Gendering Waiting for Godot in the Socio-political Context of Pakistan

In: Samuel Beckett Today / Aujourd'hui
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  • 1 Emerson University, Pakistan, Multan
  • | 2 University of Edinburgh, UK, Edinburgh
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This paper focuses on an adaptation of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in the Muslim context of Pakistan. Firstly, it looks at previous performances of the play with female actors. Secondly, it examines why female characters are introduced in the adaptation, which is strikingly opposite to Beckett’s idea of characterization in Waiting for Godot. Thirdly, it explores how such alteration is significant in the context of the Muslim culture of Pakistan. Finally, the play thus adapted for a local audience is read in a political light.


This paper focuses on an adaptation of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in the Muslim context of Pakistan. Firstly, it looks at previous performances of the play with female actors. Secondly, it examines why female characters are introduced in the adaptation, which is strikingly opposite to Beckett’s idea of characterization in Waiting for Godot. Thirdly, it explores how such alteration is significant in the context of the Muslim culture of Pakistan. Finally, the play thus adapted for a local audience is read in a political light.

In 2008, an adaptation of Waiting for Godot under the name of Insha ka Intezaar (“Waiting for Insha”) was performed at the Theatre Hall of Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi (Siddiqui, 2008).1 The play was produced by Tehrik-e-Niswan to highlight women’s issues in the context of the socio-political situation of Pakistan (Nasir 2021, 205). The leading newspapers of Pakistan including The News and The Dawn published short reviews about the success of the adaptation and its reception. Shanaz Ramzi, from The Dawn, appreciated the production for effectively interweaving the play with “the current scenario in Pakistan—the apathy, the gullibility of our people, and the state of hopelessness interlaced with an almost desperate conviction of better things to come” and found that “the play hi[t] home on a number of fronts”. Similarly, Iram Noor Muzaffar, in The News, observed that the adaptation “illustrate[d] the poignancy, oppression, camaraderie, hope, corruption, exploitation and bewilderment of human experience—all of which len[t] themselves to both comedy and pathos” (4). In 2011, Insha ka Intezaar was again staged during the National Drama Festival in Karachi, Pakistan. At the time, Mavra Bari noted that the play was “well-adapted for the Pakistani palate” and that it “did a commendable job at being relevant to Pakistani issues and ideologies, all the while harnessing the classic Beckett themes”. Finally, Tehrik-e-Niswan staged Insha ka Intezaar in India for Bharat Rang Mahotsav at the National Theatre Festival in New Dehli in 2012 (Lal, 2012).

Anwer Hussain Jafri, the director and translator of the play, kept the bleak aura of the play intact by maintaining the setting of the original text: “A country road. A tree. Evening” (Beckett 2006, 10). However, the adaptation sets itself apart in terms of the characterization and the structure of the play, which is noticeably delimited to one single act. In characterization, the number of the characters remains the same, but female characters outnumber male characters as three female and two male actors perform the different parts of the play. Female characters include Zulekha for Vladimir’s role, and Naseebun for Lucky’s and a girl performs as the messenger. Karmu and Mansha Ullah are male characters who play the roles of Estragon and Pozzo respectively. Jafri was aware of the fact that Beckett objected to a cast of female characters; nevertheless, he justified this decision by saying that “the theme he wanted to convey would not have been possible without casting female characters” (Jafri 2021). In the present case, we will argue that the indigenization of the canon resulted in its feminization and that the politics of gender play a significant role in this experimental production of the play. As we will see, casting female characters to play Vladimir and Lucky and a recognizable Pakistani dictator, Zia ul Haq, to play Pozzo gives a sense of immediacy and urgency to the play and makes it resonate with a feminist and democratic struggle well-known to Pakistani people.

1 About Insha ka Intezaar

Before analyzing further this singular act of gendering Waiting for Godot in the operative field of Muslim society in the South Asian socio-political context, we will offer a brief presentation of the organization responsible for the production, of the translator-cum-director, and of the actors.

