Flashback : Ek Tha Gadha

Some Things Never Change

Deepa Gahlot

This week, in the Flashback series, a look at Sharad Joshi'' timeless satire EK THA GADHA.

An inept ruler always provides material for satire, but if he (or she) is also evil, then the humour can be tinged with menace. The children''s fable by Hans Christian Anderson, The Emperor New Clothes, is an enduring example of an incompetent king being ridiculed for his stupidity, not by his obsequious courtiers and subjects, but by a child who dares to speak the truth.

Sharad Joshi''s satire, EK THA GADHA, URF ALLADAD KHAN, is about a foolish nawab, whose desire to glorify himself, leads to matters spiraling out of control.

In 1979, Om Katare''s group Yatri had commenced its theatre journey with EK THA GADHA; the play has been staged by innumerable groups, and remains hard-hitting as long as there are bungling, vain or selfish leaders at the helm.

In EK THA GADHA, a nawab wants to be more popular with the people. When a washerman, Juggan Dhobi, loudly laments the death of his donkey, Alladad Khan, without whom he cannot carry out his trade, the nawab is made to believe, but his kotwal, that Alladad was a very important person. The nawab declares a state funeral for him, where he wants to make a speech and impress the people with his understanding of their problems.

The poor dhobi is caught up in this absurd farce. The gaffe is discovered, and to save the nawab from embarrassment, a human body has to be placed in the coffin for the funeral. So, the kotwal''s men catch hold of a man called Alladad Khan and kill him, so that the plan can go ahead and the nawab can prove how much he cares for his people.

The gullibility of the common citizen and the brute power of the state is brought out with song-dance and rambunctious humour. The play remains popular and topical, and continues to be picked up by theatre groups, all over the country.

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

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