Much Ado About Nothing in Shakespearean Assam
On the Bard’s 400th death anniversary being observed and celebrated across the world over the weekend, it is perhaps appropriate to pay a little tribute to him. As an aside, I also owe my first earnings to William Shakespeare; I would paint and sell his portraits to my professors. I also owe some sense of the classics through his plays and having studied and taught English literature, there is more than just gratitude for the unforgettable couplets, quips and phrases.
He must surely be one of the most quoted writers of all time and maybe the greatest screenplay writer for the most movies in the world. Nobody gets through school without studying his work and in our everyday lives we witness and live his plots, his satire, his tragi-comedies, love, betrayals, the heroes and the villains and act the chorus.
It has been a week since the Assam elections have been conducted and with an insanely long wait for the results on May 19th, I can imagine how Shakespeare may have conjured a plot; betrayal, maybe a murder, clique and definitely some comic relief. He would have found it difficult to include any romance in this script.
Tarun Gogoi the Chief Minister of Assam attempting a record fourth term would have been the Bard’s favourite character; wily, comic and dictatorial. Over the years, Gogoi made the most ludicrous comments and have gotten away with his inimitable laughter and catchphrases that have even made it to election posters this year. He has skillfully averted all efforts to dethrone him at the cost of even sacrificing his most trusted lieutenant Himanta Biswa Sarma who is claiming that BJP coalition will form the next government.
Himanta is the classical traitor who has no scruples in shifting loyalties. He flirted with the AASU and ULFA before being picked up by the late Congress Chief Minister Hiteshwar Saikia and now having played a stellar role in all forms of political machinations; he is the BJP’s best man in this battleground.
Tarun Gogoi the Chief Minister of Assam attempting a record fourth term would have been the Bard’s favourite character; wily, comic and dictatorial. Over the years, Gogoi made the most ludicrous comments and have gotten away with his inimitable laughter and catchphrases that have even made it to election posters this year.
Gogoi the arrogant emperor on whom ‘greatness was thrust upon’ (Twelfth Night) is facing his toughest challenge and confronted by the ghost of his 2001 comment on Muslim votes and Badruddin Ajmal when he went on record saying, “I give him a damn and I can win without Muslim votes.”
Badruddin Ajmal the perfume baron who promises to take the fight right to the wire wants to exact a pound of flesh for that infamous Gogoi comment and has gone to his voters asking Gogoi, “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” (The Merchant of Venice). Gogoi, however, would brush it aside saying , “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” (Henry IV, Part 2).
Sarbananda Sonowal, BJP’s chief ministerial candidate and credited to have got the controversial IMDT Act (a foreigners' act applicable only for Assam) repealed is hoping to get home on a ‘parivartan’ surge that seems to be the catchword across the state. He imagines that the voters mean BJP by ‘parivartan’. But the Bard may have had other plans in for him. If he makes it then he would join the growing tribe of bachelor/single chief ministers around a single Prime Minister! That would allow Shakespeare to have added a romantic sub-plot.
The saddest figure in this play is undoubtedly the once most recognisable face of Indian politics, a student leader and two-time chief minister, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta who spent his entire career uttering just two words, “No Comments”! Maybe he is a tragi-comic relief.
But what does the voter in Assam do? Like Claudio in Measure for Measure they say, “The miserable have no other medicine, but only hope.”
All’s Well that Ends Well! As the curtain goes down on the 2016 elections one can only recall one of the most quoted lines ever:
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. (Macbeth)
Kishalay Bhattacharjee is a senior journalist and author. His most recent book is Blood on my Hands: Confessions of Staged Encounters (Harper Collins 2015)