Tuesday 7 April 2015

Feminist Principles - A short play in English this time

Night time. Home office of a hard-working lawyer. Indrani is seated at her desk. A nurse in uniform stands, head bent down, near the door.
Ind. Look, Manjula, let’s go over this once again, so we are clear. I have written down what you have told me with so much hesitation. Hesitation, I understand, it’s only natural – I know, I know believe you me, how hard it is for women to speak of sexual harassment. I know about self guilt, I know a woman wonders forever if she got it all wrong. I know you and a million other women would rather kill themselves than blame someone else over a mistake.
Let me tell you once and for all, it is not your fault. It never was. Your boss is a bastard. Get it? And he deserves punishment – not only for driving you half insane, but he – and the rest of them out there must know they can never do this to women. No,  not anymore. Women are not their playthings. They never were. But time has now come to bring such men to justice – if not to jail, at least to shame them, in front of their wives, mothers, daughters.
Do you know what my work is? To convince timid women like you to speak out! You must speak out, not only for your own good, but to save other nurses. This precious surgeon of yours, I am sure he is an alley cat, manipulating others like you. For the last time, will you sign this statement? It is a truthful record of what you told me. Sign it and we will take the bastard to court!
The nurse does not move. Stands with bent head.
Ind. No? Look – what can he do to you? He has threatened you that you will never get to be a nurse anywhere else. He is bluffing! He will be a laughing stock, I tell you!  
The nurse still says nothing. Indrani eyes her in silence for a moment.
Ind. Why did you come to me? Just for female companionship? You think I will say, ‘there, there,’ wipe your eyes, give you a cup of tea and say something inane like ‘all men are the same?’ Yes, the bastards are all the same! And I want to see them punished in court! I want them to feel a bit of the pain, and anxiety they cause women – so, so callously. But I can’t do a thing unless you give me a signed statement about how this bastard of a surgeon has been harassing you, touching you up, embarrassing you in public with suggestive remarks, threatening you. Manjula! Instruct me to take him to court! It’s a cast iron case. He knows your family in Kerala is dependent on your income. He knows about your handicapped brother! He is a predator! Manjula!
The phone rings. Indrani picks it up.
Ind. Hello! Oh, Shilpa, I forgot, I had to be in court, and I couldn’t make it to the meeting. Can you call another on Sunday? No, I forgot, Flavia is coming from Bombay, right? No... Shilpa, just a sec, I have a client here. Can you call back in a minute? Thanks!
[Indrani puts phone down and turns to Manjula].
Ind. Manjula, I cannot do anything unless you authorize me, do you understand that? I cannot – I will not – speak to the hospital administrator, as you suggested. I am a lawyer who takes up human rights cases, and I do my damnedest for my women clients. I assure you this is a good case and we will win. But I also told you it will be a long hard fight – nothing happens overnight when a woman complains of harassment. These are the facts. I want you to authorize me to take up this case. I will do it pro bono – I will not charge any fees, for I want to help you. I urge you to be strong and say ‘yes.’
[Manjula starts to say something but the phone rings].
