Book Reviews

Power of the Coolie

Coolie, the Sovereign by Dr Boyi Bhimanna.
Translated by Dr T. Sai Chandra Mouli, printed at Deepty Technicolour Printers, Hyderabad
and published by Potti Sree Ramulu Telugu University, Hyderabad, September 2012.
Pages 102. Price Rs. 75.00.

‘Coolie, the Sovereign’, is a political play penned down in 1942 before the independence of India by Padmabhushan Dr. Boyi Bhimanna in Telugu and translated by a renowned scholar, creative writer and critic Dr. T. Sai Chandra Mouli. It can also be considered a social play as it gives a message to uplift the marginalised class. The play was first published in 1948 and was first staged as ‘Kashta Jeevi’ (Hard Worker), later on it became ‘Dhanya Jeevi’ (The Blessed One) which was also serialized in the weekly ‘Navajeevan’ and after that, with several modifications, it came to be known as ‘Kuuli Raju’(Coolie, the Sovereign).

Basically the play narrates the fact as ‘dharma yuddham’ (religious war) between the two groups exploiters and exploited; the exploiters are the landlords and their cronies are taking their side and the exploited are the agricultural labourers. The play is divided into 12 Acts. It is the combination of the two ideologies – the congress socialist ideology and reformist views of communists. It also narrates the ideology of ‘casteless’ society. The idea of casteless society is very well explained in the Indian Constitution and the base of it is well explained in the Buddha’s humanism.

The chief architect of the Indian Constitution, Dr B. R. Ambedkar wrote two books ‘Who Were the Shudras’ and ‘The Annihilation of Castes’ before the drafting of the constitution in which he explained everything related to the casteless society and suggested the solutions to the caste problem. Moreover he wrote ‘Buddha or Karl Marx’ in which he very clearly stated that the ideology of the Buddha is different from that of Karl Marx. The Buddha is a humanist, while Karl Marx is a Socialist or a Communist. The struggle of Marx is against capitalism which will create a classless society. On the contrary, the Buddha’s ideology is based on equality and humanism. There is no place for inequality on the basis of caste, class, gender etc. The playwright has a reference of the Buddha in the present play but in a different way.

The play seems to narrate the Gandhian ideology. In other words it gives importance to ‘sarvodaya socialism’. Gandhi who was the supporter of Harijan movement and because of that he was assassinated by Nathuram Godse, an upper caste Brahmin. It also presents the struggle between the congress and communist leaders. Congressmen belonged to the wealthy and feudal families and the communists to the upper castes. All Harijans always supported congress party. There was always a clash over the issues of Depressed Classes between Gandhi and Ambedkar. It was Gandhiji who introduced the word ‘Harijan’ for untouchables, which means ‘the Children of God’. Ultimately there was a question if the untouchables are the sons of God then whose sons are the touchables? So Ambedkar opposed the use of the word Harijan for untouchables. Even Ambedkar put his full energy in the abolition of Khoti system in Konkan, considering that Khoti system is sucking the blood of the labourers. In 1929, Ambedkar organized labourers against the Khoti system. On September 19, 1937, he introduced a bill to abolish the Khoti system in the Bombay Legislative Council and that struggle continued till 1949. In the present play the issues related to the landlords and the labourers are handled very nicely but the views of Ambekedkar have not been paid any attention. Perhaps the playwright might have not been aware of the contribution of Ambedkar towards the welfare of the labourers. The play explicates that when there was a clash between the congressmen and the communists, the latter had to go underground and the Harijans sheltered them. As a result they were victimized by the governments.

The play has 10 important characters along with several farmers, coolies, youths, policemen and others. After completion of his education Madhumurthy, an educated young coolie, the male-protagonist of the play, comes to know the sufferings and hardships of the working class from Paramjyothi, a young lady-coolie and friend of Madhu and Mithra, who is a coolie and the sweetheart of Madhu. The play has the foundation of strike for justice for the hard workers with Sarvodaya Socialism. Gandhiji in the magazine called Harijan projected that the first President of independent India should be a Harijan-lady to whom Jawaharlal Nehru should serve as her secretary. This shows Gandhi’s idea of social justice but it could not be converted in to reality. The play projects Agricultural Workers’ Union as Sarvodaya Socialist Party in order to win the elections. It makes all the political parties realise that they have to take care of every citizen for their survival and they should hate armed revolution that creates chaos due to violence. Instead they should take care of Gandhian philosophy and aim at welfare state which will be based on truth, non-violence and universal brotherhood. The playwright made Gandhian philosophy as the base of this play that gives no scope for caste, creed and factions. Thus, he scripted the play with a political theme and for that he might have taken into consideration the very motto of equality and social justice so that there could not prevail any kind of discrimination. And there would be casteless society. Even the translator of the play also accepted the playwright’s views which are very relevant today in the Indian society. The play is a plethora of sharp, witty dialogues and soliloquies in addition to emotions relevant to humanity.

