34 Manjula Padmanabhan’s Harvest

Ms. Safia Begum

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About the Playwright:


Manjula Padmanabhan was born in Delhi in 1953. She has spent early years of her life in Europe and Southeast Asia. Later, she returned to India. She has done graduation in Economics and M. A. in History from Bombay University. Apart from writing plays and fiction she creates comic. Her comic strip character is Suki. It first appeared in 1980s and 1990s in the Sunday Observer. It has also appeared in the Pioneer but now it appears in The Business Line once a week.


Noted Works of the Playwright:


Manjula has written widely across various genres. Some of her works are Harvest, Lightsout, HiddenFires, DoubleTalk, HotDeath, ColdSoup, This is Suki!, Kleptomania and so on. She has also penned her autobiographical novel GettingThere and wrote Escape, a science fiction for adults, Mouse Attack, Mouse Invaders and We Are Different! are sme of her significant works. Her recent works include a science-fiction novel entitled The Island of Lost Girls and then there is Three Virgins and Other Stories. Her play, Harvest won the first prize in the Osmania Prize for Theatre in 1997.


Literary Style of the Playwright:


Some writers pay attention to language when they write their plays, for some performance holds significance and for some issues become very much significant. It does not mean other things become insignificant for them. Other things also matter to them but things occupy hierarchical positions or get prioritised. Nevertheless, Manjula Padmanabhan’s plays are issues oriented and deal with social reality. Thus, her style and content is realistic in a believable manner. Her plays are majorly women centric and thus present their perspectives and narratives. Her plays have continuity in order to create a sense of the real world.


Michelene Wandor says, “though disguises the construction of the world and makes it appear seamless and natural and hence appropriate, it puts ordinary and working class people at ease and makes them more receptive to political and social ideas and behaviours that they may otherwise avoid”. Thus, in order to create a sense of awareness and to take them to the depth of an issue that takes place in their everyday life she tries to create a wonderful connection between the scenes. The incidents are presented in such a ways that as if they are really taking place in front of the audiences or readers.


The Setting and the Background to the Play:


Manjula Padmanabhan wrote the play Harvest (1997) for the first International Onassis Competition. The play is later made into a film called Deham in 2001 by Govind Nehlani who is an acclaimed film director. The setting of the play is an Indian metropolis that presents the conditions of the third world country. The play is based on the organ donation whose donors are from the third world and the recipients are from the first world. Padmanabhan says “The donors and receivers should take on the racial identities, names, costumes and accents most suited to the location of production. It matters only that there be a highly recognizable distinction between the two groups, reflected in speech, clothing and appearance”.


Plot of the Play:


The play is divided into three acts. Set in Mumbai in 2010, the play takes us to the tensed apartment of a poor family. It narrates the stories of Om, the chief protagonist of the play and his family members. The entire family goes through a serious economic problem once Om is dismissed from his clerical job. Now Om has agreed to donate his organs by contractual promise through an Inter Planta Corporation to some first world character, Ginni. Gradually Ginni takes hold of his family and discipline them to a routine through controlled module. The events turn differently and Jeetu, Om’s younger brother, is taken mistakenly as the donor by the members of the corporation. Om runs away from the scene and leaves others to face the consequences.


Summary of the Play:


As we have discussed, the play deals with human organs selling whose recipients are from first world countries like North America and donors from the third world countries like India. The facilitator is a US based transnational corporation called Inter Planta Services. The selling of organs takes place for money. Ginny, a woman from America is the organ receiver and Om, the donor, is from India who is selling his organs to her. Ginny is not present on the stage and visible only in the video dictating hygienic and healthy lifestyle to Om and his family members. Through Om the whole family especially Jeetu and Jaya also gets into the contract. Thus, the four donors belong to the same family that is Om, Jaya, Ma and Jeetu.


When Om discloses the nature of his new job to Jaya, she tries to make him understand the consequences of it. However, Om never tries to understand what Jaya says. He tells the same thing to his mother and she seems to be happy on the prospect of getting money and first world comforts. However, Om hides his marital status from the company as the contract demands unmarried donor. Thus, he introduces Jaya as Jeetu’s wife and Jeetu as his brother-in-law. Ginni does not demand any of Om’s organs instantly. She gradually makes the family’s small apartment sanitize and install all the necessary devices including a conduct module and multi coloured pellets, the sole food source for the family. The conduct module is installed to interact with Om whenever Ginni wants to instruct something to him. A video couch is also brought for Ma to enjoy and to devoid her of any human interaction.


