Satire, Representational Metaphor and Hope in Sayeed Ahmad’s Survival

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In the manner of the absurd form, Sayeed Ahmad’s play Survival (1966; 1976), is based on a popular folktale of Bangladesh. Originally written in Bengali, the play is translated into English and “published in the weekly Holiday at first” (Ahmad, 2012, p. xiii). Eventually along with The Thing and Milepost, it is published in Three Plays by the Bangla Academy in 1976. He uses folk materials, local customs and indigenous traditions both in The Thing and in Milepost in incidental ways. But in Survival (Bengali title, Thishnaya) this trend is used consciously. In this fictional play, Ahmad uses the title and the story, indeed for another purpose. Like Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, the story line of Survival appears as an allegory to Ahmad. Through animal characters he portrays the basic characteristics of human nature. The playwright has sought to portray contemporary social and political crisis that he perceived as the outcome of greed and lust for power. Because of the use of well-known folktale of “The Crocodile and the Fox”, this play becomes more appealing, diverse and interesting. 

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In his essay, Biswajit Ghosh declares that the new trend of Bangladeshi plays has started by Sayeed Ahmad’s Survival. He adds:

The playwright has brought a new dimension by blending the crisis of the contemporary era with well-known folktale in Survival. In true sense Survival is a transitional drama of Bangladesh. In guise of the folktale, the exploitation of imperialism and colonial power as well as the intense desire to release the ordinary people from this exploitation is expressed simultaneously. With the help of folktale, Sayeed Ahmad has added a new dimension to the drama where crisis of modern life and class struggle is presented (Ghosh, 1997, p.290). 

Sayeed Ahmad, in his preface to the book hammers on this point too. In the preface, he explains the reason and philosophy of this play as:

I think no fairytale or folktale attains permanence in contemporary society, unless the story is meaningful to the contemporary context. During that time, this story of fox and crocodile appears to be very relevant to me because of the continuous problem facing by our society, country and even by the world. This is a problem and difficulty of human existence and of survival. […] It is very natural and eternal truth that the great power destroys the small force. It is also reflected in the central thesis of Darwin’s theory of ‘Survival of the fittest’. A question arises into my mind whether it is really true or not? (Ahmad, 1989, While searching the answer to this question, the playwright has transformed the straightforward characters of the folklore into a multi-dimensional complex character of real-life situation theatrically, who are struggling to keep their existence in multifaceted ways in the modern world, “They cannot see the puppeteer. The real world exists behind the curtain” (Ahmad, 2012, p.51). 

The unequal position has been determined by the cunning and stupidity through the character of clever Fox, idiotic Mother Crocodile and the only surviving child Crocky. The fox adopts the same way that imperialist and dictator adopt for exploiting and cheating people in the name of service, guidance, and generosity. In the guise of providing education, the fox devours six out of seven kids one after another of the Mother Crocodile. However, the seventh kid of the Mother Crocodile, partially, in order to survive, and partly guided by the aspiration of grabbing power follows the master Fox and becomes a transformed entity. Even after witnessing all the evil deeds, Crocky wants to protect his fellow brother's killer. He declares that the Master Fox has done nothing, “Nothing astounding or remarkable. You relieved the jungle of the extra weight. My brothers were good-for-nothing” (Ahmad, 2012, p.43). Crocky is like the native representative or agent- an integral part of the governing regime of the colonial ruler, whose existence depends on the protection of the oppressive regime. The dramatist demonstrates that the collaborators of the imperialism want to think themselves unencumbered and free from responsibilities. Moreover, in that adapted role in the changing atmosphere, they deny the connection with the fellow people and homeland. Because the social position, the power, the solvency and the greed for power provide them a self-centered contentment that seems more lucrative than the source of identity and native country. And, such is the condition of some modern people.


