This is the first half of the play I’ve been working on for a month. Lots of research has gone into it–I will probably make an entire post for sources–and I’m pretty happy with how it’s coming along.
I took inspiration from the novel Water by Bapsi Sidhwa and a Climbing the Stairs, a book by Padma Venkataraman that I read in middle school with a similar setting. (World War II era India and England. I tried not to be too specific in town names or regional vernacular, since I wanted the story to be applicable to almost anywhere in Britain or India in 1939.)
I plan on introducing greater feminist conflict in which Aditi, a modern girl, adjusts to the treatment of women in her conservative, Brahmin family. Like Chuyia in Water, Aditi is going to fight back against tradition, even when her similarly-progressive parents remind her they are guests in the family home.
So here it is. A work in progress. I plan on continuing to flesh out the story this weekend and hopefully post a completed draft very soon.
ADITI – a 13 year old English girl of Indian descent. She has a short bob. Someday she wants to be a doctor.
MADHUR – 11 year old boy; ADITI’s brother; born in England. Someday he wants to be a therapist.
MAA – mother of ADITI and MADHUR. She met BABA through arranged marriage, but the two were equally progressive and soon became great friends. (Love?)
BABA – a progressive Brahman Indian. Married to MAA; after the birth of their first daughter, moved to Britain for a better life for his children.
– Moved after the birth of AZRA, their first daughter AZRA
– AZRA died as an infant
– They remained in England and had ADITI and MADHUR
CHAYA – ADITI’s best friend. A Jewish girl who is sometimes picked on at school for her background, just like MADHUR and ADITI.
DAADAA – BABA’s father. A conservative Brahman.
DAADII – BABA’s mother. A conservative Brahman.
BEHAN – One of ADITI’s elder female cousins. A traditional Indian woman.
Setting: A small town in England, 1939.
ADITI and MADHUR are walking home from school with their friend CHAYA.
ADITI: Chaya, if you could have all the chocolate biscuits in the world or never have to take a maths test again, which would you choose?
CHAYA: You’re the one who doesn’t like maths. I’d be happy to practice arithmetic daily with a chocolate biscuit after each problem!
MADHUR: Well, I would choose no tests. People should practice maths when they want to practice maths. And besides, with so many biscuits you’d grow quite fat!
ADITI: I have a better answer than either of you. I’d take both: half the cookies, half the exams.
CHAYA: That’s cheating!
MADHUR: (whines) You didn’t say we could combine them.
ADITI: (pleased with herself) I didn’t say we couldn’t!
MADHUR: No fair.
ADITI: Yes, fair! (giggles)
ADITI keeps laughing and tickles MADHUR until he smiles too.
ADITI: Okay, Madhur. You didn’t like my question, now it’s your turn to ask one.
MADHUR: (thinks) Hm… All right. Would you rather be an Indian Englishman or a British Jew?
ADITI: (scandalized) Madhur!
CHAYA: Aditi, it’s all right.
ADITI: No, it’s not. You can’t just say things like that!
CHAYA: It’s all right. Madhur, I think I’d rather be British English than anything else.
MADHUR: Now you’re not answering the question. Aditi?
ADITI: (reluctantly) I guess… I guess I would rather be Jewish. It’s easier to hide a belief than a complexion. And besides, Chaya’s family sometimes has that sweet bread–challah. It’s even better than Maa’s laddoo.
MADHUR: Maybe so, but I’d rather be an Indian because we get festivals every few weeks.
CHAYA: Yes, but as a Jew, I celebrate Shabbat every single Saturday.
ADITI: They’re the same, okay? Chaya, it’s your question now.
A siren begins to wail.
ADITI: Get low!
MADHUR: Aditi, I want to go home.
Aditi grabs Madhur’s arm and Chaya’s hand.
Aditi: There’s not another bomb shelter ‘til home. We’ll have to hurry.
The three children quickly, quietly exit the stage.
Aditi and Madhur arrive at home, where their parents are waiting in the small kitchen, clearly worried.
MAA: Madhur! Aditi! I’m so glad you’re all right.
MADHUR: I wasn’t scared.
ADITI: He was a little scared.
