Sangam Playhouse






Name, Place, Animal, Thing

A Play by



The entire dramatic text. Please contact the author (zaidiannie at gmail dot com) for rights to perform, publish or use this text in any form.




Cast:
Mr Malik.
Mrs Malik /Shalu
Nancy
Kunal
Kapdu
Mrs Rizwi /Rehana
Insiya
Batua
Neighbours (at least six people, can be a mixed group of men and women)
Ambulance men (at least two)

 

Act 1.

Scene 1

The stage is set like the inside of a typical upper-middle class apartment. We see only the drawing-dining space. There are sofas, television, glass-topped table, a dining table. The dining table is laid for two with some serving bowls on it.
A curtain to the left indicates inner rooms – kitchen, bedroom etc. The main door (and exit) is to the right.
The doorbell rings. It rings twice before there’s any response.
A sweaty, irritated Mrs Malik/Shalu (about 50, plump, still quite attractive) stomps onto the stage from behind the curtain (left). She wipes her hands on her saree as she rushes to the door.
Shalu:
Everything! Everything is on my head now. Should I cook or should I wash or should I stand at the door? Open, close, open, close…
She opens the door hurriedly and is about to go back the way she came, then she pauses. She turns back, stands still, then turns away again and goes to the kitchen without a word.
A slow-moving Mr Malik enters the stage. He is an imposing man in his mid-fifties, who speaks quietly, deliberately. He turns to look at the door, nods.
Nancy enters with bowed head. She is about 21, with very dark, frizzy hair. She wears a pretty but dirty long skirt, and holds a bag with torn handles so she cannot carry it properly. She stands near the door.
Nancy:
I thought you would not–
Malik:
Forget it.
Nancy:
I thought I might be beaten.
Malik:
When have I ever beaten you?
Nancy:
Never. That’s why I thought this time! This time I have had it! I was sure.
Malik:
Go in.
Nancy hesitates. Shalu comes back into the room, stomping. She glares at the girl.
Shalu:
No shame! No shame at all. First she goes off without a word. Now she stands there like a maharani. Just standing! What do you expect, maharani sahiba? Should I bring a garland, should I do an aarti to welcome you before you will condescend to lift your lotus feet?
Nancy puts her bag down in one corner of the room, hitches up her skirt, wraps a corner of the hem around her waist, tucking it in the waistband. She goes off to the left, behind the curtains.
Shalu sits down heavily on the sofa and bursts into tears.
Malik:
Be careful with your tongue, Mrs Malik. She is grown up now. And she has learnt to use her tongue too. You remember how she fought with you last time? Our dignity is in our own hands. I have always said that.
Shalu:
Where did you find her? Oh lord! Don’t tell me it was… Was it somewhere… Not a, a, a–
Malik:
(impatient) I found her downstairs. She was afraid to come here. She was standing outside the building, at the main gate. Holding that bag. She saw me, I saw her… I think she was waiting for me to decide what to do with her.
Shalu:
So what have you decided?
A pause.
Malik:
You brought her into this house. You decide. I have very little to do with her.
Nancy returns with a cloth, wipes the table and other surfaces. She watches Mr and Mrs Malik but keeps her hands busy. She hurries out again.
Malik:
Maybe you should think of an alternative.
Shalu:
Alternative? Have I found an alternative all these days? Mr Malik, I brought her up. She knows me, this house. She knows our ways. How can I find an alternative? A girl is not substituted so easily if you bring her up like your own.
Malik gets up with a loud sigh, shaking his head. Shalu keeps talking.
Shalu:
A girl is not a thing, Mr Malik. You don’t just go out and buy a better model. If it is so easy, why odn’t you find me an alternative? You just say ‘you decide’ and walk off. Easy! Can you decide?
Malik:
I am going to change.
Shalu:
Yes, go. Your kurta pajama is on the bed.
Nancy walks in with glass dishes and starts to lay the table. Malik goes inside.
Shalu watches Nancy then sets about sniffling and beating her head with her palm. Nancy hesitates, then comes forward to sit down at her feet.
Shalu:
What am I going to do with her? Such a dodo… All my fault. Gave her everything. Whatever she wanted. Look at her now, just look at her.
Nancy:
Aunty-
Shalu:
No matter what you do-
Nancy:
Aunty, sorry.
Shalu:
I am not talking to you! If Mr Malik had not… I would not let you set foot in the house. No, don’t talk to me!
Nancy sits silent, hugging herself. Shalu sniffles some more.
Nancy:
Should I make the phulkas?
Shalu:
Do what you like.
Nancy goes back into the kitchen.
Malik comes back dressed in a kurta pajama. He sits at the head of the dining table.
Shalu:
Has anyone ever asked me anything? As if it matters. ‘Should I make the phulkas?’ As if I will tell her, no.
Malik:
Shalu!
Nancy comes out with a hot phulka and slides it into Malik’s plate. He serves himself some food.
Malik:
Mrs Malik!
Shalu gets up, stomps towards the dining table, sits down. She wipes her eyes.
Malik:
Now she understands what it is like to be out on her own. Let us see how she behaves now. Start.
He pushes a serving bowl towards her.
Shalu:
Back with her bag and everything. The marriage is over then?
Nancy brings more phulkas. She serves both. Malik keeps talking as if she wasn’t there.
Malik:
Eat now. Eat. These things happen. Amongst these people, it is common. And it is not actually our problem. She is an adult. Like she kept reminding us, before.
Nancy stands against the wall, head bowed, waiting. The Maliks eat, Shalu still sniffling a bit.
Nancy:
Shall I bring the rice? One more phulka? Uncle?
She looks at their plates anxiously.
Malik:
We don’t eat rice in the evenings now. It is not good for health.
Nancy looks at Shalu.
Shalu:
Go. Make your phulkas… Wait. Listen. There is some rice left over from lunch. You can finish it if you like.
Nancy starts to go back into the kitchen.
Malik:
And no rice in the evenings from now on.
Nancy leaves. Malik continues to eat steadily. Shalu stops eating and begins sniffling again.

