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The Disability Trope in Mahesh Dattani’s Tara

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Mahesh Dattani’s play Tara presents the story of two conjoined twins, Chandan and Tara, and the aftermath of the surgery performed to separate them, which renders them disabled with a ‘Jaipur foot’ for a second limb.

The probability of the survival of the third leg that they shared and that which was supplied by Tara’s blood system was greater with Tara. However, Mr. Patel’s desire for a male heir instigated the decision to give the leg to the boy, which unfortunately withered away after a few days. This is a reminder that even disciplines like science are not outside the social purview and are exploited to control and marginalize women.

Their disability thus became a reason for them to be body shamed. However intelligent the twins may be, they are considered ‘abnormal’ and ‘freaks’ by people around them, like Roopa.

Disability has been feared and stigmatized since time immemorial. There have been numerous reports of discrimination against people with disabilities in their respective workplaces over the years. It is a sad reality that even though more and more people are getting educated because of the betterment of resources, they still resort to stupid practices like name-calling about people who are unlike them.

In India, disabled people get the added weight of religious exclusion because sometimes they are regarded as suffering the wrath of God and being punished for the misdeeds done in previous births by either them or their family. Or else, they are seen as mere liabilities subject to nothing but a hopeless pity devoid of understanding. Chandan’s physical deformity combined with the inferiority complex stemming from it makes him feel that “They are not the ugly ones. We are. Horrible one-legged creatures.”

Although the play is about disability, it focuses more on its repercussions and the predicaments that inevitably accompany the complex situation. The havoc all this has wreaked in Bharati’s (the mother) life is perhaps the most significant.

Consumed with guilt because of her ‘passive acquiescence’ to the dark decision that was taken, her life becomes a psychological trauma from which she finds no escape, only more imprisonment as Tara’s condition worsens. When she learns that Tara’s weight has reduced, she gets worked up, exclaiming- “In one month, she will lose a kilo!… She will keep getting thinner till she’s faded, and she is and bones!”

The want of a ‘perfect’ body, instigated by society, becomes so mentally oppressive for the disabled person that they begin to feel they are a burden and are essentially worthless. Such an ideology has even more pathetic consequences for women since they are often reduced to their bodies.

Tara, here, is clearly at a double disadvantage. One is by being physically disabled, for it is an inherent predisposition of many people to stare unashamedly (to the point of making the person extremely uncomfortable with the stare), discriminate against, and turn the disabled person into a subject of ridicule.

Written more than three decades ago, it is a play that resonates with the Indian social scenario today. Women’s lives are still blighted by the oppressive hand of patriarchy, even though there have been several endeavors at societal reform.

As a means of redemption, perhaps, Bharati insists on Tara’s education despite the trials and tribulations she is bound by. “It’s time that Tara decided what she wants to be. Women have to do that as well these days. She must have a career.” Her words make sense because Tara was, after all, a brilliant girl.

Just like Bharati, we must see (and this does not pertain only to the professional domain) people with disabilities for what they can do rather than what they are incapable of. After all, what right do we have to mock a person for something that is no fault of theirs?

Disabilities should not be seen as limitations but instead as differences that require accommodation and support to ensure that individuals with disabilities have equal opportunities to lead independent and fulfilling lives without being subjected to discrimination or ridicule.

Although the underlying note of the story is sad and pitiful, the message at the end is somewhat filled with hope. Despite the ordeals they had to face, Chandan and Tara seem resigned but mentally strong at the same time. Tara not only is a silent believer of her strength, but at one point, she also says it aloud, expressing gratitude towards her mother- “I am strong. My mother has made me strong.” When she underwent her seventh prosthesis and a kidney transplant around that time, she is described as ‘smiling and jovial. “Surgery for us is like brushing our teeth,” she jokes.

It is true that with the right mindset, which includes first accepting oneself as capable, even people with disabilities can lead a more fulfilling life, interspersed with pain, yes, but just as much with some happiness.

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Tags: #women #discrimination #disability #play


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