For the Observers
People in the play
A young man from an affluent family in Delhi studying law at Bristol University, UK. He is currently back in Delhi for a summer vacation. In the time that he has been in Bristol, he’s been part of a socially conscious group of friends. Oftentimes, after their animated conversations, he’s been questioning some of the deeply held notions around India’s caste system and the shastras that he has been brought up to believe justify his family’s own good fortune. He has been seeing some value in the arguments put forth by his new friends.
Venkat and Poonam Ramakrishnan
Hari’s parents. Venkat is a retired judge of the Delhi High Court. He sees himself as a secular Indian, increasingly uncomfortable with the growing anti-Muslim sentiment. But he doesn’t speak up out of a fear that challenging the status quo would shake his social standing among his dominant-caste/upper-class peers, the majority of whom are Hindus. Poonam is a graduate of Lady Sriram College, Delhi and taught history in Delhi Public School before retiring. Venkat and Poonam live in the family’s inherited property, a sprawling house with a massive garden in Gulmohar Park area of Delhi. The house has two floors: Venkat and Poonam live on the ground floor, and their elder son lives on the first floor. The house also has a two-bedroom annexe that the Ramakrishnan family rent out, preferably to young married couples.
Sandip and Jayati Ramakrishan
Hari’s elder brother (anna) and sister-in-law (attige). Sandip is a lawyer, with the eventual aim of becoming a judge like his dad. Jayati has a faculty position in the history department of a prestigious university. She was Poonam’s pet student in school but is having trouble adjusting to Poonam’s somewhat orthodox expectations from her daughter-in-law. Sandip and Jayati have two daughters (11 and 12 years). Because Sandip and his parents desperately want a male heir, Jayati is pregnant again. Sandip’s pressure is new, influenced by the traditionalistic memes on a WhatsApp group of school friends that he has recently joined. He’s particularly fond of the messages sent by Anita, which are full of beautiful sayings that remind him of India’s glorious past when everyone knew their place and was so much more content.
A lawyer in his late 30s. Salman was born in India to parents who lived on either side of the fluid India - Bangladesh border. Salman’s mother was forcibly separated from her husband while she was visiting her family in Bangladesh, and she was not allowed to rejoin him due to changes in the border regulations. Unable to cope, she gave up Salman for adoption when he was five years old to an affluent Muslim couple in America originally from Lahore. Salman studied in a private school and later completed his law degree from Harvard. However, flash memories of his early years led him to come to India in search of his birth family. He is currently working with an international corporate law firm and has been posted to their office in Delhi. He also does some pro bono work.
Salman’s partner. Gopal belongs to the Siddi community of Yellapur (Karnataka), born to a Christian father and a Hindu mother. Gopal’s parents were poor labourers, but they encouraged him to get an education, which he did. When he was just finishing school, his father was injured at work, but there was no compensation or help from the contractor under whom he worked as he was an informal worker. Gopal took a couple of years out of education to pay the medical bills but then he realised that his athletic prowess could get him scholarships. Between “all sport and all study, and no time to play” as he explains it, he eventually graduated with top honours in law from Hyderabad Central University. He was working as a lawyer in Yellapur when he met Salman and then he moved to Delhi so they could be together. However, Gopal is finding it difficult to get a job as a lawyer in Delhi. Salman and Gopal have been wondering why, given Gopal’s sharp legal knowledge and excellent communication skills. In the meantime Gopal has joined a collective of lawyers doing pro bono work.
Front garden of the Ramakrishnan home. Six chairs and a table are laid out on the manicured green lawn, under a bright yellow garden umbrella. Venkat, Poonam and Sandip are sitting and talking when Hari joins them – he has just returned home after a leisurely lunch with old school friends at the Delhi Golf Club.