The play is a musical one as so many songs are included with multiple meanings related to humanity. It is a poetic play as there are many songs, poems, bhajans, etc. in it. The very beginning of the play indicates that a character like Nishkul, a Yogi and the motivator of the coolie movement from Prajapuram appeals his labour community with his song, “Awake! My son! Awake!” through which the hard workers are made aware of their status in the society. This is really a sincere effort of the Yogi to have casteless society. This Yogi is the real inspiration for the workers and the leaders of the coolie union including Paramjyothi, Madhu and Mithra. Paramajyothi wants to convey that the toiling masses have to go through eternal suffering. Even after attaining freedom they will not get redemption at all. They would not be in the position to experience self-reliance; they would have just independence in name and not a reality. Educated Madhumutrthy wants to seek a job so that he would get way out from poverty. But with the suggestion from Paramjyothi he changes his mind. He begins to feel that wealth is the path leading to welfare and that would also give freedom from bondage. In his opinion all liberty loving workers should become rich so that they would themselves be happy. Bhayankar Rao, a rowdy leader among coolies is not hopeful of the welfare of the coolies and wants to divert Madhu from his intention of joining the coolie movement. Vishwanatha Rao, a landlord is very much puzzled by the formation of the coolie movement. So he feels that because of Gandhi anarchy is everywhere. Sivaramakrishna, Vishwanatha Rao’s clerk is also against the coolie movement. Paramjyothi appeals to workers to improve their status in the society as they have to toil hard day and night for their survival. She wants them to be aware of their human rights so that they would lead their life with dignity and comfort. If the problem of food is solved the workers would be in a comfortable position to execute their future plan of democratic process and socialist concerns. For that, they have to put brawn and brain together.

Madhu and other collie leaders meet Viswanatham to discuss the issue of enhancing wages of the coolies during the harvesting time and he request the landlord to have pity on them and support them during the testing time. Even Paramajyothi supports Madhu and requests Viswanatham to show kindness to coolies but all their efforts are in vain, as the land lord is angry and does not support their demand. The play depicts how capitalism and feudalism are really harmful to humanity. Moreover Paramjyothi, who is always humiliated, explains that she is least bothered about her own humiliation but she wants to guard the honour of women. All these thoughts expressed by the leaders of the worker’s union for equality and social justice as well as empowerment of women are deeply rooted in the Indian constitution and in the philosophy of Dr B R Ambedkar. Here Marxian and Gandhian theories have been compared. Paramjyothi states, “Marxian means outdated and Gandhian path is the best to follow now”. Then she explains the way of the Buddha and Jesus but Nishkul interrupts her and utters, “The Buddha, Jesus are only prophets. They have not enunciated their tenets constructively”. To the best of my knowledge the author has wrongly taken the Buddha, who never considered himself a prophet but a path finder, a true humanitarian. Moreover, he never forced anyone to accept whatever he says but suggested that whatever he says has to be tasted and they have to decide if they want to accept or reject. Hence the theory of the Buddha can never be compared with Marx, Gandhi or Jesus, the prophet. Theories of Marx and Gandhi are based on certain political goals. The playwright explains:

“Marxian ideology was suited to the prevailing conditions, a century ago. In these days of franchise, democracy, Marxian methods are anachronistic. Gandhian way is the only ideally suited means today. It is universal”.

