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ISSN: 0974-892X


January, 2022



Power Politics  and Polie Sengupta’s Samara’s Song

Dr. Anju Bala Agrawal, Head Department of English, R. C. A. Girls’ P. G. College, Mathura


One of the most promising playwrights, Polie Sengupta is a great name not only in feminist theatre but in the whole theatre world. She has focused not only women centric issues but also other social and political issues which have been the domain of male theatre till now. She has deftly handled male dominant narratives and made herself a renowned personality in the domain of drama. She has written many dramas and all her dramas have been performed every now and so in Bangalore. Her dramas include Mangalam(1993) Inner Laws, (1994), A Pretty Business (1995), Keats was a Tuber (1996), Collages (1998), Alipha and Thus Spake Shoorpanakha, So Said Shakuni (2001) and Samara’s Song (2007).  The present paper focuses on the study of power politics and political intrigues dealt in the play Samara’s Song. It also gives a glimpse of contemporary political scenario.  In her introduction to the play, Sengupta says: “Over the years, I came increasingly concerned with issues of politics and good governance”(WCS 283).

Political power and people’s efforts to gain power are the main theme of the play. The gap between the voice and the voiceless and lust for power has been portrayed in the play. The play is set in an imaginary country Eos. The king has recently died under mysterious circumstances. His second wife Thandwai apparently shows herself in sorrow but behind the curtain, she has taken the reins of administration. She treacherously managed the death of the king and exile Prince Ashti, the real inheritor for many years.  Her son Deyeth is not interested in politics. He “is about eighteen and has the pale, languid look of an invalid but with the bright eyes of extraordinary intelligence”(299).  Her daughter Sabah, a woman about thirty, is ambitious and power hungry like her mother. “She has the arrogance of a person who combines low self esteem with overriding feelings of entitlement”(299)

As the play opens, we see the lives of common people who are struggling for drinking water. The water has not been supplied for the past three days. When the water comes, they rush to the tap to fill their pots.  “This water gorment is giving. That is why it is coming in small miser drops. When heaven gives, it is coming big, with so much force, like king’s pee”(WCS 286). After getting water, they are very happy, though they satirizes the improper functioning of government. They want Samara to sing a song of celebration. Samara is a tongueless girl. She “sings a song without words, high wailing notes that speak of dry desert winds, of famine and thirst, of despair in the human heart. And then the notes soften and the song is now a lullaby, tender, hushed, welling with a mother’s love and hope.”(WCS 288).

The plebeians are often gossip mongers. Without initiating any useful action, they comment on political situations. They are unaware of the reality.  In the play when Thandwai took over the power, she imposed emergency in the state. In order to earn the sympathy of the public, she does not appear in the public and expresses herself in mourning state because of the death of the king. She says: “Beloved people of Eos. My heart now lies broken and I dare not appear before you till I have overcome my deep sorrow. . . . time is a great healer, they say, so let time be my partner in grief till I once more be amongst you” (291). Thandwai avoids her physical presence to betray her evil intention. She “has whole country in her fist”(291). Thandwai is the representative of today’s politicians who go to any extent to gain political power. She has a negative shade. Under her reign, common people face inhuman treatment.  Authorities treat them like dogs. Thandwai is so powerful that the historian, bureaucrats and all administrators dance at her tune.   The public is waiting for he return of Ashti, the real heir of the throne. They think him as redeemer. Two bureaucrats Hamun Krabi and Uri play an important role. Hamun is the close friend of Prince Ashti and eagerly expects his arrival whereas Uri is the supporter of Thandwai. He pretends to support Ashti but has a grudge against him from his college days. Both execute Thandwai’s orders but believe that “he is the only chap who can get us out of this mess”(293).

