Hierarchical Needs as portrayed in Girish Karnad’s play Boiled Beans on Toast

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Hierarchical Needs as portrayed in Girish Karnad’s play Boiled Beans on Toast 

a paper by M. Maria Clastin Dias & Dr. C. Bibin Sam, published in March-April 2018 Issue



Girish Karnad’s play Boiled Beans on Toast acts like a mirror to the real world, portraying the changing trends in modern Indian society. It explores how this play records the contemporary realities of city life. It has tried to apply Maslow’s theory of hierarchical needs in the lives of important characters in Boiled Beans on Toast. Man being a social animal strives to lead his life, based on his needs, which acts as a motivating factor. These needs include physiological needs, safety and security needs, affiliation needs, esteem needs and self-actualization needs

Boiled Beans on Toast traces the interwoven lives of people who have opted to live in Bangalore. They are very different from each other, belonging widely divergent social strata, and come from different geographical areas. By living under a single roof named Bangalore, their lives branch out in various directions. In the play, everyone’s physiological needs are fulfilled which motivate them to aspire for a higher order needs.

Physiological needs are the lower in the motivational hierarchy, which include the need for food, water, oxygen, sleep, sex, sensory satisfaction and the like. According to Maslow, “The needs that are usually taken as the starting point for motivation theory are the so-called physiological drives” (372). They are the most basic and fundamental human needs. These are vital for survival and hence should be fulfilled before the next higher order motives become prominent. For a person who lacks food, safety, love, and esteem will hunger for food more strongly than anything else.

Safety and security needs make up the second level of the hierarchy. They include shelter, clothing, and personal safety, security of the future, routine and regularity. Finding a job, obtaining health insurance and health care, contributing money to a savings account, and moving into a safer neighbourhood are all examples of actions motivated by the security and safety needs. Together, the safety and physiological levels of the hierarchy make up what is often referred to as the basic needs.

Muttu, the servant maid, works in Anjana’s house doesn’t have the security of the future. Her family includes herself, her husband, her daughter and her mother. Her family finds it difficult to afford food for nearly thirty people in their daughter’s Puberty Ceremony. When her brother Shankara forces her to celebrate the event in their own house at Karimangala. She says, “Husband said Karimangala would mean expense. The remotest relatives’ll turn up. In Bangaluru, we can have a smaller affair. More compact” (7).

When Muttu and her mother came to Bangalore after the death of Muttu’s father, Muttu’s mother made her living by stitching, darning and mending mosquito curtains, bed sheets and window curtains for the marwadis. Muttu’s mother affirms that─

MOTHER…We lived like beggars, like roofless orphans, in that monster

city. Andwhen I found a job ‘twas as a seamstress, chained to that

sewing machine eight hours a day. Often even ten hours. What

happiness did I ever see? It was all for you children─ (47)

Vimala is the cook and the chief servant of Anjana’s house. She does not even have proper shelter, clothing, personal safety, and security of the future. She has parallel jobs and works in two houses at the same time. When a person is hungry, filling his stomach is the primary aim of him. No one expects refined behaviour from him. He may do anything for his survival. Vimala is found lying, and stealing. No one is sure of where she lives. Even it becomes difficult for the police to find her shelter. The anonymity that the city offers provides a complete cover to her. The constable says─

CONSTABLE: Arrest her? What for? What’s the point? (laughs.) Our

prisons have no spare capacity, Sir. Bengaluru’s bursting with

women like her. Where they live, how they live, how they move

around─it’s all a mystery. Impossible to pin them down. Like

scorpions, you know. They only have to see a slab of stone and

they’ll crawl under it and set up a house…

(The constables move off. Kunaal speaks into the mobile.)

KUNAAL: I was flabbergasted, Nandita. Absolutely stunned. She’s been

with us for nearly eight years─and we’ve been saying oh such

a nice woman, so reliable. And you know, every sentence she

uttered to the police and to me was a lie. A bright, white, brazen

lie. And she knew that I knew and the police knew that she was

fibbing. And what courage! What invention! She was leading us

on, she was creating a story from one minute to another. (44)

Like Vimala, most of the people in the contemporary society, are leading their life without fulfilling their safety and security needs. Though the police know the truth, they are helpless. The government instead of accusing people could have worked for the welfare of the homeless people who are striving hard to live in the city. Sumitra, wife of Prabhakar is also afraid of her safety and security as her husband resigns his permanent job.

