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“Watchman of the Lake” is a beautiful theatrical rendition of R.K. Narayan’s narrative of a great villager Mara’s sacrifice for the preservation of a lake and the lives that depended on it for existence. This play also emphasizes the value of traditional wisdom to humanity. The protagonist is a watchman who had a key role in the creation of the lake.
The five-scene, one-act drama tells the story of Mara, who overcame great odds to guarantee that the lake was built, and then sacrificed himself to ensure that the lake would not overflow its borders, destroying the whole capital of the king who built it.
About The Author
R.K. Narayan (10 October 1906 – 13 May 2001) was an Indian novelist who wrote a series of books about people’s interactions in the fictional village of Malgudi in India. He is considered one of India’s greatest English authors and is credited with introducing Indian literature to the rest of the world in English. Narayan was a rare playwright, and this play is a dramatized adaptation of his short tale “The Watchman.”
The drama is set in a Karnataka village near the Baba Budan Hills. In the first scene, road workers are observed, following the village headman’s orders. The local headman, who is harsh to all of the labourers, keeps reminding them that the road must be completed a day before the king’s arrival. When he notices some workers giggling, he inquires as to why they are having a laugh.
He is enraged to learn that the source of their amusement is Mara, who is cowering behind a rock. The headman orders his men to apprehend(arrest) Mara. When Mara is brought before him, he chastises (scolds) him for distracting the employees and reminds him that he had constantly urged Mara to stay away from the workers and the king when he passes by. Mara wishes to inform the king about the tank. The headman refers to him as a fool and has his man Bhima bring him to the cellar.
The king is seen travelling along that road, in scene two. But, out of nowhere, Mara leaps from a tree and presents to the king with the vision of the Goddess from his dream, as well as her words. According to Mara, the place where the king stood was a hallowed site since Hanuman had gone there in quest of the Sanjeevini in order to resurrect Lakshmana, who had been mortally wounded during the battle. Sanjeevini was a plaything for the Goddess, and the stream that emerged from where she grew was Veda.
During the summer, the Goddess kept Vedas in the shelter, while during other seasons, she had her flow past the king’s territory, so the king’s subject could use it.
When asked about his dream, Mara claims that the Goddess appeared to him in a dream while he was sleeping in his hut. Her tresses were blowing in the wind, and her coronet was adorned with stars, a ruby, and a gold robe braided with lightning. He flung himself at her feet. She said that the Veda River was her plaything. She wanted to keep her pet cool in the mountain glades throughout the summer, leaving the people and earth dry. She informed Mara that she had given him orders to instruct his king to build a tank and not allow Veda escape the village.
In scene three, a massive tank has already been constructed for the river Veda, and Mara faithfully looks after it. He keeps an eye on those who come to fish, but he is willing to open the water to all subjects in accordance with the king’s rules. He snares (catches hold of) a man with a fishing rod and a net full of fish. He tells the man that if he is spotted ever again, he would face dire consequences.
He asserts that the lake is holy and that it belongs to the Goddess. He makes sure that no one, even the tiger that comes to the lake to quench its thirst, gets injured. Mara seeks the help of his son, Ganga, to keep the lake in good shape. Mara is concerned about the lake’s growing water levels towards the end of the scene.
Mara arrives to the palace late at night, panic-stricken, requesting permission to speak with the king. Mara, who is dripping in water and covered in muck, tells the king that the Goddess appeared to him in his dream again, her tresses wild, her eyes shining with a bizarre light, and she had a sword.
She warned Mara about the Veda overflowing the lake’s banks due to the torrential rain. Even when Mara informed her that the bank had been created at her suggestion, she had refused to budge. She declared that she would immediately demolish the tank, and Veda would be her pet. Mara tried to persuade her to refrain from doing so. The Goddess, on the other hand, was adamant and in a destructive mood, according to Mara.
Later, he prostrated himself in front of her and pleaded her to let him inform the king about it. He requested her to wait till he comes back. She consented to his request.
Even as the king prepares to inform his subjects of the approaching flood and tragedy, he claims that the Goddess vowed not to overflow until Mara returned, and that the king might prevent Mara’s return by executing him. Mara urges the king to salvage the situation by chopping off his head. As a result, Mara willingly sacrificed himself for the sake of the king and his subjects. His sole desire was that his son be chosen as the next watchman of the lake, followed by his grandson and great-grandsons.
In scene five, Ganga is seen looking after the lake and telling his son how he took up his father’s responsibilities. He also tells him that the lake-watching responsibilities are passed on from Ganga to his son and subsequent generations. The king personally visited Ganga to inform him that his father was no longer alive.
The king demanded that Ganga take up his father’s responsibilities right away. The king also built a shrine with two sculptures of Mara, one of the Guardian Goddess on the top pedestal and the other of Mara just underneath it. The king ordered that they must be worshipped every Tuesday and Friday. Hundreds of people would gather to worship from all around the world. As a result, Mara, whom the local headman regarded as a lunatic, was worshipped by tens of thousands of people.
Mara depicts a simple, respectable and dedicated villager who does his job loyally. Folklore is prevalent throughout the narrative. The story also sends a message to the readers, emphasizing the need of maintaining our valuable natural resources for human survival. In this way, R.K. Narayan accentuates the ethical ideals associated with our ancestors’ traditions and beliefs.