Scene 2
Nancy sits on the floor of the living room. She is sewing the straps of her bag with a piece of wool and a large needle.
The doorbell rings. Nancy rushes to the door. Mrs Rizwi/Rehana, (a well-dressed woman of about 50, with dramatic mannerisms) bustles in. She looks surprised at seeing Nancy, but promptly makes herself comfortable on the sofa, talking all the way from the door.
Rehana:
Arre, Nancy? But I always said she will be back. I told Shalu, wait and see. Within two days, she will be back. There are dogs out there. Wolves!
Nancy bows her head, doesn’t say anything.
Rehana:
I knew you would not last one day. This city is a jungle for a young woman. But you needed to see for yourself, no? It is not enough when other people are telling you. You only have to suffer. No? You think you know the whole world because you passed one school exam?
Nancy goes inside hurriedly.
Rehana:
What a girl! Runs off when I am still talking to her. But their type, no matter what you teach them, oh, hello!
Shalu enters, more relaxed now.
Shalu:
Arre, Rehana? After so long. I thought you had gone off somewhere.
Rehana:
Where would I go? I’m stuck here only, no? And then I was thinking that with Nancy gone, you must be having so much housework, you must be too busy. So I did not disturb you. It is so tough without a girl these days.
Shalu:
So much heat in the kitchen, Rehana! I cannot take it. I just cannot take it. And none of the new girls lasted more than a day. I tried three new girls. All of them useless. Their noses are so high, they could clean the cobwebs on the ceiling.
Rehana:
(laughs) Chalo, now you can relax. Nancy is back.
Shalu:
For now.
Rehana:
Why? Is she leaving again? And where’s that fellow?
Shalu:
I don’t know. I am not talking to her. But I have to say, she looks like she is really sorry. I feel so sorry for her. She just keeps sitting here at my feet, looking at me like a dumb animal. And she does everything so well. You know Rehana, I don’t even have to call out. Even before I need something, she is standing there with that thing. Such a relief. In spite of all those horrible things she said… Uff! I think of it and my blood pressure starts going up. The things she said to us!
Rehana:
But how long will you not talk to her? She is living here, no? Come on. You can break your silence in front of me only. Nancy! Nancy!
Nancy steps in with a tray of cool drinks in two glasses, bowls of snacks with little paper serviettes on the side.
Rehana:
O-ho! Chalo, at least she has not forgotten everything you taught her. Nancy, wait. Sit down.
Nancy sits on the floor at Shalu’s feet.
Rehana:
So?
Nancy doesn’t say anything.
Shalu:
What? Left your tongue behind with that filthy dog, what’s his name?
Nancy:
What should I say, Aunty?
Rehana:
What should you say? You know what to do but you don’t know what to say? Did you tell that fellow before you disappeared? Or left quietly at midnight just like you left this house?… How long has it been? Two months?
Nancy:
Eighteen days.
Shalu:
Heard that, Rehana? Eighteen days. Eighteen days! I told her one hundred times, don’t, don’t, don’t do it. I will find you somebody better than him. But she knows better, of course. We are her enemies. We do not wish to see her happy and settled. We just want her to live here, eat leftovers and be our slave! Can you believe it, Rehana, she actually said all this to me? These were her words.
Shalu’s voice has grown tremulous and sniffly again.
Rehana:
My god! And this high she was when you brought her. Nancy, do you even realize how good this family is? Mr Malik gave you an education! He paid for your books and pencils and copies and uniform. He let you sit for exams. Who does that for their servants?
Nancy:
Nobody, Aunty. Not for a servant.
Rehana:
And still you had to run off. And with who?!
Shalu:
That is what hurts most, Rehana. The boy had been coming to this house for six years to collect the garbage. Six years! If I had the slightest doubt, I would have stopped her in time. But there she was. Pretending to give him the garbage every morning, what all she was giving him god only knows. It makes my blood burn. I would have skinned her alive! If Mr Malik had not interfered, I would have broken her legs then and there. But Mr Malik said, no. She is not our own daughter. He said, let her go out and see what we have been protecting her from all these years.
Rehana:
But a girl is a girl… And this one should have shown some brains. Nancy, what was the point of educating you if this is the result?
Nancy:
Aunty, I did not do anything wrong. And I told Uncle before.
Rehana:
What did you tell? That you were having an affair with the sweeper?
Nancy has started crying by now.
Shalu:
Such a fool. And I am such a fool for not seeing it coming. Go now! Don’t sit here and show me your big fat tears.
Nancy leaves.
Rehana:
Did she really tell your mister? You said she ran off in the middle of the night.
Shalu:
Tchha! Rubbish! She told Mr Malik that she does not want to do housework. The day she got her 12th result, that same day! Walked into the house with her mark-sheet – 3rd division pass from Open School. Who will give her a job? Nowadays graduates are sitting at home, jobless. I don’t know what dreams she had in her head. But that day she came back with her mark-sheet and said, I will not be a maidservant any longer.
Rehana:
Then what does she want to do?
Shalu:
I don’t know. Maybe she thinks you can become the chief minister or a collector or something, just because you pass your 12th exam. I would not be surprised if she wants to become a film star. Maybe she thinks she can enter a beauty contest. Miss India!
They both laugh. Shalu wipes her eyes.
Rehana:
So then? What did you tell her?
Shalu:
What could I say? I told her, okay.
Rehana:
No!
Shalu:
Yes. I said okay. We are not the type of people who will stop her. If there is a chance of progress, let her move ahead. I handed over her remaining twelve days’ salary that same day. I told her, go, you’re not my slave.
Rehana:
Too much, Shalu. That is why this whole problem started. She went around the market spending money. Then she also wanted a different lifestyle. Other lades in the building notice. Everybody says Nancy does not look like a maid.
Shalu:
You are probably right (sighs!) And that sweeper boy? He can see, she wears good clothes. Real gold earrings. So he starts chasing her, saying sweet-sweet things, promising marriage. I told her, wait. In a year or two we will arrange her marriage. Are we heartless and brainless that we will not think about it? But she was in such a hurry, she packed her bag and left in the middle of the night. Now look! She has gone and ruined her own life.
Rehana:
Tsk! Already what all people used to say. Jeans! Ever heard of a maidservant wearing jeans? This is the only one in the whole colony, maybe in the whole city. And these fancy, frilly skirts. If she wears Monali’s clothes and she studies Monali’s books, she will get ideas, no? You also should think.
Shalu:
I know. But Monali’s things are still new, collecting dust. I thought she might as well use them. Otherwise she will waste money buying new-new clothes.
Rehana:
First thing, stop her jeans-sheans. Tell her, not allowed. Anyway, now she is married. Give her your old sarees. Or I will bring my salwars. It is best for her. You have to teach these things, Shalu. Young girls have to be taught how to behave, how to dress. And keep her on a tight leash now. First thing – cut her salary for eighteen days. For every wrong decision, there is a price to pay. Let her learn that lesson.
Shalu:
Rehana, I am not even thinking of money. (lowers voice) This one has probably learnt other things. The things one suffers, it leaves a bad effect on the mind. What all happened when she was outside? How has it changed her? I worry that she, that, who knows if–
Rehana:
Tsk! She came back, no? That means she has seen enough. Bas! Talk to her firmly. Let me show you. Nanc–
She is about to call out but Shalu stops her.
Shalu:
Shh. Let it be. Don’t. She is not easy to manage, Rehana. I don’t want her to run away again. This one has a strange spirit. Always difficult to control. Once, she was around twelve years old I think, she wanted to go to a proper school. She wanted to go to Monali’s school, actually. I said, no. She began to insist. Didn’t do anything properly. Left soap on the plates. Burnt the rice. I told her okay. You go back to your village. That night, she sat in the kitchen and cried and cried. Then she started stuffing her mouth with chillies. Red chilly powder.
Rehana:
(gasp)
Shalu:
I never told anyone. Not even Mr Malik. Monali found her in the kitchen. She was shaking, red eyes, red face. But she didn’t cry loudly. Monali called me. I made her throw up. Made her drink so much water. Half the night, she only drank water, went to the toilet. It was no use explaining why she wasn’t going to the same school as Monali. She just could not understand.
Rehana:
Then?
Shalu:
We reached a compromise. I bought her a school uniform and a bag, same type as Monali, but she went to the government school. She used to do all the housework wearing that uniform. We used to feel so odd, especially when relatives came to visit. Sometimes they would mistake her for Monali. They said, you have such a responsible daughter, Shalu, see how she is serving the guests. Nancy was always as tall as Monali, even though there was a three year difference. And that uniform! How she kept it! Ironed crisp, each pleat perfectly in place. Shirt so white, starched collar. She stopped fitting into it. But even now, she has it somewhere. Doesn’t want to throw it. It is like some mad dream she is clinging to. Sometimes I worry that she might lose her mind if I take it away.
Rehana:
The school uniform?
Shalu:
The uniform? Maybe that too. She is not easy to manage.
Rehana:
(sigh!) You don’t look well, Shalu. You need someone to take care of you. How I wish Monali was here.
Shalu looks away, distressed.
Rehana:
Why don’t you call her husband here? He is family, no?
Shalu:
As if he will come. These modern girls, Rehana. You say one little thing and that’s it! They–
She starts crying again. Rehana comforts her.
Rehana:
Shalu, don’t cry.
Shalu:
Yes, I know. I know. (controls herself) Mr Malik doesn’t like to see me crying. He suffers too. Of course, he must be suffering. But he hasn’t forgiven her.
Rehana:
For a father, it is a very big thing.
Shalu:
One full year but still his temper has not cooled down.
Rehana:
Give it a little more time.
Shalu:
And then this Nancy gave me one more slap on my face. Running away. Rehana, this girl just wants to copy Monali. I am worried-
Rehana:
Nothing of the sort. These girls are made of tougher material. They are not like our girls. Look at Nancy. She has a buffalo’s hide.
Shalu:
At night, she talks. Alone.
Rehana:
Then give her so much work to do that she is too tired to talk. She will fall asleep straightaway. Okay, Shalu, I have to go. It is time for Mr Rizwi to return and he wants his tea and biscuit on the table as soon as he rings the bell. But I’ll bring some old salwars too. You tell Nancy. Be firm.
She goes out. Shalu sits down for a while, indecisive, then goes inside.

Scene 3
It is night. Nancy rolls out a mat and sits on it. She is in a salwar kameez now.
Nancy opens out her hair and combs it. The combing is a bit of a punishing task. She talks to herself as she combs her hair and does it up in two loose plaits.
Nancy:
I thought, why not? Always that question:
why not me? I was such a donkey… (smiles) Do you remember? Name, Place, Animal, Thing? But we had to play it your way. Somebody we both knew. Describe – if they were an animal, what kind of animal? What kind of thing? And you said I would be a donkey. Then one time, you said I was ‘a Nancy’. ‘A Nancy animal, don’t you know? Just look in the mirror, that’s what a Nancy animal looks like’. I got angry and I said you are a Monali animal. And you laughed and said ‘thank you’. I was so angry (laughs, looks up at the ceiling, then grows sad) I tried, Mona di. But we were always fighting, fighting, fighting. On the wedding night, it started. How to take a bath, where, where to sleep, how to sleep? Fighting on the road. Like stray dogs. Every day, for eighteen days, he kept saying – go and ask. Ask those people if they will let me live in the house. How could I-
There is a shuffling sound from the left. Nancy grows quiet. The sound ceases.
Nancy:
Mona di, do you know, I have a new name. It sounds like the name of a girl with long, straight hair, who visits a lot of temples. Like the girls in TV serials. Kunal said he couldn’t marry a girl called Nancy. Just think of ‘Kunaal’. Sounds like the name of an engineer or some film star’s son. Why should a sweeper be called Kunal? He is not even fifth pass. But still he wanted me to change my name before the wedding. You wait and see, if I find a good job tomorrow, he will come wagging his tail and he will change his name also… Mona di, if I get a job in a shop… But how? Aunty will not let me wear jeans. And if I go like this, who will give me a job? All the shop girls on Andrews Road wear jeans. They have smart hair, up to here, and–
A light comes on. Malik shuffles into the room. He sits down on the sofa.
Malik:
I am sick of it.
She looks at him.
Malik:
I can hear you. All this, all this talking at night. You know the rules of this house.
Nancy:
Yes, Uncle.
Malik:
I am willing to forget some things. You must also learn to forget some things. Go to sleep, Nancy.
He starts to leave.
Nancy:
Uncle. Not Nancy. Sanskaaraa.
Malik:
What?
Nancy:
Sanskaaraa. My name.
Malik stares at her.
Malik:
Nancy, I c–
Nancy:
Girls change their names after marriage. Rehana aunty also changed her name. She was Guncha before. But her husband named her Rehana.
Malik:
This is ridiculous. From Puja to Nancy, now this. There is a limit.
Nancy:
That was different. My family became Christian. So I got a new name.
Malik:
Who asked you to become Christian? You were in a good house, we were teaching you everything. You were even doing puja here. Didn’t Mrs Malik teach you? But still, you wanted to become Nancy!
Nancy:
I was becoming Christian. So why not get a new name?
Malik:
Alright. Why not? We don’t have a problem with you being Christian or with the name. So then what is the need for a new name now?
Nancy:
Now I am married. Kunal gave me a new name.
Malik:
You don’t live with him.
Nancy:
I didn’t have an option.
Malik:
So? I warned you! I said we will get your married properly. But if you let just any man take you and expect to live here… No respectable family allows it. Where have you seen it happen? Even daughters are not allowed to such things.
Nancy:
I know. Mona di was–
Malik:
Nancy!
She jumps. After a long pause, she looks up at him. He is glowering.
Malik:
This is the last time I am telling you, Nancy.
He turns away.
Nancy:
Sanskaaraa, Uncle.
Malik:
Okay. Not that it matters. A name doesn’t change a person. But if that is what you want. Do you still… This marriage, is it… What I’m asking is, will you go on seeing him? That sweeper.
Nancy doesn’t answer.
Malik:
Because what you do, where you go during your free time, I don’t want to know. But I don’t want him coming here. Is that clear? You can stay. But you can’t bring others into the house. You understand? Good. Good night Nancy.
He goes inside. Nancy sits still, head bowed. She whispers.
Nancy:
Sanskaaraa. Sanskaara.
She looks about herself in despair. The light goes off.

