Harvest Summary, Themes, Characters

Introduction

Harvest is a play by Manjula Padmanabhan set in the near future that deals with organ selling in India. Aurora Metro Books published the play in 2003. It’s a critique on the commodification of the body in third-world countries.

Manjula Padmanabhan, a 21st-century woman, being a technocrat herself, uses the techniques and tools of the modern world in her most celebrated play, Harvest (1996). Though Harvest is not, as obvious, the first play Padmanabhan wrote, her fame as a playwright rests on it.

Padmanabhan drew the attention of the world when Harvest won the Onassis cash-rich award for the theatre at Athens (Greece) out of more than a hundred entries.

The play confronts us with a futuristic Bombay of the year 2010. Om Prakash, a jobless Indian agrees to sell unspecified organs through Inter Planta Services, Inc to a rich person in first-world for a small fortune. InterPlanta and the recipients 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. Harvest won the 1997 Onassis Prize as the best new international play.


Main Attractions of The Play


In the screenplay Harvest, by Manjula Padmanabhan, many global borders arise in which organ selling occurs in India in the near future, 2010. This screenplay deals with the first and third world countries. In India, there are more developed places than others. With people still suffering and finding a way to support their families with food and shelter they will do almost anything to make a living.

The main character, Om Prakash loses his job while living in a one-bedroom apartment with his family and decides to sell unspecified organs through a company called, InterPlanta Services Inc. “I went because I lost my job in the company. And why did I lose it? Because I am a clerk and nobody needs clerks anymore! There are no new jobs now…there’s nothing left for people like us! Don’t you know that? There’s us and the street gangs and the rich.” (pg 62)

In scene 4 (pg 61) The Guards take Jeetu instead of Om to do the eye surgery. Once the procedure is over his eyes will be donated and he will be left wearing a pair of goggles that look like a pair of imitation eyes. Om expresses to Jaya that since they don’t care about Om and his family, the less fortunate that they are going to operate on Jeetu even though they made a mistake and took the wrong person. In this scene, Om acts very cold-hearted and seems to only care about the money he is going to be receiving.

On the other hand, Jaya is very anxious and upset about what is taking place. When the Guards bring Jeetu back, he comes in white silk pyjamas and his head all wrapped up in bandages. “I won’t listen! Because listening brings acceptace. And I will never accept, I will never live with this…”(64) Now that Jeetu is not able to see, he feels trapped and is built up with a lot of anger. “Why? Because I’m in a place beyond death. I’m in a place worse than death. ( 66). If Jeetu feels this way rightfully so, then why does Om say that he is selfish? Is Om only worried about the money he is going to be receiving from this procedure?

Even though the family received money and were able to live a much better life through organ donation, many problems were created between each other. This is a perfect example of how money doesn’t buy happiness.

Harvest is a play written by Manjula Padmanabhan focusing geographically on Mumbai, India. We see the character, Om, signing up as an organ donor for Ginni who is an American woman simply because there is no more jobs in India. Ginni pays him to lead and live a healthy life, so when it is time for doing an organ, there is no difficulty or problem in doing so. This play feels nice in the beginning because it seems as after signing up as organ donor, leading a happy and healthy life is guranteed and certained, but what lies underneath is when Om and his small family starts to enjoy their new lifestyles, they also start to deny the consequences.

This play reminds the reader about a Brothel mainly because it is takes place in India, although this time it is Mumbai and not Calcutta. This play also has a prostitute and revolves around poor financial situations resorting to doing very unfortunate jobs to keep their funds up. We see the family go through wonderful meals which can seem as space-age because the family is taking off at the beginning of the play with good promise. But as the play furthers itself, we see the promise becoming dark and uneasy.

By seeing the financial situations of Om and his wife Jaya, we can appreciate money as a necessity to life. In this play, we see Om pretty much selling his life in order to obtain the top dollar for this family, well at least in India it was considered top dollar. Jaya was evidently distressed about Om’s decision on signing himself to Ginni because the family is already on an off and on a troubled relationship because Jaya is having a secret relationship with Om’s younger brother Jeetu. Jeetu works as the prostitute mentioned earlier, Ma is Om’s mother who also lives in the house who favours Om more so than the others.

