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Latha Guruswamy ("LG")

1. People in this play

 

Akhilesh “Akki” Jha

The only son of an Indian land-owning (zamindar) family, Akki has always been pampered. While he grew up shuttling between Patna and New Delhi, home was always the zamindar ki haveli. Akki has two elder sisters and a younger brother, but he knows that he will have to take on the responsibility of the family, the business and the family lands one day. But for now, he is enjoying studying Management & Economics at this British university. Akki’s family has a conservative outlook, steeped in the mainstream patriarchal culture of Bihar, which Akki has never questioned. He revels in the respect and perceived adoration as the “zaminder’s son and heir” both from his extended family who look up to his father and grandfather, and all the people in his district.

 

Hari Ramakrishnan

Hari is from New Delhi and doing a MA in Big Data Studies. His career goal is a tenured chair at a university, teaching and researching. Hari is a proud 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. But he also has made a small temple on a table in a corner of his room so he can seek God’s blessings every morning. Hari is comfortable with the social norms he has grown up with but loves the freedoms he experiences in the university, now that he is no longer living under his parents’ eyes. So Hari’s favourite pastime is debating and a member of the same student association as Sam. 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 third-generation non-resident Indian (NRI), the youngest of two daughters of her doctor parents. Her family and Sam’s are neighbours in a small tourist-attraction town close to the university. She has been friends with Sam and Lisa since high school. LG is studying law but takes a keen interest in sociological topics and belongs to a sociology study group. Latha is in a live-in relationship with Zara, a journalism student at the university she met in the study group. Latha’s parents are unaware that she is a lesbian, or that she is in an existing relationship, and are scouting around for a suitable boy for their beloved daughter.

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 and is determined to fulfil her grandmother’s dream of having an academic in the family. But she knows how to keep her life well-balanced and has been together with Sam since high school. They live together in rented student accommodation. Lisa also loves gospel singing and is part of her local church choir.

Manu Mathuru

Manu is from New Delhi and came to this university four years ago for his MA in Anthropology on a scholarship and has stayed on do to his Doctorate in Development Studies as he was won a grant for it. He did his Bachelor’s rom St Stephen’s College in Delhi. 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 Indian background has resulted in an unlikely friendship.

Samir “Sam” Kulkarni

Sam is a second-generation NRI 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. Sam has bolstered his limited first-hand exposure to India with reading, watching films/documentaries. He loves discussing many aspects of India with his friends and family back home. Lately he has joined many WhatsApp discussion groups, which he thinks helps him understand current affairs quickly.

​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 … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... times!

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

Manu:

Sam

Manu:

Lisa:

Manu

Lisa

Manu

Lisa

Hari

Akki: Manu, … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... all.

Latha “LG” [disgusted]: As a dominant-caste savarna 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. The rules in the Manusmriti are so pro-dominant-caste and so anti-women, it’s crazy.

Hari: But … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... said.

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 other reasons …

Lisa

Hari: Really, … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... met?

Latha “LG” [exasperatedly]: Seriously Hari? Which rock are you living under? This un-seeing of caste that you are doing, it doesn’t make caste practices go away. You can afford to say so only because you are dominant-caste. I was watching a web series the other day based on the Mumbai terror attacks. And that had a sub-plot of a person refusing to get treated by an oppressed-caste doctor in a hospital. I mean seriously! Even when it's life and death! Can you imagine how the doctor felt? You don’t even get the scope of caste oppression and how badly it screws up people’s lives. 

Sam:

Manu: What … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... killed it.

Latha “LG” : Exactly! The judicial system is totally complicit in maintaining the status quo, in protecting the interests of the privileged castes. How is this even possible when the Indian constitution has banned caste discrimination? This is a reflection of society, too. You spoke about trusting the justice system Akki, and Hari, I know your father is a judge, as was your grandfather. This isn’t meant to be personal – I’m talking about the bigger picture – that the justice system as a whole isn’t taking the lived experiences of marginalised groups into account when delivering this so-called “justice” … so how does one have faith in it to do right by everyone?

Hari

Lisa:

Hari

Lisa

Sam

Manu

Latha “LG”: Oh I love that – White fragility! You have to tippy toe around “feelings” in any such discussion! It’s amazing to see all the rich and privileged White folks use their hypocritical interpretation of identity politics, just to avoid a serious conversation about racism.

Sam

Manu

Lisa

Manu:

Sam: Well, … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... situation?

Latha “LG”: Wow! That’s crazy … What's the solution for people stuck in this rut? The government doesn’t count them, I guess. I want to know what I can do to help … 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. [gesture frustration] And ofcourse they are only looking at women, which also fits the supremacist ideology. I mean just imagine what’s gonna happen when I tell them that I am not into men and bring my girlfriend home.

Lisa: Aww s … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... way?

Latha “LG”: Well, a few might nowadays, maybe the progressive types. This fascination for fair skin is universal, Lisa. We saw that in the treatment of the people fleeing Ukraine … how the border guards were letting the fair skinned through and not the Indians and Africans. In India the cosmetic industry lives off the superiority and desirability of white skin … until recently they actually had a brand called Fair & Lovely, my cousins used it all the time.

Hari

Manu

Lisa

Akki: But … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 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: Akki, … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 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”?

Hari:

Sam

Manu

Hari

Akki: Yaar, … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... nothing.

Latha “LG”: Look, I’m proud of my Indian 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

Sam

Lisa: I’m … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... Kausalya!

Latha “LG”: Couldn’t agree more … we gotta wake up to the fact that 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. Destroying this entire Manusmriti based caste system is critical to establishing a just society.

Manu: That … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... there.

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

Akki

Hari: Gotta … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 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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