Scene 4
Shalu is arranging cushions on her sofa. The doorbell rings. She answers the door a crack, shakes her head, shuts the door.
The doorbell rings again. She answers.
Shalu:
What is it? I already said I don’t want anything.
Kapdu:
(off stage) Bibiji, take a look. It is such beautiful cloth, you will not get it anywhere in the market. If you don’t like it, I swear, I will put 101 rupees at your doorstep and never come back. It doesn’t cost to look, bibiji.
Shalu hesitates, then opens the door.
Kapdu enters with a big bundle of clothes. He is a tall young man in his 20s, dressed in a beautifully embroidered kurta, but with dirty cut-off jeans. He dumps his bundle on the carpet and starts unfolding lengths of beautiful fabric.
Kapdu:
Bibiji, look. The things I will show you… Look… Can I get a glass of water?
Shalu is entranced by the sight of the fabric.
Shalu:
Nancy! A glass of water.
Kapdu:
This cloth comes from all over the country. Even outside the country. This? Dhaka muslin. From Dhaka. You will not get this quality even in handicraft shops. It is not for everybody, bibiji. This cloth is so fine, you need personality to wear it. Touch it… Touch. I am showing it to you because I know who is worth what. I don’t even show it to most people… Can I get a glass of water, bibiji?
Shalu:
Nancy! Nancy, water! Where has this girl disappeared?
Kapdu:
This pink one, a full saree. Six yards. Why don’t you hold it up? Is there a mirror? You should look at it in a mirror. It makes your face blossom, this pink. It is made to bring a blush to skin like yours.
Shalu looks at it closely, holds it against herself.
Shalu:
NANCEEEE!… Uff! (slaps her head with a palm) Sanskaaraa!
Nancy appears with a glass of water, as if she was just waiting behind the curtain. Shalu glares at her, picks up the fabric and bustles away into an inner room.
Kapdu:
Thank you, thank you, ji… Sanskaaraa?
Nancy:
Yes.
Kapdu:
Thank you. And who is this Nancy? Did she work here before you?
Nancy looks him up and down. She fingers some cloths while he drinks.
Nancy:
Somebody who worked here.
Kapdu:
And you are Sanskaaraa. Such a beautiful name… Do you like this?
Nancy:
It is nice.
Kapdu:
It is not so expensive. I will give it to you for two hundred. You can afford that much, can’t you?
Nancy:
No.
Kapdu:
One eighty. For you. That’s the best sort of deal. Bargain from here all the way to Calcutta and you will not find a deal like this.
Nancy:
No.
She lets go of the cloth. Kapdu picks it up and puts it back in her hands.
Kapdu:
One sixty. It means I don’t make a single rupee. I will make a loss. But for you…
Nancy bursts out laughing. She speaks in a low voice, practically hissing.
Nancy:
You are such a fool. Do you think the mistress of this house will buy anything from you if a maidservant buys something from the same bundle? These people don’t even like to shop in the same street as us.
She takes the empty glass and retreats as Kapdu looks at her thoughtfully. Shalu returns, clutching the cloth as if she already owns it.
Kapdu:
Bibiji.
Shalu:
It is alright.
Kapdu:
Bibiji, if it is anything less than divine, I will eat my tongue. You will look like a Devi with that pink on your, on the, I mean, just like Saraswati.
Shalu:
How much are you giving it for?
Kapdu:
I would give it free, bibiji. It is made for you. But a man must eat. There are children to think of. Eight hundred, bibji.
Shalu:
Do you think I am some Tata-Birla’s wife?
Kapdu:
Real Dhaka muslin. Exclusive piece. If a piece like this turns up anywhere in the market, come and tell me. I will eat my ears. Eight hundred is nothing for you.
Shalu:
Six hundred. Last. I do not like arguing just for nothing.
Kapdu:
Bibiji, my children will starve. But you like it so much, what can I say? Seven! In the market, if you find this saree for even two thousand, I will eat my fingers.
Shalu:
Six. Otherwise you take it and go away.
Kapdu:
Bibiji, I also have to eat. Six fifty. Come, six fifty, take it. And see, this one. Pure silk. Brown. Chocolatey colour. It will go with your eyes. Bibiji, if your husband does not notice this one, I will eat my hair.
Shalu:
Eat my ears, eat my hair. What sort of talk is this?
Kapdu:
Eaten nothing since yesterday, bibiji. But this is life, what can I say? If I don’t sell, what will I eat? … Go on, take it and look at it in the mirror. We are used to hunger, bibiji. Water keeps us alive.
Shalu:
Nancy. Oh my god! Sanskaaraa! Sanskaaraa, see if there’s a bit of chakli or mathhi kept inside. Give him a cup of tea also.
Shalu picks up the brown cloth and a few other fabrics and goes inside.
Kapdu stretches his legs, loosens his shoulders, stands up and takes in the room. He examines the curtains and steals a small statuette that is kept on a side table. Nancy walks in with a cup and a steel plate. She sees him put the statuette away in his bundle. He turns and sees that she has seen him.
Kapdu:
Sanskaaraa.
Nancy:
I should be making a lot of noise now.
She puts the cup and plate on the table.
Kapdu:
But you will not, will you?
Nancy:
I could.
Kapdu:
Of course you could. All of us can do anything. The question is:
will we?
He is nonchalant, eats the matthi, picks up the cup.
Kapdu:
So, who gave you a name like Sanskaaraa?
Nancy:
The priest.
Kapdu:
The priest? In your village temple?
Nancy:
Why?
Kapdu:
No, nothing. Just that you don’t look like the type who is given names like that.
Nancy:
What type is that?
Kapdu:
(laughs) Not your type. Not my type either. You look… let me see. Let me look at you properly.
He touches her face and hair. She remains still, staring at him defiantly.
Kapdu:
You look tribal. Like you come from some place like Jhumri-tilaiya. Have you? You look like your parents didn’t have enough money to feed you so they sent you here to be a slave. They must have called you something else, like, umm, like Rampiyari. Or Rajjo. Or Mahua.
Nancy:
I see. And what about you? What did your parents call you?
Kapdu:
Rajkumar. (laughs) Rajkumar! Well, I didn’t think of that. Yes, why not? I suppose, you too could get a name like Sanskaaraa. If I can be Rajkumar, you can be Sanskaaraa. But everyone calls me Kapdu. They used to say ‘Kapdawala, Kapdawala’, so I started calling myself Kapdu. Remember that. If you ever decide to make some noise about who is stealing things, you will need to remember my name… Will you remember me?
Shalu walks onto the stage just then. She looks at the two of them standing in front of each other. Nancy leaves at once.

Scene 5
Malik comes into the house, dressed in formal clothes.
Malik:
Nancy!
There is no response.
Malik:
Nancy, a cup of tea.
Nancy doesn’t appear. He sighs, goes in, and reenters, carrying a cup.
Shalu also steps out wearing the chocolate brown saree she bought from Kapdu.
Shalu:
Arre? When did you come? And what is this? Mr Malik, this tea looks horrible. Did you make it?
She hovers around him. Malik waves away the question. He looks at her.
Malik:
New saree? Hmm. It is, it is… it sets off the colour of your eyes.
Mrs Malik blushes. She takes the cup from his hands.
Shalu:
You could have asked me if Nancy wasn’t there. I can make a cup of tea at least.
Malik takes the cup back from her, sips from it.
Malik:
You were never much good in the kitchen, Shalu. We were always struggling with one servant or another. Until Nancy came, how much you suffered! And I suffered too, each time you went into the kitchen.
He laughs.
Shalu:
Oh, you! I wasn’t so bad, Mr Malik. But Nancy cooks better than me. Even when she was ten years old. She was still called Puja then, remember?
Malik:
Puja. We gave her that name.
Shalu:
Whatever we could give her, we gave. And she picked up fast. Learnt to make perfect chapattis. Learnt to read when she was thirteen. Even Monali–
She stops, looks at him nervously, hangs her head. He looks severe. Shalu takes a deep breath and speaks deliberately.
Shalu:
Do you remember how she defeated Monali in crossword puzzles?
Malik:
I don’t remember anything.
Shalu:
Mr Malik, it is right to cut her out of our lives like this. At least we can talk about her childhood?
Malik:
Why? Why talk of someone who only brought us pain? I do not think about her.
Shalu:
It has been a year now. I thought we could-
Malik:
No.
Shalu:
Please. Just a small ceremony. Only family. Please, Mr Malik.
Malik:
If you want to do something, do it when I am not here. Don’t drag me into it.
He drains his tea, goes inside.
Shalu:
If you are not there, then what is the use? It is an important function. And how will I manage all alone?
Malik:
(off stage) There’s Nancy. Sanskaaraa! Maybe she will even do all the rites and rituals. You won’t need to call a priest… Sanskaaraa!
Shalu:
Our child deserves to have her father present. You owe her that much.
Malik steps back into the room in his vest.
Malik:
I disowned her the day she ran away with that… I have no obligations any more.
He goes back inside. Shalu sits down, weepy.
Shalu:
All she brought was pain? Pain is all she brought, he says. Does he not remember anything else?… How can–
Malik:
(off stage) Mrs Malik, where is my kurta pajama? Mrs Malik!
Shalu:
I, I thought… I kept it out. I’ll see. I’m coming.
She rushes inside.

Scene 6
Nancy is sitting on her mat, combing out her hair. She begins to whisper.
Nancy:
Did you ever bring him here? My school ended at four. Aunty also went to the ladies club. You could have brought him home. But if Uncle found out, he would have killed you… Mona di, I wish I had a room. Small room. Just to sleep and to keep my things.
There is a rustling sound. She grows quiet, lies down. After a pause, she whispers again.
Nancy:
Mona di, remember that time we were playing Name, Place, and when we came to place, you said, Nancy would be a slum. I had never seen a slum. I didn’t know whether to feel good or bad… I don’t like sleeping under the stars Mona di. I used to lie awake and wonder why god made stars. When he made the night dark, then why make stars? Why make the moon? Seventeen nights I couldn’t sleep properly. I only slept well on a moonless night. Kunal and I had a fight about it. He said, see, I have brought the stars into your eyes. I wanted to beat him up. I said, keep your stars. I want a roof. Anyone can get plastic. I said, at least make a plastic roof. You know what he said? He said, I did not marry you to hear your bitch-tongue wag all night…Rehana aunty was right. There are dogs out there. Where we slept, there were dogs… Once, a dog slept near me. There was such a wind that night. Like a storm was coming. That dog curled up like this, here, near my stomach. I was afraid. But the dog was also afraid. So I called him close. I know it sounds bad, but Mona di, it wasn’t so bad. People sleep with dogs. Big-big people. So what if I did? But Kunal saw and he kicked the dog. I felt it. I felt the echo of that kick here, against my stomach. The dog began to whine but instead of running away, he pressed even closer to me… Later Kunal told me I would turn into a real bitch soon. I would get fleas and diseases. And he laughed. He kept laughing. So I bit him. Here, and here. Near his ankle. I told him, I’ll show you what a real bitch is–
There is a soft rap on the door. Nancy sits upright. There’s another rap. She opens the door.
Kunal steps inside. She is startled but when he tries to enter the room, she blocks his path. He is clearly drunk.
Kunal:
I have come.
Nancy:
What are you doing? You cannot come in.
Kunal:
You are my wife. I have come home to my wife.
Nancy:
If Uncle wakes up, he will bash your head in.
Kunal:
Your ‘uncle’? Ha! Hahaha!
Nancy:
Shhh. Kunal, why are you trying to ruin my life?
Kunal:
I, ruin your life? I married you, stupid girl. I gave you my name. I gave you a new name, a beautiful name. Who are these people? I am your family.
Nancy:
You are the sweeper who collects garbage from this house. I am a servant here.
Kunal:
We took seven rounds of the fire.
Nancy:
Damn your seven rounds. Damn your holy fire.
Kunal:
Don’t say anything about the holy fire. I have come here only for you. For you.
Nancy:
Kunal please. I can’t let you come in.
Kunal:
When you take seven rounds, you can’t just walk off. Nonono. Come. Nancy, I-
He tries to hold her.
Nancy:
I will call out for Uncle.
Kunal:
Okay. Call him. I will say, Uncle, this is my wife. Seven rounds of the holy fire. He will send you off. Then? If Uncle says, go, go with him, what will you do?
Nancy:
I will bash your head in. I swear I will kill you.
Kunal:
You will kill me?
Nancy:
Yes.
Kunal:
You will not come with me?
Nancy:
No.
Kunal retreats slowly.
Kunal:
I will make sure you are thrown out of this house. Just like their garbage. You will be sitting there, waiting for me. Two days. You wait and see.
Nancy:
I will see when you show me. Go, do what you can do. Go!
Kunal:
You will see. I’ll show you.
Nancy pushes him out, and shuts the door.