Some six months ago, Thandawai  entrusted them with a major task of finding a groom for her arrogant daughter. They sometimes play the same tricks on Thandwai that they learn from her. They select a common ruffian, Gandava as prospective groom for Sabah. They make all arrangements to make Thandwai and Sabah believe that Gandava is a perfect groom. They have “located a suitable person” who is “completely trustworthy”(320). They create a story of royal birth for Gandava and use inauspicious signs in Sabah’s horoscope. Uri tells Hamun, “He does n’t need a birth chart. He has a royal birth mark. And in any case, his recorded life history started today, with us . . . “(311). From an uncouth ruffian, they change Gandava into a ‘fine specimen’ (312). They give him bath and dress him with fine silk costume and change his name his highness Prince Rauk. They correct his diction and ask him not to speak his native Kurubiri language. Hamun presents him before Thandwai as “a fine specimen of maleness”(320).

Thandwai blindly announces the engagement.  By presenting an ordinary man as a royal man, they rewrite history as they wish. They use Gandava as a weapon against Thandwai.  Thandwai’s over smartness betrays her.  What she sows, she reaps the same crop. The good triumphs over evil.

Thandwai is female version of Machiavelli who manipulates the situations for her own benefit. She has shrewd political insight. She pretends as if she is very happy at Ashti’s return and shows herself very affectionate to him. She orders her ministers:  “He is to be welcomed with full ceremony. I myself am still in mourning but Princess Sabah and Prince Deyeth and the core of council of Ministers shall receive him at the airport. And escort him to the palace . . .You will ensure that the streets are lined with people.” (303)

When Prince Ashti was in exile, he has not allowed to attend his father’s funeral but now, Thandwai instructs, “he shall visit his father’s memorial”(303). She orders her executives to “notify the press and television immediately. I want full coverage. International coverage”(303) for the homecoming ceremony. Thandwai is an easy metaphor for modern say politician who always love to be in limelight and propagates much even when they do little. Thandwai tries to win the favour of her daughter Sabah. Sabah questions her mother about Ashti’s return as she does not like Ashti but Thandwai pacifies her by assuring her a ministerial berth. Sabah is aware of her mother’s secrets. She blackmails her, “I know what you did to Daddy. I saw you. Well Mummy, what are you going to do to me now you can’t cut my tongue out, can you like you did to that little servant girl”(305). The little servant is Samara who used to work in the palace. When she came to know about queen’s malpractices, she is punished by cutting her tongue so that she may not disclose any royal secret.

Thandwai pretends that she is accepting Prince Ashti in a friendly manner and announces elections. She also manipulates her daughter Sabah when she says, “Ours is a democratically elected government. Your father held elections regularly every seen year.”(304) Sabah is over smart. She can’t be fooled by her mother. She makes a fun of elections. She knows how her mother controlled her father ruled the country.  Thandwai is so shrewd that she even befools international press to portray her as, “a grieving widow and a staunch upholder of democratic principles”(323).        

As modern day politicians, she organizes election rally to brainwash people. She believes in sympathy vote and publicity stunt. It is a curious fact but true that all political plots carry with them some amount of publicity consciousness”(333). She knows how to collect people from neighbouring villages in rallies by paying money. Paid campaigns, paid news, paid votes are becoming the part of modern day election. Thandwai uses all technique to quench her thirst of power.       There is one such rally that a commotion is created and Prince Ashti is shot dead. This is a great shock for the kingdom but some common men feel that they have lost their chance of earning money. Sabah sheds crocodile tears, though herself power hungry.  She laments: “My brother! They have shot my brother! Oh my good people of Eos, say it is not true . . . she kneels and whirls her head about in an agony of grief”(334). On the death of Prince Ashti, Thandwai again makes a voice over to display her grief: “Dear people of Eos! Misfortune upon misfortune has come over us”(336). She further declares o about the murder of Hamun Krabi, great friend and advisor of Prince. Though herself culprit behind this heinous plot, she  exhibits her ignorance and declares that the culprits will be punished.  The masses smell the plot and turn against Thandwai. The crowd enters the palace and there is a lot of bloodshed. Sabah poisons Thandwai and the action has come a full cycle. In an interview with Anita Singh, Sengupta replies, “the play is about flawed and corrupt political leadership of a dictatorial “democracy” against which people rise in rebellion”(88)