Work itself is not even hard either. For the family, Ginni operates their services by dictating to Interplanta, which is the company that supplies them with food and services such as a toilet and shower that Om and his family received as newly rich people. This obviously made a foreshadow of his death. Personally, I wanted to just skip right to the point where Om was going to die because it was so clear that if he wasn’t going to die…then this play would be more interesting. I believe that this simplicity had been effective because it relates to this week’s theme of ‘problem with food.’

Om Prakash is an embittered, petty, unemployed youth who keeps the pretension of caring for his whole family His new life with his family often surrounded around the luxury of food and the shelter with services they are not used to. The problem with this is that we as people simply take food and shelter for granted. I do not remember how many numerous times I have complained about how hungry I am or if my sister had used all the hot water in the shower, but as another dystopian play, Harvest showcases the morality and ethical views of our society . As a result, Om’s carelessness left his family in turmoil. But…but but but…the tables had turned when Jeetu has gotten sick. This is the point where I was like..wait wait..hold on…oh shit, so that means Om is probably going to donate his organs to Jeetu but he can’t because he had signed to Ginni. We see Jeetu been taking away from the picture as well as the Donor and Jaya is left alone to fend for herself.

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In the end, it is evident that the body serves as the major theme. Manjula did a great job on portraying the body’s importance to our society as well as in this play. What I believe was effective is how easy Om was able to sign to Ginni because it shows how uncaring and what his body means to him, in order to get the riches. Kinda makes sense now why the title is Harvest because our body is like food, we can harvest it whenever in cases we need it as Ginni had portrayed it in this play.

Apart from its futuristic approach (as the play is set in 2010 Mumbai) the play also shows how the financially strong groups/agents use the modern electronic technology to control and govern the financially weak sections of society in the world at the risk of hell like life as is found in Padmanabhan”s another play, The Mating Game (2003). Though the gist of the play, Harvest can be given in three lines, its presentation, characters, their behaviour, action and the space occupied the screen contact module speak of the value and possession electronic devices are going to have to the life.

The story of the play centres on Om, who signs up to be an organ donor for an American organ receiver named Ginny. Ginny provides all the facilities to make and keep Om”s body parts hygienic. Gradually the electronic contact module takes possession of all the characters in the play. Om, Ma and Jeetu except Jaya, Om”s wife who, as Durgesh Ravande says, represent the conflict between technological adventures and human relationship in life. (163) Jaya appears as the last hope of emotional value in the fire when a legal moral and bioethical debates about organ sales and transplants have been overcome when the trade in human organ is fully institutionalized and smoothly operated by the rapacious forces of global capitalism (Shital Pravinchalra, 8).

When the play opens, Ma Jaya are seen waiting for Om who is about to come after job-hunting. Apart from the usual retorting and differences between the mother-in-law and the daughter-in- law, one notes their concern for Om”s getting job. Though the ever-growing use of electronic devices like computer has turned Om jobless, his sixty-year-old mother seems to be addicted to another electronic domestic device-television. She appears to be less concerned about her son and daughter-in-law. One feels that she believes more in the celluloid world than the real world where one finds difficult to feed only four members in the family. Ma retorts her daughter-in-law Jaya when the latter asks to leave her alone.

MA. Alone, alone! Have you seen your neighbours? Ten in that room; And harmonious as a TV show! But you? An empty room would be too crowded for you. (Padmanabhan”s Harvest, 218) One begins to feel the influence of technology more when Om comes back and begins to describe how he has been selected for a different kind of job. He narrates the non-human instructions at the time of his selection procedure. There begins the commanding influence of the machines in human life. Om narrates:

OM. We were standing all together in that line. And the line went on and on -not just on one floor, but slanting up, forever. All in iron bars and grills. It was like being in a cage shaped like a tunnel. All around, up, turn, sideways, there were men slowly moving. All the time, I couldn’t understand it.

Somewhere there must be a place to stop, to write a form? Another question? But no. Just forward, forward. One person fainted but the others pushed him along. And at the corners, a sort of pipe was kept.