Ind.[very quickly]  Please call me back in a minute. [puts phone down and looks firmly at Manjula who stays head down saying nothing. Indrani sighs heavily]
Ind.[softly] I know it is hard. Go home and think it out, calmly. There are only two other ways out. Leave the job, or create a demo outside the hospital with your friends. [there is a long pause] You can’t do either, right, not a quiet woman like you. The legal option is the only way out for you. [phone rings again. Indrani picks it up ] Think it out![Manjula sidles out of the door]
Ind. Sorry, Shilpa, another of these women – victims – who is too scared to stand up for herself. God! It’s this ingrained timidity that makes all these rascals so cocksure, damn them! Sorry, dear, you called so many times, I’m sorry I had to put you on hold. What is it? [pause as she listens ] What! The Law Minister? Why should he want to get hold of me in a tearing hurry? Normally he shuns me like the plague....All right, call his office and give him this number... and – and – and explain I am sick or something and didn’t want to be disturbed, okay? [puts the phone down. Then ruminatively]   Wonder what he wants? I am not joining any of his fake commissions stuffed with comfortable middleclass women who say there would be no trouble if only girls kept to Hindu values and did not incite men with lewd western dress. Really! It’s a mockery – a planned mockery! I will say straight away I have too many cases on hand. I am not going to be part of any governmental tamasha! [picks up some papers, flips through them, puts them down] There are real people like Manjula in trouble – millions who dare not speak out – and then there are these...these fake commissions with handpicked ignorant women who will do anything to sit on a committee, stay in posh hotels and have their pictures taken! Really, it is sickening.... Never thought it could be this depressing when I took up my grandfather’s  practice. [smiles softly in reminiscence] Poor man! He was such an old-fashioned gentleman, treating everyone with old-world courtesy. He would never even have imagined what reality was like under the surface...[phone rings. She lets it ring a few times] Must be the Minister, I will shake him off, God! What I have to face everyday, not funny...
Ind. [picking up the phone and in changed voice] elloHello, Indrani...Namaskar Ministerji!... That’s right, Sir, I am unwell and in bed, though I have so much work, you can’t imagine. Had to say ‘No’ to two rich clients! Me! Trying to keep body and soul together, but I am just overworked, no other way...What was that, Sir?...No Sir! Thank you, Sir!... Just getting over my flu...Oh, You want to consult me! Minute, Sir... while I put this on a loudspeaker, and connect to my recorder... I have to record everything,Sir, my memory being what it is. [switches on her machine ] There, at your service, Minister!
Min [voice off throughout]: Madam, please take great care of your health. You are like my own daughter. Shall I send over my doctor?
Ind. [making a face] No need, Sir. As I said it’s just a flu.
Min. Flus are very bad, Madam, there are so many kinds. Madam! You have to be careful!
Ind. Sir please don’t call me ‘madam!’ Indrani will do. You yourself said I am young enough to be your daughter.
Min: Very true! Indrani, if you permit me, let me speak to you at least like an uncle. You need a holiday – in a salubrious place. Leave it to me, I will organize it!
  Ind. [laughing]Sir, thank you, but I can’t. As I said too many important cases.
Min. Nothing is more important than your health. Listen to me. I will organize. I will call my nephew, he runs a wonderful hotel – 7-Star – in the Nilgiris! You go and rest there for a week and you will be all right! I will arrange it.
Ind. Sir! Sir! I am too poor to afford to stay in any star hotel, let alone a 7-Star one!
Min: I told you I am arranging it! Why do you worry? He is my nephew.
Ind. Sir, I have my cases, here.
Min. Get that youngster...who? Shilpa...yes, to manage till you get back. There will be adjournments, don’t worry. I will see to it personally. You ask, why? I will tell you. You and I are on opposite sides of the capitalist fence. Right? Like your very respected ‘Surgiye’ grandfather you are a socialist. I respect that! But times have changed. My nephew, for example, runs his capitalist hotel on model modern principles – protection of the environment, green energy, complete social protection for all employees with best salaries, yes all receive best salaries, they won’t get half elsewhere – and yes! With special gender sensitive training! You will appreciate it!
Ind. I am sure it is all you say it is. But Sir... you called me for something important, Sir! In what way can I be of service?
Min: Indrani, we, all of us in the cabinet have the highest respect for you! One day you will be Chief Justice in the Supreme Court!
Ind. Sir, that’s a very kind thought, Sir, and I appreciate your support. But right now I am a humble lawyer who takes up cases of women’s rights. More cases than I can handle. There is so much harassment, Sir, by men in the work place, on the streets, in schools...
Min: Yes, yes, yes, I know, that’s why we have made so many strict laws. But some people twist the law for personal gain!