Jafri’s Insha ka Intezaar is overtly political and unambiguously feminist. Both of these tropes are reflected in his long-standing association with Tehrik-e-Niswan (‮تحریک نسواں‬‎). This organization—the name of which means “Women’s Movement” in English—was established in 1979 (Qamar, 2011) to conduct workshops, seminars and conferences on issues of women’s rights. In 1980, it succeeded in holding the first-ever “All Women’s Conference” in which women from various areas and professions participated (Tehrik-e-Niswan Webpage, 2021). Afterwards, Tehrik-e-Niswan felt the need to spread its message through cultural and creative activities like dance and theatre. The organization believed that the “men (particularly) and women (generally), needed to be made aware of the low status and position of women and the social, political, economic and cultural discrimination” in Pakistan (Tehrik-e-Niswan Webpage, 2021) and that sensitization about discrimination could bring positive social change. As a result, Tehrik-e-Niswan organized various activities including the staging of plays to highlight the issues of women. The play Dard Kay Faaslay (“Distances of Pain”) was the first production under the banner of Tehrik-e-Niswan in 1980. The source material of the play was taken from the stories of Amrita Pritam, an Indian novelist, essayist and poet. After this, Tehrik-e-Niswan produced many theatre plays that directly depict social problems and women’s issues. The organization also adapted various famous pieces of world literature, including Girgit (Anton Chekhov’s The Chameleon), Mera Ghar Meri Jannat (Dario Fo and Franca Rame’s A Woman Alone), and Main Kon Hoon / Who Am I (Dario Fo and Franca Rame’s Female Parts). Insha ka Intezaar (Waiting for Godot) was the 40th production by Tehrik-e-Niswan (Muzaffar, 4).

Anwer Jafri, one of the leading theatre professionals and human rights activists in Pakistan, is a leading member of Tehrik-e-Niswan. He has been associated with Tehrik-e-Niswan since 1982. He started as a designer and was later engaged thoroughly with the movement and has been performing various roles for years (Jafri, 2021). In the social, political and cultural arena of Pakistan, his consistent struggle revolves around the protection of the rights of all Pakistanis so that they may live in a society free of all kinds of exploitation, economic inequality, extremism and oppression. Jafri enjoys a longstanding relationship with theatre as he began his career in theatre and theatre-related events in the 1970s. He has written and directed more than 30 theatre and street plays. Among them, one of the plays by Jafri entitled Hum Rokaen Gae/We Shall Resist, translated into English by Sheema Kermani, appeared in Islam in Performance: Contemporary Plays From South Asia, an edited volume on the representation of Islam on the South Asian stage (Continuum, 2017). Moreover, he has authored many excellent plays, documentaries for television and music videos. Most notable among his works have been Ga’ on Mae Roshni, an adaptation of Jo Clifford’s Light in the Village, Behrupiya, a musical Urdu adaptation of Molière’s Tartuffe, Insha Ka Intezaar, based on Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot, Woyzeck, an adaptation of Georg Buchner’s play, and Gurrya Ka Ghar, based on of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.

Sheema Kermani, who plays the part of Zulekha in Insha ka Intezaar, is a very well-known artist in Pakistan. Since 1978, she has been promoting Pakistani culture all around the world and her pioneering efforts have earned acclaim for her not only on a national but on an international level as well. In addition to being a founding member of Tehrik-e-Niswan, she is an expert of Bharatanatyam dance, a dominant form of Indian classical dance that originated in Tamil Nadu, India (Williams, 2004). Alongside her artistic engagements, Kermani has been working as a social activist to promote women’s freedom of expression. As for the role of Karmu (Estragon), it was performed by Saleem Mairaj. Mairaj started his career in 1990 and has played a variety of roles in theatre and TV dramas. Hafeez Ali acted as Mansha (Pozzo), Shama Askari as Naseebun (Lucky) and Maha Shahid as messenger girl.

2 Gendering Waiting for Godot

Jafri’s adaptation, though bold and perhaps transgressive, is not out of tune with recent developments in Beckett studies. Since the seminal Women in Beckett: Performance and Critical Perspectives edited by Linda Ben Zvi in 1992, there has been a consistent buildup of scholarship around the issues of gender and sexuality. Most notably Peter Boxall’s “Beckett and Homoeroticism” (2004) and Paul Stewart’s Sex and Aesthetics in Samuel Beckett’s Works (2011) take up these issues. More recently, James Little’s Samuel Beckett in Confinement: The Politics of Closed Space (2020) broadly explores the politics, ethics, and aesthetics of spatial confinement in Beckett’s work. Such a development denotes a moving away from existentialist, modernist and postmodernist readings of Beckett. If the issue of gender and sex inherent to Beckett’s works has been somewhat overlooked before these recent developments, this was particularly the case with Waiting for Godot. There is at least one obvious reason for this: women are excluded in Waiting for Godot; they find their place neither in the themes nor in the cast of the play. Nevertheless, as is well documented, the issue of casting women actors in Waiting for Godot has not remained uncontested.

