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The loneliness of being: In Pune, a new play touches upon essential questions of existence

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After 40 years as a playwright, Makrand Sathe found himself creating a script in English for the first time during the first wave of the pandemic. ‘Exit’ was born amid the global upheaval caused by the coronavirus even as the conflict in Syria dragged on another year. In his quintessential absurdist style, Sathe presented the central themes of the play — death, loneliness and the meaningless of life.

He, subsequently, translated ‘Exit’ into Marathi, titled ‘Prasthaan’, and it has been directed by Alok Rajwade for staging at The Box, Pune, on August 6 (7 pm), August 7 (11 am and 7 pm) and August 8 (7 pm). The cast comprises Suhita Thatte, Tushar Tengle and Gajanan Paranjape.

The play revolves around an old married couple in their eighties who have been together for 50 years, during which they have done everything together, from raising children to shopping. The children now live in the US and the old man and woman are lonely, tired and suffering from many ailments. They are, both, fearful of death and willing for death,” says Sathe. When the god of death, Yama, finally arrives at their door, it turns out that his app is malfunctioning, and he cannot decide which one of the old couple is dead.

“On another, deeper level, the play is about the absurdity of life and death, about being aware of having spent a mediocre life that is devoid of any intensity. It is about following different ideologies but in such an insipid way that one has nothing more to show for it apart from minor superficial grudges,” says the playwright. “It is a story about the happiness industry of these capitalist times, which try to make the higher middle classes selfish and free of guilt. It is about the realisation that there is no meaning to life but the one that we attribute to it to sustain as human beings,” he adds.

Rajwade read the script even as he was coming out of the introspection forced by the first lockdown. In the plight of the characters, he found a metaphor for experiences that the world had gone through. “The play deals with ideas that nobody can run away from, such as loneliness and death. I feel that we all started living too soon after the pandemic ended as if nothing had happened. Though I am not of the age of the play’s protagonists, I feel that we have also confronted a sense of their helplessness,” he says.

The title recalls Jean-Paul Sartre’s play, ‘No Exit’, with its resounding line, “Hell is other people”. ‘Exit’ seems to ask if a lonely world devoid of other people is the definition of heaven. Then, there is a probe into whether a modern and affluent life that is free of challenges is better than that lived during WW-II when six crore people died.

“When I wrote the script, the Ukraine war had not started but the Syrian war was a matter of great concern. We have forgotten Syria and Afghanistan now as a new conflict looms between China and the US. During war, instead of feeling the absurdity of killing people, one keeps killing people and a kind of hedonism sets it,” says Sathe. As such issues start evolving in the play, it rises to an existential level and turns into a political tragicomedy.

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