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ISSN: 0974-892X


July, 2011



Dr. Harneet Kaur Sandhu

Manju Jaidka: The Seduction and Betrayal of Cat Whiskers. Chandigarh: Graphit India 2007. Pp. 68. Rs 125

A well known figure in academic circles, Manju Jaidka is Professor of English at Panjab University, having spent more than three decades of her life pursuing academics and research. Her writing till now had been restricted to critical studies, anthologies, articles etc. The Seduction and Betrayal of Cat Whiskers is her first foray into the traditional genre of drama. Assuredly, the genres of this century have been the essay, historical fiction and prose. The ‘purer’ genres had taken a back seat. The present play, well written, compact and sympathetic to demands of performance, takes care of a lot of challenges facing contemporary drama.

The cover describes the play as ‘a comic satire that takes a winding course through the corridors of an institution of higher learning using the comic lens to look at some flaws in the academia.’ True to its stated aims, the play sets out to convincingly depict life in a University Department and its vicinity. Symmetrically divided into a prologue, two acts and an epilogue, the play also uses metadramatic discourse in the form of a play-within-the-play which adds to the dramatic structure of the main plot considerably. Academic issues like appointments, promotions, examination results, Ph.D. enrollments, and presentations etc intermingle with other issues like political lobbying, student politics, strikes, an amateur theatre production and ego clashes. As the dramatist herself states, ‘These are some of the questions raised in this play. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the problems highlighted here are found on almost all campuses, in India and abroad.’ Having widely traveled as a visiting Professor all over the world, the playwright certainly can say this with some conviction.

The play begins with a verbal banter between three boys who are at various stages of research. Their conversation revolves around their upcoming presentations, foreshadowing other significant issues which come up later in the play, like the sweetheart of one of the boys who is also using her charms to ‘butter’ up the Chair of the Faculty of Languages to see her Ph.D. registration through as well as secure a job in the Department. With comic playfulness, the boys also discuss the sights at the University swimming pool and ogle at ‘she-professors’ and their daughters. Thus, the text operates at three levels; the on-goings at the Faculty of Languages, including Cat Whiskers et. al., the private lives of the boys and the girl connection and the amateur theatre group’s rehearsal at the boys’ room in the hostel. Though Cat Whiskers aka Mr. Joglekar does not come onstage in the Prologue, yet his presence is underscored in the conversation between one of the boys, Ankur and his sweetheart, Cherry, who is also playing coy with Cat Whiskers.

Act one opens with a Radio announcement apprising the audience of the issues generating interest in the University. An apt summing up of the tenure of a Vice Chancellor’s term, the writer also points out that lowering of academic standards and yardsticks to cater to students’ interests can in no way endear one to the academic fraternity in general. The writer, thus, has not avoided any ticklish issues; on the contrary, the thornier ones have also been tackled head-on. This craftsmanship comes to the fore in the play-within-the-play.

Incidentally, the play being rehearsed at the boys Hostel is none other than the Mahabharata, and the scene in question is the one which thrusts man’s folly into prominence, the gamble and loss of Draupadi. It is this meta dramatic device that needs to be reviewed in detail as it pre-figures the important concerns highlighted by the dramatist herself. At the centre of this play-within is Draupadi, whose fate hangs in the balance. In a further retreat from reality at another plane, she is given a speech of almost one and a half page, wherein she asserts her rights as an individual and yearns to throw off her ‘five-fold phallocratic yoke’ (52). Just as Draupadi’s fate hangs in the balance between Duryodhana and the Pandavas, similarly, her extension in the play, Cherry, is sandwitched between her sweetheart and Cat, whom she needs for her own professional advancement. The text deftly moves its way through the play-within-the-play to radio announcements to the Department itself.

The issues discussed in the play cover a broad academic context and have a universal presence, as mentioned earlier. The Seduction and Betrayal of Cat Whiskers, thus, traverses a wide ambit of issues and also envisages that ‘a little effort and commitment’ can cure the higher education system of ‘their not-so-pleasant side.’