Manjula Padmanabhan (born in 1953) is a famed playwright who is known primarily for her play Harvest and a popular comic strip, Suki. But along with penning plays she is also an artist, illustrator, cartoonist, short story writer and nov...
Manjula Padmanabhan (born in 1953) is a famed playwright who is known primarily for her play Harvest and a popular comic strip, Suki. But along with penning plays she is also an artist, illustrator, cartoonist, short story writer and novelist. She has illustrated nearly 21 children's books.
Her books basically revolve around the topic of alienation and marginalization. Harvest is a futuristic play about the sale of body parts and exploitative relations between developed and developing countries. Padmanabhan's book, Getting There is a semi-autobiographical novel about a young woman illustrator based in Bombay. In her words Getting There is "based loosely on events in the author's life between 1977 and '78. Almost none of it is entirely factual, but as a whole it is more true than false" Her most recent book, published in 2008, is titled Escape.
Manjula Padmanabhan was born in Delhi, grew up in Sweden, Pakistan and Thailand, and now lives in Delhi. Born in Delhi to a diplomat family in 1953, she went to boarding school in her teenage years. After college she chose to make her own way in life led her to explore works in publishing and media related fields.
Manjula Padmanabhan playwright journalist and a children book author
Manjula Padmanabhan has worked as a playwright, journalist and a children’s book author. She was born in 1953 a...More details
Manjula Padmanabhan playwright journalist and a children book author
Manjula Padmanabhan has worked as a playwright, journalist and a children’s book author. She was born in 1953 and went to a boarding school. She was born in Delhi and grew up in Sweden, Pakistan and Thailand. After passing out university, she began to further her interests in writing in the publishing and media industry. At the moment she lives in Delhi.
She has written Kleptomania which is a short-story collection. She is the creator of the iconic Suki, a character for a comic strip that has been turned into a comic series for the Sunday Observer. She has worked as a cartoonist for leading newspaper, The Pioneer. She has also writer plays such as Lights Out!, Hidden Fires, The Artist’s Model, Harvest and Sextet. She has written books such as Escape, Getting There, Hot Death, Cold Soup and Kleptomania.
Manjula Padmanabhan’s most famous play is Harvest. It focuses on body organ-selling in India. It is a futuristic play that throws light on the desperation and the survival of a man and his family to sell organs via an agency to someone in the first world for a paltry amount of money. In the process, Om’s (the man who has been selling organs from India) life is turned upside-down and monitored by the agency. The agency is obsessive with controlling the health of Om’s family which includes his mother, wife and he; while the recipient from the first world watches them on a video-conferencing mode and treats them like human dross. The play is heart-wrenching and Padmanabhan won the Onassis Prize in 1997 after it was declared the Best New International Play. Govind Nihalani is working on a project to film this play.
Manjula Padmanabhan’s latest book is Getting There; it is a partial-autobiography. She has described it as loosely based on her life between 1977 and 1978. Her short-story collection, Kleptomania is based on extremely versatile and has a host of speculative fiction themes ranging from mystery to science. It also centers on a post-apocalyptic world which is bleak, as-a-matter-of-fact and wry. It has stories of love deceptions, rude awakenings and sexual realization. Further these stories are timeless in their themes and universal in their appeal. Padmanabhan’s humor is stark and real and makes a reader step out of a reverie. Escape is a harsh sketch of a dystopian world that reveals the life of the only girl in the world where the rest of the women folk have been wiped out.
Manjula Padmanabhan’s favorite authors are RR Tolkien, Edgar Rice-Burroughs, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Phillip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein and Kurt Vonnegut.Hide details
Manjula Padmanabhan’s Lights Out: A Case of Social Apathy
Literature has been related to public domain from the very beginning of human civilization. Therefore, a sense of social c...More details
Manjula Padmanabhan’s Lights Out: A Case of Social Apathy
Literature has been related to public domain from the very beginning of human civilization. Therefore, a sense of social commitment is mandatory for a literary artist. No doubt, the truth remains cardinal that only social commitment cannot make a piece of literature worthwhile rather literary skills are needed to make it outstanding. In fact, an artist masks his social commitment in artistic weaving of literary skills around it and makes it a pragmatic piece of beauty. According to O.P. Bhatnagar, an eminent Indian poet, “the aesthetics of art cannot be different from the aesthetics of society and its times.”(15) It means an artist should make efforts to wed aesthetic nature of art to its humanistic creed because the right aestheticity of any art lies in the poignancy of its human concerns. Socially committed artist assigns a very serious purpose to art. He really values it as a commitment to the content of life and its dignity in the present. He pleads to raise the voice against injustice and indignity to mankind and to sensitize common man towards the rampant social evils. The representative writers of a particular age reflect the contemporary society with all its hues and colours in their literary work with a purpose to investigate the causes, connections and effects of injustice and to bring what is just and right for human being. For them the nature of art is not isolative but associative. They lay bare the hidden truths regarding man’s existence as a social being so as even those whose sensibility is not sharp, may easily understand the demands that the society makes on them.
