SAMANT. […] I mean to say, I’m not in the habit of walking so fast. You do set a very lively pace, very lively.
BENARE. Not always. But today, how I walked! Let’s leave everyone behind, I thought, and go somewhere far, far away— with you!
SAMANT [in confusion]. With me?
BENARE. Yes, I like you very much.
SAMANT [terribly shy and embarrassed]. Tut-tut. Ha ha! I’m hardly…
BENARE. You're very nice indeed. And shall I tell you something? You are a very pure and good person. I like you.
SAMANT [incredulously]. Me?
BENARE. In school, when the first bell rings, my foot’s already on the threshold. I haven't heard single reproach for not being on time these past eight years. Nor about my teaching. I’m never behindhand with my lessons! Exercises corrected on time, too! Not a bit of room for disapproval—I don’t give an inch of it to any one!
SAMANT. You're a schoolmarm, it seems?
BENARE. No, a teacher! Do I seem the complete schoolmarm to you? SAMANT. No, no… I didn’t mean it like that…
BENARE. Say it if you like...
SAMANT. But I didn’t say it at all! A schoolmarm just means … someone who—teaches—instructs!—children—that’s what I meant to say...
BENARE. They’re so much better than adults. At least they don’t have that blind pride of thinking they know everything. There’s no nonsense stuffed in their heads. They don’t scratch you till you bleed, then run away like cowards.
BENARE. I’m used to standing while teaching. In class, I never sit when teaching. That’s how I keep my eye on the whole class. No one has a chance to play up. My class is scared stiff of me! And they adore me, too. My children will do anything for me. For I'd give the last drop of my blood to teach them. [In a different tone]. That’s why people are jealous. Specially the other teachers and the management. But what can they do to me? What can they do? However hard they try, what can they do? They're holding an enquiry, if you please! But my teaching’s perfect. I’ve put my whole life into it—I’ve worn myself to a shadow in this job! Just because of one bit of slander, what can they do to me? Throw me out? Let them! I haven’t hurt anyone. Anyone at all! If I’ve hurt anybody, it’s been myself. But is that any kind of reason for throwing me out? Who are these people to say what I can or can’t do? My life is my own—I haven’t sold it to anyone for a job! My will is my own. My wishes are my own. No one can kill those—no one! I'll do what I like with myself and my life! I'll decide . . .
Oh I’ve got a sweetheart
Who carries all my books,
He plays in my doll house,
And says he likes my looks.
I’ll tell you a secret—
He wants to marry me.
But Mummy says, I’m too little
To have such thoughts as these.
BENARE. But Samant, ‘spreading enlightenment is also one of the Prime Objectives behind our programme’. So our chairman Kashikar will tell you. Kashikar can’t take a step without a Prime Objective! Besides him, there’s Mrs Hand-that- Rocks-the-Cradle. I mean Mrs Kashikar. What an excellent housewife the poor woman is! A real Hand-that-Rocks-the- Cradle type! But what’s the use? Mr Prime Objective is tied up with uplifting the masses. And poor Hand-that-Rocks-the- Cradle has no cradle to rock!
SAMANT. You mean they have no—[He rocks an imaginary baby in his arms.]
BENARE. Right. You seem to be very bright, too! Mr Kashikar and the Hand-that-Rocks-the-Cradle, in order that nothing should happen to either of them in their bare, bare house—and that they shouldn’t die of boredom!—gave shelter to a young boy. They educated him. Made him toil away. Made a slave out of him. His name’s Balu—Balu Rokde. Who else? . . . Well, we have an Expert on the Law. He’s such an authority on the subject, even a desperate client won't go anywhere near him! He just sits alone in the barristers’ room at court, swatting flies with legal precedents! And in his tenement, he sits alone killing houseflies! But for today’s mock trial, he’s a very great barrister. You'll see the wonders he performs! And there’s a‘Hmm! with us! [Puts an imaginary pipe in her mouth.] Hmm! Sci-en-tist! Inter-failed!
SAMANT. Oh, it does sound good fun!