In politics, there is no relations and no friend but every where there are enemies to grab power. Friendship is feigning, full of betrayals and treacheries.  Uri, under the garb of friendship supports Thandwai to kill Ashti. The remark of the blind man is appropriate: Democracy is not a whore . . . she’s a lady . . . are you satisfied? She’s a genteel, bloodless lady who sleeps with the king and flirts with the factory worker and the tradesman and the . . . “(340)      The play is a satire on the prejudiced way of writing history and on historians. The dramatist has symbolically presented three impaired men who chronicle history of Eos. Authorities favour a prejudiced and biased recording of history as a damage control exercise. The socio-political happenings of the country are chronicled by a blind man led by a deaf man and a lame man. The blind man says, “the historian can record only actions, not intentions. Not even the spoken word has sanctity or absolute meaning. . . . (328). these three think themselves very well qualified for a historian’s job. They think it inappropriate to record the action of common people. Only the action of the royal; families or the ruling party is recorded in the pages of history. The authority of writing history to the three disabled people shows that history is partial and that no historian can write anything accurately but records what he sees and hears. In the game of politics, “it is not easy for the historian to name the central characters in a play of political intrigue. What is apparent may not be true, what is hidden may not be secret. . . “(337)    The blind man praises the advent of technology as the events are broadcast very fast.

The three disabled men act like the characters in an absurd play. The blind man keeps on commenting. The deaf man dances, sings and goes around the people while the dumb man always gadgets the deaf man when he dances and shouts. They poke the other with their writing implements. The blind man puts some feelings in the readers’ mind about this power gambling and killings in the name of elections. To quote: “It is difficult to say such bloodletting achieves . . . does it stop power gambling? Does it help raise the masses? When the masses are raised as they the masses at all? Do they have the same disabilities as earlier? The taste of power is salty like tears. The smell of power is ferrous, like . . . blood. (345)

Contemporary political situation is exactly mirrored in these lines and these questions are quite relevant.  In the end, the three impaired men voice Gandhian philosophy of “don’t see evil, don’t hear evil and don’t speak evil” and tie scarf around eyes, ears and mouth. Besides their physical deformities they suffer from mental turmoil also.

Samara’s melancholy song reverberates throughout the play. It is significant. The name ‘Samara’ means war-torn city. It itself predicts an ironic truth about the future of the Eos. She has been made helpless by Thandwai  as she knows her secret. Eos will also become helpless after Prince Ashti. In the city of Eos, low people speak in Kurubiri. When Gandava is presented as prospective prince, he is asked not to speak in Kuribiri. It is violation of personal freedom.  Gandava loves Samara and want to marry and live a peaceful life with her, but he is so deep drowned in mire of politics that it is difficult to come out.

In modern politics especially in India, family feeling often prevails. Politicians want to promote only their kids and other family members. There is a little scope for a person who does not have political background.  Inspite of being a democratic country, India does not enjoy real democracy.  Only powerful contest and win election. It is a business which does not have humanitarianism and sympathy.  As politicians have power, they are often involved in illegal businesses and gain more power and money. “It was a dangerous game of power being played, the consequences of which will.., as always, tell on the country’s stability.”(322) in politics, there is no relation, even between husband and wife, brother and sister, mother and daughter and so on. The play deftly unveils the power craving nature of human beings. The author has thrown ample light on intrigues played in politics to capture authority and high position. The director of the play Ashish Sen says, “It is a fascinating political script that works on many levels and cuts across the sweep of human history. We see how history’s current and past landscape is consistently bloodied with rebellion, revolution and the promise of change.”

Thus Samara’s Song takes Sengupta to the inner machinations of the political leadership and bureaucracy in an unknown country that could be just anywhere in the world.
The play has a well-constructed narrative and talks about the tragedy of those without a platform to voice their grief or dissent. The play is an important observation to make in these troubled times.




Sengupta, Poile ( 2010 ) ,Womans Center Stage: The Dramatist and the Play, Routledge, New Delhi.

Singh, Anita ( 2009),  “Feminist Interventions: A Reading of Light’s Out, Geting Away with Murder and Mangalam”, Muse India,Issue 26.