Mahasweta Devi’s Aajir: A Voice of the Voiceless


Durgesh Bhausaheb Ravande


“A responsible writer, standing at a turning point in history has to take a stand in defence of the exploited. Otherwise history would never forgive him.” (qtd. “Introduction” Five Plays, viii)


As a writer with an insight for socially and politically exploited Indians, Mahasweta Devi takes drama as the most effective medium to tackle the issues of marginalized people. Her drama, hence, turns away from so called dictum of art for art’s sake and depicts a realistic picture of post-independence rural Indian society. In an interview with Samik Bandyopadhyay, Mahasweta Devi says: “.....I felt increasingly that a writer should document his own time and history. The socio-economic history of human development has always fascinated me”. (qtd: vii) Kavi Kankan Mukundram, a noted 10th century poet of Bengal, gave her an insight into the life of the common men.


The plays of Mahasweta Devi are the finest theatric versions of her own novels and short-stories. Samik Bandyopadhyay, a renowned critic, brought her five plays – Mother of 1084, Aajir, Urvashi and Johny, Bayen and Water in the form of an anthology entitled, Five Plays. The present paper aims to focus on Mahasweta Devi’s concern for a slave’s suppressed voice in her play, Aajir.


In Bengali, Aajir stands for one who has sold himself into slavery for a paltry sum. Talking about the subject of this play, the playwright remarks: “I got the idea of Aajir from a slave bond executed by a slave who sold himself into slavery.” (qtd, Introduction,” xii) During 1976-77, this idea was adopted into a play. The writer’s aspiration to expose an area of exploitation and oppression becomes the issue of this play.


The play is a story of a slave, Paatan, whose ancestors signed a bond of slavery. It denies him the right to love and marry. The protagonist of the play - Paatan discovers it too late that the bond has long turned to dust. “This impeded realization works as a metaphor for the traditional constraints that bind the individual in India long after their legal authority has given away.” (“Introduction”, xiii) Exploitation in our country operates beyond the legislative laws. There is no success to our democracy in eradicating the social oppression, even after independence. Social equality, particularly in rural India did not exist, yet.


The use of dramatic device in the play appears in the form of ‘present enacting a happening in the past’. The play begins with Paatan introducing himself: “I am an Aajir, (Pause. Then he shouts) Sirs, my dear Sirs, I’m an Aajir” (35). The use of dramatic device commences when Paatan takes us to the past to tell us how his ancestors signed the bond of slavery. Paatan’s ancestors Golak and Gairabi sold themselves to Raavan for just three rupees. Maatang – precursor of Raavan forces the same bond on Paatan. Thus, Paatan has lost his freedom. Even he seems to have lost his human qualities. “It is the condition of a bird caught and caged for the pleasure of its master.” (E. Satyanarayana, The Plays of Mahasweta Devi: 51)


The uncivilized attitude of Maatang Shunri towards Paatan, opens the second scene of the play. His vituperation: “What a body the bastard has! Strong as a horse! I beat him up ... I have to go out right now”,  points out his masterly attitude. The wife of Maatang is sympathetic towards Paatan. Her interest in Paatan is due to Maatang’s failure in quenching her sexual thirst and making a mother of her. Maatang shows his interest in a prestitude – Punnashashi. This compels her to turn to Paatan:


The Mistress: Then why don’t you come closer to me?

Paatan: You’ll be a mother no longer, if I come too close to you.

The Mistress: What do you feel then?

Paatan: My body’s aflame.

The Mistress: What about mine? It’s aflame all the time.


The wife of Maatang encourages Paatan to marry a Gipsy woman. But the woman with whom Paatan whishes to marry, refuses him on the ground of his identity as a slave. The mob catches to punish Paatan for proposing the woman. Their denial to consider him as a free human being, comes in a poetic way:


“An aajir, you! An aajir, you!

No escape for you! No escape for you!

No life for you! No world for you!

An aajir, you! NO escape for you!”


The use of song rather works to present the receiving reactions from audience for the suffering of characters, in the play. At this juncture, Maatang’s wife (Mistress) joins the party of conspirators. But, in reality, it is her jealousy, as Paatan shows interest in a gipsy woman.


Punnashashi, the prostitute, a victim of lusty agents of feudal institution, expresses her sentiments with the help of poetry.


The fourth scene (last scene) in the play opens with a dialogue between Maatang’s wife and Paatan. Paatan, badly beaten by the mob refuses to talk with Mistress. She tries to convince him that she is for him. She proposes to elope with her. But Paatan cries out in anger:


“Come! Come! Come! But where can I go? Where’s there a place without a master, without the villagers, without you, with the Aajir’s bond? ... I’ll finish if off with my death.”


Sympathy of Mistress and her promise to set him free from the bond of slavery compels Paatan to elope with her. Initially she promises him to give the bond. Later on reveals. “It is just gamchha (takes it out, shakes it) with bond long turned to dust.” Paatan holds her by throat and kills her for betrayal. Maatang echoes the same. Realization of freedom brings extreme joy for Paatan.


He shouts: “Like everyone else in the World, I was a free man ... I didn’t know.”


Thus, the play portrays the tragedy of the lower castes who have been denied human dignity in the name of bond of slavery. Actually, this bond turn to dust years ago. The play highlights Mahasweta Devi’s genuine concern for low caste people in the country.