Shudraka is regarded as one of the foremost Sanskrit dramatists. Although his work has been lauded for centuries, his real identity remains a mystery. The Clay Toy-Cart remains one of the foundational works of Sanskrit drama, having been performed numerous times around the world and even serving as the inspiration for Girish Karnad’s highly acclaimed film Utsav.
Here is an excerpt from this iconic play.
Radanika: (Moving about in fear) Oh my God! A thief has made a hole in the wall of our house and is now getting away! Let me try and rouse Arya Maitreya. Arya Maitreya! Please wake up! A thief had breached the wall and has now got away!
Vidushaka: (Awakens) You daughter of a whore! What are you saying? The thief has been breached and the hole is getting away?
Radanika: No joking for heaven’s sake, you wretch! Can’t you see this? (Points to the hole)
Vidushaka: You daughter of a whore! What do you mean by saying it again as if a second door has been opened? (To Charudatta) Oh! My friend Charudatta! Get up! Get up! A thief has bored a hole in our wall and has disappeared!
Charudatta: (Having risen) All right, that is enough joking!
Vidushaka: I am not joking. You see for yourself.
Charudatta: Where is the hole?
Vidushaka: Over here.
Charudatta: (Looks at the hole and exclaims) But what a beautiful hole! The bricks have been removed from top down! This hole is small at the top and large in the middle. As though this is the heart of this great mansion. Split due to fear of contact with one unworthy. There is expertise even in this kind of work!
Vidushaka: My friend, undoubtedly this breach has been made by one of two kinds of people. Someone new to the city or one merely practising his art! For who in this Ujjayini does not know the state of our finances?
Charudatta: Perhaps a man from foreign parts did it, By way of practising his skill, no doubt. Or he knew not that we were men unburdened with wealth, Who could sleep on soundly with a light heart! His hopes were raised by the first sight of our huge mansion Only to be dashed to the ground. After the long and arduous task of boring the hole. But what will he tell his friends now, that he broke into the house of the scion of a great merchant but found nothing at all to carry away?
Vidushaka: Why do you waste your pity on that thieving rascal? He must have thought that this was such a great big house that surely he could make away with a treasure in gems and gold ornaments! . . . Where is that bundle of ornaments? (Recollecting suddenly) My friend, you always say Maitreya is a fool, Maitreya is ignorant; have I not done well in putting that parcel of ornaments into your hands? Otherwise that son of a whore would have made off with it!
Charudatta: Please, no more jokes.
Vidushaka: I may be a fool but I do know the time and the place for jokes.
Charudatta: When did all this happen?
Vidushaka: When I told you your hands were cold!
Charudatta: Ah! That could have been it! (Looks pleased) Thank God I can tell you something agreeable!
Vidushaka: What? Has it not been stolen?
Charudatta: No, it has been stolen.
Vidushaka: Then why are you pleased?
Charudatta: That he did not go away empty-handed.
Vidushaka: But it had been left in our safe custody!
Charudatta: Oh! It was in our safe custody! (He swoons)
Vidushaka: Please compose yourself. If what was left in our care has been stolen, why do you fall in a faint?
Charudatta: (Recovers) Who will believe the truth of the matter? The world will deride me, for poverty lacks dignity; It is suspect in the eyes of all. Alas! Fate had already eloped with my riches, Why does the cruel one seek to sully my good name as well now?
Vidushaka: I can deny everything, who gave and who received. And who indeed was the witness?
Charudatta: Would I now utter a falsehood? I would not flinch from begging to earn the means to redeem the loss Of what was left in my care; But a falsehood that would destroy my reputation I shall never utter.
Radanika: I had better go and report all this to my mistress Dhuta.