During his lifetime, Beckett made it very clear that he did not want women to perform in Waiting for Godot. The story starts with the playwright’s flat refusal, “definitely no”, to Estelle Parsons and Shelly Winters, who wanted to play the roles of Estragon and Vladimir in the 1960s (Ben-Zvi 1992, xvii). Linda Ben-Zvi, like other critics, was curious to know the reasons for not casting women in Waiting for Godot and was informed by Beckett that they could not perform as “Women don’t have prostates” (Ben-Zvi 1992, x). Ben-Zvi believes that such an act of exclusion implies “that women do not experience the suffering of being the play depicts” and such sufferings are relevant to “those behavioral roles socially sanctioned for males—bantering, bullying, declaiming” (1992, x). Ben-Zvi is of the view that Beckett’s “characters always are grounded in their bodies and shaped by societal constructs of gender that mark and, far too often, determine male and female behavior and shape personality” (Ben-Zvi 2016, 67). As a result, any experiment with Beckett’s texts has to work through the specificities of gender roles.

Beckett’s caveat against casting women actors in Waiting for Godot, nevertheless, could not completely foreclose various productions of Waiting for Godot involving female actors. In 1988, a Dutch theatre organization, De Haarlemse Toneelschuur, chose to cast only female actors in their production of Waiting for Godot. Beckett strongly resisted this but he lost the legal case. This incident annoyed Beckett and, as a result, he “banned all productions of his plays in the Netherlands” (Hutchings, 94). In 1988, another production of Waiting for Godot by the Denver Center Theater cast two female characters to play the roles of Estragon and Vladimir. Beckett was not happy with the situation and asked the organizers to put a disclaimer stating, “Samuel Beckett wrote Waiting for Godot for five male characters and has never approved otherwise” (Ben-Zvi 1992, xvii). However, it is vital to note that although female actors performed in the production, neither the gender of the character nor the pronoun ‘he’ was changed in the text (Ben-Zvi 1988, 7).

In 1991, two years after Beckett’s death, Brut de Béton, a French theatre company, wanted to switch the cast of male characters to female actors and approval was denied by the Beckett Estate. Jerome Lindon, the Beckett Estate’s representative in France, brought the matter to the court. A French judge ruled that the play might be “performed by a female cast”; however, the judge directed the company that “a letter of objection from the late playwright’s representative […] be read before each show” (The New York Times, 1991). In 1993, Susan Sontag’s controversial production of Waiting for Godot was a landmark. She not only limited the play to one act but also multiplied the characters, which allowed her to include women actors as well. Most strikingly, the role of Pozzo was played by a woman. The emotional portrayal of the plight of the Bosnian people under siege caused Sontag’s Waiting for Godot to be regarded as a highly political play. Beckett was not alive to resist, and the Beckett Estate’s response is not recorded; however, Mark and Juliette Taylor-Batty state that “Beckett scholars” raised issues about “the Sarajevan reduction of the play and multiplying of the characters” (78).

More recently, in 2006, an Italian theatre company chose to cast two women as lead actors in Waiting for Godot. A court in Rome allowed this alteration: the theatre company argued that it had made a contract with male actors but as they could “not commit to the production”, they had hired two women to replace them. They further argued that there was a “clause in its contract with the Beckett Estate [that] said that if performers could not continue in the roles, it was permitted to change them” (CBC, 2006). The clause did not mention the sex of the performers.

3 Waiting for Godot in a Pakistani Context

Insha ka Intezaar, Jafri’s somewhat free adaptation of Waiting for Godot, anchors itself in a very specific socio-political context. As we will see, the women’s struggle against patriarchy and the democratic struggle against dictatorship are emblematized by the Pozzo-Lucky duo rechristened as Mansha Ullah and Naseebun.

