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Venkat Ramakrishan

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 Venkat

Hari

Poonam

Hari

Poonam

Hari

Sandip

Salman: Hello, I’m … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... annexe.

Venkat: Yes, yes, do sit down. This is Mrs Ramakrishnan, my wife, and my sons, Sandip and Hari. And you are …

Gopal

Sandip

Gopal: Oh I’m … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... Siddis.

Venkat: Hmm, yes, yes, so Mr Syed, you were enquiring about our annexe. May I know a bit more about you? Will your wife be joining us later? You said you worked with KTM and Associates LLP, which I know is an excellent law firm.

 

Salman

 ----- Silence for 2 secs -------

Poonam: A … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... say?

Venkat [tersely]: Leave that be Poonam. We’re liberals, we’ve got to move with the times …

Hari:

Salman: I was … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... Partition …

Venkat: Hmm, Partition – it never ceases to amaze me, you know, how much this history continues to haunt so many Indians. I mean my family is from Bengaluru so we didn’t really have much to do with it. But Poonam’s parents moved here from Lahore. What trauma they suffered … They had to start again from scratch. But they were readily accepted as Hindu refugees who were coming “home”. Of course, we must give credit to the Muslims who chose to stay back here and make it their home.

Salman

Sandip

Gopal

Poonam:

Hari:

Sandip: Why not? … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... past …

Venkat [interrupting abruptly]: Thanks Hari, I didn’t know you were having such interesting conversations in Bristol, you must tell me more about them another time. Sandip, you know the Mughals are a part of our history. An important part. Right from the Taj Mahal, the Qutub Minar and the Red Fort - you know places that any tourist wants to see in North India. And then the spectacular gardens, remember all those wonderful family picnics … Interesting how so much of what the Mughals were responsible for has been seamlessly integrated into India. Akbar was also a great believer in interfaith harmony. Of course, there are powers nowadays that are trying to dismantle this part of India’s legacy …

Sandip: Secularism … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... appa?

Venkat [ignoring Sandip]: Salmanji, you are on a posting here in India then? So how long is this posting? When do you expect to be going back?

Salman

Sandip

Salman: I’m sorry! But …

Venkat [interrupting again]: Just a minute, we aren't political. So you’ve been here a while Salman, where have you been staying till now?

Salman

Gopal: It’s made … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... rights.

Venkat: Oh well, thank you for that …

Sandip

Poonam

Gopal

Sandip: Gopal, … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... here.

Venkat: Gopal that’s fine, but Salman, tell me some more about your pro bono work. You’re working with riot victims?

 

Salman

Sandip

Salman

Gopal

Sutradhar: Gopal … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... leave.

Venkat: Sandip, what is Jayati saying? Which doctor would you like to call?

Sandip

Hari: Hang … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... saying …

Venkat: Hari! Please can you leave us adults alone to sort this out? And Sandip, Salman sounded like a perfect gentlemen. I agree that well-educated Muslims, jinke saath hum uth baith sakte hain, are few and far between. But we need to be more tolerant beta.

Poonam:

Jayati

Sandip

Jayati:

Hari

Jayati

Sandip:

Hari

Jayati

Sandip:

Hari:

Sandip

Jayati

Poonam

Jayati

Hari:

Jayati: Exactly! … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... richer.

Venkat: Oh be quiet all of you! I'm not into politics. I need to think about Salman and Gopal. You know, if I do agree we will come across as liberal and forward thinking. And they will be in the annexe, we don’t really have to meet them if we don’t want to. I mean I can’t be expected to socialise with every lawyer who shows up. On the other hand, the girls are young and easily influenced …

Poonam: Oh God! … ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... gay!

Venkat: I need a drink -- let’s discuss this tomorrow.

Sutradhar

Salman

Gopal:

Salman

Gopal

END

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