Summery

The play is set in the future, at a time when multinational companies have gone to the Third World not for software, minerals or fabric, but to harvest organs for their rich customers in America. It’s about India and the gritty Third World reality. Set in the imminent future, Harvest imagines a grisly pact between the first and third worlds, in which desperate people can sell their body parts to wealthy clients in return for food, water, shelter and riches for themselves and their families. As such, it is a play about how the “first” world cannibalizes the “third” world to fulfill its own desires.

The play confronts us with a futuristic Bombay of the year 2010. Om Prakash, a jobless Indian, agrees to sell unspecified organs through InterPlanta Services, Inc. [a multinational corporation] to a rich person in first-world for a small fortune. InterPlanta and the recipients are obsessed with maintaining Om’s health and invasively control the lives of Om, his mother Ma, and his wife Jaya in their one-room apartment. The recipient, Ginni, periodically looks in on them via videophone and treats them condescendingly. Om’s diseased brother Jeetu is taken to give organs instead of Om.

In Harvest, Om, a just-laid-off breadwinner [(of an employer) To dismiss (workers) from employment, e.g. at a time of low business volume, often with a severance package.] for a struggling Indian family living in a cramped Bombay tenement, decides to sell his organs to a shadowy company called Interplanta in hopes of reversing his financial plight. Om’s family is monitored around the clock, receiving frequent video phone-type inquiries and directives from the supposed organ recipient, an icy young blonde named Ginni. Om’s mother falls into a stupor, constantly absorbed by programs on the TV provided by Interplanta. The family’s lives continue to go awry. The play may be set in the future, but it reflects contemporary conditions as well. India, one-third the size of the United States, has three times the population and almost 30 percent of its employable labor force is out of work, and the country’s biggest problems are overpopulation and inadequate education.

The story, centers on Om who had recently become jobless. Joblessness, desperation, cynicism are the defining national sentiment. Om, a just-laid-off breadwinner for a struggling Indian family living in a cramped Bombay tenement, decides to sell his organs to a shadowy company called Interplanta in hopes of reversing his financial plight. The family portrait is an archetypal picture of dissolution and decay. It is into this world of disorder that Inter Planta Services brings apparent order and respectability when Om signs up to be an organ donor for an American woman named Ginni because there are no other jobs available for him in Mumbai. As the family’s life becomes more comfortable, their relationships become more strained than they ever were in their poverty, and eventually the whole family is at risk of losing not only body parts but their souls and identities as well. The corporation, personified as three anonymous, masked guards dressed all in white, gradually takes over every aspect of their lives.

Guards arrive to make his home into a germ-free zone. Om’s family is monitored around the clock, receiving frequent video phone-type inquiries and directives from the supposed organ recipient, an icy young blonde named Ginni. Ginni pays him to lead a “clean” and “healthy” life so she can harvest healthy organs whenever she needs them. Ginni begins to control every aspect of Om’s life, from when and what he eats to whom he sees and how he uses the bathroom. In fact, Ginni comes to control the entire family until the end of the play.

There occurs a radical change to their dingy room and it acquires an air of sophistication. The most important installation however, is the contact module placed at the centre of the room to facilitate communication between the receiver and the donor. The contact module and the apparent order brought in by Inter Planta seem to create turmoil in personal relationships. The donor and his family is kept under the constant gaze of the receiver as the module can rotate round to face each corner and can flicker to life at any moment. Ginny compares Om’s flat to a “human goldfish bowl” (Harvest 43) which she can observe and amuse herself with. The concept of the design is to allow a watchman to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution without their being able to tell whether they are being watched or not. Thus the inmates of the Third world are trapped under the unrelenting gaze of the First world. This total deprivation of privacy can be interpreted as the ultimate form of surveillance.

Om’s diseased brother, Jeetu, is taken to give organs instead of Om, and the recipient, Ginni, turns out to not be what she initially seemed. In a final act of defiance, the seeds of rebellion flower in a “checkmate” ploy by Om’s wife, Jaya.