First, a strong religious Islamic subtext can be detected in the adaptation. More specifically, an ironic use of religious lexicon betrays a strong undercurrent of resentment against the instrumentalization of religion in the country. From Insha Allah (referenced in the choice of title Insha ka Intezaar) to Mansha Ullah (Pozzo’s name in the play), the entire spectrum of belief from liberal to radical—for want of better terms—gets covered. The translation of the titular word ‘Godot’ as ‘Insha’ is highly suggestive. The Arabic-originated word ‘Insha’ is usually combined with ‘Allah’ in the a religious phrase ‘Insha Allah’—“God willing” or “If it is God’s will”.2 But if ‘Insha’ is to be used without ‘Allah’, it becomes meaningless or will not convey any specific meanings. Thus, the word carries explicit religious implications and is highly symbolic, but it is hollow and meaningless on its own. Thus, it can be argued that Insha is a very similar word to ‘Godot’. In the context of the adaptation, the wait for Insha conveys the bleakness and hollowness of the characters’ hope. On the contrary, there is an element of hope and semantic play in ‘Insha’, as ‘Mansha’ signifies the “certainty of a closed and past transaction” since ‘Mansha Ullah’ literally means “the way God has willed it to be” (translation ours).

Furthermore, the character of Mansha Ullah is framed by Jafri as Zia ul Haq, the sixth president of Pakistan.3 From donning “khaki” (‮خاکی‬‎) uniform clothes to wearing heavy boots and a moustache, Pozzo appears as an unmistakable effigy of Zia. Jafri’s reimagining of Pozzo in the character and demeanour of General Zia ul Haq anchors the play in the national politics of Pakistan. After deposing a democratically elected Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and later sending him to the rope in a fabricated case, General Zia ul Haq held the reins of power as Chief Martial Law Administrator from 1977 to 1988. Faced with the daunting struggle for legitimacy, Zia ul Haq exploited the religious sentiment of the masses and painted himself as the champion of Islam. Zia gave himself out as a missionary of God and the vehicle of His will. Anointing himself as the shadow of God, Zia sought to legitimize himself as the chosen one, if not by the people, but by God himself. And he proceeded to justify his divine selection by proposing strict enforcement of the shariah law (Loue, 269; Shah, 151–152; Cohen 170).

The character of Pozzo shares with Zia a taste for whipping and lashing. Indeed lashing was Zia’s favourite weapon to discipline critics of his regimes. Political workers, labour union leaders, human rights activists were amply rewarded with whips. Public whipping being the norm, even poets and fiction writers were made to receive their fair share of ignominy (Abbas 2013, 52). More than the khaki uniform and prominent boots, it is the address that Pozzo breaks into which further underscores his identity as Zia ul Haq in particular and as a military dictator in general.4 Every now and then, national television and radio surreptitiously go offline. The blackout is interrupted only by a voice of some general donning full uniform and ordinations starting with “My dear countrymen!” (!‮میرے عزیز ہم وطنو‬‎). This oft-repeated address which starts with this familiar salutation spans over a plethora of accusations against the ousted government, a commitment to accountability and freeing the system of corruption and a promise to conduct a free and fair election.

With Zia’s coming into power, the democratic process seemed to have run into the wall. But Benazir Bhutto, the daughter of the judicially executed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, came as Zia’s Nemesis. Coming back from her political exile, she launched a fierce campaign against the military dictator. The movement for the restoration of democracy all but shook Zia’s throne and established the credentials of Benazir as the political leader to the extent that in the next elections, she came to be the first female head of a Muslim-majority country in 1988 (Englar, 77–80; Bennett-Jones, 121–123). So with Zia as Pozzo, Benazir comes to be a natural candidate for Lucky. And, Pozzo’s word of caution when he advises Karmu and Zulekha to stay away from Lucky seems all the more contextualized in the power play in that it alludes to his desire to keep the public from approaching the emerging leader.5

4 A Feminist Agenda

While the feminist agenda is evident in the introduction of female characters, every gesture, every dialogue, and every moment of silence comes to assume a different semantic and semiotic value when played against the plethora of cultural assumptions around gender. The female Vladimir (Zulekha) struggling to break free from shivering and clingy male Estragon at the sudden appearance of Pozzo and Lucky is a harbinger of the emergent office of the “New Woman” in Pakistan. With the easing social restrictions on the mobility of women and a community that is fast-changing its conception of a perfect bride on the marriage market, the new Pakistani woman is expected to master the ability to hold her own in an uncertain situation.

Zulekha (Vladimir): ! ‮مجھے چھوڑو، میں ادھر جا کے دیکھوں تو‬‎ [Struggling to break free] Let me go. I should better go and check.
Karmu (Estragon): (!‮نہ ادھر مت جا‬‎) [In panic] Don’t go there!
Mansha (Pozzo): (‮ہوشیار رہنا! حرامزادی خطرناک ہے. خاص کر اجنبیوں کیلئے‬‎) [With a menacing undertone] Beware! The ill-begotten wretch is vicious. Especially to strangers.

