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Latha Guruswamy ("LG")

1. People in this play

 

Akhilesh “Akki” Singh

Akki’s the pampered only son of a Rajput, dominant-caste land-owning (zamindar) family. While he grew up shuttling between Patna and New Delhi, home was always the zamindar ki haveli. Akki has two sisters and a younger brother, but he knows that he will take on the responsibility of the family, the business and the family lands one day. For now, he is enjoying studying Management & Economics at this British university. Akki’s family has a conservative outlook, steeped in the mainstream patriarchal norms of Bihar, which Akki has never questioned. He revels in the respect and adoration he gets as the zamindar’s son and heir, both from his extended family and all the people in his district.

 

Hari Ramakrishnan

Hari is from New Delhi and is doing an MA in Big Data Studies. His career goal is a tenured chair at a university, teaching and researching. Hari is a proud Brahmin (although he prefers to call himself Hindu Indian) and believes in the superiority of his religious beliefs. He visits the local temple in the university town as often as he can. He has also made a small temple on a table in a corner of his room to seek blessings every morning. He loves the comforts and clarity his traditions provide but equally enjoys the freedoms he experiences in the university, now that he is no longer constantly under his parents’ eyes. Hari’s favourite pastime is debating and he is a member of the same student association as Sam (see below). He frequently participates in campus discussions around life in India, which he defends to the best of his ability.

Latha “LG” Guruswamy

LG is a second-generation non-resident Indian (NRI). Both her parents are doctors who had migrated from India after gaining their medical degrees. LG’s father, Keval, is from a Brahmin family of temple priests in Andhra Pradesh. Keval met LG’s mother, Shalini Gupta, in medical school. Shalini’s family was in the cloth retail business in Uttar Pradesh for some generations, and she was the pampered ‘rebel’. Their inter-caste marriage had been accepted on both sides despite the north-south divide: for the Guptas, having a Brahmin son in law raised their status even more. And they lavished a generous dowry on their daughter that was well received in the temple priest’s household. The Guruswamys live in a sprawling detached house in a small town close to the university. LG has been friends with Sam and Lisa (see below) since high school. She is studying law but also belongs to a sociology study group. She is in a live-in relationship with Zara, a journalism student at the university she met in the study group. Her parents are unaware that she is queer. They are focused on scouting around for a suitable wife for her brother, their beloved son.

Lisa Holmes

Lisa is studying sociology. She is Black British. Her grandparents came to Britain from the Caribbean on the Windrush. Lisa grew up in a single parent household, with her mother working two low-wage jobs to keep the family together. Lisa is well clued into the social pressures and concerns that come with her  background. This includes the British colonial racial oppression of the Caribbean’s Black people and her own Black working-class and gendered experiences. She is determined to fulfil her grandmother’s dream of having an academic in the family. She has been in a steady relationship with Sam since high school. They live together in rented student accommodation. Lisa loves gospel singing and is part of her local church choir.

Manu Mathuru

Manu is originally from Madhya Pradesh, his father is a clerk in a state government department and his mother is a housewife. He came to this university on a scholarship four years ago for his MA in Anthropology. He stayed on to do his Doctorate in Development Studies as he won another grant for it. He did his Bachelor’s from Hindu College in New Delhi, having gained admission on an OBC reserved seat (although his school-leaving exam marks would have easily gained him a general seat). Manu enjoys debating and that’s how he met up with Hari on campus. They hold opposing views on many subjects, but their mutual respect and “common” Delhi background has resulted in an unlikely friendship. [OBC: Other Backward Class]

Samir “Sam” Kulkarni

Sam is a second-generation Indian British with a liberal upbringing, doing his MA in Management Science and Engineering. Sam’s father is a wealthy corporate and his mother is a society lady, on the board of many charities. Both had been born in Uganda and came to the UK when all South Asians were forced to leave that country. In Uganda, the Brahmin caste status of both families along with their business interests had enabled a privileged life in households employing several local Ugandan Africans as domestic servants. Sam has bolstered his limited first-hand exposure to India with reading, watching films/documentaries. He loves discussing many aspects of the country with his cousins in India. Lately he has joined a few WhatsApp discussion groups, which he thinks helps him understand current affairs quickly, although sometimes the messages in a couple of them directly contradict each other.

 

​The setting

In a space in the university town of Bristol, UK. The six friends are chilling out on a lazy Friday evening. Manu is checking his newsfeed on his mobile, while the rest are having a friendly banter.

 

2. Script for Latha (LG)

 

Manu: What the … ... ... ... ... at times!

Latha “LG” [in a concerned voice]: Why? What’s up?