Scene 7
Nancy is sweeping the house. The doorbell rings. She answers.
Rehana enters, without waiting to be asked in or greeted. She glares at Nancy.
Rehana:
Shalu!… This girl! What have you gone and done now? Because of you, the whole place is stinking. All because one stupid girl cannot control herself. Shalu!!
Shalu hurries out.
Shalu:
What’s the matter?
Rehana:
The matter? Go outside and take in the smell. Go.
Shalu steps out briefly. When she comes back, she has her saree pallu pressed on her nose.
Shalu:
The sweeper has not come today?
Rehana:
Not yesterday either. The garbage has been lying there all day and it looks like it will lie there only. The whole building is going to be infested now. Already, there are flies hovering over the dustbins. And today, I saw one rat! A rat! I swear, Shalu, this girl of yours will bring the plague on us. At least, leptospirosis.
Shalu:
Wait. Calm down. What happened? Sweeper is not coming, is it? Why?
They both turn to look at Nancy. She leaves the room.
Shalu:
Nancy! Nan-… Uff! No end to this girl’s drama. Do you know the latest?
Rehana:
What?
Shalu:
She has converted again. That Kunal, he insisted. So she went through some shuddhi ceremony before the wedding. Now she is Sanskaaraa.
Rehana:
Couldn’t find a more fitting name?
Shalu:
She has stopped answering to Nancy. Insists we should call her Sanskaara.
Rehana:
What nonsense is this? Is faith a toy that she can throw it whenever she likes? I’ll talk to her. Nancy! Come here… Where has the stupid girl gone?
Shalu wipes her eyes and weakly calls out.
Shalu:
Sanskaaraa!
Nancy comes running with a tray of tea and snacks. The older women stare as she sets the tea things down on the side table. She picks up the broom and continues sweeping the room.
Rehana:
Nancy, what is this I am hearing? Now God is also your enemy?
Nancy:
No Aunty. I just did the shuddhi. It is like returning to your roots, Kunal said.
Rehana:
Your roots? You fool! Then what was wrong with your old name, Puja? Not good enough for you?
Nancy:
My husband gave me a new name.
Rehana:
Your husband? Because your husband loves you so much, the whole building is at risk of plague. Tell that husband of yours to come here and do his job.
Nancy does not reply. She sweeps.
Shalu:
What should we do?
Rehana:
Throw her out. What else? In twenty-four hours, she will come to her senses. Nancy! Enough!
Nancy stops sweeping. She stands upright.
Nancy:
My husband wanted to give me many things. But he had nothing. No house, no kitchen, no bed. So he gave me a new name. He gave me new meaning. Made me feel like I also meant something.
Rehana:
If he means so much, why don’t you go live with him? (mocking) ‘Husband gave me a new name’! 18 days and marriage is over. But she wants to keep the fancy name. If you have left the man, why do you keep the name?
She picks up a cup of tea and begins to eat the snacks.
Nancy:
The name means something to me.
Shalu:
What does it mean?
Nancy:
What I could be. What my own family would have wanted me to be.
Shalu:
You think so? Do you even know what you were meant to be? Do you remember what your parents called you when you first came to this house?
A pause.
Nancy:
I remember.
Shalu:
That name doesn’t mean anything to you now? Tell Rehana aunty… Why? Ashamed of the name that your parents gave you?
A pause.
Nancy:
Kalua. They called me Kalua. (She grows agitated) Yes. You are right. Aunty, I am not Sanskaaraa. Why should I keep the name? I left Kunal. I should leave his name. From now on, call me Kalua. You also, Rehana aunty.
Rehana:
Has the girl lost her mind?
Nancy:
Sanskaara does not suit me. Foolish name. Foolish dreams. I thought I could be… But you are right. Aunty, I will stick with what I have. I will stick to Kalua.
Shalu:
Don’t be stupid. Kalua is not a proper name for a young woman.
Nancy:
Whatever it is, it is my name.
Shalu:
Nancy (sighs) Okay, I will call you Sanskaaraa… What have I not done for you?
Nancy:
Everything. You have given me everything I have. But I should be allowed to keep something that is my own. When I came to this house, I was wearing a frock which you gave. You gave me my first pair of shoes. You cut my hair. My family gave me nothing. But they sent me here with a name. I should keep that at least.
She goes inside the kitchen.
Rehana:
This girl is crazy. Shalu, are you listening? I think this girl is losing her mind.
Shalu:
What will I do?
Rehana:
Find a new maid. I can send Insiya if you like. But you have to stop this nonsense.
Shalu:
She is so… maybe she is losing her mind.
Rehana:
Just let her go. This garbage problem will also get sorted out. How long will that sweeper wait? If he wants to run after her, let him go to her village.
Shalu:
But will she go to the village?
Rehana:
Shalu. I am your friend, I understand. But soon the whole building will be standing on your head, shouting. Do something. Soon.
She pops another snack into her mouth, and leaves.
Shalu stands, sits down again, stands again and then sits down heavily.
Scene 8
A small crowd is gathered (right) and a smaller group of people are in the drawing room (centre) talking to Mr and Mrs Malik.
Nancy is hiding behind a curtain (left), listening.
Shalu:
What you are saying is ridiculous. Sorry, it is not possible.
Neigbour 1:
What is ridiculous is this situation. Just imagine! The whole society is being held hostage to the whims of a maidservant.
Neighbour2:
And he is not asking for anything wrong. He married her. He has all the right.
Neighbour3:
Mrs Malik, young couples always fight. But what is this behavior – one day you run away and marry, next day you leave the man and run back here?
Malik:
Look Mr Sharma, I don’t want to be involved in this-
Neighbour1:
(interrupts) You don’t have to get involved. That is exactly what I am saying. Don’t get involved. It is their personal matter. Why should you and I get involved? Just replace her. I will send my own cook until you find another girl. But please, please Mr Malik. I am requesting you.
Shalu:
Why should we replace the girl? Why not replace that sweeper?
Neighbour2:
You know what happens when these people start their union-baazi. They will not let anyone else work in Kunal’s place. They are already fighting to increase the charges from twenty to thirty rupees for each house. Now if this also becomes a union issue, our society will really suffer. And why should the whole society have to suffer just because of your girl’s love affair?
Malik:
She is not our girl. She is our maid.
Neighbour 3:
Why is it such a big issue then? Already, this place is smelling like a municipal dump. We have our health, our children’s health to think of. There are hygiene issues.
Shalu:
But what if she refuses?
Neighbour1:
She must. She has to. We will all talk to her.
Shalu:
You mean you will pressurize her.
Neighbour2:
(ignoring her) Mr Malik, you understand our point? Once you ask the girl to leave, we will see to it that nobody in this colony gives her a job. The matter can be resolved within 24 hours. It is simple-
Shalu:
It is not simple. You are asking us to throw a girl out. Put her on the streets.
Neighbour3:
Nono. Arre? She will live with her husband of course. Why don’t you call her?
Shalu:
No.
Malik:
Nancy!
There is silence. Nobody answers. Nancy does not move.
Shalu:
Let her be.
Malik:
Nanc– (sighs) Sanskaaraa! Sanskaaraa!
There is still no response. He looks at his wife despairingly.
Shalu:
She has gone back to her old name.
Malik:
Has she? … Puja! Puja, come here.
There is silence. Nancy doesn’t move. Mr Malik looks at his wife.
Shalu:
Kalua!
Nancy steps into the room, defiant. She carries a tray of water and passes the glasses around to everyone. All the neighbours look embarrassed.
Neighbour 1:
Ahem! Er, Nancy, you must, er -
Nancy starts to walk away.
Neighbour2:
Look, our society cannot deal with your personal problems, okay?
Neighbour3:
There are one hundred and ten families in this entire society. This has to be resolved before the union-baazi starts.
They all start speaking at once. Nancy cannot hear them. It is all a single cacophonous jam in her head and she looks stunned, uncomprehending. Slowly a silence descends.
Neighbour1:
Sorry, but you have to go back to him. Try and live with him for some time.
Nancy:
Live where?
Neighbour3:
You are his wife. You will live wherever he lives.
Nancy:
Where he lives is not fit even for an animal.
Neighbor2:
That is not our problem. You married him. It is your life, your problem.
Nancy:
If my problem is not your problem, then your garbage problem is not my problem.
Malik:
Nancy!
She starts to walk out of the room.
Malik:
Kalua, wait.
Nancy:
You don’t worry, Uncle. As far as this house is concerned, I am here. I will get up early in the morning and take our garbage to the municipal dump. Other houses should make some other arrangement. Why should I suffer because of their personal problems?
Neighbour1:
Listen girl! You are getting–
Shalu:
Enough! Mr Sharma, Mr Rizwi. Please. I’m sure you will find some other way of dealing with this problem.
They all exit, slowly.