The earlier two plays of Sayeed Ahmed, are basically absurd, whereas the Three Act play Survival is mainly metaphorical with the combination of ‘existentialism’ and ‘surrealism’ (a 20th-century avant-garde movement in art and literature that sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, for example by the irrational juxtaposition of images). Reading Ionesco’s plays Sayeed Ahmad realized that he played with words using them as an amalgam of quasi-meaningless sounds to puzzle audience; he also discovered that there was a positive aspect in his plays- that is to create a living space of reality broad enough to accommodate the rational and the irrational at the same time (Ahmad, 2012, p. xv). In Ahmad’s plays, both the intellectual tenor of Beckett and the imaginative, dream-like freedom of Ionesco are reflected, though in varying measure. Ahmad dissects the basic dark trend of human character, mainly through the role of Fox and Crocky. By nature, human beings want to protect the existence, to defense it, then to improve it, later and above they desire to climb high. The playwright illustrates this greedy trend of human psyche clearly through the absurd dialogues between Fox and Crocky – two representatives of the selfish world:

Fox: [To the tree] I have been observing you since my birth. Many complicated problems have been solved under your shade. You have stood here for centuries. Maybe, you will remain witness till eternity. My forefathers achieved enlightenment under your shade. You showered wisdom. Tell me, why do I feel so hungry? Tell me, why can’t I resist the temptation? Tell me, why do I find the young crocodiles so delicious? You may call me a mean person. Honestly, I cannot win over nature. It has given me a superb intellect, powerful stomach and a sensitive tongue. Have you tried and succeeded in foiling nature’s scheme? When I look at the children, my eyes get moist, a cold numbness pervades my limbs. I shove them away. They are my children. Again, suddenly the demon awakens within me. I find my teeth sharp as a razor, my stomach hungry and eager to digest raw meat [Crocky enters] I can justify meaninglessness of their existence. Dullards have no business to crowd the jungle. Why am I surrounded by a host of idiots? 

Crocky: I prefer to observe silence. If the illustrious teacher commands I shall open my mouth. One thing I must say though you will have no answer from this mute, deaf, static bodhi tree.

Fox: Were you eavesdropping?

Crocky: That’s uncivilized. There is something called telepathy. I have shaped so well in your company that I can perceive your movements, forecast your thoughts and pre-judge your intentions. 

Fox: Tell me, how do I feel?

Crocky: You feel rotten?

Fox: My child, don’t be cruel. I am suffering. I can’t resolve it. I am searching for truth, which I apprehend will be ever so bitter. 

Crocky: Only you can help yourself. I mean you have to invent the answer. What you have done, cannot be changed.

Fox: Do you know by any chance what I have done?

Crocky: Yes. 

Fox: What have I done? What have I done?

Crocky: Nothing astounding or remarkable. You relieved the jungle of the extra weight. My brothers were good-for-nothing.

Fox: Yes, all those idiots got on my nerve. They could not discourse on philosophic problems. They had neither the desire nor the sincerity to resolve the mystery of the universe, the enigma of life and death. 

Crocky: They could not see glorious majesty in the movement of the cloud, the terrific swing of a thousand galaxies in space, the gentle whisper of falling leaf on the thunderous waterfall. They could not appreciate the refined system of nature; how the jungle maintains the delicate balance of animals, insects, reptiles and all. [Pause] I did not like them. They were the scum of the earth. 

Fox: Do you think I treated them justly?

Crocky: You ate them one by one, near the river, and then threw away the bones to be devoured by other lesser intellect, smaller animals. I watched you each time. Your face reflected a glow of satisfaction. Your breathing reminded of the thrill of a glutton. First the tail, then the body and lastly the head. I thought it was a natural act. I hope you were honest (Ahmad, 2012, pp.42-43).

[bookmark: _Hlk12567452]Keeping the narrative of the main folktale, the story line is developed in the play, but because of Ahmad’s craft, we get a lot of multifaceted meaning in the modern play. And, the familiarity of this story also turns as a transformational phenomenon of multifarious angles to tell the story of fraud. At the beginning of the play, we see a meeting of animals is held, where they are discussing the ways of protecting themselves from mankind. The fox – crafty and smart, takes the leadership by exercising the power of his eloquence. Through the characterization of Fox, the playwright depicts the adventurous journey of the frauds in the dramatic ways. He sketches the spirit of the cruel-selfish era evidently through the dialogues between Fox and Crocky: 

Fox: Yes. I enjoyed every morsel, every drop of delicious blood. I thanked God profusely. He sent the bunch for me from nowhere. I assure you, if they were brilliant, I would have loved them. You are the best example.