What is more, instead of saying that he is getting Naseebun to the fair to sell her, Pozzo uses the word ‮فارغ‬‎ which means both “to free” and “to divorce”. So Pozzo means to, or pretends to mean, to divorce his wife. A patriarch wielding the right to divorce has suddenly come upon the idea of divorcing his wife for many years. While freedom might be a prized commodity, divorce in the conservative Pakistani society is still too serious a stigma to be taken lightly. Consequently, when Naseebun breaks into tears on hearing the threat from her callous and overbearing husband, the audience can easily empathize with her. The deep stigma around divorce makes Lucky breaking into tears all the more intelligible.

Placed in this context, Lucky’s kick becomes meaningful too. Lest the other characters’ show of sympathy should make her husband jealous, Naseebun violently dismisses the protestations of sympathy by a total stranger. In a conservative society, a female is not supposed to accept even sympathies from male strangers (‮نا محرم‬‎—Na mahram), the ones not related by blood or matrimony. Lucky’s kick is an extension of her all-out efforts to win the favours of her disgruntled husband. Whatever she hopes to win, her show of unquestionable loyalty and dedication fails to impress her husband. By using the words ‘entertaining’ (‮بہلانا‬‎—behlana) and ‘inveigling’ (‮پھسلانا‬‎—phislana), he evokes the typical charge of seduction to dismiss her efforts.

Mansha (Pozzo): (!‮یہ دیکھو بیغیرت کو اپنی عزت کا پاس نہ ہے‬‎) Lo and behold! The shameless without honour doesn’t care about her self-respect.
Zulekha (Vladimir): (‮تم اس سے پیچھاچھڑانا چاہتے ھو؟‬‎) Do you want to get rid of her?
Mansha (Pozzo): ‮(ویسے تو میں اسے ایسے ھی بھگا دیتا میرا مطلب یہ ھے کہ دو چار لاتیں مار کے نکال دیتا لیکن اپنی نیک طبیعت سے مجبور ھو کر اسے منڈی لے جا رھا ھوں وھاں اس کے اچھے بھلے دام بھی مل جائیں گے)‬‎
I would have chased her away just like that. I mean I could have kicked her out but forced by my righteous nature, I am taking her to market to get some money by selling her.

This declaration has obvious sexual connotations. Transactional relationships with women of their choice without any long-term commitment have been a male fantasy. Naseebun is reduced to mere bones of her former self and it is Pozzo’s habit to throw away the remains only if to be consumed by a stranger. The Urdu word ‘‮منڈی‬‎’ (mandi) for “market” here has wider significance. Besides denoting the market for buying fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, grains and farm animals—raw eatables in general—, the word ‘mandi’ is also used for the specific locality inhabited by prostitutes. Human trafficking abounds in such places and only a tiny minority works as independent sex workers. The majority of prostitutes are the property of pimps and matrons, the senior prostitutes. So, the future of Naseebun has been envisioned as a sex slave. Moreover, equating matrimonial bond with a rope around the neck sharpens the feminist teeth of the play. The sufferings of Naseebun are emblematic of a wife experiencing a sharp decline in her prestige as years of childbearing age go by.

It is also interesting to note that in Jafri’s adaptation, power dynamics generally associated with gender roles have somehow been reversed. The brittle intellectual that Vladimir is usually made to represent has been turned into Zulekha, a woman, while at least two of Didi’s character traits—mobility around a generally static male figure and responsibility for a ready supply of food—go more easily with the persona of a traditional Pakistani woman. Similarly, the female messenger should feel more at ease conversing with the female Vladimir. Negotiating with total strangers, however, is something that Zulekha (Vladimir) does, and which is not completely in sync with the conservative norms of Pakistani society.

5 From the Personal to the Political

In Insha ka Intezaar the journey from the overall socio-political situation of the country to the personal is swift and easy. We repeatedly note that the characters’ domestic turmoil abruptly puts national politics in the foreground.

