by Anil Kala
(One Act Play)
[The stage is a blank rostrum set in coal black background and foreground. There is absolutely nothing visible to the spectators due to dull diffused lights facing then from the stage edge. Abruptly the lights causing illusion of darkness to the spectators, begin to dim. Simultaneously soft white light slowly submerges a lone human form next to two long solid blocks in the center of the stage. Due to completely black furnishings only silhouette of the man and the two blocks are visible. The man stirs and appears completely baffled]
Man : [Whispering in soft voice] Its pitch dark here. I can’t see a thing. Looks like it wouldn’t have mattered if I was completely blind. [Now a little laud] Blind! Am I blind? [He broods over this for while] No I don’t think so. Certainly not [says emphatically] I am not blind. There is a difference in seeing dark and not seeing at all. Where is this? Who am I? I don’t seem to remember anything. Am I dead? [Again broods over this, then feel his body with his hands] I have limbs; I have form like human being. I am not dead after all. [Softly, as if afraid] Hello! Anybody here? [Nothing happens, emboldened, he walks around in a small circle trying to feel for solid contact with his hands and feels the presence of blocks. His footsteps echo in with short trailing sounds.] This place appears familiar, at least the milieu is familiar. Yes I am inside a dome like structure. [Shaking his head, sits down on one of the blocks] Yes definitely inside a massive dome. The short trailing echo, indeed this a dome. [Now loudly] Hello! Anybody here? Can any one show me the way out?
Voice [A tired but gruff irritating voice] Stop that racket, you fool! Be quiet.
Man : [Perplexed, now speaks in a soft and friendly tone] Sorry! Old chap, if I bothered you, but you see I am lost here and need help. Who are you? What is this place?
Voice: How dare you ask that. Who am I! Yes indeed, Who am I? Oh! It doesn’t matter any more, does it? Why should I help you, I don’t care what miserable wretch you are. By the way I am miserable for God knows whence. I am Khurram.
Man : Some luck I have. I run into a badmouthed guy with a queer name. Khurram is it. That’s a violently abrasive name.
Khurram : [Exasperated] You are an extremely insolent person aren’t you. Another time another place you would have paid dearly for this. What is the big deal about Khurrum? You have no familiarity with Persian names.
Man : [Trying to make up] I am sorry if I have upset you. You appear to have been around here for sometime while I am a confused stranger here. I don’t even know who I am, what I am doing here. I don’t think I am dead I have physical form. This place seems like a massive dome. Why isn’t there any light..
Khurram : You are not the only one baffled[Sounding philosophical]. What makes you think you are not dead.
Man : I told you, I have physical form. If I was dead and assuming dying is just not the end, it is unlikely that existence will continue in the same form. By the way what is the place, Khurram.
Khurram : [Annoyed] Oh! What impudence! This is the Taj Mahal. Can’t you see?
Man : I can’t see, its pitch-dark here.[Then realizing slowly] Taj Mahal! Is it? And you, what are you doing here[ waits a few seconds and then excitedly] You mean , you mean you are Shah Jehan?
[ There is silence for a few seconds]
Khurram : It doesn’t impress me anymore. All the veneration, awe and fear matter no more. I spend time in complete oblivion siting over judgement on my own doings. I am nowhere near a satisfactory judgement, which angers me even more. What did I do wrong?
Man : You made the Taj Mahal. You are one shinning example of everlasting love and devotion. That should be a fair judgement.
Khurram : You think so. That’s what people think. I hate Mumtaj. I hated her most of the time. I didn’t make the Taj Mahal, I ordered its construction. An army of very skilled artisans made this magnificent monument. I merely ordered its construction in a fit profound loss, just the loss, a deep sense of insecurity and loss. Later I wished I hadn’t ordered its construction but then somehow I couldn’t stop its construction. I had become a zombie. My love for Mumtaj was infatuation. Later it was just a magnified public perception because of the massive construction lasting a life time. I was like zombie not interested in any thing. I watched its construction in a state of complete detachment. I saw laborers falling from the high scaffoldings to their death, their heads opening like crushed pumpkins. The rasping sound of whips peeling the skin of workmen for making mistakes did not make me wince in horror. I saw despairing families breaking their back to complete the construction. Supervisors whipping tired workmen to hurry up with raising marble blocks, bringing in heavy materials etc. Scores of them were dying like fleas due to my perceived urge to complete the monument at the earliest. The state was left to flounder and hurtle freely from a prosperous to a near bankrupt kingdom.
Man : That is a very harsh judgement. Remember you were the king, that was your destiny. We are partly creatures of our circumstances. Since everything came to you as a matter of right, your behavior was molded in that fashion. Death and misery were merely statistics to you as concerns of statecraft; therefore you did not realize true significance of a personal tragedy. You were surrounded by indifferent power-hungry people, some good advisors and may be perhaps some well-meaning well wishers too. But they all had their own personal world to attend; besides a king is something unique therefore he has no benchmarks or role models to look for parallels. The King is center of an unreal microcosm where ostentatious behavior over-shadows everything else. Much of his decisions are spontaneous, even though these decisions have far reaching consequences, the king is helpless in that.
Khurram : That’s very well articulated, unfortunately it does not pass the test of morality and responsible behavior. If we accept what you say then no one shall be responsible for his acts. Everyone will blame his circumstances for his failures or acts of omissions and commissions. As you said we are partly creatures of our circumstances but only partly. We have within each of us a sense of judging right and wrong, therefore only part of the blame for our acts can be attributed to circumstances, rest we have to own up.
Man : You speak well your Majesty, but wouldn’t you consider your incarceration in this dungeon for all these centuries enough atonement for your failings? Eventually what counts is sum total of our actions in a lifetime. Surely you were good to your queen and your children and also many other in the multitude constituting your realm.
Khurram : Your are not correct when you say I was good to my queen and children. Perhaps I was for a brief period but as you say it is the sum total that counts. After a while, a long while I hated them all, the cloying closeness made me even more remote and disdainful. Public perception though is quite the contrary. Yet, you are right about the sufficient atonement for my failings. I can say that now with all the earnestness. Goodbye! Young man. You will wake up soon. Good bye!
[Briefly the faded lights, fade even more until it is completely dark. When the lights again come up the stage has metamorphosed in to ruins of an ancient tomb. A man is slumped on the floor his head has slight injury and blood oozing in a light trickle. The man stirs and crawls up, rubs is head and notices the injury]
Man : What a fall through the stairs. This is a tricky ruin, hope ASI does something about it. Wonder how long I had been here unconscious.