Crocky: I hope to serve you better with my intellect.

Fox: Do you hate me?

Crocky: No.

Fox: Why?

Crocky: I react only in the company of intellectuals.

Fox: What do you think I am?

Crocky: You have to go a long way to achieve that angle of life where an act when performed brings its death instantaneously. There should be no confrontation, no analysis, no suffering. Once you start questioning your act, you become an ordinary person. 

Fox: You mean there should be no past to dissect.

Crocky: If there be any, it is meant for cowards.

Fox: Then what do I have? What am I left with?

Crocky: Your present. Only the present. All the rest are justification and mirage.

Fox: I am proud of you. Crocky, you are my worthy student. I see a flowering of my image (Ahmad, 2012, pp.43-44).

But in such self-centered relationship, mutual hostility is inevitable. The playwright depicts it through the representational conversation of Fox and Crocky, where Fox argues that altruism is impossible.It is basically the age-old story of exploitation by those who have power and the seemingly helpless suffering of the weak. Defeat of the weak by strong, cycle of their survival process and destruction are explained in the dialogue of the character named Ass: Just the other day an ant was eaten up by a spider, the spider was eaten up by a cat, the cat by a dog, and dog by a hyena and finally the hyena was devoured by a Royal Bengal Tiger. Oh how miserable he was! So the tiger begged of me to prescribe. It was a particular leaf of the bodhi tree. That did the job (Ahmad, 2012, p. 45).

This cycle cannot be escaped. In the endless race of competitive life, people trade the glory in exchange of so-called success without much consideration. The value of all kinds of relationship is denied. The self-centered existence and modern life in the cruel society make people lonely, unkind and insensitive. This absurdity of life is illustrated after the death of the six kids through the conversation among the transformed Crocky, Mother Crocodile and Fox.

Again, at the last stage of the play, Sayeed Ahmad draws misty conclusion following the trend of existentialism and absurdity where the seven of her kids need to be shown to the Mother of crocodiles. But, unlike the main story line of the folktale, one kid is not going to be shown for seven times, rather the floating images of six dead kids become visible in the eyes of the Fox. Are they faded shadow of the dead kids or the guilt of the killer's subconscious mind? The playwright reveals the cruel reality and the basic truth of criminal’s mind through the innovative scene.

As in, Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Endgame, in Ahmad’s Survival the chief character is a tyrant. It is the age-old story of exploitation. The unequal position has been determined through the character of clever Fox, idiotic Mother Crocodile and the only surviving child named Crocky. The greedy fox adopts the same way that dictator adopt for exploiting people in the name of service, guidance, and deceitful ways. Here, in this play, in the guise of providing education, the immoral fox devours six out of seven kids one after another of the Mother Crocodile. However, the seventh kid of the Mother Crocodile, partially, in order to survive, as well as guided by the aspiration of grabbing power follows the master Fox and becomes a transformed entity.

The researcher finds that Survival has given a different dimensional expression in the style of dialogue and situation, as well as the introduction of an infinite struggle for existence. We know, each existentialist agrees that human life is no way complete and fully satisfying because of suffering and helplessness that occur when considering the lack of power and control one has over life. The self-centered existence and modern life in the cruel society make people lonely, unkind and insensitive. 

In this play, the playwright depicts the real crisis of human existence. And, by ending hollowness, he seeks to end inequality and despair. As Camus believes, “In a world whose absurdity appears to be so impenetrable, we simply must reach a greater degree of understanding among men, a greater sincerity” (Quoted in Popova, 2017). As we know, Existentialism asks man to abandon all utopian dreams and summons him to the material world of reality. As such, existentialism encourages a positive and humane look at life and towards the world. In short, for Sartre, decision, the employment of free will and action are what make a man, a man. And, Camus complements that revolt, which is action itself, is essential, as well. When the world acts unsympathetically and does not offer man anything to fulfil his needs -man must revolt. Therefore, Camus attributes great significance to rebellion because it brings man liberty. This freedom is essential because being deprived of liberty means submission to a power and, therefore, loss of human dignity. The reality of the situation in which the absurd character appears, is a psychological reality expressed in images that are the outward projection of states of his mind. That is why the Theatre of the Absurd can be considered an image of the human being’s inner world. It presents a truer picture of reality itself, reality as grasped by an individual. Truths that the characters of the Absurd plays are not only regarding the world on stage, but also regarding the world of the audience. As Martin Esslin said, the author of the Theatre of the Absurd represents the absurdity of the human condition (Esslin, 2004). What we listen from Crocky, obviously convey positive and hopeful possibilities for mankind, “I wouldn’t give up hope so early. I am sure the quest must continue. Somewhere, someone will think of us” (Ahmad, 2012, p.51). Therefore, at the end of the play, Mother Crocodile proclaims her promise to return again not just with seven or seventy, but also with billions of children in order to overcome the fierce battle against the oppressor:

I am leaving, going far, far away from your world. But I shall return soon. I shall come back not with seven but seventy million children. There will be millions of innocent toddlers. They are at present enjoying the crisp sunshine by the riverside, lost in colourful dreams. I shall entice them, snatch them from the laps of their mother. I shall tell them about your conversation. The world will come to know, one day, the meaning of your generosity, love and sympathy. I am going to bring the entire clan – it’s an unending cycle (Ahmad, 2012, p.52). 

The excitement of life lies in waiting, in fulfilling the mission. Nothing can excite human capabilities more than a challenge of expectation, hope or ‘probability’. We are “a bundle of probabilities” (Ahmad, 2008). It is in the act that the flowering lies. There is pain yet we are glued to our position. The lure of the probability- the hope, keeps us tied to the edge of the vast expanse. As if that is the destined cycle. Human beings are doomed to go through this cycle. A glimpse of rescue - hope is always visible, in the hazy arena of waiting.

Sayeed Ahmad is justly considered the pioneer modernist in absurd play in the sub-continent having written The Thing, Milepost, and Survival in the absurd tone yet modifying by his own ideas. Through the above analysis, the researcher tries to establish the unique features that are added by Ahmad through Survival. His play simply does not reflect the dilemma and anarchy of the mankind, rather portrays the conflict of good and evils, the nature of the social-mental disaster, the real crisis of human existence. And, by ending hollowness, he seeks to end inequality and despair. The motivation of accepting the reality boldly is one of the main objectives of Absurd Play and of Existentialism. Analyzing the play, we see Ahmad’s play is very much realistic and there is not much ambiguity about the meaning and objective of the play.

 No doubt, Beckett and Ionesco are source of his inspiration but he does not follow like one under a spell, rather he applies his judgement and freedom of choice as well as blends the new form with the subject familiar to the audience of this part of the world, he himself says, “[…] driving my inspiration from my friend Samuel Beckett. I took the character types in Waiting for Godot but developed my theme on the problem of ‘waiting’ by localizing the experience to my own situation” (quoted in Ahmad, 2012, p.169). For appreciating the novelty of his plays, one has to comprehend the art of blending of the modern with the traditional. When the world acts unsympathetically and does not offer man anything to fulfil his needs -man must revolt. That is why Camus attributes great significance to rebellion because it brings man liberty. This freedom is essential because being deprived of liberty means submission to a power and, therefore, loss of human dignity. We see, the Mother Crocodile decided to last, struggle and continue living on as long as possible and never to surrender nullifying the unreasonable absurd condition of the world. The truth is –she does not just struggle with oppressor, absurdity; rather she struggles with the reality we live in. This metaphorical absurd play has a strong association with hope; and waiting and/or enduring is an essential part of hope. Ahmad is disseminator of hope against hope through the endeavor he is involved with and their plays help us to comprehend that even though there is ‘nothing’, it is to be done. This is the real essence of Ahmad’s play Survival. One must continue, holding on and revolt–life itself must continue paying no attention to the absurd conditions of life. It also symbolizes the continuity of life and this open possibility is what keeps hope alive in this play. 

The characters, particularly the Mother Crocodile represent their fellow humans not only in misery, confusion, incapability, despair, but also in hope. They struggle to do something, to change something, to go beyond and to act. These characters are not thoroughly isolated images, they have much in common with us, and they expose our own selves and our own acts through satire and representational metaphor in Survival. 


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