Gradually the plan unravels when the company mistakenly takes Jeetu instead of Om for organ donation. Jeetu brings home dirt and disease with him this repulse Om and Ma.

They also fear how Ginni might react to this. Thus they derive him out of home but Jaya feels for him. However, when the guards appear to take the donor, Om fears and hides. They forcibly take Jeetu mistaking him as Om. Jaya remains unsuccessful in trying to make the guards understand that the person to whom they are taking away for organ donation is not Om, the real organ donor but his brother Jeetu. Thus, they take away Jeetu with them. Jeetu is a gigolo and Jaya shares a clandestine relationship with him. Jeetu returns home blind. The ordeal does not end here. Now Jeetu can only see whenever Ginni projects images directly into his mind through the contact module. He is now enchanted with the Ginni’s voice and he begins to feel sexual gratifications in the possibility of a very important part of his body getting transplanted into her body. His ordeal ends when he is taken for the second time. However, Jeetu never realises that on the prospect of sexual gratification he is gradually deprived of his body parts.


Ma is busy watching TV in her video couch and Om has escaped from the scene leaving Jaya to face the consequences. Now Jaya is shocked when she realizes that Ginni is only a computer generated wet dream. It is old Virgil who is the actual recipient of the organs. Virgil is hungry of youth and who is not satisfied with Jeetu’s body. Now the old man, Virgil, with new body organs craves for female. He seduces Jaya but she dislikes the idea of conceiving for a computer image and wants her man to be real. However, Virgil refuses the idea as he cannot take the risk of physically entering into and get infected by the diseases of the third world country.


Characters in the Play:


Om Prakash: The protagonist who agrees to sell his organs for money.

Jaya: Wife of Om who is in trouble after Om escapes from the scene.

Ma: Mother of Om and Jeetu who is in her old age but craves for money.

Jeetu: Brother of Om who is mistakenly taken for organ donation and becomes the victim.

Ginni: An imaginative character of an American wealthy woman who is in need of organs.

Virgil: An American wealthy old man who is the real recipient of the organs.


Major Themes and Other Important Issues Discussed in the Play:


The themes of the play vary from helplessness, human relationships to the problems of third world countries. The major themes of the play are poverty and commodification of organ donation. Let us discuss some of these in detail.


Commodification of Human Body:


Harvest is based on the pertinent issue of organ trade in India. It projects the picture of a family which is surrounded by conflict and mess. Within the family, Om and Jaya are maintaining an unstable marital relationship; in actuality Jaya is carrying on a secret affair with her brother-in-law Jeetu. Amidst economic setback and emotional deprivation, Om takes the lead to find out a solution. To sustain the family, Om decides to sell his organ to an international multinational company in return of a limited amount of money. Om is hired by the multinational company called Inter Planta to donate his healthy organs to a well to do receiver belonging to the West. Padmanabhan deals with this commoditization of the healthy third world body with the help of significant advances in transplant medicine and other technological helps.


Om comes home and announces that he has succeeded in getting a new job. He is an eligible, healthy donor from India who has sold all of his organs to a buyer in the USA. His ambiguous feelings of both delight and despair persuaded him to take up the job. The delight is expressed when he tells his mother. He says “We’ll have more money than you and I have names for!’ He says to Ma, proudly. ‘Who’d believe there’s so much money in the world?” (Gilbert, 219).The despair and wrong choice reveals from Jaya and Om’s conversation. “Om: I went there because I lost my job at 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 nothingleft for people like us! Don’t you know that? Jaya: You’re wrong, there are choices – there must be choices – Om: Huh! I didn’t choose. I stood in queue and was chosen! And if not this queue, there would have been other queues…


The beginning introduces audiences and the readers a dark world of institutionalised organ trade which is very much open in the third world countries. Manjula’s choices of words are very significant to understand the commodification of human body. Like Om says ‘he did not choose’ rather ‘they have chosen him’. He thinks he is the chosen one that is the luckiest person who is offered this job. Further when Om’s mother also begins to understand the nature of the job she is also astonished to find out that her son is just paid for nothing. This is the impact of the magical means of capitalist economy on the common man. Thus, through this play, Manjula brings out the two sides and choices one has as it is advocated in the market that is the free and individual choice or even forced choice.


In other words, Manjula tries to make an argument that in fact these options only make an individual to select it specifically the third world deprived countries’ citizens. A donor of third world country is allured by money and it is named as free choice. Thus, when reality comes upon him, he realises the grave mistake he has committed. He says, ‘How could I have done this to myself? What sort of fool am I?’ (Gilbert, 234). Thus, the alluring options and the deprived financial conditions forced an individual to make such choices. Otherwise, no individual given an option will be ready to sell his body organs. The commodification of the human body has become obvious and gradually started to acquire a legitimate status that too in the name of expressions like erasing poverty.


