This is the completed script to my play about British Indians returning home. Recall that it’s inspired by Bapsi Sidhwa’s Water. This version of the play is not what I imagined, and I’m not quite sold on the ending: I feel like there’s not enough conflict to create a climax. Should Aditi have been married off? Should I have spanned a longer period of time? I’m not entirely sure.
Anyway, this is the most recent version of the full play. When I rewrite again I might want to add more about Gandhi and the state of the world in 1939; alternatively, I might keep the Mohanty family as a microcosm of Britain and India and let them tell the story themselves.
I’m on a break from this play now and instead researching Korean poets like Nah Hye-Sok and Heo Nanseolheon.
Until next time,
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.
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 down!
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, DAADAA, and MADHUR come inside from the front yard, where the men have been talking and MADHUR, exploring.
BEHAN: Beta, are you hungry?
BABA: Very. Maata, may I help?
DAADII: No, no, Beta, this is woman’s work.
ADITI: In England Madhur and I shared all our chores.
MAA: Aditi! We are guests in Daadii’s home and we will follow her customs.
ADITI: Sorry, Maa. Daadii.
DAADII: It’s quite all right. You wouldn’t be bad-looking if you just grew your hair.
ADITI: (strained) Thank you, Daadii.
MAA: Well! I believe supper is fully prepared.
The women set out dishes with idli and other vegetable dishes. Everybody sits on the floor with personal mats and begins to eat with their fingers. In a crowd of maybe 16 people, several conversations crop up along the fringe. The most important is as follows:
BABA: Maata, this is delicious. (to Aditi) You did good work.
ADITI: Thank you, Baba. It wasn’t me so much as the others.
MAA: Nonsense! We each did our part.
DAADII: Aditi, did you say you were thirteen? It’s about the age you’ve probably started thinking about boys, yes?
ADITI: What? No, I… No. I want to be a doctor.
DAADII: Just remember, when you do fall in love and marry, he had better be Indian and a Brahmin.
BABA: We aren’t thinking about marriage for Aditi until she finishes her education. I’d like her to start school here next week along with Madhur.
DAADAA: School? For a woman, in this family? I think not.
BABA: It’s important to me, Ba.
DAADII: She could stay with me instead and learn to pray to our gods and cook and clean! I know you and Raahi have spoiled the child terribly and she thinks she can do anything, but these very basic, essential domestic concerns have been horribly neglected in the rearing of this daughter.
DAADAA: It’s why you never ought to have taken the children and westernized them.
DAADII: But we are glad you came home.
DAADAA: And we hope you will stay a long time. You know, men in my family die young. It will be your responsibility, beta, to take care of your mother, sisters, nieces, wife, and daughter when I’m gone.
BABA: Raahi and I will give what financial support we can as textile salesmen.
DAADAA: Son! You are Brahmin and you will act as such. Selling fabrics was always beneath you, but especially now that you are back in our homeland. Beta, earn the name you carry.
ADITI: Better a lowly artisan than a sexist professor!
MAA: (horrified) Aditi!
BABA: Aditi, apologize to your Daadaa.
ADITI: Sorry, Daadaa.
BABA: And Ba, I sell fabric because it fascinates me. The shimmering saris not yet made. Patterns like the sky. It doesn’t get more intellectual than that, Ba.
MAA: We appreciate you hosting us for a spell, and all of us will be glad to help in any way we can.
MADHUR: If Aditi doesn’t have to go to school, can I stay here next week with Daadii and Daadaa? I want to see all of India! Not the inside of a schoolhouse.
MAA: Madhur, you know the answer to that, love. Education comes first.
Everyone is finishing up with the food. BEHAN stands to clear away plates. She touches ADITI on the elbow and whispers something to her. Aditi joins her cousin.
In the kitchen, the cousins scrape plates and bond.
BEHAN: I’m sorry about before. I just… Didn’t expect…
ADITI: It’s fine. I understand. Maa doesn’t like telling people about Azra.
BEHAN: Daadii and Daadaa, they’re not so bad once you know them.
ADITI: Oh? Daadaa isn’t always a big grump?
BEHAN: (stifles a grin) No, he isn’t. You’ll see. Traditional is… traditional. Not bad.
ADITI: If by traditional you mean men-before-women, I’d say that’s bad.
BEHAN: Give them a chance, Aditi.
ADITI: … Behan?
ADITI: Can I live in India and still be a doctor?
BEHAN: You’d be the first woman doctor I’d know.
ADITI: Oh. And do I have to get married?
BEHAN: I’m not sure. Tradition dictates that you marry before thirty. That’s why I am betrothed to Sanjit now. It’s how your parents met. And they are a good match, a happy pair. So even if you must marry, it isn’t necessarily a curse.
ADITI: Can a doctor be married here?
BEHAN: A male doctor, yes. Like I said, though, you’d be the first of your kind.
ADITI: Daadii and Daadaa don’t even want me going to school.
BEHAN: They’re afraid of change. But the world is changing, I suppose. People like your parents call it progress.
ADITI: Maa and Baba are going to buy their own house here.
BEHAN: We’ll see.
ADITI: No, they will. Even though Daadaa doesn’t want them to. They’re going to own the best store and sell the best silks this country has ever seen. And then their doctor-daughter will be the best, and their son–
DAADII enters the room with more serving platters.
DAADII: What’s taking you girls so long?
BEHAN: Sorry, Daadii. I was just getting to know my behan.
DAADII: Very well then. Aditi, what do you say we let the other ladies finish up? I’d like to let you pick out some real clothes. Then we can pray together.
ADITI: I don’t really… pray all that much.
DAADII: I will teach you. And then… you may choose one of my saris to borrow for your first day of school.
ADITI looks over to BEHAN, ecstatic.
ADITI: Yes please!
She takes DAADII’s hand and the two cross the stage to DAADII’s and DAADAA’s room. BEHAN returns to where the rest of the family dines. BABA and DAADAA are immersed in an intense, yet amicable, conversation. MADHUR is draped over DAADAA’s shoulder, giggling wildly. The other, older cousins group around DAADAA and MADHUR, laughing and joining the game, occasionally egging on either DAADAA or BABA in their friendly debate. [Ad lib.]
ADITI returns, still holding DAADII’s hand, wearing a pinkish-red sari and clutching a brand new book. DAADAA looks up at his granddaughter and smiles.