Scene 9
Nancy is lying on her mat. A small alarm beeps. She smacks it shut quickly and drags herself upright. She folds the mat and bedclothes, pushes them aside. Then she peers outside.
Nancy:
I will go at 5.30. It’s so dark… This is hard. Mona di. Are you listening? I stopped getting up early since, since you left. When you studied for your exams, I also used to get up early, to give you company. I asked objective type questions. I made coffee. I helped you pass exams, no? I wish I could have helped myself too. Third division! If I had better marks… You think this will happen, that will happen, but nothing happens… Lover’s strike! (amused) So I walk every morning. Good in a way. I will not get fat. Anyway, cannot eat rice these days… Mona di, remember when I was small? You sat on a desk and did homework. I swept the floor around your feet. The broom was too big for my hands. I used both hands. Mopping was easier. I could go under the beds. When I grew big, Aunty was in such a bad mood. I tried. I showed her, see, I am too big. She said, go on your elbows. She said, you eat too much. Maybe. I always ate more than you. I used to think, I will eat a lot and study hard, then I will become like you… Remember, that time when Uncle caught you reading a novel just before your Maths exam? He beat you. He said, ‘Do you want to become like Nancy?’ Uncle never hit me. But I would never become anything. I already was Nancy. All those exams and still here.
Nancy falls silent. She pulls back her hair and stares at her reflection in the glass-topped table.
Nancy:
Kalua. Kalua. Kalua. Get used to it. Don’t feel bad. What is there to feel bad about? I was a girl called Kalua who was sent away for fifty rupees. Then I began to work. Then I got married… You know, Mona di, Kunal is not so bad. You saw that day? So much drama! But he is also trapped. Wants to be someone else, in some other place. He used to paint, you know? Wanted to be an artist. He is also one dreamer. Artist! I dreamt of working in a shop, or office. He dreams of art! … I wonder if he will be there today. If he says, I will not let you go, what will I do? And if he is not alone? If he says all that about holy fire and seven rounds?
The doorbell rings. Nancy goes to the door. Rehana steps in, glares at her, dumps a large bag at her feet. She walks off without a word. Nancy starts to say something, then stops. She goes to the kitchen, brings out a bag of garbage. She carries out both bags.

Scene 10
Nancy is sitting in the dark, looking out of the window. Her hair is plaited. She wears a faded salwar-kameez which is too big for her.
Shalu steps in and switches on a lamp. She stands there looking at Nancy for a while. Nancy finally turns to look at her.
Nancy:
Do you want something, Aunty? Tea?… Ice-cream?
Shalu sits down on the sofa.
Shalu:
You remember?
Nancy:
It was one of the few beautiful things – you and Mona di going out in the middle of the night for ice-cream. Every Saturday night.
Shalu:
I always knew you were awake, only pretending to sleep. But you never said anything. You never got up and said, I also want to come.
Nancy:
No.
Shalu:
But you always wanted everything Monali had. Why didn’t you insist?
Nancy:
I thought…
She shakes her head, smiles.
Shalu:
That I would say ‘no’?
Nancy:
When I first saw you and Mona di go out, I thought (laughs) I thought you were running away from home.
Shalu:
Running away?
Nancy:
I thought you were running away from Uncle.
Shalu:
Running from Mr Malik?
She gets up and starts pacing the room.
Shalu:
You are such a funny girl. Why would I run away? I was mistress of the house.
Nancy:
You went out so quietly. You never told Uncle.
Shalu:
That was only…you know Mr Malik. He would never let us go out in the middle of the night. Anyway, it wasn’t about ice-cream. It was an adventure. Being out in the dark. Me and my daughter. Even the ice-cream cart waited for us, outside the park. Every Saturday. That memory is my personal little treasure.
Nancy:
I know.
Shalu:
It must have been very hard for you. You were a little girl. You too must have wanted ice-cream.
Nancy:
No. I didn’t mind. I used to think I was protecting you and Mona di by staying awake. I used to keep my eyes squeezed shut tightly. Hold my breath. I worried, what to do if uncle wakes up? I made excuses in my head. I could say Mona di had a sudden pain in the stomach and you took her to the doctor. Or I could say, you went to Rehana aunty’s house. That Insiya was sick. I thought you would be terrified if you returned and he was awake, waiting for you.
Shalu:
Terrified of him? What made you think so?
Nancy:
I don’t know. Maybe because you call him Mr Malik. In my village, no wife is so formal with her husband. Mona di was afraid of him too. We used to play a game. Describing people as names, places, animals, things. She used to say, if my father was an animal, he would be a very large snake.
Shalu:
Snake?
Nancy:
Like a python. He could swallow you if he wanted, slowly crushing the breath out of your body. He could also just ignore you. But you can never relax with him.
Shalu:
Snake… And me? What did she say I was like?
Nancy:
She said you were a bear. A brown-haired, round bear.
Shalu wanders about the room, distraught, and comes to a halt near the window.
Shalu:
Snake! Silly girl… Did he ever wake up while we were gone?
Nancy:
I don’t think so.
Shalu:
If only Mona had listened to me. I couldn’t understand why she was in such a hurry. And such fierce grief! There would have been a child. In a few years, Mr Malik would have forgiven her. If things were bad with her husband, she should have told me. I would have done something. But suddenly, she came back. And the way she demanded to be forgiven… Demanded! She knew how Mr Malik is.
Shalu is overcome.
Nancy:
It was her best memory.
Shalu:
What?
Nancy:
When she came back, she told me. She said I wish Mummy would take me out for ice-cream again.
Shalu:
I would have.
Nancy:
She said, she wanted Mummy to step out of the house, holding her hand, without worrying about Daddy. With just a bag, a few rupees, a shawl. She said, she used to feel very safe on Saturday nights.
Shalu starts to weep silently. Nancy makes no move to comfort her.
Shalu:
Did you hate me?
Nancy:
No.
Shalu:
You must hate me even more now.
Nancy:
No. Not even when you beat me. Uncle never beat me. But you did. You beat Mona di also. I talk to Mona di sometimes.
Shalu:
I know. I don’t sleep much these days. Mr Malik is also awake, I know… He says she brought him nothing but pain.
Nancy:
He thinks too much about what others will think.
A pause.
Shalu:
Have you been meeting Kunal? Outside?
Nancy:
I see him. We don’t talk.
Shalu:
He is in the union. They say we cannot dismiss him.
Nancy:
I know.
A pause.
Shalu:
I saw you since you were this high. I saw you grow up. I want to… I don’t want you to feel like you are being forced into anything.
A pause.
Nancy:
Do you want to eat some rice Aunty? I know you don’t sleep properly if you don’t eat rice. I can make it quickly. Ten minutes.
Shalu:
No. No. I’ll go to bed now. You sleep.
Nancy lies down on her mattress. But Shalu does not go.
Shalu:
When Monali returned, I thought maybe there’s some trouble with that boy. Did she say something to you?
Nancy:
No.
Shalu:
I wanted to tell her, she should not feel like she has nobody. I am here. I should have said it. A girl should not be forced to live with a man just because there is no other place to go. But some things are bigger than you. Bigger than what you want. There are other people.
Nancy:
Yes. I understand Aunty… Good night, Aunty.
Shalu continues to sit on the sofa. Nancy turns on her side. After a while, she goes over to Nancy and reaches out to touch her, but withdraws her hand.
Scene 11