Ind. Sir! I am glad you say that, Sir. Unfortunately it happens too often with police connivance; repeatedly Sir. It is time we had thorough-going police reform. There have been so many committees, so many reports. Even the famous Rustomji report has been shelved. Why, Sir?
Min. Yes, yes, yes, I know, but police reform is a more difficult thing to do. We are politicians, we know. Leave all that to me.But first what we need to do is see that genuine grievances are not submerged in false cases.
Ind. False cases? What false cases? Oh, if you mean police cooking up cases...
Min. No, no. I mean there are now too many cases of harassment brought by women just to make money!
Ind. What do you mean, Sir! I have not heard of any!
Min: They don’t come to you, but I know... For example, I told you about my nephew who runs a gender sensitivity programme for his staff in his hotel. He had foreign specialists design the programme...at enormous expense. That’s how committed he is. It is such a lovely hotel. You should see it – lovely place to stay and relax. But some mischievous girl is trying to start a rumour about him! Really there is no morality left these days!
 Ind. I see...I see indeed...it is possible she is trying to extract money, just possible, but we haven’t heard her side of the story.
Min. Exactly! Why don’t you go down and establish the real truth! And in the mean time you will have a nice holiday at no expense!
Ind. Sir, I can’t do that! I am not a detective, Sir, I am a lawyer who takes up cases on request by concerned parties...
Min. Precisely. You are well known, so well known that this woman may approach you! Who knows what she is planning? Find out, from all the rest of the staff, my nephew has many witnesses.
Ind. I am sure he has, Sir. Of that I am very sure.
Min. Absolutely! If you are there we know the truth will come out.
Ind. Truth and evidence are two different things, Sir.
Min. Eh? What do you mean?
Ind. Evidence can be manufactured; truth cannot be.
Min. Oh, I see. You are very clever. We respect you for sticking to the law, unlike so many others. I do not forget, and as long as I am in this seat, I will assure your future – at the bar and on the bench!
Ind. Thank you, Sir, but...
Min. No, no, don’t thank me. It is what you deserve. Though he is my nephew, I say take up the case on behalf of his accuser! Let it be a test case! So that false cases are not brought in future!
Ind. Well... I don’t know... I have not been approached, so...
Min. She will approach you. She will, she will, I know. You respect the law, I respect the law. You will make an excellent judge! Wonderful! At your age! I have an idea! You join our team for the Commonwealth Jurists Conference in London! I will pass orders. Now, Indrani, as I said you are like my daughter. You are my daughter! Take rest. Get well. When you are better you will personally accompany me to the Nilgiris. Good bye. God Bless You! [rings off]
Ind. Phew!...So that’s his game! That precious nephew has rigged the evidence against that poor woman. You can buy anybody today! But he is not buying me! If that poor woman calls me I will tell her exactly what she is up against. There are call girls in plenty! Why the hell don’t they give a living to some poor soul instead of preying on some helpless woman? That rascal deserves castration! I will call Shilpa and warn her [picks up phone and dials] Shilpa ! This is me!...Why do you think...His nephew has been harassing someone, and this old goat wants to use me to prove his innocence! Can you believe that!...No, no, no, he is too clever by half.... I will tell you all when I come down tomorrow.... God knows if this phone is bugged... well, you never know.... I pretended to be ill and tired but now I am tired. Really tired. I think I will call it a day.... Thanks dear for holding the fort. Bye! See you tomorrow!