In the postmodern era, all the bondages of tradition, culture, geography etc. are breaking away under the cumulative effect of science, technology, modern political and social theories etc. Individualism has become the chief characteristic of the present age. “Individualism, though it can emancipate us from given social orders, proceeds to confine us to ‘the solitude of our own hearts’ (de Tocqueville) and removes the heroic dimensions of life, the purpose worth dying for.”(Lyon 40) It confines man to his selfmade cocoon beyond which he does not want to come out. The social dimensions of an individual are often neglected and gradually these get converted into the feeling of social apathy. He remains so engrossed in the claims of his ‘self’ that he forgets the demands that society makes on him. The incidents taking place around him do not bother him in any way as these are in no way directly related to his personal life. Social apathy has become a common characteristic, especially of the newly grown rich middle class people. They remain engrossed in their life so much as they get no time to think deeply about their surrounding. Even if they think, they do not want to interfere with the incidents, taking place around them. Their sensibility is tuned in such a way as they gradually become indifferent towards the events surrounding them. But such an ideology definitely affects the sensibility of a socially committed man. He definitely wants to do something to awaken the consciousness of these individuals from their slumberous dream to face the reality. The case becomes more acute when the victimization of a woman in the neighbourhood building is concerned.
Feminism is the major concern of the present era and emancipation of women from the long established cycle of oppression of patriarchy is the much talked about topic, especially amongst the men of letters. Women cause and women issues are the debatable subject not only amongst scholars but also amongst the common man. Efforts are made on political as well as at socio-cultural level to protect the rights of women and to check their exploitation in the name of male hegemony. In spite of all this women suffer incessantly under the existing social code of conduct. They are raped, murdered, assaulted physically mainly for no fault of their own. One of the main reasons behind the continuation of the cycle of exploitation is the growing apathy which has gradually become the part of the psyche of modern man of metropolitan culture:
They would give the appearance of well, urbanity, thinking themselves the bearers of civilization, but distancing themselves from relationship that might be overly intimate. (Lyon 31)
The followers of this culture are no better than merely the passive observers who are not at all desirous of involving themselves in the matters which are not related to their personal life but are well connected to their existence as a social being. Lights Out a play by Manjula Padamnabhan, realistically portrays the social apathy which has obviously become the part of human existence in the modern era.
As a society how responsive are we to other’s needs? This is the question Manjula Padamnabhan addresses in her play Lights Out. (Chandra 11)
Obviously, the dramatist’s purpose is to highlight man’s growing indifference towards his social commitments.
