Regional literature in India is much more powerful and open minded than what it is thought to be. People seem to have this impression that only English literature has the power to tiltillate, thrill and hold the reader in rapt attention. This is because of the elitist treatment given to English in Indian schools. True, English is essential for survival and should be patronised to maintain our worldwide edge. At the same time, English cannot cover all the social aspects as thoroughly as regional literature can.
I was reading the play Wasansi Jeernani (Tattered Clothes), a play by Mahesh Elkunchwar translated into Kannada by Girish Karnad. It essentially deals with a simple theme of a family, where the father is on his deathbed and the other family members gather around him. The scene shifts from grief to internal bickering and finally to confession mode.
The gist that I gathered from the play was this:
The Dad --> learned scholar, loves his children. Yet, suspects that his eldest son is not born out of his loins, but by the union of his wife with someone else. On his side, he silently desires his sis-in-law (desire in the sense of bodily and through the soul. Also, I am not sure if this female is actually his sis-in-law. I can say with assurance that she is a relative whom he has given shelter after she was widowed). Infact, this desire is manifested by the statement "I was happy when her husband died the day after her marriage". Of course, living in the 'virtuous and moralistic' society of India, they don't go all the way, and silently desire each other.
The Mom --> She is trapped in a marriage where her husband does not ill treat her, but at the same time there is no sexual or soulful joy. She tries to quench this thirst by indulging in a fling with someone else and her daughter is born out of this union. Of course, she still remains unhappy.
The sis-in-law --> She is widowed the day after her marriage. She desires the man who sheltered her, but in the absence of any moves, she becomes close to the children, treats them as her own and thus mentally satisfies herself as having borne those kids.
The eldest son--> A decent chap, not as successful as his dad, but frequent comparisons have disheartened him. Also, his dad doesn't get close to him being under the impression that he is the fruit of someone else's seed. This chap is recently married but has left his wife behind at her parents' place so that she can complete her doctoral thesis. He lives under the constant shadow of self-pity and occasionally doubts the chastity of his wife.
The daughter --> The "najaayaz" aulat (illegitimate child). The irony is that her dad regards her as his own and bestows all love and favour on her. She ends up being a good-for-nothing and marries a mechanic who drinks often and beats her. She is the prototype of the 'ungrateful child'
The youngest son --> A complete wastrel who is neck deep in debt and is worried about repaying it.
All these confessions unfold in the minds of the protagonists as each one sits next to the death-bed. The suspsense is maintained till the end, and I promise, you will have no inkling of whats going to happen next.
The spoiler? This is only for those literate in Marathi or Kannada.....