Character Sketch of Leela Benare | Benare as a New Indian Woman

Character Sketch of Leela Benare | Benare as a New Indian Woman

Benare in Silence! The Court is in Session

Silence! The Court is in Session explores a new Indian woman in Leela Benare with its focus on her attempt to construct an oppositional discourse against an oppressive patriarchal verdict that she can retain her body but not the child growing in it. She is new in that she dares to transgress the patriarchal norms and mores by reversing the traditional binary of mind versus body and by valorizing sensuality and erotica connection in order to secure association with men.

Benare is also new in that she dares to reinscribe her past from the present for the future. She searches something to believe in such as love and pleasure of motherhood and figures herself as a professional career woman with a civilizing mission which she tries to fulfill through her teaching of the little kids at school. She is not passive, docile and subjugated. She has a politics which is concerned not with who she is but with what she should do to overcome her precarious condition. In order to materialize her politics she searches for a man who would father the child growing in her womb and help her gain the status of a mother, even though impregnated by some other person whom she loved but is betrayed.

As the play opens, we find Benare equipped with anti-imperialistic consciousness, committed to spread the enlightenment ideas through theatre against American imperialism that has manifested itself through proliferation of nuclear arms. In this project, she dominates her male and female associates belonging to Sonar Moti Tenement Progressive Association, an amateur theatre troupe in Bombay. Intelligent, witty Benare exposes their weaknesses and relegates them to an inferior position.

In caustic terms Benare exposes Mr. and Mrs. Kashikar to Samant, saying that Mr Kashikar is the Prime-objective and Mrs Kashikar is actually Mrs Hands-that-rocks-the-cradle. She ridicules her in this term because Mrs Kashikar is childless. In order to fulfill the desire of motherhood she has adopted Bulu Rokde who, in her view, though educated by them, is treated like a slave. Sukhatme, as lawyer, ‘keeps swatting flies with legal precedents’. Mr Ponkshe, as she tells Samant, is the ‘great scientist! Inter failed! Even she does expose the hypocrisy of Prof Damle with whom she had an affair. In her view, he may be an intellectual, taking pride in displaying his bookish knowledge, but he is scared to face the problem of real life.

In the course of her conversation with Samant, Benare is found to be full of life, vivacious, spirited and intelligent. Frank, modern, she has no hesitation to make overture to Samant. At thirty-four still unmarried she searches for a man who would marry her and father the child growing in her womb. The marriage proposals she offered to other men have already been turned down. Hence, we find her flirting with Samant, who, being innocent and simple, is short of understanding her seduction.

Benare is a woman with civilizing mission that she tries to fulfill through theatrical performances and teaching job. As a teacher she is efficient and has endeared herself to the students. Punctual, meticulous, serious she loves teaching the children who she observes, are much better than adults on the grounds that they never pose to be all-knowing persons, never try their heads to be stuffed with nonsense, and unlike the adults they never scratch anybody till one bleeds, and run away like cowards. The school children as much fear her as love her. Out of love and regard, they are ready to do anything for her. But the school authorities and her colleagues are jealous of her success with the children as well as the teaching. They have held an inquiry against her ‘just because of one bit of slander’. As she says, she is not afraid to face any eventuality because she dislikes to be governed by the dictation of other, whoever she/he may be- a colleague or an employer. She likes to lead life on her own terms. This shows she is not an ordinary woman to be cowed down by any extraneous pressure, rather as a lover of autonomy and freedom she declares she would try to fulfill her will and desires in an independent way.

The love for autonomy and independence has grown in Benare from school life where she internalized from the nursery poem following how to develop one’s innate quality:

“The grass is green,

The rose is red,

The book is mine

Till I am dead!”

Benare inculcated a lesson that she was to write her history as grass displays its beauty through greenness and the rose its beauty through redness. The body that makes her different from a man would enable her to display her beauty. It would also enable her to have the experience of rare moment of sexual fulfillment and of motherhood along with reproductive power. In addition, she has also read the poem of Mrs Shirish Pai and learnt that the life of a woman always ends in defeat in patriarchy, yet she was determined to create herself independently without showing obedience to patriarchal power. But she had a bitter experience of love-life when she first came in close proximity to her maternal uncle.

Benare was not an ordinary girl. Instead of being governed by her mother, she made an attempt to exercise her right over life by committing suicide, but she was saved. The event refers to her urge for emancipation from patriarchal domination.

Next Beanre came in close touch with Prof Damle whom she considered as a god, but ultimately she found him targeting her body for the gratification of his sex. She offered him love. In return she was treated as an object of sex and impregnated by him. For his refusal to bear the onus of her pregnancy, now she is in precarious condition. But as a new woman she knows what she should do to overcome the crisis. In her attempt to overcome the crisis, she finds herself jettisoned by her associates into an uninvited conspiratorial violence that manifests itself through a game of mock-trial.

In her absence, they accuse Benare of infanticide. At first, Benare makes an attempt to brush aside the charge jovially with an argument how she can kill a child when she has not yet killed a cockroach. In the course of the interrogations she tries to be humorous, witty and playful as far as possible, but being over-reactive to Rokde’s and Samant’s witnesses she lets the cat out of the bag. She becomes edgy and tries to leave the hall, but finds to be barricaded by oppressors. The innocuous latch that has already injured her finger now shuts them all in the hall. Her associates now turn into foes, assuming the roles of the protector of the holy institutions of marriage and motherhood. They now believe she has done an infraction to the society, to the law and to the sovereignty. They use Benare as a site to enact their sadism. She feels tortured by their unilateral charges and accusations. She behaves like a trapped animal and undergoes the oppressive process of cross-examinations. Being non-respondent to their interrogations, she shows non-cooperation towards them.

Tendulkar seems to have made an attempt at focusing on the struggle of an Indian unwed expectant woman, Benare, for independence and the status of motherhood. Tendulkar shows how patriarchy has rationalized torture on woman through judiciary system that identifies Benare as a deviant woman because of her non-compliance with the patriarchal sexual and marriage norms. Tracing her as a sinner, the judge, breaking all norms and traditions of the court, comes to the witness-box and gives valuable information of Benare’s dismissal from service by Nana Saheb Shinde for her moral turpitude.

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Thereafter, Tendulkar allows Benare to resurrect the subjugated knowledge of her body and thereby create a resistance to a unilateral patriarchal judgment against her life. In the confessional she justifies her points with the logic of enlightenment philosophy that ushered in liberty, equality and progress for all, irrespective of class, race and gender. She recreates her past from the present for her future. She asserts that she is a woman with a body that makes a difference. For the body she enjoyed a moment so beautiful, so blissful, so near to heaven. It is the body that now bears the fruit of that blissful moment. Though the body has jettisoned her into deep troubles, she loves it for the little tender bud growing into it. She refuses to be governed by any patriarchal dictation on the ground that her private life is her own business. She knows what to do with it in the future.

In opposition to the confessional that empowers Benare, the heavily biased judicial court, condemning her temerity and urge for liberty, passes a verdict that she shall live but the child in her womb must be destroyed. Benare wanted to lead life adopting two strategies: abrogation and appropriation. First, she abrogated marriage for love and sexual pleasure. After pregnancy which her lover denied having any responsibility for, she wanted to appropriate marriage by getting married to some other man for legitimating motherhood and the unborn child. Though the mission failed, she was determined to give birth to the child at any cost for becoming a mother. But once her hope is smashed by the judgment, she refuses to be governed by patriarchal ideology that emphasizes woman’s subjugation, saying that she would not allow her child to be destroyed:

“No! No! No! I won’t let you do it – I won’t let it happen

I won’t let it happen!”

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