Gandhi wanted to have a casteless, creedless, classless social order which can be brought into existence only through love and satyagraha. It was Gandhi’s dream, says the playwright, to elect a Harijan lady as the President of India and a Harijan should become the Prime Minister of India. Dr. Ambedkar supported the adult franchise but he objected to the word ‘Harijan’ used for the downtrodden. Gandhi wanted to abolish untoucahbility but not the ‘caste’ and ‘Varna’ system. On the other hand Ambedakar wanted to have casteless society and he firmly stated that until and unless caste is abolished no social justice is possible and humanity will never take place. In his opinion the foundation of discrimination is the caste and Varna system; it also does not allow women empowerment. The dividing line between poverty and richness is to be wound up, if socio-economic equality is to be established. This will also help to discard gender discrimination and every human being will lead a comfortable life.

Viswanatha Rao, a pious farmer is restless and angry over the worker’s satyagraha. His clerk Sivaramakrishna tries to convince his master that the strike of the coolies will be useless. Moreover, they have good contacts with police and officials. So Sivaramakrishna plans to foist false and petty cases on the coolies so that they would be engaged and they would not join the satyagraha. Premakumara, Viswanataha’s son is in support of the coolie union as he is of progressive views. Dayanandam Rao informs Shivaramakrishna that coolies have served a notice regarding satyagraha but the latter does not take it positively and says that it will have no effect on the landlords and proposes to have a union of farmers. Finally Sivaramakrishna succeeds to put Bhayankara Rao, the rowdy leader of coolies, under his control by offering some money. And the formers get ready to make the coolie union unsuccessful. The wicked tricks against the demand of casteless society have been played by the landlords. The very controversial picture has been portrayed in the play. Those who toil and suffer for the betterment of their masters have to starve and the rich and well-to-do people are fed with delicious dishes. Premakumara does not understand the intention of his father and he fails to change his father’s attitude, although he is in support of the coolies. Paramjyothi feels sympathy for the coolies. She is really upset to see that coolies are on empty stomach and rich men are enjoying feasts. The fact is that Bhayankara Rao, a leader of coolies is misused by Viswanatha Rao who robs and stabs Dayananda Rao for the sake of landlords. He feels that Viswanatha Rao is a good investment, ideas come from Sivaramkrishna and he has to put himself in action. This shows that Bhayankara Rao is playing a trick against coolies under the guise of a coolie leader. Even he slaps Mithra. Shivramkrishna is against the coolie union. He also does not believe in Gandhian philosophy. So he expresses his anger against coolies. He says no one will follow the path of truth and none will make efforts to abandon violence. Even he abuses Gandhi for his desire to make a Harijan woman the president of India. And he plans to get landlords elected during elections in the name of farmers’ party. He also wants Dayanandam to be finished as he support of demand for payment wages by the workers. Bhayankar Rao was stabbed by Dayananda but still he was moving freely during the election time and Bhayankar Rao was considered a robber. It is proved here that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This play is the best example of it. Even Sivaramkrishna tries to divert Madhu from his goal of achieving equality for all and create casteless society by brainwashing him that an educated person like him, who has capability to earn well to live well, is wasting his energy for the cause of coolies.

The leaders appeal to the hard working labourers to elect the Indian coolie union in the forthcoming election so that sarvodaya socialism can be established in order to implement the ideology of Gandhiji. At last the appeal became a reality as the coolie union members got elected with the power of votes and unity of poor workers and the downtrodden, in spite of all the power game played by the farmers. Finally Paramjyothi, a Harijan woman got the position of the President of free India. Through this play the playwright has given the message that if people are united they can always achieve the goal, as it is rightly said ‘Unity is strength’. Above it, the play also indicates that the thinking in a proper way can be quite helpful to cross all the hurdles and climb the mountain of success. Had the workers not been properly guided and convinced they could have never been successful to overcome the tyranny of the landlords and they could have been the slaves of their masters forever. The theme of the play is very apt to the present day situation in Indian socialist democracy.

The translation of any text from mother tongue or from any language into English is really a herculean task. Dr T. Sai Chanrdra Mouli, a great scholar has been very successful to translate the Telugu play into English. He retained some of the words and dialogues in its original form in order to express true feelings as intended by the playwright. The text is worthy to be read and performed on the stage even in the present day conditions.

       — Dr. M. S. Wankhede, Associate Professor of English,Dhanwate National College, Nagpur (Maharashtra), India.   


More by :  Dr. T. S. Chandra Mouli

Top | Book Reviews

Views: 3337      Comments: 0