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Working magic

JADOO KA KAALEEN Mridula Garg Publisher: Rajkamal Prakashan Price: Rs 45

By Sudeep Mukhia
Published: Friday 15 April 1994

Underage carpet worker freed b IN HER short but bitingly relevant play, Mridula Garg places the exploitation of children in the carpet industry in an equally horrific context of deforestation, outmigration and rural poverty -- ground realities in India justified as modern, "Western" development. Jadoo ka Kaleen, the "magic carpet", is an emancipatory metaphor: the desire of the little ones to fly from bondage.

But they are trapped in a vicious circle. Drought besets a typical North Indian village. As the grandmother's stricken reaction reveals, it is because the forest has "moved away", hacked by contractors. Scarcity forces the parents to sell their children to the factories set up to feed Mammon, the "dollar desh" of the play. The administration rescues them, but is unable to provide succour. Their bungling throws the children right back into the arms of the factory owners.

The devastating satire spares nobody. The millowners and the equally callous customers; the collector, who wishes to rehabilitate the children by giving them cows in a time of drought; the inept social worker, who believes that girls, too, should be given cows and not sewing machines because that would be "discriminatory"; and the politician, who makes the rural areas pay a terrible price for progress. Above all this rises the insistent voice of the grandmother, demanding that the government give back the forest.

Metaphors allow symbolism to fuse with critique: an excellent example is the road being built to provide the drought-stricken villagers with a living. It will disappear in the next rains, and be built all over again. Corruption is the watchword, and the villagers suffer.

The play makes a number of relevant points: that child labour is a harsh truth irreducible to "fashionable" charity, and that this is part of a larger story of rural ecological degradation and rampant exploitation. Above all, it brings home the message that the vicious cycle of drought-poverty-manipulation cannot be broken until a blind centralised administration allows local people to manage their own resources and make their own decisions.

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