Manu

Sam:

Manu:

Lisa:

Manu:

Lisa:

Akki:

Manu:

Lisa:

Hari:

Lisa:

Hari:

Akki [impatiently]: Hang in ... ... ... ... ... refined people.

Latha “LG” [disgusted]: Do you realise how insane that sounds, what you just said? Justifying killing of a human being because parents  think she face hurdles later in her marriage of choice?  As a Rajput guy, you’re on the side of the Brahmin men who wrote the Manusmriti. So predictable Akki! … Zara’s doing a story on the caste system, and so we’ve been discussing this in depth, and how the system is of finely graded hierarchy, so that everyone has someone to look down upon except those at the very bottom. It’s crazy. Hari, surely you know better.

Hari: Well, I kind ... ... ... ... ... complete picture.

Latha “LG” [emphatically]: Guys – I’m just reiterating that just because the caste angle isn’t convenient doesn’t make it go away or that we should be looking for reasons to justify …

Lisa:

Hari [exasperatedly]: Really, caste ... ... ... ... ... first met?

Latha “LG” [also exasperatedly]: Seriously Hari? Which rock are you living under, don’t get so fragile. You certainly know a lot about how caste is practised – the pony tail, the thread.

Lisa:

Sam:

Manu:

Hari

Akki: Yep, I ... ... ... ... ... biased Manu?

Latha “LG”: Hey, Hari, I know your father is a judge, as was your grandfather. This isn’t meant to be personal guys, what Sam and Manu are talking about is the bigger picture – in fact Zara was also talking about that book to me because she found it very useful for her piece, she’s got a whole section on how the caste system still informs justice in India.

Hari:

Lisa:

Akki:

Lisa:

Sam:

Lisa:

Hari:

Sam:

Akki:

Lisa

Manu: Ha, it’s similar ... ... ... ... ... vaccinations?

Latha “LG”: You reminded me! Zara showed me a report in a website called The Mooknayak. There was a Dalit woman, Prabha Devi, in a village in Bihar whom the vaccination team refused to vaccinate because she didn’t have an Aadhar card. She lived in a tent, didn’t own any land, and as she didn’t have an address, apparently she couldn't get an Aadhar card. So no home, no Aadhar card, no vaccination. Do you think she’s the only one who was in this situation?

Akki:

Sam: Wow! That’s crazy …

Latha “LG”:  And on what you said earlier Sam, I’m thinking even my brown family is White supremacist. My parents reject any proposal for my brother where the woman is dark-skinned – that’s the first thing they look at. Can we see her picture? Oh no thank you, not OK. [shows frustration] And of course they are only looking at women, which also fits the supremacist ideology. I mean just imagine what’s gonna happen when I take Zara home … been avoiding it!

Lisa:

Akki:

Hari:

Manu:

Lisa:

Akki: But white ... ... ... ... ... and GMT …

Latha “LG”: Aha! all times are measured as plus and minus from GMT which is UK time [laughing] – another subtle colonial power symbol!

Lisa:

Akki:

Sam [disbelievingly]: Akki, c’mon ... ... ... ... ... was vaccinated?

Latha “LG”: Akki, just take a beat and think of the people in your circle, even those on your social feed. Are any of them Dalits? Do you even socialise with people who aren’t “like us”? How many Bihari Dalits do you know?

Hari:

Sam:

Akki: Yaar, it's become ... ... ... ... ... nothing.

Latha “LG”: Look, I’m proud of my Indian heritage, and my Hindu heritage. I would like India to shine as an example for all that is good in this world. But that means I should also have the guts to call out what’s bad.

Lisa: Yeah! Also, ... ... ... ... ... through.

Latha “LG”: Couldn’t agree more … destroying the entire Manusmriti based caste system is critical to India ever becoming an egalitarian society, whatever the Vedas might say Akki. Not educating women, normalising men doing the thinking for us, telling us what’s best for us and whom we can marry, etc. – this is what keeps the caste system going.

Manu: Yep! Has been ... ... ... ... ... in hand.

Latha “LG” [interrupting]: You know, I just remembered that way back in the 1800s, Jyotiba Phule had dedicated his book Gulamgiri – meaning slavery Lisa – to all those working to abolish slavery in the US of A. See how the two fights are intertwined!

Akki:

Hari [whispering loudly]: Gotta be ... ... ... ... ... exactly fair!

Latha “LG”: [laughing] Ha ha Hari. Just remember what Manu always says about proportional representation. At some time we need to have a conversation about reservations and merit … The shoe definitely pinches when it’s on your foot, hai na?

END

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