege that we regard to be our ‘right’ nowadays.