These third world bodies are easily available like readymade products that can be sold and bought easily. It does not require much effort or labour such persons to be produced. Thus, Harvest is known as a futuristic play with its extended vision to 2010 that represents the confinement of a middle class family of the third world to the tempting but illegal global economy of the first world. The title, Harvest seems to be apt as the play deals with the issue of buying and gathering human organs in India by certain groups who sell these organs in the global market. In the play, Om’s family members fall victim of this market which is mostly controlled by the other, that is, foreign receivers from the West.


Further, Harvest is not only about human organ trade and how it affects the poor, it is also about the overriding presence of technology that intervenes in the human world and governs us. The play represents the battle between man and machine for the possession of human beings, and how the financially strong groups and agents take advantage of the modern electronic technology to control the financially weak sections of the society. Further, important issues like poverty have been very nicely dealt in the play. Let us discuss about the technological part.

Technology and Gadgets:


In the play Padmanahban brings into discussion the influence of technology in the lives of poor people like Om who are unskilled in computerization and technology. Moreover, the description of the selection procedure for Om’s new job bears witness to the fact that how technology has been used to deceive the poor people by the multinational organ buyers. Soon after the agreement the house is filled with the technological devices. Everyone now is used to that life especially Om and Ma. These devices act as a tool to control and discipline the donor and his family members. This begins when Ginni enters into their house through contact module. Padmanabhan describes contact module as ‘white, faceted globe’.


Ginni enters into their home without entering into the geographical and physical spaces of the third world. Possibly Ginni does not want to risk her life by setting her foot into the unhealthy and unhygienic spaces of the donors. Further, through this contact module, Ginni can monitor their routine activity without their knowledge. Thus, the contact module plays an important role to regulate and discipline the donor’s life so that the organs remain in good condition. In the process, Ginni comes to know after her first interaction or ‘visit’ that the Om’s family shares a toilet with forty other families “No-one has a toilet in the house. Forty families share one”. (Gilbert, 225) To this Ginni reacts “It’s disgusting! And I – well, I’m going to change that. I can’t accept that. I mean, it’s unsanitary!”.


Thus, on the very same day the facilitator, that is, the Interplanta men come to install a separate toilet in their home. Similarly, for healthy food they first dismantle the family’s kitchen and switch it with their own cooking device and jars containing multi-coloured food pellets. Not only that, the family members are disciplined to follow the strict timings as well. Ginny does it purely from the perspective of her own profit, because she wants their organs to be healthy so that when she uses them she is not in trouble.


The key understanding of millennial capitalism lies in the particular brand of seduction upon which it operates. This seductiveness is what makes this organ trade possible. The third world individuals are seduced into selling organs like kidney, cornea in order to solve their monetary problems. The body is mined for its organs and finally harvested. Thus, Harvest shows the futuristic picture of the modern times when machines will replace human beings. The play, Harvest demonstrates that this modern trade of selling human body parts can be understood in terms of the existing gross material inequalities between the first and third worlds citizens.


Summary :


So, in this module we have discussed about the playwright Manjula Padmanabhan. We learnt about her life and also literary career. We also discussed about Manjula’s works and style of writing. Further, we have studied the play Harvest. We have focused on the background of the play. After then the plot and summary of the play have been discussed. Then we have seen the characters in the play. Further, we have concentrated on various themes and other relevant issues discussed in the play.


For more on this module, please find the etext, learn more and self-assessment tabs.

you can view video on Manjula Padmanabhan’s Harvest


  • Gilbert, Helen. Postcolonial Plays: Anthology. London: Routledge, 2008.
  • Prabhakaran, Roshni. “Harvest: A Panoptic Power Structure” The Criterion: AN International Journal in English, Vol. 4, Issue-IV, August 2013. www.the-criterion.com
  • Pravinchandra, Shital. “The Third-World Body Commodified: Manjula Padmanabhan’s Harvest” esharp, an International Journal, Issue 8 “Un/Worldly Bodies” http://www.gla.ac.uk/research/az/esharp/issues/8/
  • Pandey, Shramita. “Uma Parameswaran and Manjula Padmanabhan: A Study in Theme and Characterization” http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/handle/10603/70319 (Unpublished Thesis)
  • Wandor, Michlene (1993), Drama Today: A Critical Guide to Britishh Drama 1970 1990, Methuen, London