BENARE. And we have an Intellectual too. That means someone who prides himself on his booklearning. But when there’s a real- life problem, away he runs! Hides his head. He’s not here today. Won't be coming, either. He wouldn’t dare!
SAMANT. You’re quite right. The great sage Tukaram said… at least I think it was him—
BENARE. Forget about the sage Tukaram. I say it—I, Leela Benare, a living woman, I say it from my own experience. Life is not meant for anyone else. It’s your own life. It must be. It’s a very, very important thing. Every moment, every bit of it is precious—
Our feet tread on upon unknown
And dangerous pathways evermore.
Wave after blinded wave is shattered
Stormily upon the shore.
Light glows alive again. Again
It mingles with the dark of night.
Our earthen hands burn out, and then
Again in flames they are alight.
Everything is fully known,
And everything is clear to see.
And the wound that’s born to bleed
Bleeds on for ever, faithfully,
There is a battle sometimes, where
Defeat is destined as the end.
Some experiences are meant
To taste, then just to waste and spend . . .
MRS KASHIKAR. I say, Benare—[stroking the garland in her hair] I did mean to buy a garland for you too—
BENARE [in Ponkshe’s tones]. Hmm! [Ponkshe bites his lips angrily.]
MRS KASHIKAR [to Mr Kashikar]. Didn’t I, dear? But what happened was that—
BENARE [laughing heartily]—The garland flew away—pouf! Or did the dicky-bird take it? I never want garlands. If I did, couldn't I afford to buy them? I earn my own living, you know. That’s why I never feel like buying garlands and things.
SUKHATME. Why are you so grave all of a sudden? After all, it’s a game. Just a game, that’s all. Why are you so serious?
BENARE [trying to laugh]. Who’s serious? I’m absolutely—light- hearted. I just got a bit serious to create the right atmosphere. For the court, that’s all. Why should I be afraid of a trial like this?
SUKHATME. Kashikar, you've really picked some charge! A first-class charge! There’s no fun in a case. unless there’s a really thundering charge!
KASHIKAR. Did you notice, also, Sukhatme, that this charge is important from the social point of view? The question of infanticide is one of great social significance. That’s why I deliberately picked it. We consider society's best interests in all we do. Come on, Miss Benare. Rokde, my gavel.
KASHIKAR. Silence must be observed while the court is in session. Can’t shut up at home, can’t shut up here!
MRS KASHIKAR. But I was just telling Samant here—
SUKHATME. Let it pass, Mrs Kashikar. He’s just joking.
MRS KASHIKAR. So what? Scolding me at every step!
SUKHATME. Motherhood is pure. Moreover, there is a great—er —a great nobility in our concept of motherhood. We have acknowledged woman as the mother of mankind. Our culture enjoins us to perpetual worship of her. ‘Be thy mother as a god’ is what we teach our children from infancy. There is great responsibility devolving upon a mother. She weaves a magic circle with her whole existence in order to protect and preserve her little one—
KASHIKAR. You've forgotten one thing. There’s a Sanskrit proverb, Janani janmabhumischa svargadapi gariyasi.
Both are even
Higher than heaven.’
MRS KASHIKAR [with enthusiasm]. And of course, ‘Great are thy favours, ‘O mother’ is quite famous.
BENARE. Order, order! This is all straight out of a school composition-book. [Bites her tongue ironically.] Prisoner Miss Benare, for abrogating the authority of the court, a reprimand is once more issued to you! [Pretends to bang a gavel.]
SUKHATME. I am deeply grateful, Milord, for your addition. In short, ‘Woman is a wife for a moment, but a mother for ever.’
I think he’s gone there, inside. I'll do it myself. [At a bound, goes and fetches the dictionary. Placing his hand on it] I, Raghunath Bhikaji Samant, do hereby swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. True enough for the trial, I mean. Of course, what’s true for the trial is quite false really. But I'm just taking the oath for practice. [His hand is stall on the dictionary.) You see, I don’t want the sin of falsehood. [In apologetic tones] I'm quite religious . . . The oath’s over. Now. [Enters the witness-box again.] Go on. [This is to Sukhatme; then, to Mrs Kashikar] You see? I'm not frightened. I just get confused because I’m new to all this. [To Sukhatme] Well, you may go on.
