Sammy! by Partap Sharma – Summary

Sammy! is play in two acts about the irrepressible ‘Mahatma’ in Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Through a witty, lively debate between two actors, Sammy traces the development of the Father of our Nation from a young, naive man to the enlightened, shrewd person that he later becomes. The title is explained early on in the drama; the word Sammy (sami), along with Coolie, was used by white proponents of apartheid in South Africa to insult Indians. It stems from the word Swami, which means master or guru. In Gandhi’s own life he was said to have been plagued by his ‘inner voice’ which is given tangible form in the play where the realist, Mohan, and the idealist, Mahatma, are dramatised visually through two actors debating about him and their portrayal of him. The two voices never quite agree with each other and thus the action is driven on. This device enables us to understand the decisions that Gandhi took in life after battling them out in his mind, the arena of right and wrong.

Sammy! is the incredible story of Mahatma Gandhi. Led by a lively debate between Mohandas, the man, and the irrepressible Mahatma in him, the play highlights Gandhi’s relationships and how he changed everyone he touched. The play traces the transformation of the young Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi into a shrewd politician and finally a Mahatma, and recounts his story from his earliest days in South Africa to his final assassination.

In a nutshell, Partap Sharma’s Sammy! tells the story of Gandhiji’s life starting from South Africa to his death bringing to life different events in our fight for Independence. What is more, the play explores the conflicts between Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and the Mahatma Gandhi, his inner self. The technique is not that new, but it is the way the playwright uses it and the way the two actors Ravi Dubey as the Mahatma and Joy Sengupta as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi project it that makes all the difference.

The play is full of gems of wisdom taken mostly from Gandhiji’s writings and put into a discussion between the Mahatma and Mohan.The playwright has an interesting way of changing the scene to carry the play forward. Listen to Mahatma when he says, “If the good succeeds, God is good; if the evil succeeds, God is evil. So my concern is not God as God may turn out to be, but the Truth. Because truth is God.”

… .. “But how can an ordinary person like me tackle such a vast crowd?” asks Mohan. “Reach out to them, take away the blindfold and they will see…they called you Sammy,” without completing the sentence the Mahtama withdraws”.

To explain the meaning of the word “Sammy”, the title of the play, the scene dissolves into Mohan standing besides the Police Superintendent’s wife, Mrs. Alexander who, a few minutes earlier had saved him from the mob. Mohan asks her if the crowd knew what the word Sammy meant. “Yes, of course. Most of our indentured labour comes from India and most of their names end in Sammy, Ramasammy, Narayanasammy, and so on.” “The word is Swami”, Mohan corrects her. “But that is not important at a time like this,” says Mrs. Alexander. “But it is. Because it means master or teacher,” says Mohan turning to the men who are standing about watchfully and says, “Thank you, gentlemen. I shall endeavour to live up to that.” Indeed, a masterly way of explaining the title of the play.

As we go along we have some most touching scenes between Mohan and his wife Kasturba, and we learn something of his philosophy when he talks of his vow of celibacy. We are also told of his line of action against the government’s decision requiring Indians to carry permits and how Kasturba was drawn into the movement.

Back at home in India the play touches upon some of the most important milestones in our struggle for independence like the Champaran agitation, the Dandi March, the massacre in Jalianwala Bagh, and the charkha as a weapon to fight the British. The pros and cons of the movement itself are discussed between the Mahatma (the inner voice) and Mohan.

As we reach towards the end, the playwright discusses in depth the role of different leaders like Jinnah, Nehru and Gandhiji on the one hand, and the Viceroy and his advisors like Glancy on the other. In short the play is a kaleidoscopic presentation of our freedom movement with Gandhiji’s philosophy thrown in.

Sammy! is a play about the irrepressible ‘Mahatma’ in Gandhi, the Inner Voice he could not ignore. This intricately crafted play portrays Gandhi’s journey from a tongue-tied lawyer to a shrewd politician and finally the Mahatma (Great Soul). Set against the dramatic background of India’s struggle for freedom, this outstanding play surprises our expectation at every turn of the story. Full of humour and style, the play makes past events seem like present gossip and the audience is transported deeper within themselves.

Partap Sharma’s play brings alive Gandhi’s philosophy, pragmatism, and sense of humour. It unwinds Gandhi’s concepts and his techniques for non-violent struggle. The play is captivating as we realise that Gandhi’s struggle has no enemy, no arms, no hate nor revenge, but only the inner strength of millions of ordinary men, women and children.

Commenting on the play, Sharma said: “Gandhi needed no introduction to the millions. He was a man of the multitudes. But it was interesting to examine what provoked him to become what he did. It took me twenty years of intermittent research and writing to put together “Sammy! The word that broke an Empire”. Judging by the response of audiences and actors, the play works, and that is important to me.”

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