Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Gopuram

(This was a play I wrote as a part of a Playwright Workshop held in Bloomberg. It's was enacted out by professionals from the SOHO theatre on the ides of last April. I waited so that I could put a video of the play, but turned out that unfortunately mine alone was not recorded, as it was held in a different place -- The idea was to hold it in a 'open' sort of a place with the artistes mingling with the rest of audience and acting it out while the audience moves along with the actors.. Sort of created the 'temple ambience'. The play was quite well received, thanks to the actors who did an awesome job!)

Aditi, Swati: Female
Mahesh, Aditya, Mike: Male
All characters in their late twenties.

Scene opens in South India inside a temple. A south Indian couple is walking along the pathways inside, along side a young German. There are clear skies above, with an occasional chirp of the birds, and a gentle breeze blowing across. The walk is pretty brisk, but the German keeps falling back now and then, while the Indian couple waits for him chattering amongst themselves.

Mahesh: So, yeah.. there's this place in the middle where the statue is kept.. The most sacred place, while there are pathways going around it in circles where people walk. Walking around these is supposed to be a good thing to do. And the tower atop the entrance, that's called the Gopuram. Almost every South Indian temple has one. Actually every Indian temple has one, but they vary in size and style. Supposedly even looking at it relieves you of all sins you have committed.

Mike: Interesting.. Well, yeah, all this is pretty new to me, but there's one thing I do observe. There's a certain air of serenity over here.. the low buzz, and the temple bell.. The occasional laughter.. It's quite calming, away from the drone of city life. And hey, Indian girls look pretty good in traditional dresses (chuckles).

Swati who was otherwise just observing things around and praying to all deities was caught blushing for a fraction of a second. Mahesh almost missed it.

Mahesh: Oh well.. yeah.. Well.. that's pretty much a flash introduction to Indian temples for you.

Swati is looking around and suddenly notices a person. A bright smile comes up on her, then a confused reaction, and as if impulsively, she finally calls out loud..

Swati: Hey Aditi!

An another South Indian couple pause on their tracks, look back and start moving slowly towards them. Aditi mirrors the same confusion as Swati had a second earlier, and beams up suddenly..

Aditi: Hi Swati, and hi Mahesh! Been a long time.. When did you guys turn up here?

Swati: Oh.. just a couple days back. Been missing my parents of late, so nudged him to bring me down.

Mahesh smiles gently, and adds hurriedly, as if he had forgotten all along.

Mahesh: And oh, this is Mike. Mike is my colleague and he was planning a holiday in India, and we thought we could meet up here.

Mike: Hello Aditi (finding it tough to pronounce her name). And...

Aditi: My husband, Aditya.

Mike: Hi Aditya. Nice fun being here, really...

Swati: Aditi and Mahesh were in the same college during their undergrad days.

Mahesh smiles. He pauses and addresses the others after a second..

Mahesh: Why don't we keep walking?

Aditya: (Speaking in a distinct baritone) Oh yes, let's do that.. I think the temple is going to close pretty soon.

Swati: (To Aditi) You were at Connecticut right?

Aditi: Oh yeah, an year back. I didn't like the place that much. Pretty much lonely for an Chennai girl used to all the chatter in this city. One fine day, Aditya showed me his resignation letter and said 'Let's go!' (imitating this voice). I didn't know whether to get angry or feel elated. But well, he hadn't told me because I wouldn't have allowed him to stop doing something which he dearly loved. So, we came back and he is working here now...

Swati: Sweet of him.

Aditi: Yeah...

Aditi smiled, but not able to hide a streak of sadness in that. Aditya's voice came a bit to the foreground by now.

Aditya: True, but well, things are looking up in India as well. I guess that's something we should be appreciating.

Mike seemed more interested in capturing more of the colourful place.

Mike: Sad that I am not allowed to take pictures in here. I was told that that's against tradition. You guys must be finding life tough in such a conservative society, right?

Aditya: Well, yes and no. Conservatism is more a shade of grey. Works sometimes though. Take arranged marriages for example. Many claim that its hugely responsible for the low divorce rates in India.

Mahesh: Well, I would say you are painting a rosy picture. Marriages here succeed, more because perhaps women here are more tolerant and work hard to maintain the relationship. On the other hand, lot of youngsters here have their lives shattered because of the resistance the society offers to love marriages.

Aditya: Perhaps, but I am sure many people, like us, are quite happy with arranged marriages.

An odd Indian girl continued to trance Mike once in a while. He slowly drifted, wandering about the temple.

Aditya: So, what's your job about, Mahesh? (pauses) Mahesh?

Mahesh: Oh.. Uh.. sorry, I just kept looking at those birds over there. Nice they are, aren't they? (Pause) Anyway, what did you ask?

Aditya appears a bit intrigued, but continues...

Aditya: Oh.. was just asking about your job... (Pause) Oh god! I just remembered! (To the rest) I have to ask the temple authorities about a donation I need to make. I will be back in a couple of minutes.

Swati: Sure.. uh.. Mahesh.. I will wash my hands and come in a moment.

Aditi tried to say something to her, but stopped short. Swati turns back and walks towards a tap at one end. Aditi and Mahesh keep staring at Swati moving, though their eyes seem to be fixed into empty space. Aditi abruptly breaks to a sob. Mahesh swiftly holds her face in his hands and kisses her lips. Aditi's face contorted to a fury for perhaps a quarter of a second before it quickly mellowed to sadness, while she wipes her tears just in time for Aditya to come back. Swati joins them a moment later.

Aditya: Well, job done.

Aditi still seems in a state of shock.

Aditya: (To Aditi) Hey, what's wrong?

Aditi: (Recovering herself) N.. Nothing..