In an overly politicized public discourse, the personal and the political are like conjoined twins in Pakistan. Therefore, it is not surprising to hear the tramps abuse each other in political jargon. When the tramps start abusing each other, the terms of slander inevitably drift toward constitutional politics:

Zulekha (Vladimir): (.‮چل یہ ٹھیک ہے. ایک دوسرے کو گالیاں دیتے ہیں‬‎) OK it looks good. Let’s abuse each other.
Zulekha (Vladimir): (‮گٹر کا کیڑا‬‎) A sewage worm.
Karmu (Estragon): (‮کوڑے کی مکھی‬‎) A fly from the dump.
Zulekha (Vladimir): (‮ٹائیفائیڈ‬‎) Ti phide (Typhoid).
Karmu (Estragon): (‮امریکن سنڈی‬‎) American pest.
Zulekha (Vladimir): (‮واپڈا‬‎) WAPDA.
Karmu (Estragon): (.‮کے. ای. سی‬‎) KEC.
Zulekha (Vladimir): (.‮پی. سی. ا و‬‎) PCO.
Karmu (Estragon): (‮ستارویں ترمیم‬‎) 17th Amendment.
Zulekha (Vladimir): (‮حدود آرڈیننس‬‎) Hudood Ordinance.
Karmu (Estragon): (‮بی ‭٥٨‬‬‎-‮‭٢‬‬‎) 58-2 B.

The move from the personal insult to a diatribe against corrupt and malfunctioning institutions is almost automatic here. Right after personal name-calling, the characters dub each other WAPDA (Water and Power Development Authority) and KEC (Karachi Electric Company). The two institutions dedicated to the management of power in the country have become synonymous with abuse due to their extreme apathy in the face of public woes, to rampant corruption and to their passive-aggressive handling of public concerns. The issue of electricity has been a decisive factor in the political fate of the government in the last two elections in Pakistan. The governments have successively failed in untying this Gordian knot of power management as it is entangled not only with the local, provincial and national politics, the global actors like International Monetary Fund (IMF) are directly invested in the (mis)management of power in Pakistan.

As if this glocal sweep of this dialogue was not enough, the abuse flows into constitutional politics. Zulekha (Vladimir) calls Karmu (Estragon) PCO (Provisional Constitutional Order) (Nasir 208). The infamous case of the PCO occurred in 2007 when the uniformed president of the country suspended the constitution and dismissed the judges of the Supreme Court. While the constitution was in abeyance, the country was to be run through a Provisional Constitutional Order—an arbitrary set of laws that do not require prior approval from the parliament. The media was silenced but the civil society burst into action. Fierce agitation broke out all over the country. The seventeenth amendment and 58-2B were constitutional misadventures of a similar kind. Both of these constitutional provisos armed the president of the country with an arbitrary power to dissolve the parliament and throw the elected government out of power on grounds that are flimsy and open to debate.

While Karmu’s preoccupation with constitutional politics is understandable, Zulekha’s concern with the physical violation of the female body and the legislative cover given to the crime in the Hudood Ordinance seems even more immediate and urgent. In his controversial Hudood Ordinance of 1979, Zia proposed punishments for sex-related crimes based upon contested interpretations of the shariah law that were openly prejudiced against women (Loue 2017, 269). Since the Zia regime, the feminist cause has found a natural ally in political resistance against the dictatorship. While resistance movements against patriarchy and dictatorship settled into a loosely synchronous chorus calling for justice, freedom, equality, restoration of true democracy and an altruistic interpretation of the constitution and religion, the knee-jerk response of those in power also turned clichéd. Whenever questioned, as a classic act of psychological projection, the slurs of ‘ill-begotten’, ‘disloyal’ and ‘treacherous’ (incidentally all of these terms involve sexual promiscuity) have been liberally thrown around. Therefore, when Pozzo, reincarnated as an army general, goes to introduce a female Lucky, the tag of ‘ill-begotten’ comes in handy.

The Hudood Ordinances (1979) were brokered by Zia’s regime apparently to Islamize the country, but, in reality, to legitimize his coup d’ état, landed in controversies at the first touch of reality. Sara Suleri, a veteran Pakistani writer, cites a case of application of the Hudood Ordinance gone horribly wrong,

the example of a fifteen-year-old woman, Jehan Mina, who, after her father’s death, was raped by her aunt’s husband and son. Once her pregnancy was discovered, another relative filed a police report alleging rape. During the trial, however, the accused led no defense, and Mina’s testimony alone was sufficient to get her convicted for fornication and sentenced to one hundred public lashes.


