In a quizzical inversion it is the English parliamentarian who is made to speak the glory of Mother India! But, ultimately, it is the native's ventriloquism that stands out as the articulating voice in this speech, in its contrived apology for benevolent despotism. Colonialism, for the native ventriloquist, then, will end by the grace of the same British (the 'true' variety thereof, who warm the seats of Parliament in Westminster) who massacre freedom fighters, but who will by volition, nonetheless, retrench from the colonies sooner than later. Let us remember, once again, James Long, the admired 'hero' of the Bengalis, who continued to forward the cause of the Church Missionary Society in Bengal till his last days in his godforsaken colonial Bethlehem. Long reminds one of Mr Neville, but even the benevolent Long was never known to have predicted the end of British rule in India. It is the native's ventriloquism indeed that makes Neville speak.
This brings us back to a point made earlier about the component of elision and fabrication that stands at the heart of the native's national self-fashioning. It is a redaction of the same argument that comes across in the colonial native's imaginings of the consecrated Sanskrit origins of its theatre that is, nonetheless, performed with all the appurtenances of the razzle-dazzle technologies of commerce as well as stage effects.
The title of the Bengali version had been shortened to Urvashi. It begins with a dance of the Hindu heavenly nymphs, the apsaras, before Bharata, the fabled author of the Natyashastra, and is followed by a speech by the venerable master of histrionics where he instructs the nymphs to descend on earth and acquire experiences of mortal life: Abhinaya (acting) is one of the best forms of art.
This late avatar of Bharata, wallowing in patronizing pedantry, is a far cry from the venerable author of the Natyashastra, both from the text as well as from the numerous commentaries that have followed it. Bharata, whoever he may have been, was no generalizer. If indeed he was the author of the Natyashastra, we find him in the treatise to be a meticulous taxonomer of numerous categories and sub-categories of the refined craft of abhinaya. Bharata is the pro-pounder of a greatly elaborated conglomeration of the do's and don'ts of the dramatic art in the fullest possible detail. That the Bharata of this play was not the Bharata of the Sanskrit theatre is proven in the staging.
This production style relates directly to the latter part of Sourindramohan Thakur's treatise mentioned earlier, where he talks about what can be 'taken' from European theatre to adorn the Bengali stage. The Sanskrit theatre in its Bengali metamorphosis had surrendered to a tension of content that sat at the heart of its search for a middle ground.
It is difficult to attribute any kind of unequivocally to this "negative transparency" because the colonial native's mimesis of the devised national self was not founded on mimicry alone. It was informed and elucidated by the alterations of an invented identity of native-ness. Thus the mimesis of the native's enactment, because of its polyvalent hybridity, becomes illusive and illusionary, simulative and fictive, even deceptive.
Most of the dramatic literature of the urban Bengali Hindu intelligentsia in the nineteenth century that attempted, on the printed page and in performance, to stage the nation exemplified the always already ambivalent quality of colonial discourse. This discourse was shifting constantly in the uncertain luminal terrain between the thematic and problematic of nationalist ideology. It was a discourse that pitted the notion of the 'colonial' self against its own frenetic attempt to produce a "national" self, however mutually disagreeable the concord, through fissures and erasures in and through gender based and communalized constructs, performing into and around each other in gyre-like formations - continuously, furiously, impossibly, without conclusion
(Last Updated on : 30-05-2012)
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