Flashback: Sandhya Chhaya - Only The Lonely

Deepa Gahlot

The problems of the aged are even more in focus now, when the pandemic has disrupted normal life. There are many version of Jaywant Dalvi’s popular play Sandhya Chhaya online. The moving play about loneliness of an elderly couple is worth a watch.

Jaywant Dalvi Marathi play Sandhya Chhaya struck such a deep chord with audiences, that it was translated into several languages and has had multiple productions down the years. (The Marathi version with Shreeram Lagoo and Sulabha Deshpande, and NSD’s 1978 Hindi production with Manohar Singh and Surekha Sikri are the prominent ones; in Mumbai Nadira Zaheer Babbar did a successful production, starring herself and Shaikh Sami Usman).

The pace of urban life and the break down of the joint family has inevitably left the elderly behind. Middle class parents spend their lives looking after their children and guiding them to stand on their own feet, in the hope that they will be cared for in their old age, only to find themselves in an empty nest. A lot of young people go abroad in the pursuit of their careers, and even if they do not mean to, they leave their parents coping with devastating loneliness.

The two sons of the old couple in this play do send money, but what the parents need more is care and company. There is some gentle humour in the couple’s interactions with each other and with their mute domestic help, but the dominant mood of the play is pathos.

In their arid life, a call from a wrong number brightens their day, as the little girl on the other end of the line chats with them. A visit from a young man who has come to the wrong address also made them happy for some time, while the son in the US gets married without even informing his parents.

A subject like this is bound to get melodramatic and it does not even attempt to understand the point of view of the children, just painting them as selfish and heartless. But for an Indian audience raised in a culture of putting family above all else, the play still holds appeal so many years after it was written.

(Deepa Gahlot is a journalist, columnist, author and curator. Some of her writings are on deepagahlot.com)

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