“Have I gone mad?” Alice wonders in Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. And the answer she gets is: “I’m afraid so; but let me tell you something, the best people usually are.” If she were not mad, she wouldn’t have travelled in Wonderland, in the first place. That’s another argument Alice gets in the classical novel.
The world of literature is a world of madness. A world of dreams, let us make it more acceptable. All good literature is the author’s way of dealing with the demons within him/her. Imagine Shakespeare were alive today’s India. How would he dramatise what is happening in the country? One young man who fought for getting certain benefits for his caste or community was thrown in prison labelled as “antinational”. Another young man who rather unimaginatively questioned the hanging of a person whose crime was not proved conclusively even by the Supreme Court’s own implicit admission is now facing the charge of sedition. It is happening in a country which is boasting of one of the most rapidly growing economies in the world though more than half of its population live in slums and quasi-slums unable to eat proper food, let alone get education or healthcare. Would these poor people become antinational if they start demanding certain basic human rights? How would Shakespeare dramatise the conflict?
Where will the lawyers who let loose physical assault on those whom they condemned as guilty without waiting for the trial and judgement and then went on to cock a snook at the Supreme Court itself be in Shakespeare’s moral vision? On the side of the hero or that of the villain?
Who will be sane in the contemporary Shakespearean drama? Will it be comedy or tragedy? Or simply a dark play as complex as our ancient Mahabharata itself?
I’m reminded of a classical joke from Albert Camus, one of my all-time favourites. A mad man is sitting near a bath tub in a lunatic asylum. He has a fishing rod complete with the hook and the line and he is trying to catch fish from the tub. The psychiatrist, happy to see his patient looking so calm, asks him, “Hey, Fred, got any fish?” Fred, the mad man, looks at the psychiatrist contemptuously and asks, “Are you mad? This is only a bathtub.”
I think Shakespeare would find ample such scenes in contemporary India. Who is a patriot here and who is antinational? Who is a statesman (if there’s any) and who is a criminal? Who is sane and who is mad?
Alice wants to leave the wonderland. “Which is the way?” she enquires.
“Where do you want to go?” The King asks her.
“Back among my people. The normal world, you know.”
The King stared at her. Then he summoned his knights. “Arrest her for sedition.”