MAA: It’s all right, Madhur, I was frightened also.
BABA: Children, I have some sorry news. You know we came to England to give the two of you a better chance at success.
ADITI: Nothing about that’s sad. I’m glad to live here.
BABA: Tonight was the fourth bombing raid of this week. People at the store have been talking about sending their children to safety.
ADITI: Baba, no, please don’t send us away.
MAA: We’re not. We would never!
BABA: We aren’t sending you anywhere. We–all of us–are going home to India.
MADHUR: India? That’s brilliant. How long will we be abroad?
ADITI: What do you mean by “home”?
MAA: India is where we’re from. Where your Babi and I were born.
ADITI: Madhur and I have never even been there.
BABA: Aditi, you’ll love it. And Madhur, you misunderstand. We’re not traveling. We’re returning.
ADITI: We aren’t! I won’t!
MAA: It’s what must be done. It’s not safe here anymore.
ADITI: You always said it wasn’t safe in India either! They won’t even let me go to school!
BABA: They will. Or else I will teach you at home.
MADHUR: I don’t want to go.
MAA: Neither do we. Do you think we want to leave behind our textile shop? Our children’s futures? You don’t know what your father and I gave up to make it to England. If Vishnu is with us, we won’t be in India for long.
ADITI: What about Chaya? She’s my best friend.
MAA: You can write her every day.
ADITI: You know that’s not the same…
BABA: Go. Pack your things.
ADITI: But, Baba–
The Mohanty family has made it back to India. In a small town named Kotakecil, BABA, MAA, ADITI, and MADHUR are arriving at the home of DAADII and DAADAA.
DAADAA: Son. I did not think I would see you again.
DAADII: Until we received your letter.
DAADAA: (to BABA) You’re looking old.
BABA: Thank you for letting us stay with you until we’re settled.
DAADII: So these are my son’s sons.
MAA: One son, Madhur. This is our daughter Aditi.
DAADAA: Daughter? With such short hair? She looks like a widow.
ADITI: (with an awkward curtsy) I’m Aditi.
DAADAA: With longer hair and without western trousers, she’d be a nice enough looking child.
DAADII: And Madhur, you said? This one is such his Baba’s boy. Beautiful. (to MAA and ADITI) The kitchen is this way.
Aditi looks to MAA, confused. MAA gestures with her head for ADITI to follow.
MAA and ADITI follow DAADII into the kitchen, where female family members are rolling rice dough.
DAADII: We’re making idli. (To MAA) You, grind rice. (To ADITI) You, knead the dough.
BEHAN: Who are you?
DAADII: You remember your badepaapa’s wife Raahi. She left us for Britain almost twenty years ago.
BEHAN: (Drops to the ground) Badeeman! I did not recognize you.
MAA: No, no, it’s quite alright. You’re looking well.
DAADII: And this is her daughter. (Gestures to ADITI)
BEHAN: Azra? But this is just a child.
MAA: (To DAADII) You didn’t tell her?
DAADII: I didn’t think it prudent.
MAA: (To BEHAN) My first child passed shortly after our arrival in England. Diphtheria. This is my second daughter Aditi. Aditi, say hello to your phuphera-behan.
ADITI: Hello, Behan. I’m thirteen.
BEHAN: (To no one in particular) I can’t believe she’s been dead all this time. (To MAA) I used to sing her to sleep on the nights you were too tired.
MAA: I know. It was a long time ago. Aditi is very ambitious.
ADITI: Someday I’m going to be a doctor!
BEHAN: Poor little Azra.
DAADII: That’s enough chatter. Here, Raahi, rinse these seeds.
(MAA accepts the seeds and does her job. ADITI is confused.)
ADITI: Where’s Madhur? Isn’t he going to help us cook?
DAADII: No, child. Your brother is getting to know his Daadaa.
ADITI: Madhur always helped at home…
MAA: Aditi! Listen to your grandmother, love.
ADITI: (Disconsolate) Yes, Maa.
Prepared idli and vegetables are arranged on a mat on the floor. DAADII and BEHAN are fussing with the food. BABA, DAADII, and MADHUR come inside from the front yard, where the men have been talking and MADHUR…