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Lisa Holmes

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 Lisa

 

Manu:

Latha “LG”:

Manu:

Sam:

Manu: It's yet ... ... ... ... ... was murdered.

Lisa [exclaiming]: Seriously?

Manu: Both of ... ... ... ... ... believe that?

Lisa: Yep! … actually I do believe that …

Akki:

Manu: This phone ... ... ... ... ... that purity.

Lisa: I know from some docu-films Sam and I’ve been watching that inter-caste marriages are unacceptable across most of India, but I’ve never really understood the actual story about caste. Isn’t this like ancient stuff?

 

Hari: Oh yeah ... ... ... ... ... choose a girl …

Lisa: You mean a woman?

Hari:

Akki:

Latha “LG”

Hari:

Latha “LG” [emphatically]: Guys – I’m  ... ... ... ... ... to justify …

Lisa: Exactly, this is caste-based violence, it’s pretty obvious to me. There are parallels between caste and racial violence.

 

Hari:

Latha “LG” [also exasperatedly]: Seriously Hari? ... ... ... ... ... the thread.

Lisa: Oh sorry to interrupt you LG, but I’ve just realise that Hari can afford to deny caste because he happens to be a Brahmin. Just yesterday Sam and I watched this web series. And you pointed out Sam, it was this Thakur caste person who was refusing  to get treated by a doctor from a Yadav caste in a hospital. And I thought – seriously! Even when it's life and death! Can you imagine how the doctor felt? I could – because I’m black and I’ve been at the receiving end of racism, specially the kind that says they aren’t racist but always mistake the black person in the supermarket to be the shop assistant or a shoplifter? Yep, me.

Sam:

Manu:

Hari:

Akki

Latha “LG”

Hari: Don’t be ... ... ... ... ... many tweets …

Lisa: For sure, Indians stood up against white supremacy during the BLM campaign. I found it interesting Indians feel in the racism in the West and protest against it, yet they choose stay silent about caste violence.

Akki: What happened ... ... ... ... ... in my view.

Lisa: Akki sorry, I will call you out on that. BLM isn’t about the George Floyd case in isolation, it’s about the everyday … the whole basis of White supremacy is this notion that White is good and Black is evil, that it’s okay to be violent towards black-skinned people in all sorts of ways, like killing them at the slightest pretence.

Sam: I mean, ... ... ... ... ... in the US.

Lisa: And just try mentioning this to a White man or woman and see how defensive they become! There’s a term for it, you know: White fragility. And the rest of us are expected to tippy toe around “feelings” in any such discussion! LG, you said Hari was feeling fragile.

Hari:

Sam

Akki [impatiently]: That’s rubbish … ... ... ... ... weak.

Lisa: Actually BLM isn’t saying other lives don’t matter, we’re just saying that our lives matter [emphasis] too … that Black lives matter as much as White lives have always mattered! Blacks shouldn’t have to struggle for everything that is considered a fundamental right for Whites, from good education to healthcare to jobs. Remember how the pandemic affected Blacks more than Whites!

Manu

Latha “LG”:

Akki:

Sam

Latha “LG”:  And on ... ... ... ... ... avoiding it!

Lisa: Aww sweetheart … we’re all on your side. Oh, Sam and I, we have such a laugh about Indian matrimonial ads. There’s a lot of mention of caste there, even if it’s to say ‘caste no bar’ and it seems standard to mention fair-skin for women, as if that’s an accomplishment. [angry] I can’t believe that some of us here can’t see this is all really racist!

Akki:

Hari

Manu: Err, it certainly ... ... ... ... ... are blue.

Lisa: When I was four, I asked my mum when I would turn white, because all the good people on TV were White and all the bad guys were Black or kinda “Chinese” or “Arab” looking. Since I was a good kid, I thought I should be White! And I used to wonder why out of all the lovely people around me in our housing estate, none were White! Or even a shade in between … all these subtle ways of putting us down.[laughs]

 

Akki

Latha “LG”: Aha! all times ... ... ... ... ... power symbol!

Lisa: Akki, these things all add up. What we think is the default. Who determines that? Blackness – that’s always the “other”, so always suspect, bad – black magic, black money, dark times …

Akki:

Sam

Latha “LG”:

Hari:

Sam:

Akki:

Latha “LG”: Look, I’m ... ... ... ... ... what’s bad.

Lisa: Yeah! Also, this Kausalya Shankar case was like a Black man marrying a White woman in the Jim Crow era in the US. That Black guy would have been lynched, just like Shankar was. All because he was a Dalit who dared! So let’s not pretend that his caste had nothing to do with his murder. More power to Kausalya for standing up to her parents after all that she went through.

Latha “LG”

Manu:

Latha “LG”

Akki:

Hari:

Latha “LG”: ... ... ... ... ... hai na?

 

END

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