Swati: (Moving closer to Aditi, embracing her) Hey, heard you had a son last year? Where's he?!

Aditi: (Smiling a bit) Yeah, we named him Mahendran. I call him Mahi. He is at my mom's place now. We came over when she was ready to take care of him. And you? We haven't heard about you two as yet?

Swati: (Glances at Mahesh) Oh, none as yet. We thought we could let a few years pass before we think of kids of our own. Hmm.. Mahi.. nice name.

Aditya: Wow! She finally got some company! I was convinced that there couldn't have been a crazier way to call someone. But for some reason, she just loves that name. There are at least a dozen more things we have which she calls by the same name.

Swati: Well, yeah, people have their whims. Take Mahesh, he would never change his watch. For that matter, he doesn't remove it for long. He sleeps with it, and bathes with it on. I am thankful that it is waterproof. Well, the habit is pretty harmless, so I am OK with it.

Mahesh: Yeah, I guess it sounds fairly ridiculous. But it sort of feels incomplete without that watch on. Has been with me for years now.

Aditya: Interesting.. Perhaps there is something emotional about it. We should discuss it sometime, preferably when Swati isn't uncomfortably close to you for you to be disclosing it (Winks).

Mahesh lets out a short laugh, while Swati tries to look grim, but unable to suppress a smile.

Mike: Hey, you know what. I just saw an Indian wedding here. Just the couple were there though. You used to tell me that Indian weddings are elaborate ceremonies, with the most traditional of them spanning even five days?

Aditya: I would suspect that they are getting secretively married. Most probably their families wouldn't have approved of them marrying.

Aditi: Pretty sad it is, to see people just throw away their families like that. I find it distressing to think of ignoring your parents like that.

Mahesh: May be they just couldn't think of being separated. You can't really blame them, you know. You might think of your families, and concede. But there is no guarantee that you might, at some point turn back, look at your life, and think -- "What's the point in leading a life with much of your happiness vanishing to thin air, all because the society forced you?!". I, like anyone else, try to lead a life pursuing happiness. As far as I can think, that pretty much defines why I live in the first place. But what life spins around me is a web of complications which end up contradicting its very existence. You forge relationships, either because they exist, or because they keep you happy. You are grown to follow your culture. You believe that your traditions help you lead a life. But you end up with conflicting relationships, rigid societies, and inapplicable traditions -- all of them individually adding so many constraints to what you do, that they defeat the purpose they are here for: to make your life better. Its all as if some big magic has been pulled over your eyes. Except that it smells more like con, rather than magic. You do what you think is good for you, but all your deeds sometimes end up entangling your life beyond any recognition.

Aditi: Yes, a tangle it is. But it is perhaps best to make do with whatever good you get out of all that. Relationships, Societies, Traditions.. they might all cause problems, but their absence might be a bigger problem. We are meant to coexist. It doesn't really imply that just having your way all the time is bound to make your life happy. You might live the life you wanted, but if to achieve that, you might have trashed other dreams, broken hearts and made others shed tears. In that case, you will forever be haunted by your conscience. Having your way is no good when you can't live peacefully. I might not have got what I wanted in my life, but there's a minimum denominator of happiness which still floats around. I have a conscience, and I did what was right according to it. That peace of mind will perhaps brighten up my life slowly, but surely. I would still have memories and unfulfilled dreams, but I would slowly work to actively live with them, and make them a source of strength and happiness to me. That's a confidence this couple might never get.

Aditya: Well.. lots to think about, I am sure! I think its better we leave. I promised my relatives I would be there at their place. I better not get them wild!

The couples bid farewell to each other, and Aditya walks out. Aditi follows him.

Aditya: (To Aditi) I would think that Mahesh once loved someone, and couldn't end up being with her finally. I guess he must be having a tough time keeping it to himself. You know, must have been pretty emotional for him, so I thought it might be better to break up the topic. Why should we end up creating a rift amongst the couple!

Aditi nods, while Aditya moves a bit forward. Aditi turns back to throw a longing look at Mahesh, and then looks up to the Gopuram while moving out.

Swati: (To Mahesh) Thirty seconds. That's all I could get you.

Mahesh gently takes Swati's hand, with a tear trickling down his eye.

Swati: She used to call you Mahi?

Mahesh sighs and nods.

Mahesh: The name has been to her, what the watch, which she once tied to my hand, has been to me.

Swati smiles.

Mahesh: Thanks. For everything.


  1. :')
    No words! Awesome play. I guess the actors did a good job because the play is written from the bottom of the heart.

  2. awesome play,I felt as if Iam there in the temple watching everything, really the way its written is just amazing, keeps the audience in the play till the end, very touching and great ending.

  3. Touching indeed. Very beautifully written :) I wish every Swathi gets her Mahi.

  4. I have some issues with the play.
    Well one of them is I hate Mike going around objectifying indian girls in traditional dresses.
    the others, are too long to be listed :-)

  5. @Mayth
    I thought every Aditi should get her Mahi. Did u mean that?

  6. Oh, yes I meant that. Aditi-Mahi :)

  7. @goda: Thanks :) I think I succeeded best if you didn't have words...

    @alok: Welcome to my blog, and thank you :)

    @mayth: Yep :) What more joy :)

    @vatsav: Objectifying, or admiring.. The line is thin :)

  8. Pretty interesting and you did touch a lot of topics that of relevance to the Indian Youth. I am like Mahesh, if for the few weeks you spend with your relatives, you have to sacrifice the other 300 days of your year, then is it worth it to abandon the one you love?
    I guess girls (especially the traditional ones) are wired differently.

  9. @saru: I guess it finally boils down to your preferences regarding whom all you love... :)