Silence! The Court is in Session as a Social Satire
Satire, as Ian Jack argues, ‘is born of the instinct of protest; it is protest become art.’ The satirist is a person who takes it upon himself to correct, censure and ridicule the follies and vices of the society and to bring contempt and derision upon aberrations from a desirable and civilized norm. Tendulkar’s Silence! The Court is in Session is a satire on Indian judiciary in post-Independence period. Tendulkar seems to have produced it out of his instinct of protest against corruption in the judiciary in the post-colonial India. In it he has explored how the judiciary has utterly disempowered an unmarried expectant woman and reduced her to an object.
The play has double structures symbolizing two spheres of life: Public and Private. In introducing such a form Tendulkar serves two purposes at a time. Through the play on the mock-trial of President Johnson for his proliferation of nuclear arms he stages his protest against imperialism. In this sphere of life all middle-class people, regardless of sex and gender, are united to wear progressive face with a common objective to spread enlightenment in opposition to imperialism. The play which is woven in the name of playing a game for passing time and for grounding Samant in the court proceedings before the enactment of the scheduled play seems to symbolize the private sphere of life.
In the course of the game the unity of the amateur players gets fractured and fissured. All are seen against all. Benare mocks and makes them her enemies. She ridicules Mr Kashikar as Mr Prime-Objective, Mrs Kashikar as the Hand-that-Rocksthe-Cradle, Balu Rokde as Balu, Ponkshe as Hmm! Inter-failed Scientist. Sukhatme also laughs at Ponkshe for failing twice in Inter-Science Examination. Ponkshe snipes at Rokde’s dependence on the Kashikars. Karnik calls into question the harmony of the conjugal life of the Kashikar couple. But very soon they all gang up against Benare to expose her infraction against society and nation in the mock-trial.
Satire’s best weapon is parody. Tendulkar uses it to constructa grotesque realism of Indian criminal court. The bizarre elements are the queer comportments of the middle-class people in the courtroom. Our attention is gravitated towards their connivance at the decency and decorum of the court of law. The judge is found to always have an earpick in his ear, the counsel to chew pan, the witness to smoke. In addition, everybody enters and exits the stage in one’s accord. Through their acts of endless pan-chewing and the spitting of pan-juice every now and then, through the judges acts of ear-picking and tooth-picking and his willing conversion into a witness, and through the prosecutor’s switchover into the role of the defense counsel and back again into that of prosecutor, Tendulkar focuses on the violation of the propriety and the sanctity of the court. In the midst of the breach of the etiquette of the court, the middle-class people, who are the colleagues of Benare, gang up against her to gag the latter’s dissenting voice by the logic of law.
One by one they appear in the witness box to torture Benare by giving incriminating evidences against her. In the act of giving witness they expose themselves as sadists. Mrs Kashikar opposes Benare’s acts of singing, dancing, laughing and running after men. Being trapped by the urban middle-class people, Samant unwittingly tortures Benare by giving evidence against her. He manufactures his evidence just by reading a passage from a novel which happens to be akin to Benare’s affair with Prof Damle. Porkshe oppresses Benare by divulging the latter’s pregnancy by Prof Damle and by revealing the secret proposal of marriage she offered to him inside a family room of a restaurant. Balu retaliates by exposing her affair with Prof Damle and by disclosing the marriage overture she made to him. Karnik humiliates Benare by digging out her past affair with her maternal uncle and the suicidal attempt she made while the love failed to consummate in marriage.
By supplying the information of Berare’s dismissal from the job by the school authorities, the judge forces her to attempt at suicide again. In the court a woman like Benare who shows courage to lead life with the application of her personal freedom and economic independence is condemned as promiscuous for her pregnancy out of wedlock. The court also condemns her attempt at getting matried to any other man for protection of the illegitimate child while impregnated by someone else. The court, on this ground, adjudges her guilty of having attempted to dynamite the sacred institutions of marriage and motherhood, and passes the sentence that she shall live, but the child in her womb shall be destroyed, Benare refuses to be governed by this sort of court verdict. Her stout protest is found to slide into sobbing and then into silence. Her sobbing and silence are in no way her acquiescent to the patriarchal judgment. These are to be treated as different forms of protest against patriarchal judgment that maintains myopia towards Prof Damle who is equally responsible for polluting the society. None of the witnesses dares to raise voice either against Prof Damle’s sexual corruption or against the biased legal precedent.
The court may not have allowed any space for dissenting voice, but the dramatist is not silent about the court’s biasness. Maybe this is why he allows Samant to show solidarity with Benare through his act of putting the green cloth parrot in front of Benare and the latter to dub her oppressors as crow. The play opposes the invincibility and grit of human spirit and fellow-feeling to the partiality and cruelty of Indian criminal court in post-Independence period. Tendulkar thus brings derision upon the aberration of the court from a desirable and civilized norm.