Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Maulana Azad Memorial Lamppost of Panipatnam (Rough Draft)

In the summer of 2005, I met a friend of my grandfather's named Ahmed Paksima and spent an evening listening to him tell stories about his father's life: a life that spanned various eras and was spent across a large range territory in South, Central, and Southeast Asia, a life that shed interesting light on the interwoven histories of those places.

One reason I more or less gave up playwriting to study creative nonfiction in grad school was to learn how to write stories like Ghulam Paksima's in a way that could capture some of their complexity and historical sweep. Once I got to grad school, however, I found that the challenges of writing about lives tied up in a different place's culture and history is very difficult indeed, especially for audiences that aren't terribly invested in history, period.

With this piece, I decided to approach the life of my aunt's father, Ramesh Moses Murala, from a fiction angle instead of a creative nonfiction one. Would readers be less concerned about disorienting history if I could make it obvious that disorientation was part of the desired effect?

Like The Valiant Chattee-Maker, I wrote this piece in a hurry leading up to a 2010 Mayhew Contest deadline (it's interesting how much the potential for prize money plus a due date forces what might otherwise remain scattered thoughts to coalesce into a piece of writing).

In this piece, though, the time constraint was probably a bit too tight: what starts out as an interesting piece subsequently rushes to a conclusion in order to be finished on time. I have ideas about how to improve it, many of them thanks to John Bennion's fiction workshop, but haven't gotten around to finishing another draft yet (it's interesting how the lack of potential prize money and due date allow scattered thoughts to remain scattered).

You can read the draft I entered into the contest here.

The Valiant Chattee-Maker

The Valiant Chattee-Maker is a piece I started back in 2006 based on a request from a friend who was directing a high school drama program in Texas and wanted an original piece to perform for elementary students. Her plans changed, though, and with no immediate monetary incentive to finish, I stopped work until March 2010, when I had solemnly sworn to myself to submit something to the Mayhew playwriting contest at BYU.

The piece is a retelling of an old Indian story my mother found somewhere in a local library once and used to tell us out loud, quite dramatically, afterward. She had also written a play version to be performed by the children in our extended family at one of our family reunions. I was interested in writing a version to be performed by older actors and watched primarily by

While performing with New Play Project on its one-and-only touring show, I'd noticed that Julie Saunders' short, absurdist play "Caution" was particularly popular with children, who seem to love actor energy, especially when couched in comic panic, more than anything about a piece. My hope for this piece was to combine visual appeal and theatricality with that sort of energy.

In a larger sense, I'm also trying in this piece to celebrate shameless cultural mixture. In some cases, our desire to appreciate other cultures leads to a desire to preserve other cultures in some pure, "authentic," unchanging state--which does a disservice to anyone actually working out everyday multicultural life. What I want to present is not so much an Indian past, but an Indian-American present and future where, say, Harpo Marx fits fine into an old folktale. (If you're interested in this idea, you might also want to look at my short story "Tales of Teancum Singh Rosenberg.")

This piece didn't place in the Mayhew Contest. I'd love to see it performed some day, but have no plans or means for doing so.

You can read the full text here.