Shalu is pacing the room, agitated.
Shalu:
How dare she? Rehana! My friend!… How dare she? And Nancy also didn’t say anything. If I had not got up early and seen with my own eyes… What is she trying to show me? Tomorrow, I will go and dump my garbage at her door. Let me see what she does. I will never speak to her again. I will-
The bell rings. Shalu hesitates, peers through the peep-hole.
Shalu:
Who is it?
Kapdu:
Bibiji, it is me, Kapdu.
Shalu:
I don’t want anything.
Kapdu:
Bibiji, you will not have seen anything like it anywhere in this country. I have Chinese silk. Blouses with brocade, from Lahore.
Shalu:
Not today. Go away. I am in a very bad mood.
Kapdu:
Alright, bibiji. Can I have a glass of water?
Shalu opens the door. He enters, promptly dumps his bundle on the floor, and sits down.
Shalu:
I told you. Now don’t-
Kapdu:
Don’t buy bibiji. Where am I saying to buy? It is just timepass. Such beautiful things, just looking will put you in a good mood.
Shalu:
Nancy! San…Uff! Every day I have to remember new names.
She goes inside, mumbling. Kapdu makes a grab for a small showpiece. Nancy appears at the main door carrying a basket of vegetables. She makes a soft noise.
Kapdu:
Oh! Sanskaaraa?
Nancy:
The old thief is back!
Kapdu:
Trader. Peddler. Remover of small, insignificant objects.
Nancy:
Thief.
Kapdu:
You should make a noise then. Shout. Scream ‘Chor! Chor!’, go on.
Nancy:
I don’t think I like you.
Kapdu:
I think you do. Sanskaaraa. Have you not been well? Your eyes look tired. Last time they were like the stars in the night sky in my village. Now they are like a dull smoky night in the city.
Nancy goes inside. Shalu comes out with a glass of water.
Shalu:
Here. Drink this and leave.
Kapdu drinks slowly.
The doorbell rings again. Shalu answers. Insiya walks in with a plate of food.
Shalu:
Insiya!… What is this?
Insiya:
Mummyji sent this. She said, she has made it especially for you. Your favourite mutton curry and sooji ka halwa.
Shalu:
Tell Rehana that I don’t want… No, tell her that I am (sighs) Okay, go, keep it in the kitchen. Give it to Kalua.
Kapdu:
Kalua? You have a new servant, bibiji.
Shalu:
You have not gone yet?
Kapdu:
I thought bibiji might change her mind. I am not in a hurry.
Shalu gives in and sits down. Kapdu starts to bring out clothes. Insiya notices, exits. The main door stands open.
A moment later, Rehana appears at the door. Shalu does not smile or greet her in any way.
Rehana:
Shalu? Hello-hello. I thought let me see what you are doing.
Shalu:
Just. Passing time.
Rehana:
Insiya said you had someone showing nice-nice things. Did you like the halwa?
Shalu:
I have not tasted it.
Rehana:
Arre! Why not? It is nice and hot.
She marches into the kitchen, brings out the bowl and spoon and feeds a spoonful to Shalu, who is clearly upset but confused.
Rehana:
Tasty? I always say, make anything with love and it will turn out fine.
Shalu:
Rehana, I… Rehana, thanks but I am very upset. I don’t like what is going on. And behind my back! Only this morning, I was awake and I saw–
Rehana:
What?… Oh! Tchha! Forget that. It has nothing to do with us. I just want to teach that girl a lesson. All of us in the building. So we decided, the ladies club decided that everyday, one household will dump their garbage here. Shalu, don’t take it personally. She is going there anyway, no? So? One extra bag. Let her carry it.
Shalu:
She walks two kilometers to the dump. Carrying two bags-
Rehana:
She decided. Anyway, she should lose some weight. You feed her too much.
Shalu:
Rehana–
Rehana:
Here, have one more spoon. You talk to the ladies club, okay? Shalu, don’t let a servant come between us… And you, what do you have?
Rehana turns her attention to Kapdu.
Kapdu:
Treasure, bibiji. I have rare treasure. Muslin dupattas. Chinese silk blouses. Ready-made. Look.
Rehana:
This is not bad. It matches with my new green saree. How much?
Kapdu:
Who cares about how much, bibiji?
Rehana:
But will it fit?
Kapdu:
Try it on. I know some tailoring, bibiji. I can make alterations. On the spot. Do you have a sewing machine? I will make it fit.
Rehana:
Shall I take it home to try? I live right here.
Kapdu:
It is yours only, bibiji. I will wait here. Go, try.
Rehana:
Come with me Shalu. Come on! You can give me advice. Come.
The two women walk out of the door. Kapdu sees them go. He gently shuts the door. He whistles softly, pads around the house. Nancy steps out of the kitchen and almost bumps into him.
Kapdu:
I was wondering where you were hiding. It sounds like you are in big trouble. The ladies club wants to teach you a lesson? Poor Sanskaaraa. Come. Sit with me.
He sits on the sofa and tries to hold her hand.
Nancy:
I don’t want to sit with you.
Kapdu:
Okay, keep standing then. You have a big, high nose, don’t you? Like the girls from big houses, the ones who go to college.
Nancy:
I almost went to college.
Kapdu:
Really?
Nancy:
Yes.
Kapdu:
Educated girl.
Nancy:
Yes.
Kapdu picks up a book from a shelf, flips through it.
Kapdu:
Show me. Read.
Nancy:
I don’t need to show you anything.
She takes the book and begins to read nevertheless.
Nancy:
“The price their forbears paid, it seems/ has not sufficed as ransom for this. Future – stillborn, a past in perpetual labour (Kapdu comes around and begins to look at the book over her shoulder. She turns a page) We, the children of disdain, infidels of earth/ When we seek – like they – our turn/ upon the throne of justice…” Poetry. It is poetry.
Kapdu:
I didn’t study much, dropped out. But I like it when other people read.
Nancy steps away from him, walks about, touching things without needing to. But her eyes are fixed on him.
Nancy:
So what did you do after school?
Kapdu:
I set up a roadside stall. Sold fresh coconut. And dates during Ramzan.
Nancu:
It didn’t work?
Kapdu:
It did. But I wanted to become something. Something more than a coconut seller. I tried working as a car mechanic. At a garage.
Nancy:
But you didn’t like getting your hands dirty.
Kapdu:
Yes. No. Actually I wanted to travel.
Nancy:
So you got into a train and went far away. As far as the train would take you.
Kapdu:
I went east. To the Bengal border, Bhutan, Pakistan border. I met traders.
Nancy:
You bought clothes… You stole them.
Kapdu:
In a train, you can always tell who is going to a wedding, or somewhere important. It is easy to walk off with a suitcase. All suitcases look the same.
Nancy:
For stolen goods, you charge a very high price.
Kapdu:
My cousin has a tailoring workshop. I sleep there. I am good at fitting. Blouses, pants, anything… What do you want?
Nancy:
Me?
Kapdu:
I can bring whatever you want. Do you want pants? Jeans?
Nancy:
I used to wear jeans. Not now.
Kapdu:
Why? Wait. I know. These people don’t like it. But you still want jeans. I can take measurements. Next time–
Nancy:
I have no money.
Kapdu:
Your masters will pay for it.
Nancy:
No, they will not.
Kapdu goes to the shelves and picks off a few books and hides them amongst his bundle.
Kapdu:
Yes, they will.
Nancy:
You are not a very good man.
Kapdu:
I am not such a bad man either.
He walks towards her, places a hand at her back.
Kapdu:
Sanskaaraa. Listen. Take what you can take from life. So many things are out of reach for people like us. But whatever is there, take it. Why are you afraid?
Nancy:
Things could be worse. So much was out of reach once. They have been good to me. I could have become a worse kind of animal.
Kapdu:
Animal? Why do you say, animal? Let me look at you. Yes, you are a little wild. Sanskaaraa. I think, if you were an animal, you would be a panther.
Nancy:
Panther? It is a dark, cruel beast.
Kapdu:
It is a small beast. Not as strong as the tiger or lion, but it has teeth and claws. You know something – a panther gets scared easily. It hides, as much to protect itself as to attack. But it has all the grace of a cat. Soft-footed. Clean. Stretching itself out in the sun. Sanskaaraa, come here.
Nancy steps away from him but he follows her. Darkness falls on the stage.
When the lights come back, Nancy and Kapdu are sitting in the drawing room. She is wearing a pair of jeans and a blouse. He is sprawled on the floor. They are laughing and giggling.
Kapdu:
Not too tight, is it?
Nancy:
A bit, here. Aunty is right. I eat too much. How much will this cost?
Kapdu:
Don’t be silly.
She stands up and examines the way the jeans cling to her body.
Nancy:
Rajkumar. Tell me honestly. Do I look stupid in this?
Kapdu:
Don’t call me Rajkumar.
Nancy:
Why not? That is your name, isn’t it?
Kapdu:
That name was a lie. Kapdu is the truth. It suits me. I am used to it.
Nancy:
No. Kapdu is not your name. That is the lie. Names should not be lies. Rajkumar. That name is the truth – your family, their hopes for you. A name is what you were meant to be. Not what the world thinks of you.
Kapdu:
You are a good girl, Sanskaaraa.
A pause.
Nancy:
My name is not Sanskaaraa. Rajkumar, do you want to know my name?
Kapdu:
Come here, sit close to me.
Nancy:
Kalua. Kalua.
A pause.
Kapdu:
Forget it.
He tries to pull her down beside him but she just stands there, stiffly.
Nancy:
Your family gave you something special, they gave you their dreams. What did I get? Kalua! We were poor, but not so poor that they could not afford to give me a name better than Kalua. Something like Puja. Or even Mahua. When other people’s babies are born dark, they get names like Nisha. Or Madhu. Or Kari. Or Krishna. Maybe my father thought, why burden the girl with hope? Let her be free of all hope, all illusions.
Nancy breaks down. Kapdu puts his arms around her thighs; he holds her.
Kapdu:
It is a name. So what? Listen, you can change it.
Nancy:
No, no. Call me Kalua. That is my name. Say it.
Kapdu:
Shh. Let it be.
Nancy:
No. Say it.
Kapdu:
I cannot.
Nancy:
Say it. I am not Miss India. I can see in the mirror. I am not blind.
Kapdu:
You are very pretty Sanskaaraa.
Nancy:
Don’t call me that!… But nobody can love a girl called Kalua. Not even my parents. They sent me here, never took me back. I want to go home. I want a home of my own.
A key turns in the door (right). Malik enters the stage. He freezes. So do the other two.

