Title of the play “Mother of 1084”
“Must then a Christ perish in every age to save those who have no imagination?” G.B. Shaw, Saint Joan (19)
Set against the backdrop of the Naxalite movement in its urban phase, Mahasweta Devi’s Mother Of 1084 depicts the moving story of a mother who has to witness and identify the corpse number 1084 that of her son Brati who has been murdered by the hooligans actively supported by the police because of his involvement with the Naxalite movement. In Sujata, the playwright has traced the growing awareness of the mother “shaping into resistance, or stooping at the very edge of defiance.” It is essentially her story.
From the very outset, the play moves round the mother figure Sujata. It begins with a phone call from the Kantapukur police morgue asking Sujata to identify a corpse of number 1084 that of Brati, her son. With death, his identity has been reduced to a mere number-1084. But Brati’s involvement in the Naxalite movement is so deeply embarrassing to the other members of the family that their only reaction is to think of how to hush up the whole thing. Thus the isolation and the indifference that Sujata receives from the ‘male’ world reminds us of the frustrated female protagonist, Nora of Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House.
Against the wish of her corrupt husband, Sujata goes to the police morgue. With the identification of Brati, the mother realises that she has become deflected (deviated from the proper course) with no right even on her dead son’s body, with no companion, even with no ‘room’ of her own. Sujata’s physical identification of Brati stimulates a process of awakening in her that leads up to the ‘discovery of her son and ends with the invention of her true self.
Even after two years of Brati’s death, Sujata’s bafflement at the loss of her only shelter continues. All her near ones have compromised themselves with the ways of the world. She sets out in a quest for her son’s true self, and she finds in his death an echo of her own silent protest against the patriarchal values. The reaction ultimately transforms her from an ignorant stereotype up-bringer, marginalized female entity to a universal mother, dignified woman and a political conscious citizen.
Mrs. Chatterjee arrives at this discovery through a series of encounters and meetings with people beyond her circuit of experience. Through them she tries to bridge up a connection with Brati or with what he strove and died for. Sujata’s acquaintance with Somu’s mother, and Nandini, Brati’s beloved and co-insurgent, brings Sujata face to face with the baffling realities. She comes to know the reality that all is not quiet yet, as she has presumed. Nandini’s slapping words: “…with so many young men killed,so many imprisoned how can you wallow in your complacency?” provide the necessary shock in awakening Sujata’s sleeping conscience. Ironically enough. Sujata’s isolated self can form a link with the socially inferior mother of Somu who is a bereaved mother like herself: “Grief had brought Somu’s mother and me together…”
Unlike the mother figure of Maxim Gorky’s The Mother, Sujata learns to forge a connection with all that her son had strove and struggled for through gradual stages of evolution. Sujata’s exploration of Brati finally completes the quest of her self-realization. From her political indifference emerges a newer socially concerned self.
As Suajta’s identification with Brati becomes total, the gulf between her and her family members becomes wider. Her husband’s accusation that she is responsible for Brati’s death accelerates the process of Sujata’s recognition of her ideological moorings. She has adopted the language of protest. When Sujata meets Saroj Pal later, something snaps inside her and the diseased appendix she has been carrying all along, bursts inside her. The diseased appendix, like the cancerous breast of Jashodha in Stanadayini, becomes a powerful symbol of the diseased society.
Before her collapse, Sujata, however, succeeds in raising her voice against the repressive machineries and the corrupt life of affluence both of which are the sole causes of the death of her son, Brati. Addressing the audience, Sujata condemns them for their indifference and complacence: “Why don’t you speak? Speak, for heaven’s sake, speak, speak, speak! How long will you endure it in silence?”