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Salman Syed

1. People in the play

Hari Ramakrishnan

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.

 

Salman Syed

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.

Gopal Fernandes

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.

Sutradhar

The narrator.

The setting

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.

2. Script for Salman

Hari

Poonam:

Hari

Poonam:

Hari

Sandip: Well here… ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... India …

Salman: Hello, I’m Salman Syed, I spoke to the judge about your annexe.

Venkat

Gopal

Sandip

Gopal

Venkat: Hmm, yes… ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... firm.

Salman: Sir, please call me Salman. You already know where I work. What else can I tell you? I’ve grown up in the States and just came to India three years ago. And Gopal is my partner.

 ----- Silence for 2 seconds -------

Poonam

Venkat

Hari: What … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... here!

Salman: I was interested in finding out more about my birth family. My parents were separated at the Bangladesh-India border - part of the aftermath of the Partition …

Venkat: Hmm, Partition… ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... home.

Salman: I’m curious why you said Muslims who stayed back then chose to make India “their home”. My birth family always lived here. India was always home. They belong to the weaving community that converted from Hinduism to Islam in the 15th century. But I’ve learned they’re routinely harassed for documents etc, to prove that they are Indians, even though the fabric they weave is recognised as Indian weaves! … My adopted family, on the other hand, who were rich Muslim traders from ancient families of Lehnda Punjab, West Punjab that is, Syeds you know, upper, upper class, they remained in India and continued to be accepted by dominant-caste Hindus. Yet it’s my birth father’s family in the north-east that is at risk of becoming stateless if the CAA goes through.

Sandip

Gopal

Poonam

Hari

Sandip

Venkat

Sandip

Venkat: Salmanji, … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... back?

Salman: Well I did come on a posting but ever since coming here, going to the north-east and Bangladesh, meeting Gopal and the Shaheen Baag women and working with them, I’m not sure about going back at all. And KTM is OK with that …

Sandip: Shaheen … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... there.

Salman [in disbelief at Sandip’s comment]: I’m sorry! But …

Venkat: Just … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... till now?

Salman: We’ve been renting a flat in an apartment complex in Noida. But – and I have no reason to hide this – our landlord has given us notice and he was quite clear why. He said we’ve been good tenants, paying on time, not disturbing others, but people have been him asking why he was leasing to a Muslim and that too a bad one. And why “bad”? Because not only do I have a boyfriend but because he is African. We were stunned, but that also explains why Gopal has been finding it so difficult to find a job in Noida.

Gopal

Venkat

Sandip

Poonam:

Gopal

Sandip

Venkat: Gopal … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... victims?

Salman: Yes, both Gopal and I are with the lawyers collective that’s representing them. Honestly, sir, everyone is putting in a lot of work, but we are meeting with so much resistance from the powers that be. Despite all our efforts, hardly anyone has managed to get bail. It’s heart-breaking to see how those who clearly incited the pogrom haven’t been questioned at all, whereas the victims and their family members are being jailed and hounded in all sorts of ways!

Sandip: I’m sorry… ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... mind.

Salman: Not at all, I hope it’s nothing too serious, and your wife gets better soon. We’ll take our leave now.

Gopal

Sutradhar

Venkat

Sandip

Hari

Venkat: 

Poonam

Jayati

Sandip:

Jayati:

Hari

Jayati: 

Sandip

Hari

Jayati

Sandip

Hari

Sandip:

Jayati

Poonam

Jayati

Hari

Jayati

Venkat

Poonam

Venkat:

Sutradhar: As the … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... evening.

Salman: Hey sorry partner, I don’t know if this will work out. Looks like these folks are no better than our current landlord. I had thought with his record, the judge would have welcomed us with open arms but clearly he was struggling and the way he interrupted you, that was downright bad manners … What did you think of them?

Gopal: I was… ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... for it?

Salman: Very pretentious family. Did you hear that “what will the neighbours say”? The judge clearly rules his family as if it’s his courthouse, no one can speak out of turn. But at least he didn’t have a heart attack when I told him about you. Interesting to see the tussle between his beliefs, and his image of himself.

Gopal

END

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