Affiliational needs make up the third level of Maslow’s hierarchy. Maslow, in a net article, says about the hierarchical needs as, “Human life will never be understood unless its highest aspirations are taken in to account” (56). They include such things as love, acceptance and belonging. At this level, a need for emotional relationship drives human behaviour. In order to avoid problems such as loneliness, depression, and anxiety, it is important for people to feel loved and accepted by others. Personal relationships with friends, family, and lovers play an important role. Affiliational needs refer to the individual’s hunger for affection. A person, who is not lovable because of his behaviour, needs to be loved most.

Every human being in the world wants to be loved and therefore wishes to experience a sense of belonging. Love is a cementing factor which connects human beings. Anjana Padabidri expects love from her husband, but when he starts to love his profession more than his wife, she feels neglected. In order to keep herself sane, Anjana starts to sing out loudly which helps her to find a Bengali friend, who lives next door to her. As a result, they become friends by singing together. When the young man vacates his room by saying, “I don’t wish to be trapped into a relationship with a married woman” she feels disappointed (78). The word ‘trapped’ makes her feeling desperate, heartbroken and causes insomnia to her.

When Anjana realises that her affiliational needs are not fulfilled, she tries to put an end to her life, by taking sleeping pills, as a result, she loses her voice. She reveals her past to her son─

ANJANA: …I ground some sleeping pills in milk and fed them to you. I

swallowed the rest. I then prayed to the gods, clasped you to me,

and went to sleep─never to wake up again.


I don’t know how long we were sleeping like that…But I suddenly

opened my eyes and sat up. Bright and wide-eyed. I was alive and

so were you. Death had cheated us both. (78)

Shankara is under the false notion that his mother is not lovable towards him which makes him feel inferior. He accuses his mother for not taking him to Bengaluru with her─

SHANKARA: …Are you my mother? No, you’re not. You are the mother

ofBengaluru Muttu. You’ve been no grandmother to my children.

Aren’tyouashamed to call yourself my mother? You, you,

I’ll show you─

(He attacks her. Starts beating her.) (48)

As mentioned in chapter two, Dolly overcomes the pain of a loveless life, by establishing new relationships. She makes new friends by saying that she can help them to pursue their career. Kunaal feels very happy to have the love of his life, Nandita. He shares his feelings with her.

Esteem needs make up the fourth level of the needs in the hierarchy. At the fourth level in Maslow’s hierarchy is the need for appreciation and respect. When the needs at the bottom three levels have been satisfied, the esteem needs begin to play a more prominent role in motivating behaviour. In addition to the need for feelings of accomplishment and prestige, the esteem needs include such things as self-esteem and personal worth. People need to sense that they are valued by others and feel that they are making a contribution to the world. According to Maslow, “All people in our society have a need or desire for a stable, firmly based, high evaluation of themselves, for self-respect, or self-esteem, and for the esteem of others” (381).

Participation in professional activities, academic accomplishments, athletic or team participation, and personal hobbies can all play a role in fulfilling the esteem needs. People who are able to satisfy the esteem needs by achieving good self-esteem and the recognition of others tend to feel confident in their abilities. Those who lack self-esteem and the respect of others can develop feelings of inferiority. Together, the esteem and affiliation levels make up what is known as the psychological needs of the hierarchy.


About the Authors: 

Maria Clastin Dias is an assistant professor of English, St. Judges College, Thootoor and the co-author, Dr C. Bibin Sam is also an assistant professor of English, Sivanthi Aditanar College, Pillayarpuram.


Works Cited:

Karnad, Girish. Boiled Beans on Toast. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Maslow, Abhraham. “Religions, Values and Peak – Experiences”. Atpweb.org.2011. Web. 20 Feb. 2018.

—. “ A Theory of Human Motivation”. Classics in the History of Psychology. Aug.2000: 370 – 396,50.Print.

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