Girish Karnad’s name and fame standsout as a dramatist and an actor-director and being one among the few who havesuccessfully staged their plays in India and abroad. He has the credit ofauthoring as many as ___ plays, whichhave won him international acclaim. But it is Tughlaq1, which has established him as one of theforemost playwrights in India in the first place and which has stood the testof time since its publication in 1964 in Kannada and 1975 in English translatedby him. Being the first historical play, Tughlaqdeals with the tumultuous reign of the 14th century Sultan,Mohammad-bin-Tughlaq, famed to be the most eccentric individual to rule India. Theplay has been much discussed and debated upon, leading to a spate of criticism onits various facets especially karnad’s recreation of history. Though the play has been analysed from the existential perspective of ChristineGomez, of viewing ‘Tughlaq as an alienated protagonist’2, K K John’sglorification of Tughlaq as a ‘victim-turned-sinner’3, or ‘thebetrayal motif in Tughlaq’4 as perceived by K Ratna Sheila Mani andmany more thematic and stylistic analysis by well known critics, this play ofthirteen scenes by Karnad, Tughlaq still offers never ending array of meanings .
QuotingU. R. Anathamurthy who has pointed out, “No critical examination of the playcan easily exhaust its total meaning for the readers, because the play has, anelusive and haunting quality which it gets from the character Tughlaq who hasbeen realized in great psychological depth”5, the greatestattraction of the play, arises out of the ambiguous personality of theprotagonist, Tughlaq, who has been notoriously remembered in the history ofIndia as “Mohammad the Mad”. His notorious actions of minting new currency andthe shifting of his capital city from Delhi to Daulatabad and vice –versa havebeen exemplified as illogically erroneous decisions that testify his madnessand erratic decisions, which brought his downfall.
However, these historicalsnippets which have marred the personality of the sultan have been recreated byKarnad to render fresh insights into Tughlaq who comes out as a versatile person,but with a tragic flaw of being impractical and basically cruel. Starting withhis portrayal as a visionary king with an idealistic exterior of trying tobring prosperity into the lives of his subjects, Karnad unravels thecomplexities that underlie and the layers of instinctual behavior ofthis eponymous protagonist Tughlaq,. Themetamorphosis of the historical Tughlaq into a person struggling to synthesizetwo contradictory selves nestled within him forms one of the most interestingstudies of human nature offered in Indian English literature. Karnad hasutilized the fictional liberty to portray Tughlaq as one of the unforgettable specimenof human duality comparable to Hamlet. Tuqhlaq’s intrinsic nature that is imbuedwith his power-hungry, blood-thirsty, self centered and autocratic instinctsconflicting with his cultivated-self oozing his religious idealism, sense of justiceand aesthetic which he consciously projects is orchestrated throughout theplay. He tries his best to live up to his idealized conception of a ruler, inorder to fulfill his ambition of making his regime a golden era in the annalsof history. Being shaped by his wide and versatile reading of Urdu, Persian andGreek literature, this self of his readily responds to the vision of Buddha andZarathustra, and has won him respect and honour from his contemporaries. It issignificant to note that, even the most influential religious leader likeSheikh Imam-ud-din who is opposed to the rule of Tughlaq, cannot ignore hisscholarship and compliments him repeatedly during his conversation withTughlaq.
“God has given you everything, power, learning, intelligence, talent”,and “You are a learned man” indicate Sheikh’s impression about Tughlaq. (Scene3, pp 20-21) Again,Zia-ud-din Barani, a well known historian, an objective observer and anidealistic voice in the play also says “You are a learned man, your Majesty;you are known the world over for your knowledge of philosophy and poetry.History is not made only in statecraft; its lasting results are produced in theranks of learned men. That’s where you belong, your majesty, in the company oflearned men.” (Scene 8, pp 55) However,though Tughlaq’s projected self has commanded appreciation, it should be notedthat this learning and scholarship has not penetrated beyond his superficial,polished exterior and is only a mask, that gives way in crucial situations,revealing his instinctual, primary tendencies. His construction of a rosegarden, symbolizes his desire to exhibit his love of cultivated aesthetic senseand love for poetry, but when his grandiose scheme of introducing copper coinsinstead of silver dinars fails, the mask falls off giving us a glimpse of thisgory side of his nature. His conversation with his step mother in scene tenthrows light on the superficiality and shallowness of his idealistic self.
Step mother:What’s wrong with you? You spent yearsplanning that rose garden and now. Muhammad: Now Idon’t need a rose garden. I built it because I wanted to make for myself animage of Sadi’s poems. I wanted every rose in it to be a poem. I wanted verythorn in it to prick and quicken the senses. But I don’t need these airytrappings now; a funeral has no need for a separate symbol. Step mother: Then why don’t you stop the funeral? Why this unending lineof corpses? (Scene 10, pp 63-64) Again, when justifying his killingspree to his step mother he reveals his recognition of his real self. Step mother:You had your share of futile deaths.
I have mine now. Mohammad: No, they were not futile. They gave me what I wanted, power,strength to shape my thoughts, strength to act, strength to recognizemyself.
(Scene 10, pp 66) Infact, right from the first scene of the play, this interplay between his twoselves is indicated. The guards comment “the show is over” (Scene 1, pp 5) issignificant of the mask of idealism which Tughlaq adorns himself with, in orderto appease people and win their support to his dictates. The artificiality andtheatricality of his actions is visible all through the play, and the languagehe uses is refined, poetic and pompous and ideas quite grandiose which nourishhis desire to showcase his projected self. This is seen not only is his publicappearance, but even in his private moments with his close ties. His reply tohis step mother’s query about his sleeplessness is replete with histheatricality- “And then I want to go back to their poetry and sink myself in theirwords. Then again I want to climb up, up to the top of the tallest tree in theworld and call out to my people: come, people, I am waiting for you, confide mein your worries. Let me share your joys……….
