Play reading “Manto and the Dhoban” Written by Satish Khot

On Sunday 6th December evening a play written by Satish Khot, ‘Manto and the Dhoban’ was staged in the weekly Zoom session of the BookClub. Chetan & Sunita Shetty did a wonderful online enactment of the play to a packed Zoom audience.

Click the link to watch the Play performance on our FB page:


Review by Kaveri Narang :
Paying tribute to the legendary author Sadat Hussain Manto, Satish transposed the theme of one of Manto’s well-loved stories Ram Khilawan, with a Dhoban as one of the two main characters in the play, the other being Manto himself. Set just post-independence, the play addresses the dilemma that many Muslims faced in the traumatic choice of abandoning the country of their birth to move to the newly formed Pakistan. But the strong and direct message that Satish conveys is the inherent strength and resilience that women possess, even when lacking  education, as in the Dhoban of the title. The play traverses at different levels the interplay of gender roles, of class, and of religion, until compelling circumstances bring resolution through a common sense of humanity. 

In the cloistered confines of an almost windowless room resides the protagonist Manto, who is never depicted as stepping outside its walls. There is a skylight set high in the walls through which Manto with some difficulty is able to peer into the world outside.  The entire play is centred around only the two characters,  Manto and the Dhoban, as their worlds so far removed from each other’s, coalesce as circumstances conspire to bring them together. Manto’s character is flawed and vulnerable, and the Dhoban reveals unsuspected reserves of strength. 

At the outset the character of Manto is defined by his voyeurism as he secretively views the Dhoban at her bath. It is clear that Manto is married and that his Begum has already moved to Pakistan.   When the Dhoban visits his house with her baby in her arms, to return the clothes that he had given for washing, explaining that her husband the Dhobi had to go back to their village, Manto is initially disconcerted at being confronted with his victim, and is relieved when she seems unaware of his transgression. He reveals a tenderness in his reaction to the baby, and  a compassion at the Dhoban’s acute financial distress, in his willingness to pay her in advance for the next set of clothes when she asks for the help. 

He gradually learns that the timid helpless victim of his voyeurism is actually a courageous woman who early in her life had exacted revenge on her rapist by killing, and then castrating him.  By this act she could be perceived as symbolically demolishing the imbalance of power that men wield over women. She reveals that she is aware that Manto watches her bathing, her acceptance of his act an acknowledgement of the privilege of class that allows him to engage in something that she does not protest about – she is too busy with earning her living.  However his inherent decency in his direct interactions with her, as opposed to his furtive spying, wins the Dhoban’s trust and allegiance. 

Meanwhile Manto is extremely disturbed to learn that he can no longer count on the support of lifelong Hindu friends.

Matters come to a head when the Dhoban hears about a plot to kill Manto, and courageously takes on his assailants, causing them to flee in fear. Manto decides with a heavy heart that his days in India are over and that he must leave for Pakistan. The faithful Dhoban, distraught at the thought of being left behind, pleads with Manto to take her and her baby along with him. In a climatic scene she wipes the Bindi off her forehead and declares that there is now no visible difference between Hindu and Muslim and that she is ready to embrace her new identity. Satish thus eloquently demonstrates the futility of the identity differentiations that we adopt, when we are in essence united by our common humanity. 

Sonali Shelar:
An exciting play, Manto and the Dhobhan written by Satish Khot had me engaged from start to end. Other than the interesting timeline from Manto’s monologue to the tragedy in the end, I found the narration of the characters played by Chetan and Sunita Shetty quite convincing. What stands out for me is how this story very subtly points out issues in society that are still prevalent today and yet go unnoticed. The first is the way Muslims are looked at in the society, a Muslim gentleman living in a building is looked at as a problem, this was relevant in 1947 (period in which the play is set) and it is relevant today. Another issue that is pointed out is the treatment of women, especially women from lower castes in rural areas; incidents of sexual harassment leading to rapes of the women of lower castes are not even treated with seriousness by the people, police and the law even today. The final and the most important issue that I have seen very few pieces of literature talk about is the solution oriented nature of women and the will to protect their people during difficult times as opposed to the popular belief that men take the action. Overall, the play is a 45-minute ride into exciting events that beautifully paints an unconventional story and highlights the flaws and strengths of two entirely different personalities.

‘Puthu’ Mathai , New Delhi.
Very nice play reading session yesterday, play Manto & Dhoban. Well executed. My compliments to the husband & wife team of Chetan & Sunita. You have created very convincing characters and a good build up of tension in the play. So I was glued to the proceedings, till the end. The ending creates a big query on what will happen in Pakistan. The dhoban was a surprisingly strong character who could take revenge for rape, propose live in and then propose translocations/eloping  to Pakistan with Manto. Manto provided good insights with his thinking aloud moments. Great work Satish. Look forward to more such works from you. Now would like to see your first play. I presume it will be on internet.Cheers!

Mayank Jain, New Delhi:Just finished watching the recording … my compliments & congratulations to Satish for the original idea & a very nice script … the simple dialogues & narration made one feel as if it was all happening around you … the story narration by Chetan & his wife was extraordinary… really enjoyed it … excellent work Satish👏👏 … keep it up 👍… Mohini you were brilliant as the anchor 👏… thanks for sharing the recording 🙏

Virginia Naude, New York: Your play is brilliant, Satish. Comments from the group brought out many of the impressions I had also. The characters were strongly drawn . The changes that took place represented huge shifts but they were subtly drawn and totally convincing. It is beautifully written and the acting met the challenge of the words.

Sonia Tembe, San Francisco: Wow, way to go, Satish! What a Chhupa Rustam you have turned out to be! Your play transported us to the tumultuous days of the Partition era, with all their uncertainty and angst. Very interesting to have Manto as a character in the action and to see things through his eyes.The characterization of the Dhoban is superb. What a girl! She isn’t even aware what a heroine she is. She has reacted to events as they happened….with courage and aplomb. She isn’t one to look back. Life has dealt her a terrible set of cards but she has played the game to the best of her abilities and walked on. I feel like saluting her. And you too, her creator! Wish you all the best: please keep writing.

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