While describing the story as “paradigmatic of the untold miseries of those who suffer sentences in Muslim jails”, Suleri explains the role played by international politics in the instrumentalization of political facet of Islam. She is of the view that Islam, as a religion, cannot be blamed for unleashing “the Hudood Ordinances6 on Pakistan” but that it was “probably the United States government’s economic and ideological support of a military regime during that bloody but eminently forgotten decade marked by the ‘liberation’ of Afghanistan” (280) that was responsible for the implementation. With Afghanistan again in the news and again for reasons not very dissimilar to the unfortunate decade of 80’s when the political situation of Pakistan was instrumentalized to the detriment of the populace—and especially women—of both countries, the politics of the adaptation, as of the original play, remains sinisterly relevant.

While the adaptation, which has been necessitated by a somewhat different praxis of gender politics in Pakistan, offers a new pair of eyes to look at the socio-political context of Pakistan, it also highlights the potential of Waiting for Godot to mutate into ever new forms. The adapter may have tampered with the original text but the experimentation with characterization wreathed the play with the aura of indigeneity and granted it greater relevance to the Pakistani audience. The experimentation with casting was certainly facilitated by the staging of the performance at the periphery, safely curtained from the stern and exacting glare of the Beckett Estate. As a result, this adaptation might look very un-Beckettian for various reasons; however, the abundance of implications confirms the general view that Beckett’s oeuvre, wherever it finds itself or whatever shape it gets formed into, is a complex phenomenon that can create newer systems of signification.


The recorded version of the adaptation staged in 2008 at the Theatre Hall of the Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi is available on YouTube (Kermani 2011). All references in this paper are to this version. The Arts Council Auditorium, also known as the Arts Council Theatre, is one of the most important venues offered by the Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi and has been providing all kinds of facilities for theatre practitioners and artists for decades. It is one of the oldest NGO s of Pakistan, which gives a platform to the artists whose work enacts social engagement.


Islam teaches Muslims to say “Insha Allah” while they make any commitment or have a firm intention of doing something in the future. Allah says, “Except if Allah will. And remember thy Lord when thou forgettest, and say: It may be that my Lord guideth me unto a nearer way of truth than this.” (The Quran, 18: 24) ‘Insha Allah’, the phrase, possesses special meanings for Muslims and by uttering this, a Muslim demonstrates that all their future plans are not in their hands but in Allah’s. This is the way of building and strengthening the relation with God while placing one’s trust in Him in that He is the Knower and the Doer of everything (Iqbal, 136–137 and Mohammed, 28).


In 1977, Pakistan was facing a severe economic and political crisis. General Zia led a coup d’ état by manipulating the uncertainty of the political situation to start another dictatorial regime. His era contributed to the creation of a religiously inflected society in Pakistan. Zia initiated the imposition of medieval laws (Vatanka 2015, 15–16).


The army in Pakistan has always been embroiled in a struggle for legitimacy. There is a general trust deficit around the legality of the huge defence budget of Pakistan and its spending upon the perks and privileges of the high-ups in the army. It does not help matters when the army appears to actively participate in the derailment of the democratic process. With repeated coups, the question of legitimacy keeps bouncing back to prominence to frustrate the political ambitions of the generals (Shah 2014, 258; Nawaz 2008, 170).


While the translator has played fast and loose with the play, the translation adds dimensions unthought-of by even the most assiduous of Beckett’s interpreters. For one, the play gives a fuller expression to the thematics of stagnation in the relationship between individuals and the state: “Mansha: (.‮مجھے بھی نئے نئے دوست بنانا بڑا اچھا لگتا ہے جتنےبھی …. کبھی کبھی کام پڑہی جاتا ہے‬‎) (Proudly) I love developing new friendships as much as I can … sometimes I need them to get my job done.” Here Pozzo seems more of a typical man of the world who understands the ins and outs of the bureaucratic system of the country. Like an everyday Pakistani familiar with the corrupt ways of the world and the system of reference that seems to have a universal currency, Pozzo understands that no matter how well-placed you are, you are always in need of contacts or as they are called “friends” to get virtually anything done. Coming from Pozzo, who is supposed to be well placed, the utterance betrays the system based on cronyism.


In fact, these ordinances replaced parts of the colonial-era Pakistan Penal Code on adultery, theft and fornication. Hud means “limit”: when you cross a certain limit, you are punished. Loue argues Hud includes those ‘offenses against Allah that have textually prescribed penalties’ (269).

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