Thought Box

All It Takes Is Courage

All It Takes Is Courage

by Deepa Gahlot December 23 2016, 5:31 pm Estimated Reading Time: 2 mins, 25 secs

Sushmita Mukherjee’s new one-woman show, Naribai, has her play a face-off between two been interesting women of different social strata. Sunaina is an upper class homemaker, who has reached the age of redundancy. Her husband has his career to keep him busy and possibly an extra-marital affair or two; her children are grown up with lives of their own, and no time to even talk to her with civility. The home is managed well by the domestic help. Nobody really needs Sunaina. 


Sushmita Mukherjee, in a third part, playing herself, recalls her childhood friend Sunaina, the rich, privileged one, who came to school in a car.  The middle-class Sushmita remembers the charmed life Sunaina led, with lavish birthday parties and a fridge full of a coveted fizzy drink.  She is surprised when she is chosen to play the lead in the school play instead of beautiful Sunaina. The friendship does not last and the two reconnect many years later, when Sunaina has had her existence turned inside out by a firecracker of a woman called Naribai.


Sunaina, who is a blogger and hobby writer, is given an assignment to do a book on an award-winning folk performer called Naribai.  The woman belongs to the Bedhni tribe of Bundelkhand, in which the women are sold into prostitution, while also performing the risqué but energetic ‘Rai’ form of song and dance with travelling Nautankis.  Nari, named Rani, by her optimistic mother, has her name misspelt by a careless clerk and is stuck with it.


Like the other women of her tribe she is auctioned to the highest bidder and pushed into the family’s traditional profession, but it is her talent that saves her. She gives birth to two children by men who became her patrons and she raises them single-handedly.  Her poverty or lack of an education does not strip Naribai of her strength. She may be dependent on men for some financial stability or a dubious kind of respectability, but she makes her own choices. When her son tries to cheat her of her property, she drags him to court.


Society may look down on Naribai, but she conducts herself like a queen, insisting, that her tea be made just so, and that people around her respect her. She prevents her daughter from being forced into sex work and in Mumbai, she becomes a dance teacher to bar girls and film chorus dancers who want to learn her art.  It may seem as if fate gave Naribai a dud deal, but she still turned it into a winning hand. While Sunaina fritters away the advantages given to her, she comes to realise that it is Naribai who is truly free and happy. Money, obviously, can’t buy happiness, but talent and courage sometimes can!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.