September 28, 2019

Red Oleanders

Red Oleanders


Compiled by Sabrina Piccolo

The story takes place in Yaksha Town, an Indian mining town controlled by a ruthless Governor who forces the men into slavery by making them work day and night in the mines to dig for gold. Yaksha Town is within a kingdom where the King has very limited knowledge of what is going on outside his castle. The King does not seem to know of the hardship experienced by his people. He is only aware that gold is being extracted from the mines and that his fortune is immense. The King is lonely and powerless. He is a puppet king. But with Nandini's arrival, he is starting to awake from his passive state and gets inspired by her idealism and her words of freedom. He is also slowly developing feelings for Nandini.

The Governor controls every aspect of the miners’ lives. He pretends to care for them but he is actually selfish and ruthless. The Governor will use all means possible to keep the miners and their wives trapped in Yaksha Town to work in the mines, including blocking all roads leading out of the town. The Governor will also call on a preacher, the Gosain, to “pacify” the rebelling miners across the kingdom. The Gosain does not have the miners’ interest at heart, he only wishes to maintain his spiritual influence over his disciples and his position within the kingdom.

Some are fooled by the Governor’s and the Gosain’s fake intentions, like Chandra, the naïve wife of Phagulal, a gold miner. Chandra is satisfied with her life even though it’s a tough and unfair life brought on by the Governor’s thirst for power and wealth. She is scared of what would happen if the miners start rebelling, she does not want things to change as she is worried more misfortune will come along, “better the devil you know”. So when Nandini, a free-spirited being thriving for freedom and justice makes her appearance in Yaksha Town, Chandra becomes jealous, bitter and resentful towards Nandini. She is especially hurt by the fact that her longtime friend, the poet Bishu, and her own husband Phagulal, side with Nandini and against the Governor.

Nandini, the free-spirited being, is before all a symbol of freedom, justice and the purity of Mother Nature. She is the face of the revolution. She is the abstract representation of the miners’ awakening and ultimately of the fight for freedom. Throughout the play, she will be looking for Ranjan, anticipating their reunion after much time spent apart. But Ranjan the rebel has escaped from the grip of the Governor and his men, and he is now on the run.

Bishu the poet was once a Governor ally, but when he realizes that the Governor is a foe rather than a friend, he starts rebelling and is motivated to do so even more by his friend’s arrival, the free-spirited Nandini, whom he loves dearly. Nandini’s soul mate however is Bishu’s good friend Ranjan. Ranjan is a character you will actually not see, but he is often spoken of. Ranjan is truly the one who sparked the revolution, like Nandini he is a free spirit who condemned and fought against the slavery of the miners. Bishu and Phagulal will carry on Ranjan’s fight for freedom until the very end.

The Professor is a scholar who is in charge of providing “guidance” to the King. He does not seem to take side with the miners; rather he seems more preoccupied in maintaining his own status and in trying to charm Nandini with his academic knowledge. The Professor is also developing feelings for Nandini who somehow managed to shake the inner peace of the righteous scholar. The Professor will later call upon the Antiquarian, a so-called wise man, to ”talk some sense” into an awakening and frustrated King.

Kishor is a young, brave and kind miner (child labourer) who is smitten with Nandini and who only wishes for Nandini’s happiness. He will put his life at risk on many occasions for Nandini’s sake. Nandini returns his affection with words of comfort and kindness, Kishor is like a young brother to her. Kishor in many ways represents hope and the future of the next generation to come.