Act 2.
Scene 1
Rehana and Shalu sit at the table, eating pakoris. Insiya is serving them.
Shalu’s voice is dull and flat.
Shalu:
Thank you, Rehana. It is hard to find hard-working girls.
Rehana:
I keep Insiya on a tight leash. Been with me ten years. One little squeak, I pull the leash tighter. That’s the only way, Shalu. They are like sand slipping through your fingers. Arre, you think I give this girl any money? I send the money directly to her mother. What does she want money for? Food, clothes, bangles, everything I am giving her… Have you heard something?
Shalu:
No.
Rehana:
(clicks tongue) I’m sure she is working in some nearby building. I will tell the ladies’ club to keep an eye out. We will get some news.
Shalu:
I am afraid it will be bad news.
Rehana:
These last few months, she was bad news only. I wouldn’t be surprised if she shows up at your doorstep with a big belly. Then she will say, feed me plus one.
Shalu:
Mr Malik will never allow it.
Rehana:
Of course he will not. What is this, a dharmashala? Don’t let her set foot in here.
Shalu:
Mr Malik told her strictly, never come back.
Rehana:
Listen, why don’t you ask Monali’s husband? He might be able to find a good maid. He works in those rural areas, no? I have not even seen his face.
Shalu:
Neither have I.
Rehana:
But when she came here, didn’t she bring him along?
Shalu:
She was here for less than a day. She came when I was out. Only Nancy was here. I returned from the ladies’ club. I could hardly hold her. I just had time to feed her. With my own hands I fed her. I just wanted to go on looking at her. I didn’t have time to ask any questions. Then Mr Malik came home. Then she was gone.
Tears run down her face. Rehana wipes them.
Rehana:
Heartless, these girls… Is it any way to treat your parents? Insiya! Insiya, go and stir the chicken. And put water for Mr Rizwi’s tea.
Insiya exits.
Shalu:
Rehana. If you can help me–
Rehana:
(interrupting) I will find you a good, new maid. But this time, get someone older. Trust me. A widow with grown-up children. That is best. Not another young female who cannot control herself.
Shalu doesn’t react.
Outside, cries of a peddler coming closer – “Kapdu ke kapde! Dhakain malmal, Chinese silk, kapdu ke kapde…”
Shalu suddenly stands up, starts to rush out of the door, then stops. She runs to the window, opens it and leans out.
Rehana:
Shalu! What is the matter?
Shalu:
Wait! Listen! Kapdu! Watchman, stop him!
She gestures wildly.
Rehana:
Shalu, what are you doing?
Shalu:
You can go if you like… Watchman! Stop that man.
Rehana:
Shalu, don’t be stupid! She is only a maid. Maids come and go. You cannot go on like this. Your mister will not allow her to return. Where is the use?
Shalu keeps looking down, out of the window. Rehana stares at her.
Scene 2
Malik and Shalu are sitting on the sofa, side by side. They are silent. The doorbell rings. Malik gets up, opens the door, then backs away.
A slightly bent man dressed only in a loincloth and carrying a bag enters.
Malik:
Is that, is it… Is it Batua?
Batua:
Saab.
Malik:
After all these years… Come in. Sit.
Batua sits on his haunches on the floor. Mr and Mrs Malik exchange worried looks.
Batua:
Many years saab. Fifteen, fourteen? I don’t even remember. You must know.
Malik:
How are things in the village? You just came… suddenly?
Batua:
Saab, I thought it is time. I have responsibilities. I have to pay my debts.
Malik:
Debts? What debts?
Batua:
To you. And to my daughter. I have come to take her.
Shalu looks mortified. Malik paces the room.
Shalu:
There are no debts, Batua. Nancy served us. We did what we could for her. All debts have been cancelled out.
Batua:
Maa-ji, you are good people. But it is time to settle her. In the village, her sisters already have children.
A pause.
Batua:
Where is she?
Malik:
She is not here.
Batua:
Has she gone to the bazaar?
A pause.
Malik:
She does not live here Batua. She does not work here now.
Batua:
Not here? Since when? Where did she go?
A pause.
Malik:
Well! She turned out to be a fast little thing, your daughter. Didn’t she, Mrs Malik? I cannot even bring myself to take her name. We don’t take her name in this house. Still, you have a right to know. She ruined everything. Ruined her life.
Batua:
What has she done?
Malik:
Batua, I would say, forget that you had a daughter. We are also trying to forget.
Batua:
How can I forget saab? You tell me, Maa-ji. Has something happened? She wrote a letter, at the address of the sarpanch. She said, come and take me home. I should have known something bad was happening… What have you done to her?
Malik:
(sharply) Batua!
Shalu:
Mr Malik, tell him. I am going inside.
She goes inside.
Batua:
Where is she?
Malik:
Did she not tell you? Did she not write it in the letter?
Batua:
She sent the letter a month ago. She said she is not happy. What happened?
Malik:
So much happened. First, she got married, against my advice. Ran away in the middle of the night without telling us.
Batua:
Married?
Malik:
To the sweeper, the boy who came to take the garbage. She left this house saying she does not want to sweep floors for the rest of her life. But after a few days, she came back. We took her in. But then… I found her with a man.
Batua:
Who?
Malik:
Not her husband. Some other man. She allowed him to enter this house, and – how do I say this? I saw with my own eyes.
A pause.
Batua:
Then, saab?
Malik:
Then? Then I asked her to leave. That very minute.
Batua:
But where could she go?
Malik:
How do I know? How could I let her stay in this house, allow her go on like a… Batua, this is my house, not a brothel. If she was my daughter, I would have strangled her with my own hands. The reason I did not lay a hand on her was because she was not my own.
Batua:
Where is she?
Malik:
I don’t know. Maybe with that man.
Batua:
His name? Address?
Malik:
I don’t know.
Batua:
You sent her off with some man you do not even know?
Malik:
I would have buried her in the garden downstairs, or thrown her back on that garbage dump where she belongs. The way she took advantage of our affection–
Batua:
If she was your daughter would you send her away with some stranger, no matter what she did?
Malik:
My own daughter did not get away with it. She left the house without my permission. When she came back, I didn’t give in. No! She begged me to forgive her. Here, in this room. She went down on her knees and said, Daddy, put your hand on my head and give me your blessing. But I did not touch her. Not even when she went to the window. Not even when she got up on that windowsill. She was crying, saying, let me come back into your life… Everyone has to pay for their mistakes. Anyway. Death, life, nothing is in our hands.
Malik is teary, sweating. Batua is staring at him.
Malik:
You think I am a harsh man? Yes. I am. A man of principles. There is something called character, Batua. Values! I gave her my own values… What should a father do when his child turns out to be a liar, a weak thing? Morally weak. Then she tried to blackmail me into accepting her decision. Getting up there on the windowsill, crying, saying, I will die, Daddy I will die. But I didn’t give in, Batua. I stood by my values. Forget it. Forget her.
Batua:
Who? Monali or Nancy?
Malik:
In this house, we do not take those names. Your daughter doesn’t live here. Doesn’t work here. You should go.
Batua:
Saab. It’s a big city. Where will I find her?
Malik:
Don’t even try. I shudder to think what she might be doing.
Batua:
Whatever she does, she doesn’t stop being my daughter.
Malik:
Then do what you like, Batua. If you want money, I can give you some. Mrs Malik had put aside something for her. Her savings. You can take it.
Malik turns away.
Batua:
In her letter, she wrote, she had to walk a long way. She carried your garbage. She didn’t even know whose garbage it was… She signed the letter ‘Kalua’. Why?
Malik:
She kept changing names. Stupid girl.
Batua:
No. You changed her name. Puja. She didn’t like it. Why did you give her a new name, saab? She did not mind being Kalua. Not until you decided it was a bad name. Why did you make her feel bad? She was a happy child when I sent her.
Malik:
This is no time to disturb respectable people, Batua. Have you looked at the time?
Batua:
She was so dark, dark as night the day. She was born this small. So dark. I called her Kalua and she laughed for the first time. So I kept calling her Kalua. And I gave her to you-
Malik:
Sold her. For fifty rupees.
Batua:
No, no, not for fifty rupees. Maa-ji came to the village and said she will take care of her. She said, my Kalua would have a better life. Better food, clothes, school… But I will take her back now.
Malik:
Batua, have you no shame?
Batua:
Children run away all the time. But she came back to your house. She served you night and day.
Malik:
That girl is out of control. She is… No, I do not want to talk about her.
Batua:
I will not leave this city without her. If something has happened to her, I will go to the police.
Malik:
The police? Will you go to the police?… There are certain things missing from the house Batua. So far, I have not said anything. But maybe I should call the police.
Batua stares at him, then he picks up his bundle and exits. Malik sits down heavily on the sofa.
After a moment, Shalu joins him.
Shalu:
Was it necessary?
Malik:
I took care of it. If Batua has some sense, he will go home quietly.
Shalu:
I wasn’t thinking about Batua. I was thinking about her.
Malik:
What about her?
Shalu:
We could have handled it differently. If only you had not–
Malik:
That little bitch would have been having her litter here next if I had not put a stop to her stunts.
A pause.
Shalu:
I was talking about Monali. Our daughter.
Malik:
Mrs Malik, I have said, many times I have told you…
Shalu:
Many times. Many times. But I just don’t get it. I am thick-headed. I don’t understand… How much I beat her! She thought I was a bear. Mamma bear. But she didn’t hate me. Not me.
Malik:
Mrs Malik, stop.
Shalu:
(exploding) Mrs Malik! Mrs Malik! Now you don’t want to take my name? Have I also offended you? Maybe I should change my name too. I can call myself something else. Bhalu? Bhalu instead of Shalu. Is that what you want?
Malik:
What is wrong with you? I am surrounded by mad women.
The doorbell rings again. A pause.
Malik:
What time is it?
Shalu:
I don’t know.
Malik:
I am not opening the door. If I lose my temper… These people! No matter how much you try, they just end up showing their class. That man is looking for his slut of a daughter like he has lost a diamond or something.
Shalu goes towards the door.
Malik:
Are you opening the door? Okay. You open the door but don’t entertain him. Tell him to get lost.
Shalu opens the door. Kunal stands there.
Shalu:
You?
Kunal:
I… I take your garbage, Aunty. Don’t you know me?
Shalu:
I know. But what are you doing here at this time?
Kunal:
Garbage is garbage at any time. It will not turn into gold by morning.
She goes inside the kitchen. Kunal meanwhile has stepped into the room.
Kunal:
How is she?
Malik:
What? Who are you?… How can you just walk in?
Kunal:
I take garbage from this house. Every day. For six years. Except when I was on strike.
Malik:
Oh! It’s… you.
Kunal:
I have a name. Kunal. She slept in this room, didn’t she?
Malik:
Step back. Back, I said!
Shalu has returned with a black plastic bag.
Shalu:
Here.
Kunal:
It is a big room. Two of us could easily have fitted here.
Malik:
Get out! I, I am warning you.
Kunal:
Yes, yes. I know. She warned me too. When you get angry, you are like a demon. She said, you would bash my head in.
Shalu:
Kunal, you should go.
Kunal:
I only came to take the garbage… You know something? I told her to ask you if you would let us stay at night. We had a chance. There was something sweet between us. But she could not sleep without a roof, without walls. I said, we could sleep here. She said, impossible.
Malik:
It is impossible. How could you even dream of it?
Kunal:
How does anyone start of dream, Uncle? Where is she? I used to see her at the municipal dump every morning. I just stood there, looked at her… It was strange. Like our love story was just starting. I want to talk to her.
Malik:
She doesn’t live here any longer.
Kunal:
Ran away? I thought she would. She kept saying she couldn’t bear to live here.
Shalu:
She said that?
Kunal:
Yes. I think she married me only because she wanted to leave. She thought she could sleep on the footpath, if only she could leave, be free. A man who can watch his daughter kill herself, and his heart does not melt, what can one expect from him? She said, after Mona di died, she felt like she could not breathe in this house. Yes, yes, I am going. Don’t bash my head in, Uncle. I just want to tell her that I don’t mind if her name is Nancy. Or anything else. Tell her that, Aunty.
Malik:
Get out! Out!
Shalu:
You are saying you want her back?
Malik:
Shalu!
Kunal:
Tell her I don’t care what anyone says. I don’t want to know anything. Tell her I have a plastic roof now.
Kunal backs out of the door.
Malik:
Get out! Shut the door, Mrs Malik.
Kunal:
Tell her.
Malik slams the door shut.
Malik:
Nothing! You understand? I don’t want to see her face. And you don’t go talking to this, this–
He is still talking when Shalu turns away.
Malik:
Mrs Malik! I am talking to you. Where are you going? Am I a madman that I am standing here, shouting?
Shalu:
Then don’t shout.
She throws herself on the sofa.
Malik is fuming, barely able to restrain himself. He drags out a bundle of bedclothes and sheets from a closet and throws it out of the window. Shalu watches.
Shalu:
What are you are doing?
Malik:
Throwing all her things out.
Shalu:
Those are our things.
Malik:
I don’t want them. Nothing that she used. Okay? Nothing of hers should remain in this house.
Shalu:
She fed you for years. Both of us. She is inside us, Mr Malik. Like children and parents remain inside each other.
Malik:
She was an ungrateful bitch. A slut. I don’t want any sign of her.
Shalu:
But I don’t want Nancy to disappear.
Malik:
Don’t take her name.
Shalu:
Do you never think of Monali? She is around me all the time. I feel her. And Nancy too–
Malik:
Shut up.
Shalu:
Nancy talked to her all night. She refused to let our child die.
Malik:
You are hysterical.
Shalu:
I am ashamed. I could not gather the courage to stop her…
Malik goes inside (left) while Shalu is still talking.
Mrs:
I did not know it mattered so much… Mona? I also talked to you, only inside my head. I didn’t dare to speak loudly. He is hard, Mona. Hard! You looked beaten down last time I saw you. Marriage was not the answer, was it?
From within, there are sounds of movement.
Malik:
(off stage) Mrs Malik!
Shalu:
I saw how you looked, right into the eyes. You never did that before. But that day, for the first and last time, you kept looking at his face, like you a baby. And he never really looked at you. He acted like you weren’t there. And I couldn’t do anything for my baby. I wanted to. I told Nancy. Now she is also gone.
Malik:
(off stage) MRS MALIK! I said, stop it. SHALU!!
Shalu:
What do we bring girls up for? Is it just so that they can go off with some man? To bring you up with such love, then just let you run wild? Who knows? I must have made some mistake. But why didn’t you think of me? What have I done?
Malik comes into the room, furious. He stands over her, glares. She glares back. But finally she crumples under his glare.
Malik:
Last time I am telling you. Enough. Don’t make me go too far.
He goes back inside.
Shalu gets up, takes a step this way, that way, not knowing what to do with herself. Finally, she reaches some kind of decision and goes inside.
There are sounds of vessels clanking, water running, doors opening shutting.
After a brief silence, Shalu returns to the room with a plate of rice topped with daal. She sits at the table and begins to eat it.
Malik returns to the room. He stands over her, staring. Shalu continues to eat.
Malik:
What are you doing?
Shalu:
Eating.
Malik:
It is three o’ clock at night.
Shalu:
I cannot sleep properly without eating rice.
Malik:
You know what the doctor said, no rice in the evenings. At your age, you should not be eating rice at all. You don’t listen to me, but if something goes wrong, I will only have to take care of you.
Shalu does not stop eating.
Malik:
Leave it, Mrs Malik.
Shalu:
I like rice.
Malik:
Mrs Malik.
Shalu:
I will not stop.
Malik steps forward and knocks the plate from her lap. The food lies upturned on the floor.
Shalu continues to sit where she is. Malik goes back inside.

