“Halfway House” by Mohan Rakesh
Is “Halfway House” primarily about a search for meaning and identity? Give a reasoned answer. “The crisis of identity and breakdown of communication in human relations and resultant tragic effect of boredom and despair constitute the theme of Rakesh’s play, Aadhe Adhure, which is by far is best play, devastatingly exposing the fragmented personalities and broken images in a disintegrated society.” — N.Choudhuri, (Hindi Drama, Contemporary Indian Literature) Mohan Rakesh’s “Halfway House” can be viewed as an exploration of meaning and identity in the turmoil of changing social and familial structures. Although the play seeks to construct the search for identity within the unfulfilling, incomplete nature of bourgeois existence as a universal non-gendered experience along Existential lines as its primary concern, it eventually deals with many questions on a broader socio-economic context on Realist lines. In the Prologue itself, the theme of exploration of identity is introduced, when ‘the Man in a Black Suit’ exclaims, “Who am I?” Immediately the declaration takes an Existential tangent as the fruitlessness of such a search for meaning is asserted with the speaker claiming, “This is a question I have given up trying to face.” He establishes the absurdity of identity by calling himself “amorphous” and “undefined”, as someone who like all of us puts on a new mask and gives a new meaning to himself for different occasions – “The fact is that there is something of me in each one of you and that is why, whether on or off stage, I have no separate identity.”He then asserts that no matter what the circumstance, what the situation and the gender, man’s search for identity and meaning in life would always remain an absurd, indescribable, undefined and irrational oddity. Even the characters of the play are seen to engage in a constant search of meaning and identity in life. In his essay, “Uncertain circumstances, Undefined Individuals: A study of Halfway House”, S.G. Bhanegaonkar points out that modern psychology does not regard escapism as a symbol of weakness but as a sensitive individual’s desire to search for meaning which he does not find in the conditions he is placed in; and hence, the characters of ‘Halfway House’ can too be seen as being in a relentless quest for identity that transcends the turmoil of their fragmented existence. It is in sync with R.L. Nigam’s theory, of the main characters of play being involved in a ‘self-made’ phenomenon of ‘the soul’s search for an alternate sanctuary’ in the absence of the sanctuary of home which‘stood for a source of solace and moral stay to the individual in moments of crises.’ The search for identity and meaning in Halfway House is best articulated through the character of Savitri who seeks fulfilment and reason in marital bliss – “Why does one get married? In order to fulfil a need….an inner….void, if you like; to be self sufficient….complete.” Since her own husbands fails to fulfil this inner emptiness, Savitri seeks marital happiness beyond conjugal relations in men who possess the qualities she had always aspired for in Mahendranath. Dilip Kumar Basu observes,“The desire to look for “completeness” in the “other” may look like Everyman’s essential and unreasolvable problem, and may vaguely place her in the centre of an Absurdist drama where the search may be considered tragic/ridiculous.” Although the concept of Savitri seeking meaning in life being defined in terms of her relations with men seems problematic in itself, the play tries to trick us into the generalisation that this is nothing but an existentialist quest for meaning in life. She is reported to be overwhelmed by Juneja’s power, affluence and sense of reason. Shivjeet’s intellectual prowess, his university degree and numerous trips abroad enamoured her. Jagmohan’s understanding nature, sense of humour, modernism, elite lifestyle and masculine pride held immense appeal for her. She was...
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