It’s all become quite unexpectedly enjoyable—the whole fabric of society is being soiled these days, Sukhatme. Nothing is undefiled anymore.
SUKHATME [Looking at Benare as he puts on his gown ceremoniously]. Milord, in consideration of the grave aspect which the case before us has assumed, it is my humble submission that if your lordship were to wear your gown henceforth, it would appear more decorous.
KASHIKAR. Exactly. Rokde, give me my gown.
[He puts on the black gown that Rokde unpacks and hands to him. After that, his gravity and dignity increase.]
SUKHATME. Mr Samant, Mrs Kashikar, Ponkshe, Karnik, seat yourselves there exactly as you should. [He straightens up, closes his eyes, and meditates for a while. Then, slapping himself piously on the face, he raises his hands to his forehead in prayer twice or thrice.] My father taught me the habit, Kashikar, of praying to our family god at the beginning of any new enterprise. How pure it makes one feel! The mind takes on new strength.
All right. She’s not less than thirty-four. I'll give it to you in writing! What I say is, our society should revive the old custom of child marriage. Marry off the girls before puberty. All this promiscuity will come to a full stop. If anyone has ruined our society it’s Agarkar and Dhondo Keshav Karve. That's my frank opinion, Sukhatme, my frank opinion.
MRS KASHIKAR. What better proof? Just look at the way she behaves. I don’t like to say anything since she’s one of us. Should there be no limit to how freely a woman can behave with a man? An unmarried woman? No matter how well she knows him? Look how loudly she laughs! How she sings, dances, cracks Jokes! And wandering alone with how many men, day in and day out!
SUKHATME [Disappointed at the ‘proof’]. Mrs Kashikar, at the most one can say all this shows how free she is.
MRS KASHIKAR. Free! Free! She’s free allright—in everything! I shouldn't say it. But since it’s come up in court, I will. Just hold this a minute.
Discipline means discipline.
KARNIK. For instance, the accused had attempted suicide once before.
SUKHATME [Radiant]. That’s the point! There is a precedent for the bottle of T1K-20.
KARNIK. I can’t say that exactly. I can only tell you what happened. My information is that the accused attempted suicide because of a disappointment in love. She fell in love at the age of fifteen, with her own maternal uncle! That’s what ended in disappointment.
MRS KASHIKAR [Totally floored]. Her uncle!
SUKHATME. Milord—her maternal uncle—her mother’s brother. What an immoral relationship!
KASHIKAR. In other words, just one step away from total depravity. Fine, Sukhatme, very fine!
SUKHATME. Milord, why do you say ‘fine’? The present conduct of the accused is totally licentious. We know that. But it now seems that her past, too, is smeared in sin. This shows it as clear as daylight.
SUKHATME. Do you know the accused?
KASHIKAR. Only too well! A sinful canker on the body of society— that’s my honest opinion of these grown-up unmarried girls.
The woman who is an accused has made a heinous blot on the sacred brow of motherhood—which is purer than heaven itself. For that, any punishment, however great, that the law may give her, will be too mild by far. The character of the accused is appalling. It is bankrupt of morality. Not only that. Her conduct has blackened all social and moral values. The accused is public enemy number one. If such socially destructive tendencies are encouraged to flourish, this country and its culture will be totally destroyed […] Motherhood without marriage has always been considered a very great sin by our religion and our traditions. Moreover, if the accused’s intention of bringing up the offspring of this unlawful maternity is carried to completion, I have a dreadful fear that the very existence of society will be in danger. There will be no such thing as moral values left. Milord, infanticide is a dreadful act. But bringing up the child of an illegal union is certainly more horrifying. If it is encouraged, there will be no such thing as the institution of marriage left. Immorality will flourish. Before our eyes, our beautiful dream of a society governed by tradition will crumble into dust. […] Woman bears the grave responsibility of building up the high values of society. […] ‘Woman is not fit for independence.’ . . . That is the rule laid down for us by tradition.