Scene 3
Shalu sits in exactly the same spot, as if she has not moved, although the room is clean.
The light is bright outside. From far below, the kapdawala cries out ‘kapdu ke kapde’. She leans out of the window and gestures.
Shalu:
Watchman! Stop him. Send him up here. Yes. Come up. No, no, it is okay. Come.
She waits, nervous. The bell rings. She runs to open the door.
Shalu:
Come in.
Kapdu:
Bibiji, I was just… Would you like to see something, bibiji?
Shalu shuts the door, and stands against it.
Shalu:
Where is she?
Kapdu:
Bibiji?
Shalu:
That girl you were with. Nancy.
Kapdu:
Bibiji, I never met any girl called Nancy.
Shalu:
Don’t lie. In front of me. Right here. Nancy gave you water, and tea and matthi. She was thrown out, all because of you. Where is she now?
Kapdu:
I, I, I don’t know, bibiji.
He is faking nonchalance.
Shalu:
You don’t know?
Kapdu:
Bibiji, she was with me for just one night. Your husband came, he threw her out. Me also. I took her along with me. To the tailor shop where I sleep at night. After that, she went her way, I went my way.
Shalu:
But … Anyway. I have to find her.
Kapdu:
Why bibiji? Is something missing from the house?
Shalu:
You don’t understand. Things are a mess. Maybe she can tell me how to make things right. Too late for Mona. I just stood, frozen. Here. Mr Malik was standing there, where you are. And Mona was up there, at the window.
Shalu seems hysterical. Kapdu retreats from her.
Kapdu:
Bibiji, I will come back another day.
Shalu:
No! No! You can’t go. Don’t you understand? If she thinks she has nowhere to go… You must tell me how to find her.
Kapdu:
She is not my wife, bibiji. How can I tell? We were just, we just…
Shalu:
You were just using her.
A pause.
Shalu:
What shall I say to her father? Do you have no heart? You saw what happened and you also left her? You asked her to leave, didn’t you?
She grabs him by the shirt and starts shaking him.
Kapdu:
Bibiji. Let me go, please.
Shalu:
You come back here, selling your damn clothes, and she must be wandering somewhere, all alone. And you don’t know anything.
Malik steps inside at this moment, stares at the scene. Kapdu blanches and retreats.
Shalu:
Where are you going? Wait.
Malik:
How dare you? You dare to step into my house again?
Kapdu:
Saab, it was bibiji. I’m a poor man. Bibiji, let me go.
Shalu:
(grabbing him again) No. No. I have to talk to you. Help me.
Kapdu:
I don’t know anything. Bibiji, leave me.
Malik pounces on him and begins to slap him around.
Malik:
Bastard! I wanted to get my hands on you but you ran off. Let me show you.
Kapdu:
It wasn’t my fault. She threw herself at me, saab. I swear. Bibiji, I swear, I didn’t-
Kapdu shakes Shalu off. He dodges Malik’s blows.
Malik:
I will teach you a lesson.
Kapdu is running about the room, dodging, trying to escape both the Maliks.
Shalu:
Everyone is asking. Batua is asking. You have to tell me. What shall I do?
Kapdu:
Why would I lie, bibiji? I swear I didn’t even know her real name.
Malik:
I will show you! You will forget your own name.
He manages to catch hold of Kapdu and starts beating him. Kapdu wiggles free and runs towards the door. His bundle of clothes is left scattered.
Malik:
Come back here, you dog. You slimy insect. Filth. I will teach you to come here, in my house! In front of me! Come back here.
He runs out after Kapdu. Shalu sinks onto the floor and stays that way.
The light changes, grows darker. Malik enters through the door. The clothes are still scattered all around. He glares at his wife, but she seems to be in a different world. Malik steps into the inner room.
Malik:
(Off-stage) Where is my kurta-pajama? Mrs Malik, my kurta-pajama!
Shalu doesn’t move. Sounds of cupboards being opens and slammed shut.
The stage grows a little darker. Shalu’s lips move for a while before we hear any sound.
Shalu:
Mona, what is the right thing to do? I can go out and look myself. But then, the house? It has become very difficult. I am getting old. If you were here–
Malik:
(Off-stage) Shut up! Enough!
Shalu:
It is your fault (shouts out loud) Your fault! (begins to weep) My baby! You looked like a trapped mouse. He drove you away. I am sorry. My baby, my only baby. I’m sorry. Mona, Mona, Mona–
Malik:
(Off-stage) Shut up!
Shalu:
(screaming) I will not shut up. I will say it. Mona! Mona! Nancy! Kalua! I will take her name. You can’t stop me.
Malik comes thundering into the living room. He picks up a heavy metal ornament lying around and advances. His wife is screaming ‘Mona’ and ‘Nancy’. She is hysterical but also mocking him. She skips out of range each time he comes too close.
Shalu:
Oh yes, hit me! That should change everything.
Malik:
I will not tolerate it. This is my house.
Shalu:
I will find Nancy and bring her back. And her husband. They will both come here.
Malik:
You take her name one more time-
Shalu:
Whose name do you want in this house? Mrs Malik! Mrs Malik! You only in love with yourself, your own name. Never loved anyone else-
Both are moving constantly and their breath is getting ragged.
Malik:
You have gone mad. Mad!
Shalu:
I don’t like you.
Malik:
This is my house, do you hear? If you want to live here-
Shalu:
Oh, no. No. The house is in my name. I almost forgot. If you don’t like my daughter’s name being taken, you close your ears. Or you get out.
Malik:
I will bash your head in.
Shalu:
Bash it in. You aren’t satisfied after killing my baby? Kill me also. Kill me.
Malik:
I didn’t kill her. I have values, Mrs Malik. I stood by my values.
Shalu:
She begged you. But you are cruel, cruel! You killed my baby.
Malik advances. His foot gets caught in the clothes on the floor. He trips, falls, grows still.
Shalu goes to sit on the sofa. She just stares at him.
The doorbell rings. Shalu does not answer. The doorbell rings persistently. She is shaken out of her trance and opens the door. Nancy slips inside. She takes in the scene quietly.
Nancy:
Should I call someone?
Nancy goes to Malik’s side, touches his wrist, his neck.
Nancy:
You should call an ambulance.
Nancy dials a number on the landline phone and hands the receiver to Shalu.
Shalu:
Yes. I should call an ambulance. Hello? Yes. I think something has happened… I, I don’t know… I, I am at home.
Nancy takes the receiver from her.
Nancy:
Hello? Yes, 456, Gangotri. Urgent. Please. Please. Ten minutes? Yes. Yes.
Nancy hangs up. She disappears inside. When she returns, she is carrying a wet towel.
She puts it on Malik’s head. Shalu watches her, looking frightened.
Nancy:
I came to ask if I can stay one night. I need to sleep. I just need one corner. My father will come, then I will go away. Aunty, you can call me anything. Nancy. Puja. Kalua. Anything… Aunty? Don’t throw me out tonight. I know you are angry. Beat me if you like.
Shalu:
I don’t want to beat you.
Nancy:
I didn’t live with Kapdu. I didn’t want him at all. But he said he would give me jeans. I wanted new jeans. And I had nobody to talk to… I just felt like I had nobody. Nothing. And for some time, it felt like, he was there for me.
Shalu:
It is okay… I tried to look for you. I asked Kapdu.
A pause.
Shalu:
Do you remember, when you first came here, you used to call me mummy. Mona called me mummy, so you also wanted to call me mummy. It used to make her so jealous… Nancy?
Nancy:
Yes?
Shalu:
Batua said, you wrote. Do you really want to go? Can you live in the village?
A pause.
Nancy:
I don’t know. I can find work. I will go to another part of the city so you don’t have to see my face. Somewhere where they let me live in the house.
Shalu:
Someone else’s house? For the rest of your life Nancy?
Nancy doesn’t reply.
Shalu:
And if you marry again, will you be able to find a man with his own house?
Nancy still doesn’t reply.
Shalu:
Do you think you could live with Kunal if he had four walls and a roof?
Nancy:
Aunty, I will not cause any trouble. I need–
Shalu:
Shh. Kunal came. He said to tell you he has a roof now… You don’t have to go to him if you don’t like him. Mr Malik… but don’t worry. I will do something. Maybe you can study. I saved some money for your wedding.
Nancy:
Mine?
Shalu:
Yes. For Mona. And for you too.
Nancy:
You wanted me to get married? Who would do all the housework if I left?
Shalu:
Somebody. Children grow up and leave, don’t they? I was prepared for you to get married. But I was so dependent on you, I didn’t see, didn’t want to see what dreams you had.
Nancy keeps looking at Shalu.
Shalu:
Nancy, you didn’t come back here to try and follow Mona, did you? Promise me you will never do what she did. Promise me.
An ambulance siren sounds.
Shalu:
I want to do something for Mona. Her barsi. We will put up a photo of her, here on the wall. You will help me?
Nancy:
Yes.
Shalu:
We will do it tomorrow. When he is not there. That is best. And when Mr Malik is in the hospital, we could go out to eat ice-cream. In the middle of the night. We could go, no?
The doorbell rings. Nancy opens the door.
Men in white lab-coats hurry in, put Malik out on a stretcher and hurry out. Shalu hesitates, then follows them. She pauses at the door.
Shalu:
Nancy, set the bedroom right. He must have pulled all the clothes out of the cupboard. I have not cooked anything. You know where everything is.
Nancy:
Yes Aunty.
Shalu:
He threw your mattress and bed-sheets away. Take something else. You know where it is. I will call you from the hospital. Sleep now. Sleep.
Shalu exits.
Nancy looks about the room. She picks up the clothes strewn on the floor, folds them neatly. She sits on the floor. Then she gets up and sits on the sofa. Then she lies down on the sofa with a cushion under her head. The lights dim.
Ends.






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