The play opens, revealing the drawing – dinning area of a sixth floor apartment of a building in Bombay, inhabited by a middle class family. The focal point of the space is a large window to the rear through which the sky and just a suggestion of the roof top of the neighbouring building can be seen. The building is under construction with walls still undistempered and windows without glasses. The building has a chowkidar but not the owner of the building. Some suspicious activities which from the distance seem to be incidents of gang rape, have been going on at least for a week. Though it is a much debatable topic amongst the inhabitants of the nearby building, no body is ready to do anything for the solution of the problem. The discussion in the play begins at the evening tea table between the husband and wife, regarding the troublesome incident of the neighbourhood. Bhaskar, the husband does not seem to be least bothered about it but Leela “feels tense” and “frightened” all through the day due to it. She psychologically feels disturbed so much that her whole day passes under the shadows of these horrifying incidents:
At first it was only at the time it was going on. Then, as soon as it got dark. Then around tea-time, when the children came home from school. Then in the middle of the day, whenever the door bell rang. Then on the morning, when I sent the children off to school. And now from the moment I wake up… (Lights Out 111)
She persistently requests her husband to call police to settle the matter but he avoids the idea saying that they should do not bother about these little offences. She even hints at their responsibility as a social being saying : “That we’re part of … of what happens outside. That by watching it we’re making ourselves responsible …” (112) but he reacts coldly and calls such ideas “Rubbish”. Through indifference of Bhaskar, dramatist exposes the neglect of duty of a social being in these bleak conditions. Bhaskar rejects the very idea of calling police not because he is incompetent but he does not “want to stick my neck out” as “who has the time for all this.” (113) In fact such incidents go on unnoticed and unchecked as people have become so self-centered and engrossed in themselves that they intentionally want to forget their responsibility towards the society in which they live. They do not bother to complain about them to authorities and further even to justify their behavior often give the plea when others are not worried regarding these problems ‘So why should we’. This tendency and gradually growing indifferent attitude of people are mainly responsible for the increasing crime rate in the society. Manjula Padamnabhan’s purpose in the play is mainly to highlight this social apathy, especially amongst the members of middle class society. They themselves shirk from their duties as social beings and blame others for not fulfilling their duties well. What about the owners of that building? Really it’s their responsibility… (115) Leela’s behavior gradually becomes neurotic and she does not wish to call any guest at her home for the fear of those voices being detected by them. Her peace of mind completely shatters and she rejects the idea of listening to music because “The sound will make me tense, I can’t bear any sound any more (116). To relax herself, she takes recourse to yoga but could not ignore the impact of the cries of the woman, coming from the nearby unfinished building. She gets disturbed with the voices so much as she asks her husband, “Am I going mad?” (117). Her disturbed state of mind proves the fact that she has gradually started to identify herself with that woman. She feels the intensity of her pains in the horrifying situations of life. Being a woman, she sympathesizes with her and wishes to do something for her but her husband remains unable to understand her plight and considers her merely “over-sensitive”. Undoubtedly, in the rush of modernism, man’s life has become prosaic having no place for natural sympathies.
Arrival of Bhaskar’s friend, Mohun to their house further heightens the prevalent social apathy amongst the so called dignified members of the middle class. He is adamant on looking at the crime while it is going to be committed just to prove himself to be the true and practical observer of life. He makes a lot of discussion to find truly the nature of the crime without his least intention to help the woman or check the crime. When Leela quotes her friend’s remark regarding man’s role as a social being – “If you can stop a crime, you must – or else you’re helping it to happen” (120), Mohan flings a bitter comment on insensitivity of intellectuals:
These intellectuals always react like that, always confuse simple issues. After all, what’s the harm in simply watching something. (120)
Obviously that he wants to see the crime happen only out of his curiosity not due to his social responsibility. Leela is of the opinion if we look at the crime being committed we should try our best to check it but he does not bother about that. The things that Leela never wants to talk about are discussed aimlessly by Mohun and Bhaskar. They consider it no more than a “drama” and begin to analyze its various parts bit by bit as how many people are involved in the act or if everyday the same people come or if their dresses are same or to which status they belong or what kind of screams are uttered during that heineous act – are the sounds like “hysteria”, “gurgly” or “crying” or what had been their purpose after all. The dramatist’s purpose in highlighting this long discussion is just to expose social concern of these two characters, who on one hand feel proud of being civilized and on the other do not bother about their social responsibility. In their futile discussion they predict that these acts may be some domestic fight for some private cause. They deliberately avoid it to be a case of gang rape and conclude it to be an instance of domestic violence and in a sophisticated manner come to the conclusion :
Personally, I’m becoming entangled in other people’s private lives. Outsiders can never really be the judge of who is right and who is wrong. (123)