Life is a book that goes ripping into pieces. Life is a poisonous snake that bites itself. Life is a betrayal. Life is a fraud. Life is a drug. Life is drudgery. Life is a something that’s nothing—or a nothing that’s something. […] Sack it from its job! But why? Why? Was I slack in my work? I just put my whole life into working with the children . . . I loved it! I taught them well! I knew that your own flesh and blood don’t want to understand you. Only one thing in life is all-important—the body! You may deny it, but it is true. Emotion is something people talk about with sentiment. It was obvious to me. I was living through it. It was burning through me. But—do you know?—I did not teach any of this to those tender, young souls. I swallowed that poison, but didn’t even let a drop of it touch them! I taught them beauty. I taught them purity. I cried inside, and I made them laugh. I was cracking up with despair, and I taught them hope. For what sin are they robbing me of my job, my only comfort? My private life is my own business. I'll decide what to do with myself; everyone should be able to! That can’t be anyone else's business; understand?
It’s true, I did commit a sin. I was in love with my mother’s brother. But in our strict house, in the prime of my unfolding youth, he was the one who came close to me. He praised my bloom every day. He gave me love…. How was I to know that if you felt like breaking yourself into bits and melting into one with someone—if you felt that just being with him gave a whole meaning to life—and if he was your uncle, it was a sin! Why, I was hardly fourteen! I didn’t even know what sin was—I swear by my mother, I didn’t! […] Again, I fell in love. As a grown woman. I threw all my heart into it; I thought, this will be different. This love is intelligent. It is love for an unusual intellect. It isn’t love at all—it’s worship! But it was the same mistake. I offered up my body on the altar of my worship. And my intellectual god took the offering—and went his way. He didn’t want my mind, or my devotion—he didn’t care about them! [Feebly.] He wasn’t a god. He was a man. For whom everything was of the body, for the body! That’s all! Again, the body! [Screaming.] This body is a traitor! [She is writhing with pain.] I despise this body—and I love it! I hate it—but—it’s all you have, in the end, isn’t it? It will be there. It will be yours. […] And now it carries within it the witness of that time—a tender little bud—of what will be a lisping, laughing, dancing little life—my son—my whole existence! I want my body now for him—for him alone.
Prisoner Miss Benare, pay the closest attention. The crimes you have committed are most terrible. There is no forgiveness for them. Your sin must be expiated. Irresponsibility must be chained down. Social customs, after all, are of supreme importance. Marriage is the very foundation of our society's stability. Motherhood must be sacred and pure. This court takes a serious view of your attempt to dynamite all this. It is the firm opinion of this court that your behaviour puts you beyond mercy. And, what is more, the arrogance with which you conducted yourself in society, having done all these things, that arrogance is the most unforgivable thing of all. Criminals and sinners should know their place. You have conducted yourself above your station. The court expresses its indignation at your presumptuousness. Moreover, the future of posterity was entrusted to you. This is a very dreadful thing. The morality which you have shown through your conduct was the morality you were planning to impart to the youth of tomorrow. This court has not an iota of doubt about it. Hence not only today’s, but tomorrow’s society would have been endangered by your misconduct. It must be said that the school officials have done a work of merit in deciding to remove you from your job. By the grace of God, it has all been stopped in time. Neither you nor anyone else should ever do anything like this again. No memento of your sin should remain for future generations. Therefore this court hereby sentences that you shall live. But the child in your womb shall be destroyed.
The parrot to the sparrow said,
‘Why, oh why, are your eyes so red?’
‘Oh, my dear friend, what shall I say?
Someone has stolen my nest away.’
Sparrow, sparrow, poor little sparrow . . .
‘Oh, brother crow, oh, brother crow,
Were you there? Did you see it go?’
‘No, I don’t know. I didn’t see.
What are your troubles to do with me?’
O sparrow, sparrow, poor little sparrow . . .