take 2: vimochana ‘Court of Women’

Have been replaying the alternately gut-wrenching and heart-warming testimonies at the ‘Court of Women’ in my mind, for a while now…

There is this play by Bertolt Brecht – The good woman of Sezuan – finished in 1943. It is the story of Shen Te – a woman going through ups and (mostly) downs of life in a remote province in China (excellent script by Brecht, one of the relentlessly forceful propagandists that I could think of). One can read up more about the play here.

Brecht is not one of those feel good & frivolous playwrites, which would sometimes include men of the stature of Arthur Miller too. Brecht does not give simple messages or easy solutions or facile conclusions in his essentially (and in spite of being) propagandist and Marxist theatre form. It is disturbing and real to read his work. No easy solutions.

At the end of the play, Shen Te asks Gods for help, but they simply float off into the air mouthing inane platitudes, as the curtain falls. The Gods don’t have an answer – so the audience must provide it. In the play’s epilogue, a character comes forward and addresses the audience.

Hey, honourable folks, don’t be dismayed
That we can’t seem to end this play, You ‘re stayed
To see our shining, all-concluding moral,
And what we’ve given you has been this bitter quarrel.
We know, we know – we’re angry too,
To see the curtain down and everything askew.
We’d love to see you stand and cheer – and say
How wonderful you find our charming play!
But we won’t put our heads into sand.
We know your wish is ever our command,
We know you ask for more: a firm conclusion.
To this alarming more-than-mass confusion.
But what is it? Who knows? Not all your cash
Could buy your way – or ours – from this mishmash
Do we need heroes? Dreams? New Gods? Or None?
Well, tell us – else we’re hopelessly undone.
The only think that we can think to say
Is simply that it’s you must end this play.
Tell us our own good woman of Sezuan
Can come to a good ending – if she can!
Honourable folks: you search, and we will trust
That you will find the way, You must, must, must!


The aim of the play is not to show that there are kind hearted people and tyrannical maniacs or there are such schisms, but that a person can choose to be one or the other – which, in my opinion is a rare thing in the world of performing_arts / entertainment literature – Especially for some one like Brecht to write about it, coming from a Left world.

While affirming his faith in the potential of the human being and the human condition, Brecht does not profess to solve the conflicts between social classes on stage. The problems of the world have to be solved out in the world. The audience must find the appropriate balance between greed and morality, between cowardice and courage, between talking and doing, between individualism and social responsibility, between black and white – we have to work in between the idealized lands of intellectual dichotomies…

In the same way, I think most of the stages do not claim to solve all issues. What they can do at best is to sensitize us to certain facets, some realms of an issue and myriad hues of what it means to be human. Vimochana’s event did a damn good job of it, while not losing out on the presentation layer and stylization at all. There was no shoddiness of any kind – and this reaffirms my faith in good NGOs, in spite of what I have ranted in – foreign aid (for NGOs) considered harmful.

No easy solutions, may be, but there are other worlds and compassionate solutions… 

Thanks again, Vimochana.

(text liberally ‘borrowed’ from my old notes, which in turn must have ‘borrowed’ from journals and texts)

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  • Madhu  On August 10, 2009 at 4:07 am

    Thank you so much Ramjee for your very insightful (and generous)reflections on the Court that we will share with all who were part of it. For if the Court did shake everybody up it was because everybody’s voice, whether as victim or witness (including yours as a “spectator” or a “witness”) is so important. And everybody shared their insights and experiences, both personal and collective with such generosity and compassion. Your comparison with Brecht’s Good woman of Sezuan is very apt. You must read Corinne Kumar’s “The South Wind: Towards a New Political Imaginary” which is the conceptual basis from which this very powerful methodology of the Courts of Women have emerged. Corinne is the International Coordinator of the Courts of Women and the founder member of Vimochana.

    Responses like your renews our hope in the fact that other more compassionate worlds are indeed possible!

    We should at another time also talk about your bugbears about foreign funds and ngos!


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