Mahanirvan (The Dread Departure) is Satish Alekar's best-known early work. It takes an ironic look at the funeral rites of Marathi Brahmins using the traditional Marathi musical mode of the mourning keertan and the theme of death. Mahanirvan has a rich dose of black humour, pure fun, and the sense of a community coming to terms with death. The theme may sound unsavoury but Alekar’s play dealing with such an unsavoury theme is satiric and sardonic in its humour.
Alekar is well known for his ironic perspective on life. His language is an expression of this irreverence, ranging from playfulness to scathing irony. Its flavour is so unique that they can only be described, tautologically, as Alekari. He also borrows the technique of alienation effect from Brecht’s Epic theatre to help audience analyze the scenes critically and reflect on them instead of getting emotionally involved in the play.
The very title of the play spells parody. The term ‘Mahanirvan’ is usually associated with departing of great souls and sages has been deliberately desacralised and denoted by the author. Alekar is concerned with the lives of lower middle-class urban people confronting their cultural history in the face of modernity. The Hero and the narrator of Mahanirvan is the departed soul of an ordinary man named Bhaurao who resides in a typical Maharastrian chawl with his wife and a son. He himself offers a sort of running commentary on the various Brahmin rituals for cremation and aftermath. His observations are marked with satire, parody, ridicule and censure. The ‘presence of the absent one’ has been beautifully transformed into a drama, along with all the social contexts the ritual has got. The fantasy of external or wandering soul is a motif or an ideation which is found in folk-based stories worldwide. Alekar uses this motif effectively.
In the beginning of the play, the man is seen lying dead and the soul separated from his body is the one observing all the intricate rites...