CHORUS (A hanger-on speaking out of Maniaka’s hearing)
For giving a compliant ear to words sown in his mind
as ready and fertile ground for heated imaginings
of Wira’s couplings with the women, Tuanku has set in train
a sequence of violence and the taking of life.
He has been made ill by suspicion, shame and fear –
demons that he drew into his mind from the first word
breathed into his ear about Wira. Sirat and the woman
he condemned fed them further. They are now a plague
he means to scotch by striking down that wretched woman,
and this he carries out by a pusillanimous use of law.
When the woman dies, what fearful consequence will ensue
Nadim enters from the right.
Here comes Nadim.
Ah, Nadim. You will have heard of my judgement.
I hope you have not come to whine and wring your hands
and plead with me like a love-sick puppy to let the woman go.
You know I have to uphold the law. When you are king
you will understand no woman is more important
than defence of the law. Be the king you will be, forget her.
As the saying goes, there are in the garden many blooms.
My first duty, Father, is to help you uphold all just laws.
I have never considered that love of a woman and thoughts
of the marriage bed should take up all of a ruler’s mind.
Your house does not shelter a love-struck fool
who thinks it his daily duty is to send for her maids
to bring me word of every little thing their mistress does
and to pine away the hours fondling her shawl
or sniffing my sleeves for the perfume she leaves behind.
Well said, my son. You well understand that our bonds
are made fast by your obedience to my will.
I have no need of a fool for a son, especially
a fool besotted with love who, for being a fool,
makes me, the father, a bigger fool, a butt of jokes
everywhere in the city. I will be relieved,
when you cleanse your heart of all trace of feeling
for this woman. You will find no pleasure in her.
She defies me and will in time defy you.
A bride from a viper’s hole, she will make a vile nest
of your bed, and worse, pollute with poisoned graft
our royal line. Surely our people deserve rulers
of good, untainted blood. Be thankful, son,
for release from her hateful coils. When she dies,
the chance of her hatching a brood of rebellious offspring
dies with her. We will be spared trouble for our realm.
As I have told you, Father, I am no such fool.
Even if you have not asked me yet,
I have to warn you that I cannot spare her.
I know she will appeal to your soft nature, your love,
wet you with tears, sobbing on your neck
until she has you whispering promises in her ear
you will plead for her. Even if you plead as a son
to me for mercy on her behalf, I cannot be moved.
You will not ask me to break a law I myself have made.
The people will see me as a weak and pliable ruler
unfit to be king. I cannot make a law one moment,
then change my mind, and in the next moment break it.
CHORUS (A hanger-on)
Tuanku is right to be firm. The people must first see him
keep a firm hand on his own household, for then they know
he will be able to keep a firm hand on the state.
MANIAKA (Addressing all present)
We are chosen to govern and therefore we must be obeyed.
We have the absolute right to pass laws, and we decide
the purposes which they are to serve. The people
must abide by our laws to the very last letter.
Critics and other mischief makers, who tell the people
that our laws are cruel, that they are unjust,
such dangerous vermin must be put down.
They teach the people disobedience. Disobedience spreading,
leads to disorder, which is the beginning of anarchy.
This is an evil we will not have. We will not have
the disaffected incite the people to riot and rebellion,
set torches to houses to make a bonfire of our city.
We will not have thieves, riff raff and robbers running free
in our streets, kidnap for ransom our city’s rich.
Without a code of laws, even our fighters will,
from small provocations, turn their kerises on one another,
but in the face of the enemy scatter in confusion
like a tribe of quarrelling monkeys, chattering
and screaming at the lone tiger on their scent.
Our land will be laid open to pirates and plunderers
who leave our city smouldering street by street in ruin,
our orchards and our fields growing a virulent green
with the untrammeled fury of fat voracious weeds.
We will be kings of a land emptied of people
who leave us for subjects monitor lizards, snakes and ghosts.
Rule must therefore be an iron rule, and that means
laws must be upheld and lawmakers hedged
with unquestioned authority.
Turns to Nadim.
I cannot be moved.
I cannot be seduced by a woman.
If I give way, better it be to a man.
CHORUS (A hanger-on)
What Tuanku has said has been said with dignity
and to the point. He has made clear to us,
and surely to you, Nadim, what issues are at stake.
It is not my place, Father, to question your reasoning.
As always it is so well knit I do not even try
to pick at it to tease out loose unraveling strands.
But here I see running across the weave dark threads
that work the dye of passion, as it were, into the fabric.
