Kaamiya was written thirty-eight years ago, and although it won the Sultan Padamsee Award in 1977, this is its first production in a Hindi translation by Ramgopal Bajaj. When Bajaj (Bajju) called in up in the US to tell me he was doing it, I was quite surprised. I had quite given up on it, not in any despairing sort of way, since I have, over the years, become quite accustomed to the idea – not without some buried embers of hope! – of the possibility of my some dozen plays gathering dust on the shelves before becoming a meal for drama-loving silverfish.
Upon re-reading kaamiya recently, I felt it held up rather well after all these years. In light of the above-mentioned fate of plays, one has to become one’s own best fan and audience. But there are, I hope, objective reasons for kaamiya’s contemporary relevance. Some human issues are temporal and some eternal. I believe kaamiya addresses both.
The first, though it may seem tangential, is the underpinning of almost all plays by and about women. It concerns the universal human right, in every enlightened society, of every individual to live her life on her own terms. This human right, of the freedom to experience and experiment, so easily and traditionally granted to the male of the species, is still denied the female. She has been deprived of the fundamental right to choice in issues relating to her body. Though some things have changed – there are many more females in professional fields than 38 years ago – many more remain the same the world over. Apart from the considerable and overwhelming political/social/economic issues, there is the right to self-determination in sexual matters. Whether by directly mandating that women’s clitorises be cut off, as in Africa, or by conditioning them into thinking their sexuality is somehow more ‘sacred’ than men’s, women’s libidos have been kept imprisoned over the centuries to perpetuate iron-fisted, hard won patriarchy. We know from mythology and archeology that a matriarchal system with its corollary of unambiguous parentage prevailed before it was overthrown. In a screen adaptation of kaamiya , I have addressed this issue.
Second, in addition to the age-long political/social/religious global climate in which women’s needs and desires have been repressed, is the eternal necessity for every human being – male or female –to make the journey to self discovery, a journey impeded by the norm, by societal/familial/moral injunctions. This is particularly relevant to India that is so entrenched in double-edged tradition, and where the roles of women have been so defined for them. Tradition keeps life in tact but is also keeps a society from growing to its fullest potential. While many are adapted to tradition, many are trapped in it. I have experienced first hand the suffering and ‘quiet desperation’ caused by the traditional way. This is not to say there is less suffering in beating out your own path, like kaamiya does. There is probably more. Suffering is a human condition, but suffering caused by one’s own choices, if one is self-reflective and committed to be being a conscious human being, is more purposeful, productive, life and consciousness enhancing.
It is important to have the perspective where fulfillment for women equals fulfillment for men. A female’s lack of fulfillment will affect the latter first. This is a joint journey, and relationships – whether platonic, passionate, hetero or homosexual – must be. We are made to relate, for it is only in the crucible of relationships that love is forged. kaamiya’s search for love and home with someone who will love her for who she is, is every female — and male’s — search.
It’s never too late to hope for a time when young girls and women have the right to experience life, all of it, without fear and condemnation; when male and female will walk together, both upright, hand in hand, on our globe, working together to make it a better and more inhabitable place for everyone without exception.