Om’s younger brother has abandoned the family homestead [The dwelling house and its adjoining land] and earns his upkeep as a bi-sexual sex worker, Om’s mother has been frayed [(of a person’s nerves or temper) showing the effects of strain] by years of want and penniless living. So much so, she sees nothing amiss with her son’s trade-off, [an exchange where you give up one thing in order to get something else that you also desire.] as long as she gets her long-desired television set, her fridge, her microwave and all the other things that money can buy.

Om, on his part, is too smitten by the beautiful blonde — his buyer from across the seven seas — that keeps staring down at him from the television screen and drives him queasy [sick/unsettled] with her tantalizingly delivered sermons.

When Jeetu, his brother returns unexpectedly, he is taken as the donor. Om can’t accept this. He leaves to get back his position as the donor. Jaya, his wife is left alone. She was seduced into selling her body parts, for use by the rich westerners. Jaya, the sensitive young wife seems to have somehow managed to retain her not-for-sale soul despite the overarching gloom.


Characters of the Play


Character of Om Prakash

He is the main protagonist of the play. We see the character, Om, signing up as an organ donor for Ginni who is an American woman simply because there is no more jobs in India. Ginni pays him to lead and live a healthy life, so when it is time for doing an organ, there is no difficulty or problem in doing so. This play feels nice in the beginning because it seems as after signing up as organ donor, leading a happy and healthy life is guranteed and certained, but what lies underneath is when Om and his small family starts to enjoy their new lifestyles, they also start to deny the consequences.

By seeing the financial situations of Om and his wife Jaya, we can appreciate money as a necessity to life. In this play, we see Om pretty much selling his life in order to obtain the top dollar for this family, well at least in India it was considered top dollar. Jaya was evidently distressed about Om’s decision on signing himself to Ginni because the family is already on an off and on a troubled relationship because Jaya is having a secret relationship with Om’s younger brother Jeetu. Jeetu works as the prostitute mentioned earlier, Ma is Om’s mother who also lives in the house who favours Om more so than the others.

It can be said that it was so easy for Om to be able to sign to Ginni because it shows how uncaring and what his body means to him, in order to get the riches. Kinda makes sense now why the title is Harvest because our body is like food, we can harvest it whenever in cases we need it as Ginni had portrayed it in this play.

Om’s insistence that his role in the selection procedure was entirely passive allows Padmanabhan to critique the liberal discourse of free will and choice that advocates organ markets on the basis of individual autonomy. She suggests that it is precisely this discourse which creates the economic structure of millennial capitalism in which the selling of organs becomes an ‘option’ for the disenfranchised third-world individual. As Om’s final reaction makes clear, his judgement has been severely impaired by the lure of unlimited wealth. When the reality of what he has done hits him, he is terrified: ‘How could I have done this to myself? What sort of fool am I?’

Character of Jaya

Jaya appears as the last hope of emotional value in the fire when a legal moral and bio-ethical debates about organ sales and transplants have been overcome when the trade in human organ is fully institutionalized and smoothly operated by the rapacious forces of global capitalism. She is 19 years old. Mulvey, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ in The Narrative Reader by Martin McQuillan, 2000). Therefore, by offering us the opinions of women about the ongoing rape, Padmanabhan re-directs the ‘gaze’ as emanating from men, towards a situation where it is elicited from women, the sympathetic observers. Secondly, by not directly showing the assault, Padmanabhan carefully avoids any titillation that such scenes may provide the audience or readers. The assault is occurring in the background (both backstage and at the back of our minds) and is able to keep the sense of unease alive and imminent. As such, rather than ‘witness’ the rape and experience a sense of ‘escape’ in the immediacy of it, one is made to ‘think’ about it and its repercussions. There is no ‘catharsis’ offered here, but sheer irresolution, resting the burden of action on the spectator/audience’s shoulders.

