Manjula Padmanabhan’s Harvest: a Study
Manjula Padmanabhan (b. 1953) is best known as a journalist, illustrator, cartoonist, and author of children’s books and short stories. She became a celebrity when her fifth play, Harvest (written in 1996; published in 1997), won the first prize in the first Onassis International Cultural Competitions for Theatrical Plays in 1997. The characters
In the play the themes of economic exploitation, reification (=commodification) and acculturation are presented through the mercantile as well as surgical metaphor of body-parts transplantation. The Donors and the Receivers in the play represent the natives of the Third World and the First World respectively. Om, his wife Jaya, and Om’s brother Jeetu are devalued as depositories where parts of the human body are sold at cheap rates. The most shocking irony is that the sellers are enthralled by the prospect of selling themselves and being devoured by the Western/capitalistic cannibals. Om has orgasmic pleasure in imagining parts of his body inside Ginny. “After all, who wouldn’t want to be inside such a divine being?” (50T), asks Ma, who has been always disgusted with her other son’s being a male prostitute. The inequality of the two groups (Donors and Receivers) is shown as rigidly stabilized as there is no possibility of the reversal of their functions. In other words, the Donors always give and the Receivers take; hence, there is no exchange by any chance. The Guards and Agents are the robot-like commandos of the Receivers. Acting as middlemen, they channelize resources from the donors to the Receivers. Their mechanical existence as revealed through their ruthless precision and efficiency is a mark of total dehumanization. Notice that Guard 3 is a male clone of Guard 2.
Om Prakash is an embittered, petty, unemployed youth who keeps the pretension of caring for his whole family. The long description in the opening scene of the torturous experience of the endless queue of young men, who have all been lining up to sell themselves, gives us the picture of a generation who are eager to place themselves at the disposal of the unknown masters because they feel that they have no other option. They are “like goats at the slaughterhouse” (10T). Om’s pretended concern for his family is proved to be spurious when he turns his back to the Guards who, like the devils from the Hell in the final scene of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, arrive to take away the man who has signed the contract to sell himself after a fixed period of “luxurious” life. In Harvest this fun time is in fact the duration for the fattening of the calf as far as the buyers are concerned. The pleasures of luxury consist of mechanical devices and electronic gadgets, and other pleasurable artificialities of urban life, alienating man from nature and the self.
Jeethen Kumar, Om’s younger brother, is a male prostitute. Transgressing the moral norms of the society he lives in, Jeetu is viewed with contempt by the others except Jaya. In fact he is less “colonized” than the others for he is only “bought” and not “owned” (32B), though the only difference is between the two exploitative classes—the native comprador bourgeoisie and the foreign colonizer. So there is not much consolation for Jeetu when he says: “At least when I sell my body, I decide which part of me goes into where and whom!” (34B). In fact, by selling himself to the other members of his society, he is at the same distance from the others as they are from the Receivers. Om’s family cannot risk their skin when they touch Jeetu (49M) just as Virgil cannot come to Jaya without risking his skin (99B). That Jeetu is preferred to Om shows that the Receivers at the top turn their vulturous eyes to the worms at the bottom pit because they are closest to the centre of the earth! The Receivers live in a world of virtual reality and are far removed from nature and the throb of raw life. This perhaps...
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