This play is set partly in present-day Rajasthan, a state in West India, sharing a border with Pakistan, and partly in 1950 Rajasthan, three years after the 1947 Partition of India. Malati, now an old woman, reminisces on her life in a noble family, with her childhood spent in the years after the Partition. We must remember that many Indians were oppressed during the British colonial rule, and hence Indians were inclined to look upon them with a hatred for many years afterwards.
(EARLY DAWN SOMEWHERE IN RAJASTHAN. THE DESERT STRETCHES OUT FOR MILES IN EVERY DIRECTION, THE SAND PEPPERED WITH DUNES AND SHABBY TENTS THAT THREATEN TO BLOW AWAY ALONG WITH THEIR INHABITANTS. A CHILL HAS DESCENDED OVER THE PLACE. THE FLAP OF A RAGGED TENT NEAREST TO THE AUDIENCE OPENS, AND OUT CRAWLS AN OLD WOMAN.)
(ENTER MALATI, 50)
MALATI The clouds are darkening.
I sense a storm coming in this gloomy early morning.
The sand will blow into my tent again.
(TENT WALLS FLUTTER)
Families sleep around me,
not knowing a storm is coming.
Any storm could be deadly.
(SOMEONE PLAYS A SARANGI* IN THE DISTANCE. THE MUSIC DRIFTS TO MALATI’S EARS)
MALATI Reminds me of those days.
When the ghagras would twirl
and the flame-lit torches would light up the night.
If my knees weren’t so weak,
I would get up and dance Ghoomar*
in the middle of this desert.
(IN MALATI’S MEMORY, FLASHBACK TO 1950 UDAIPUR, RAJASTHAN. IN THE COURTYARD OF A HUGE MARBLE HOUSE, HOUSING THE MEWARI* NOBLE FAMILY. MARBLE FLOORS UNDER THE SPRAWLING ROOFS SUPPORTED BY TALL PILLARS. SEVERAL PEOPLE MOVE ABOUT, SOME POUNDING SPICES ON A SLAB, SOME BRAIDING THEIR HAIR, AND THE CHILDREN CHASING EACH OTHER.)
(ENTER PRESENT MALATI, AND SITS DOWN BESIDE THE APPARITION OF YOUNG MALATI, WHO IS LISTENING TO A STORY HER UNCLE IS TELLING HER. MALATI IS AN OUTSIDER, AN UNSEEN NARRATOR WHOM NO ONE CAN SEE.)
MALATI Sounds of war in the north reached our ears.
Men and women once our countrymen
sat on the other side of our deserts.
Hate in both our hearts.
(MALATI SMILES, AND GENTLY PATS YOUNG MALATI’S HEAD, WHO DOES NOT REACT.)
MALATI I felt safe under the sprawling roofs
above the tall pillars and the marbled floors
and there I sat, longing for that blue ghagra.
YOUNG MALATI (IN FLASHBACK) It is so beautiful, Maasa*! Let us buy it, no? I will wear it for Ghoomar this year!
(MALATI SMILES, SHAKING HER HEAD)
MALATI Night came, and I ran like a hare
afraid of the ghosts that could come after me
they lurked in the deserts. Black as night
and disappearing in the air of the daylight
maybe next to me, but never in sight.
(A WHITE GIRL RUNS IN THROUGH THE OPEN DOOR OF THE HOUSE. SHE IS EVIDENTLY FOREIGN. YOUNG MALATI’S FACE LIGHTS UP, HER MOTHER HAS A DISAPPROVING LOOK ON HER FACE. THE REST OF THE FAMILY TURNS STONY-EYED.)
MALATI Sometimes peeking around the street
she would come.
Her skin white
as the marble on the floors of my house.
Her hair brown and flowing down her back
making me despise my oily braids
adorned with red ribbons.
MALATI’S MOTHER (IN FLASHBACK) Shameless Britishers. Have the audacity to stay, even after all they did to our people. And then they stay next to our house, and let that foreigner girl corrupt my Malati!
MALATI They were always in the house
a crumbling structure they had somehow loved.
They never left, said my mother in whispering tones
when she thought I was asleep.
(MALATI LOOKS SADLY AT YOUNG MALATI AND THE ENGLISH GIRL WHISPERING AND GIGGLING TOGETHER. MALATI PICKS UP ONE OF YOUNG MALATI”S STORYBOOKS AND LEAFS THROUGH IT )
MALATI English. Once a foreign word
later a few words written in uneven letters inside the pages of my notebook.
Now a few sentences, now a story or two.
Never like Mewari
in which I craved the daily bedtime story.
To her, it was as easy, as chattering in Mewari was to me.
Her accent left me furrowing my brows,
her fair hands making gestures in the air
and me trying to mirror her
just two girls from opposite shores of the ocean
in a desperate attempt to understand.
(BACK TO PRESENT TIME RAJASTHAN, IN THE DESERT. MALATI STILL SQUATS IN THE SAME LACE. MORNING HAS DAWNED, AND THE SUN’S RAYS GET STRONGER BY THE MINUTE. THE STORM HAS SUBSIDED. PEOPLE WALK ABOUT, COOKING ATOP THEIR WOOD PILES, AND THE LAUGHTER OF CHILDREN CAN BE HEARD.)
MALATI We never understood war. We just understood friendship.
(IN THE DISTANCE, TWO FOREIGNER TOURISTS WALK BY, CAMERAS IN HAND AND CLICKING PICTURES. THEIR SKIN IS AS WHITE AS SNOW IN CONTRAST TO MALATI’S WITHERED, BROWN LIMBS. MALATI WATCHES THEM GO BY, THINKING WHAT WE CANNOT GUESS.)
1. Sarangi- an instrument used commonly in Rajasthani folk music.
2. Ghoomar- A folk dance of Rajasthan.
3. Mewari- a dialect of the Rajasthani language.
4. Maasa- Mother