” To which the step mother,responds “I can’t ask a simple questions without you giving a royalperformance” and calls him “a pompous ass.” (Scene 2, pp 10-11) Soit can be easily deciphered that Tughlaq is constantly giving performance andthe projection of refined image of his self is carefully and consciouslymaintained by Tughlaq until the Amirs attack him at the prayer time, therebyrevealing to him, their having seen through his deceptive appearance. Also,though Shihab-ud-din’s treachery is a hard blow to him, he still maintains hiscultivated poise and diplomatically uses the murder of Shihab at his hands, forhis own political benefit. Here too, his intrinsic thirst for blood andviolence overpowers him, when he repetitively stabs, the already dead Shihab. “Then almost frenzied, goes on stabbinghim.
Hits out at Shihab-ud-din’s dead body with ferocity that makes even thesolider holding the body turn away in horror.” (Scene 6, pp 43) Fromthen on, there is no stopping him and he unleashes all his cruelty andautocratic tendencies on the people. His orders of shifting of his capital fromDelhi toDaultabad much against the wishes of the people, banning the prayer, the publicexecution and display of corpses of Amirs are all evidences of his innate powerhunger and the gradual exposure of his intrinsic feeling of hatred and bloodthirsty tendency vested in him. Although,at times, Tughlaq tries to cover up the exposed chinks and holes in the mask ofpolish, it finally gives way when he orders his step mother to be publiclystoned to death. This kind of punishment which during those times, was givenonly to sinners committing adultery, is being meted out to his mother, one wholoves and cares for him more than anybody, his close confidant. This action ofhis is the final failure of his mask to cover up his real nature, which isdisplayed in all its ugliness and brings back to us the heinous crimes ofpatricide and fratricide on which he had assumed the kingship of Delhi in the first place. Hence,till this point all the actions of refinement of Tughlaq which had but subtleironic undertones now become outwardly ironic and reflect his shallowpersonality in poor light.
His act of welcoming Aziz in the grab of GhiyassudinAbasid by falling at his feet, even though being aware of the disguise mirrorsthe crooked and the crafty intriguer that he is. Toheighten the effect of this conflict between his dual natures, the play alsohas many other characters playing different roles. Ratan Singh deliberately andshrewdly traps Shihhabudin; Ain-ul-Mulk, a close childhood friend of Tughlaq,wages war against Tughlaq; the Amirs who level charges of patricide, Fratricideand pollution of prayer on Tughlaq, themselves are prepared for regicide andthat too at prayer time. Again Aziz, a dhobi by profession, but can be said tobe the alter ego of Tughlaq minus his projected self, unscrupulously plays anumber of roles to his benefit. He cheats Tughlaq by disguising himself asVishnu Prasad a Brahmin land owner; mints counterfeit copper coins; makes moneyby looting people on the way to Daultabad, and finally enters the interiors ofthe palace in the garb of Ghiyas-ud-din Abbasid, after having ruthlesslymurdered the original Ghiyas-ud-din Abbasid. In fact, it is only Aziz who hasunderstood the essential core of Tughlaq’s nature and schemes and rightlyexploits them to his own advantage. He calls himself a devout servant ofTughlaq, he says “I insist, I am your Majesty true disciple”.
(Scene 13, pp80) Hence, it is no wonder that Tughlaqimmediately identifies himself with Aziz and forgives him, much to the surpriseof Barani who fails to understand this. Tughlaq even goes to the extent ofmaking Aziz an officer in the army highlighting that Tughlaq finally has cometo terms with himself, letting go of his histrionics once for all. The finalsleep which has eluded him for five years now encompasses him signifying peaceachieved due to the amalgamation of his dual personalities. AsU R Anthamurthy highlights the play is “A dramatization projection of Tughlaq’stortured divided self. The external action throughout enacts the inner drama ofTughlaq” and “Tughlaq is what he is inspite of his self knowledgeand an intense desire for divine grace”.
It can be safely concluded thatliterature can offer glimpses into the interior counters of historical onedimensional occurrences in a way that the fictional re-imaginings andre-creations give multi-dimensional insights into understanding life around usand the complex personalities that people it in a labyrinthine ways. References: 1. Girish Karnad, Tuqhlaq (Delhi Oxford University Press, 1975)2. Christine Gomez, “Karnad’s Tughlaq asan alienated protagonist”, P.114, ThePlays of Girish Karnad : CriticalPerspectives, edited by Jaydipsinh Dodiya ( Prestige 1999)3.
K K John, “A Reassessment of theCharacter of Karnad’s Tughlaq”, P.130, ThePlays of Girish Karnad : CriticalPerspectives, edited by Jaydipsinh Dodiya ( Prestige 1999)4. K Ratna Sheila Mani, “The BetrayalMotif in Karnad’s Tughlaq” , P.
140, The Playsof Girish Karnad : CriticalPerspectives, edited by Jaydipsinh Dodiya ( Prestige 1999)5. U R Anathamurthy, “Introduction”, Tughlaq, P.vii6. Girish Karnad Introduction to threeplays Naga Mandala, Hayavadana, Tughlaq” ThePlays of Girish Karnad : Critical Perspective, Edition 1975).7.
U R Anathamurthy, “Introduction”, Tughlaq, P.ix