They do not discuss the gravity of the crime, rather quickly change the direction of thinking and easily convert the case of gang rape to that of domestic violence. This shows that they deliberately avoid the situations in which they would be compelled to do something. Presentation of such a long discussion successfully conveys the dramatist purpose to tickle the sensibility of audience through these insensible characters. The time and energy which they seem to spend on the discussion of the evil, if they use to make efforts to mitigate it, they can easily get rid of it. They have got time enough to find out the appropriate words which may define the true nature of the crime but they do not get time to call the police or other concerned authorities to check the crime. The discussion gradually shifts from one direction to other and the crime of gang rape has easily been converted to a religious ceremony, screams and cries of the victim are considered the painful screams during nose piercing and ear piercing. Mohun even calls it a new religion: “New cults can be quite violent at the outset – especially their initiation rites.” (129)
Meanwhile, one of Leela’s friends Naina and her husband Surinder arrive at their home unexpectedly. They too get involved in the discussion and begin to interpret things on the basis of the available proofs. On one hand, Leela is mentally upset to such an extent that she could not eat anything on the dinning table while on the other side her husband with his friends is apathetic towards the cries that are approaching the room so much as they want only to enjoy food first and postpone such a serious matter to be discussed later on. In spite of being the competent and respectable citizens of the nation, they show their helplessness before Leela saying, “There’s nothing we can do about it. We just have to ignore it.” (136) With the arrival of Bhaskar, their line of thinking changes and they begin to find out possibilities of this act of being a case of “exorcism” where the body of a woman is possessed by some evil spirit and violence is inflicted on her to push out that spirit from her body. These far fetched explanation of the simple act of rape by these men hint at their negligence and carelessness as social beings. Leela and Naina stand in true contrast of these men and they agree about the incident as being the case of rape of some women. They are desirous to do something regarding it while the men present there continue to discuss the incident from different angles. Now they begin to analyze the character of the woman. They try to find out whether the woman is a whore or a decent woman because they believe: “Whatever right a woman has, they are lost the moment she becomes a whore”. (140)
Leela and Naina oppose the idea as being females they can easily understand the condition of the helpless woman therefore, they persistently request to call the police. When Leela’s requests remain unheard, she gradually turns hysterical but the males present there remain unaffected by it. They suggest some unpractical solutions to the problem like to have a face to face fight with the persons involved in the act. They reject the idea of calling the police because they do not want to get involve in formalities of police and are not assured about the desired and timely action of police. In their excessive enthusiasm they want to take matter in their own hands. They do not seem to be interested in time bound solution of the problem rather begin to discuss about the weapons, they would like to use in their fight like knives, towels, homemade little acid bombs, steel rods etc. Through this long discussion Manjula Padanamabhan, in fact, succeeds in creating feeling of irritation amongst the audience. They are compelled to think about the inactivity of these characters which somehow is reflective of their own mode of behavior. Obviously they begin to ruminate over gradually increasing social apathy. Ultimately the discussion comes to a state when they get ready to take advantage of this sinful activity. They now decide to take photographs of this scene of gang rape, which would not only give them fame but also assist them to earn money – “All right – first the pictures, then the beating up.” As soon as they get ready to go out to take photographs and to beat up the culprit, the screams cease and when they try to look out of the window, nothing can be seen in the neighbouring building. Such a dramatic end of the play further intensify the passivity of these characters and leaves an indelible impression on the audience regarding a lot of discussion with little action in relation to an incident taking place in neighbourhood.
Through the play Lights Out, Manjula Padamnabhan not only exposes growing apathy amongst the so called civilized people but also wants to make audience perceive its evil consequences. The play has a long discussion which deepens step by step and consequently makes the reader understand the hidden purpose of sensitizing them towards this apathy. In the world of growing technology when distances gradually shrink and modern means of communication have lessened the distances amongst the people, one thing is disheartening that people are drifting away from one another at the level of humanity. The bonds which used to link one human being with another are gradually weakening. Man, especially belonging to the middle class, though aware of his duty as a social being, avoids it, living contentedly in his self imposed bondages. Even the pitiable cries of a woman become a matter of discussion rather than action. The drama, based on a real life incident, as it has been mentioned at the end, further affects audience’s sensibility positively and they really understand the hazardous supersession of the growing social apathy in modern man’s life. The drama successfully achieves its aim and certainly inspires audience not to follow the path, adopted by the characters of the drama.Hide details
Manjula Padmanabhan Harvest Summary
Harvest is a play by Manjula Padmanabhan concerned with organ-selling in India set in the near future. Om Prakash agrees to sell unspecified organ...More details
Manjula Padmanabhan Harvest Summary
Harvest is a play by Manjula Padmanabhan concerned with organ-selling in India set in the near future. Om Prakash agrees to sell unspecified organs through InterPlanta Services, INC to a rich person in first-world for a small fortune. InterPlanta and the recipient's are obsessed with maintaining Om's health and invasively control the lives of Om, his mother Ma, and wife Jaya in their one-room apartment. The recipient, Ginni, periodically looks in on them via a videophone and treats them condescendingly. Om's diseased brother Jeetu is taken to give organs instead of Om.
Harvest won the 1997 Onassis Prize as the best new international play.Hide details