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She is a very assertive female character, although women’s resistance is not the central concern of this play. It is a dystopian play about the trade in human organs and the commodification of the third world body that such a trade is predicated upon. Here, it is through the character of Jaya that Padmanabhan voices a possible resistance. There are suggestions of a discord in her relationship with her husband. However, Jaya does not seem resigned to submit to her fate. She openly expresses herself in front her husband’s brother Jeetu (with whom, it is suggested, she has been having a liaison): “What do you know of my needs, my desires? …… A woman wants more than just satisfaction.”(96). Although her illicit relationship with Jeetu is not condoned by the playwright, we are nevertheless given an insight into what miseries a woman’s life can be reduced to, if she does not find a legitimate outlet for her sexual desires. It is not just direct interference with the woman’s body, but also cultural dictates that can stifle her physical existence.

However, it is towards the end that we get a firm assertion by Jaya to be master of herself and her own body. When Virgil, an American man, tries to gain control over her body, so that he can make her bear his child, she refuses to negotiate with him. She is determined to lay down her own conditions. If Virgil wants her body, he must come to her in person. She insists, “I know Jaya resists Virgil’s advances and retains her own dignity in one swift stroke. While Virgil weighs his options, Jaya threatens to reclaim her own body through suicide. One is reminded of the French feminist Helene Cixous’ words about how a female physiology as a source of expression, can be empowering and enabling: “Women must write through their bodies, they must invent the impregnable language that will wreck partitions, classes and rhetorics, regulations and codes, they must submerge, cut through, get beyond the ultimate reservediscourse…” (Marks and Courtivron, 256).

Jaya certainly uses her own body to write her own fate, if nothing else, and thus, to voice resistance. Donna Haraway, in ‘A Manifesto for Cyborgs’ talks about how, in today’s world of technological advancement, women can voice resistance through an analysis of their situation in inter-national migrations and the increasing rate of male unemployment. Padmanabhan takes the argument a step further by suggesting that a reaction to commodification of women’s body might not necessarily lead to compromised situations like exploitative women-headed households but also to a more assertive control by the women over their body. For, even in the face of her husband’s unemployment, and the consequent poverty in the family, Jaya refuses to ‘migrate’ to a foreign land and asserts her power through her control over her body.

Character of Ginni

She is the American woman who had paid Om to receive his organ through transplantation. Throughout the play, the characters on stage are seen talking to the image of a beautiful woman called Ginni, the alleged buyer of Om’s organs. The other main character is the module in the room which seems to have materialised from some futuristic thriller; Ginni (genie), the American lady, appears on it now and then like some Big Sister to see whether the Prakash family is following the rules. They lead antiseptic lives, eating multicoloured pills instead of food, not mixing with others, and God forbid, getting a cold.

Ginny is careful, however, to provide the donors with plenty of comforts to compensate them for their efforts. Ginny reminds the family that by pampering them so, she is only fulfilling her own contractual obligations. Ginny’s casual sentence serves as a jolting and disturbing reminder that receivers and donors hardly trade in equivalents: Ginny provides ‘things’ for which the donors pay her back in their own lives. In fact, Ginny’s continual gifts amount to little more than mere investment.

Her presence on the screen is invisible. She communicates with the donor family only through the contact module. She is thus never physically present on the stage, a fact that is highly significant because Padmanabhan’s chosen genre – theatre – is explicitly concerned with a tangible, embodied and physical presence on stage. Yet throughout the play, Ginny is only ever visible in two-dimensions, on the screen of the contact module. The only embodied performers on the stage are the racially and visually distinct bodies of the third-world donors.


Summary of Harvest


The play Harvest, with the very apt title, describes how one such family fall victim to the flesh market controlled by the Western world. An attempt made herein is to describe how the machine world governs the human world and how the playwright has cleverly used the electronic devices turning them into characters. There begins the play of machines and machine-like men (representatives of the machine world) instructing, commanding, interfering and grabbing the human lives. The entry of the Guards from the Interplaza services is the beginning of the machine era and the end of the human era.

Manjula Padmanabhan in Harvest presents battle war between machine and man for possession human beings have to wage in future if not learn to control machines. Where machine will succeed at the initial ground, but final victory will lie with a (wo) man. The play also shows the futuristic picture of modern times where the machines will be replacing and distancing human beings gradually. The play warns through the character of Jaya how one has to govern the machines instead of being governed.


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