Stages of Life
Indian Theatre Autobiographies
About This Book
‘These four autobiographies of artists and writers who shaped the Parsi theatre at its peak are as riveting as the fare that the theatre itself provided, and Kathryn Hansen’s lifelong and perceptive involvement with their rumbustious enterprise infuses every word of her translation of these texts.’ —Girish Karnad, award-winning playwright, screenwriter, actor and director
‘Kathryn Hansen has given us a special kind of book – one with many voices, on many layers, which cohere in a single, satisfying picture, enriched by the author’s considerable knowledge of this theatre. This well-produced text presents original thinking about a number of topics, including autobiographical writing in India, its history, and first-person narratives as a form of cultural memory. The narratives themselves, which lie at the heart of the book, are lovingly translated, combining humour, flare and intimacy.’ —Stuart Blackburn, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
‘‘Stages of Life’ is a unique book, providing vivid insiders’ portraits and incisive commentary on a colorful and lively period in India’s urban culture. Hansen’s ground-breaking research and sharp interpretations will be of interest to scholars and students of Indian culture and notions of modernity in general.’ —Peter Manuel, John Jay College and the Graduate Centre, CUNY
By the end of the nineteenth century, Western-style playhouses were found in every Indian city. Professional drama troupes held crowds spellbound with their spectacular productions. From this colorful world of entertainment come the autobiographies in this book. The life-stories of a quartet of early Indian actors and poet-playwrights are here translated into English for the first time.
The most famous, Jayshankar Sundari, was a female impersonator of the highest order. Fida Husain Narsi also played women’s parts, until gaining great fame for his role as a Hindu saint. Two others, Narayan Prasad Betab and Radheshyam Kathavachak, wrote landmark dramas that ushered in the mythological genre, intertwining politics and religion with popular performance.
These men were schooled not in the classroom but in large theatrical companies run by Parsi entrepreneurs. Their memoirs, replete with anecdote and humor, offer an unparalleled window onto a vanished world, where India’s late-colonial vernacular culture and early cinema history come alive. From another perspective, these narratives are as significant to the understanding of the nationalist era as the lives of political leaders or social reformers.
This book includes four substantive chapters on the history of the Parsi theatre, debates over autobiography in the Indian context, strategies for reading autobiography in general, and responses to these specific texts. The apparatus, based on the translator’s extensive research, includes notes on personages, performances, texts, vernacular usage, and cultural institutions.
Kathryn Hansen is a leading scholar of South Asian theatre history, especially the Hindi and Urdu vernacular traditions of North India. She has authored ‘Grounds for Play: The Nautanki Theatre of North India’, translated ‘The Parsi Theatre: Its Origins and Development’, and co-edited ‘A Wilderness of Possibilities: Urdu Studies in Transnational Perspective’. She holds the position of Professor in the Department of Asian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations; Preface; Acknowledgments; Part 1; Chapter 1. Pioneers to Professionals: A Retrospective of the Parsi Theatre; Chapter 2. Theatrical Memoirs and the Archives of Autobiography; Part 2; Chapter 3. Narayan Prasad Betab, ‘The Deeds of Betab’; Chapter 4. Radheshyam Kathavachak, ‘My Theatre Days’; Chapter 5. Jayshankar Sundari, ‘Some Blossoms, Some Tears’; Chapter 6. Fida Husain, ‘Fifty Years in the Parsi Theatre’; Part 3; Chapter 7. Self and Subjectivity in Autobiographical Criticism; Chapter 8. Voices and Silences: Reading the Texts; Appendix 1. Historical Personages and Institutions; Appendix 2. List of Plays and Films; Glossary Hindi and Urdu Terms; Bibliography