Father, you bear a hatred for Anike beyond reason.
In your words it shows. The people see it in her punishment.
(Earnestly) Many talk in whispers and mutter, ‘What she has done
is only to cover a brother’s shame, to keep his body
from being picked clean by crows or snatched at
by stray dogs roaming our markets. Is that a crime?’
‘No woman has ever been so unjustly punished.’
‘Our Raja must hate her.’ ‘Things are not right at the palace.’
You do not hear these things closed off from the people
in your palace as you are. Those around you
who hear them will not speak as they cower in terror
at your temper. They cower at the thought of what you will do
to them if they tell you the people talk and shake their heads,
that some whisper in groups as if in deep conspiracy
and some even ask, ‘Is our Raja sane?’
I intend all this not as a pleading for Anike
but for you, Father, to save you from evil consequences
we cannot foresee. Relent, Father, before it is too late.
There is much reason too in what Nadim says, Tuanku.
Surely he speaks as a filial, loving son.
MANIAKA (After a few moments’ thought)
So, I am now to be taught reason by a boy.
Is it reasonable that I am to be schooled by one
whose experience is as sparse as the fuzz that covers his cheeks?
I talk of things that elude the grasp of reason.
We just know that to punish a woman who should be honoured
for what she has done though she broke your law is wrong.
It is wrong to punish those who break the law?
Not at all. I have no regard at all for criminals.
That woman is not a criminal?
The people say that she is not. They do not see
that she has broken any just laws. If allowed
to speak out in the open, every man and woman
in our city will say Anike is not a criminal.
Now the people would presume to instruct me
on how to frame our laws, they would presume
to teach me how to rule.
Who is the boy now,
a great wise king of long experience talking like this?
Know that mine is the sole authority, the sole voice
that speaks for the city. Only I have the divine right
to issue edicts and the edicts I proclaim
will be law, and it is not subject to question.
My laws shall be deemed just for they are my laws.
This then is no city but a prison.
It is a well ordered state.
It has to be so because, as Raja, I am the state.
It is a state barren as a desert and peopled by ghosts.
Ah, now I see that the boy has sold out to that woman.
I speak as I do only out of concern for you – and for me.
You show your concern with a public brawl with your father?
And you show yours with a public brawl with justice?
I, starting a brawl? With justice? My laws mean justice.
Justice means my laws. By divine right,
I am the source of laws. I am therefore the source of justice.
I, fight with justice?
You have defiled your right.
MANIAKA (Losing control)
Fool! Fool! You young, unthinking fool!
You have been taken in by that… that vile creature.
I have never been taken in by anything vile.
You speak only for her, you infatuated fool.
I speak for you, for me, for the good of our royal house.
I will see to it that you will never marry her.
She is to die then. Her death will be followed by another.
Another? Are you threatening me?
There is no threat.
I cannot threaten a nothing king with no mind, no heart.
You will not take that superior tone you with me, boy.
You… you who are nothing but a besotted fool.
If I did not know you, Father, I would have thought
you seek perversely to twist my words back at me
You love-struck fool, now you play at words with me.
I see you prefer silence. (Shrugging his shoulders nonchalantly) Well, sorry.
MANIAKA (Almost speechless with fury)
You… You… I swear by all our gods,
you watch it. You had better watch it.
(To guards) Bring the woman out! She will die –
right here, this instant, with her bridegroom by her side.
No! No! She will not die. Not here. Not now.
If she dies, Father, you will never see my face again.
You go on shouting while you still have these hangers-on
around you here to watch your fine performance.
Nadim rushes out to the right.
Gone. Stomping out like that.
We fear for that hysterical young man.
What will he not do in such a fit.
Let him go. Nothing he does will save these girls.
Girls, Tuanku? You mean you sentence them both to die?
No. Only the wretch who set her face against me will die.
You will have her run through with a keris?
No, I have quite something else in mind.
There are caves in a limestone outcrop not far from here.
I will have her taken there and thrown into one
most richly infested with centipedes and snakes
and stop up the entrance with a little hill of stone.
As with our custom, I will have her provided food.
Her bridal bed will be such slime and bat dung
covered stone ledge as she can find against a wall.
Shut up in there she can pray to her gods in hell
and ask that they lead her quickly out of her airless cell
into the cold and wider gloom of the underworld.
In that desolation she can meet her brother
and cry with him forever with no hope of forgiveness,
of redemption for their crimes against me and the state.
When she passes on, may it be said I have kept the law,
meted out punishment that accords with the rules of our forebears.