[Indrani gets up and stretches and walks round the table. She makes a quick decision and opening a cabinet under the table brings out a bottle of whisky and a glass]
Ind. After that I deserve a drink. [pours herself a drink, sits down, kicks off her shoes,puts her feet on the table. Takes a sip ] Good, very good. Nothing like Tasliker. Why do the Scots make such good whisky? They believe in quality, that’s why. They do not use contaminated water....[sips] I remember what water used to taste like, even in this country, when I was little. Nothing is pure any more, not water, not the law. [takes another sip] I am not the Law Minister’s stalking horse. He thinks, clever old sod, that he can use me to protect that precious nephew of his... He has another thing coming. I will find someone who will open his mouth. Most likely, her mouth. That fellow must be another predator, and some woman must be smarting. I will find her! [jumps up]Minister sahib can shove his bench up...[phone rings] God! Not again! I am through for the day. All right, let’s see who it is...Shilpa in jitters, or...[ picks up phone, and crossly] Hello! Indrani!...Oh! Baba! Hello dear boy! Just a minute, just a minute, let me settle in. Want to have a long talk! [ puts a cushion on the chair, sits down, takes another sip and switches on the loud speaker of her phone again] I have put on the loudspeaker, more like having a real conversation! Tell me everything! This is the last semester and soon you will be a graduate, a distinguished scholar! How does it feel! How are your friends, Rollo and Gautam?
Bro[voice off throughout]  They are fine, Didi.
Ind. I am glad. Tell me about yourself. Are you eating okay? You tend to forget to eat on time, and I have told you time and again that will ruin your health.
Bro. I am okay, Didi, I tell you!
Ind. Good! I am so glad! Poor Mama would have been so proud to see you now, all grown up! A graduate! You were always her special boy! I am so glad you will do her and poor papa’s memory proud!
Bro. Didi...
Ind. Yes, dear?
Bro. Didi...
Ind. Don’t hesitate. I know what you want. Tell me how much and I will do a bank transfer in the morning – unless it is exorbitant! Come on give me the bad news! How much? I really don’t care, this is your last semester and I am so happy!
Bro. Didi... thanks, but I have enough for now...so...
Ind. It doesn’t matter. Ask me if you need. It doesn’t matter, I just want you to be careful with money, to learn good habits, and you have done well over the years. I am really, really so proud of you Baba, I can’t tell you.
[a long pause]
Ind. Hey! Are you still there? Say something. Are you ready for the finals?
Bro. Yes.
Ind[troubled]. What is it? Baba, I know you too well. What is it? You know you can tell me. What is it?
Bro[in a rush]. There was a fight...Didi, I had nothing to do with it, I...
Ind. Oh God! What happened? Are you hurt? Tell me, tell me!
Bro. No, Didi, I am all right, really.
Ind. Thank God for that! What happened?
Bro. Classes are over, Didi.... Gautam and Rollo took me out for a drink, and...
Ind. I warned you a million times not to go to those low dives! You should never go to such places, you should know that by now, Baba!
Bro. No, really, it was at the Dublin. Quite upper class, you know that.
Ind. I am relieved. Dublin is a place even I would go to. So, who were the thugs? Tell me, I may take them to court!
Bro. No, no no! Nobody!
Ind. Don’t tell me you three had a rough house? You will all make up I am sure... just little boys at heart though you all tower over me! So, you want me to speak to Gautam? Rollo to patch up?
Bro. No, Didi! We are fine.
Ind. I am glad it’s blown over then.
Bro. Yes...no, no it hasn’t, that’s why I called.
Ind[quietly] Tell me what happened. Slowly, clearly, everything. Remember, Didi is a lawyer.
Bro. It’s this girl Rollo brought along...
Ind[very quickly]. What happened?
Bro. Rollo was drunk, in fact we all had too much, even she was drinking, Didi, she was drinking!
Ind. Look! I know Rollo imagines he is a Casanova, but he is only a foolish youngster. Let this be a lesson to him, a sharp lesson.
Bro[crying out]. She says she will go to court, Didi! It... it could mean rustication!
Ind. Oh God! Look, I need to know everything if I am to help Rollo. I warn you! I won’t help him if he has been in the wrong! He needs to learn a lesson. Young men like him should be taught a lesson. He is only into third year. I can speak to the college authorities and get him back in after a suitable time for punishment. What did he do? Tell me, what did he do?
Bro. She kissed first, Didi, I swear! She kissed! We were all drunk, Didi! She was drunk, too, and she kissed!
