Harvest (play)


Harvest (play)

Harvest is a play by Manjula Padmanabhan concerned with organ-selling in India set in the near future. Om Prakash agrees to sell unspecified organs through InterPlanta Services, INC to a rich person in first-world for a small fortune. InterPlanta and the recipient's are obsessed with maintaining Om's health and invasively control the lives of Om, his mother Ma, and wife Jaya in their one-room apartment. The recipient, Ginni, periodically looks in on them via a videophone and treats them condescendingly. Om's diseased brother Jeetu is taken to give organs instead of Om, and the recipient, Ginni, ultimately turns out to not be what she initially seems.

Harvest won the 1997 Onassis Prize as the best new international play.

"Written in the lineage of plays like Vaclav Havel's "The Memorandum" or Slawomir Mrozek's "Tango", Manjula Padmanabham's "Harvest" develops an absurd narrative of the structure of representation and power in the contemporary globalized culture. For "Harvest" brilliantly allegorizes the relationship between the First and Third Worlds, literalizing the fundamental practices of globalization as its central dramatic solution: the Third World provides the raw materials that the First World consumes for its own survial and expansion.

In the play, Om has sold his body-- through the aptly named Interplanta Services company-- to an American "Receiver". According to the terms of his contract, he and his immediate family (his wife Jaya, who is forced by the contract to pretend to be his sister, his brother Jeetu, and his mother, Ma) will enjoy a First World standard of living and lifestyle-- they'll be clean, well-fed, entertained, and wealthy-- until such a time as his Receiver demands Om's organs for his own survival. As the play develops, however, the economic motives driving Om's sacrifice are gradually infelcted by the mediatized relations of global culture. His family is consulted (on a giant-screen Contact Module that drops from the ceiling) byt he Receiver, Virginia-- or "Ginni", whose name recalls the demonic "djinni", or "genies" of Indian folktales-- a "blonde and white-skinned epitome of an American-style youth goddess" whose image floats above the room, and increasingly demands obedience from the family. Ma comes nearly to worship Ginni, but truly idolizes her new television, finally choosing to entomb herself inside a video sarcophagus-- called the Video Paradise-- where she will remain for the rest of her "life". When the Interplanta agents come to take Om, however, they mistakenly take his wastrel brother Jeetu, removing his eyes and replacing them with a contraption that projects Ginni's sexy image directly into his brain. Although Jeetu had been the most critical of the organ-donation scheme, now that all he can see is Ginni's sultry image, he's seduced, and this virtual relationship leads him finally to "donate" his entire body.

The play's brilliant satire fully takes in First World attitudes toward India, its fear of disaster, its anxiety about sanitation, its incomprehension of family and social life, its ignorance of Third World reality altogether. Replacing the family's food with "goat-shit" pellets, installing a toilet and shower in the middle of the one-room apartment, dumping the family's possessions and replacing them with Western clothes and housewares, InterPlanta at once appears to improve the family's standard of living while cutting it off from real life altogether. Yet the final scenes seem to suggest a strategy of resistance. Once Ginni has harvested Jeetu's body, she reveals that "Ginni" had only been a computer-animation after all: Jeetu had been seduced to give up his body by the empty image of a youthful, sexy America, an image projected to the world to conceal that the First World paradise is aging and impotent, supporting "the poorer sections of the world, while gaining fresh bodies for ourselves". Virgil-- the real Ginni-- proposes that he (in the body of Jeetu) and Jaya have children to repopulate the First World; he even makes an insemination gadget appear outside the apartment while he's trying to close the deal. But if the body is, finally, what the Third World has to sell, it may still be possible to withhold it, to insist on a real rather than a mediated relationship with First World power. At the play's close, Jaya seals herself inside the apartment, with it endless food supply and television, telling Virgil that if he wants to repopulate the First World, he will have to come to her, in the flesh"-- W.B Worthen, "The Wadsworth Anthology of Drama", 5th Edition, pp. 924-925, 2007


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