Ind. Then why is she complaining? Rollo must have crossed the line. Being drunk is an old excuse, Baba! No one has any right to cross the line, and Rollo must pay for it! Don’t worry, he will be all the better for a sharp lesson.
Bro. Didi! You don’t understand! I will be rusticated! I can’t write the exam!
Ind [in great agitation] What! What did you do, Baba? Why did you get involved? It was Rollo’s business, his damn fault!
Bro[crying]. No, Didi! Didi...she kissed me Didi! She kissed me!
Ind. You? I thought you said, Rollo?
Bro. No, Didi! It was me! She kissed me! And..and now she says she will complain...take me to court!
Ind[shrilly]. Who is this woman? Is she a call girl looking for money?
Bro. No, Didi...she...she...is the daughter of the Revenue Secretary...and...and...
Ind. It can’t do her or her family any good if this comes out!
Bro. She...she is a feminist, Didi...founding member of the College Feminists, Didi...and she says she doesn’t care!
Ind. What did you do! Tell me that! This is no time to be coy! You apparently are grown up before your time! And I am an old woman! Tell me! What did you do?
Bro. Nothing.
Ind. Oh! And she is taking you to court for doing nothing?! You think I am a child?! What did you do? Tell me that!
Bro. She kissed me. I kissed her back.
Ind. Nonsense! Nonsense! What did you do?
Bro. Didi! We were all drunk, Didi! We were outside and saying goodbye... and she kissed me, so...that’s how...
Ind. How what?
Bro. I...I held her, that’s all...to kiss...we both slipped and fell, and she mistook...
Ind. God! God! God! Baba! You groped her, right? Who else was there?
Bro. Well, Rollo was there ...and Gautam.
Ind. Who else? Tell me, who else witnessed it?
Bro. The driver.
Ind. The driver? Whose driver?
Bro. Her driver.
Ind. God! What a mess! Don’t do anything! Don’t call her! She may record everything! Don’t write to her! Have you written to her already? Tell me! Have you put anything down on record?
Bro. No...no. It happened yesterday...
Ind. Good! Don’t say anything, don’t do anything. Who is the sanest among you three?
Bro. Well...Rollo...he...tried to talk her out of it yesterday...but she is mad as hell...
Ind. Baba! Tell Rollo to call me first thing tomorrow morning. I want to talk with him calmly and fashion out a strategy. Okay? Got that?
Bro. Yes, Didi.
[Indrani jumps up and takes a few agitated strides round the room]
Ind. Baba, don’t worry. Didi will protect you. Have I not done so over the last twelve years? So don’t worry. I will sort it out. You don’t worry and just prepare for your exams. Okay? Don’t worry! It will be all all right! Take my word for it and go to bed. Take an aspirin, there’s a good boy.
Bro. All right...Didi...
Ind. Not another word. Just don’t worry. Leave it to me. Good night, dear boy! Sleep tight! [phone rings. She sits down quietly for some time. Then picks up her drink]
Ind. Rollo and Gautam are good friends. There is nothing to fear there. The driver is the problem. Rollo must speak with him. Let’s see what that fellow will say. If others have played this game, so can I and better! Poor Baba! It’s all my fault really. Never thought he would grow up so fast. I should have told him about women, but how could I know!
[jumps up and takes a few turns round the table. Then she collapses into her chair]
Ind. God! God! God! What am I doing! What can I do! He is my kid brother! I have looked after him like my own child! What can I do! And there are women who exploit innocent boys! Why did she have to kiss him!... Maybe she didn’t and he just groped her! Good God!... They are all too young to drink! How did that bar manager allow them in in the first place? I will sue him! I will ruin him! Rascals! Getting kids drunk!... Why did she go drink with boys at her age? What did she expect? It’s her parents’ fault! What’s the use of being an IAS officer if you can’t teach simple morality to your daughter!.... Oh, my God! Oh, my God! So close to getting his degree and this should happen! He is just a boy, almost a child! That stupid BITCH! [Indrani breaks down in tears]