By: Suneet Paul
The setting is of a spacious furnished room with two beds placed at right angles to each other. There is a twin seater and a comfortable chair with a coffee table on the side at one corner of the room.
Flowers from the garden beautifully arranged in an earthen vase are on the bedside stool. A large window on the opposite wall looks out into the garden.
Anwar Raza and Simon Thomas are the two occupants who share this cheerful and well adorned room of an asylum. Raza is a round faced, medium-build man of around forty years, sporting a sleek beard. He is wearing a black light jersey with white trousers, and is crouched on the chair, reading the newspaper which hides his face. Thomas is standing at the window, busy observing the beautiful view of the garden. He is a smartly dressed tall man, about thirty years old, and showing signs of balding.
Thomas: It’s worth it, Raza. The flowers are all blooming and getting wild. I want to become a flower! (Raza does not bother himself to listen. He continues reading) Oh. To be a flower in that garden! A daffodil is what I would like to be. Will you join me, Mr. Raza? We will have fun together. (He turns from the window and looks at Raza, who speaks suddenly)
Raza: (In a serious tone) The elections are going to take place. I would rather contest in them. Surely, I would be eligible to contest. All that one has to do is make a speech full of promises. If you can play with the sentiments of the people, you’re their leader. Come to think of it, I am a born leader. The proof? Isn’t it enough that my friends always called me a vagabond? (He turns the page of the newspaper. The audience has not yet seen his face)
Thomas: What a feeling it would be to have a butterfly put her mouth on my lips! Ah, my nectar is being sucked! And its ecstatic to sing to the music of the wind, isn’t it? (He hums a tune)
Raza: (Still reading) Why did I not become a cricketer? My country needs me. I did wonders in whatever profession I took up. Come to think of it, what is really lacking everywhere here is- devotion to work. And that’s the one thing I don’t lack. Devotion! Ha! Ha! Ha!
Thomas: (Looking up at the sky) On second thoughts. I would like to be a bird and that too an eagle. Oh, to zoom around above the clouds! To be on top of the world! (Pauses) Human being are creeps anyway. The brains they are gifted with add more problems. What a nuisance. Think, think and think- and complicate issues! That’s what they are capable of, aren’t they! What a beautiful world, if it were brainless!
Raza: (Reading) Thomas, a lady in Australia has given birth to triplets. What a pleasure it must be to conceive and that too three at a time. Wow! I am going to undergo a change of sex and conceive. The real problem is that we men cannot conceive. I shall become a mother. On hind sight, I will remain a male and yet perform this feat. Why should this be the woman’s exclusive domain?
Thomas: (Still at the window) I smell a storm brewing- I smell it in the wind. There might be floods. What fun! I’ll get a chance to swim. Can you swim Raza?
Raza. (Throwing the paper to one side, and getting up) Thomas, have you noticed the new nurse? I have taken a liking to her. She has the devil in her.
Thomas: (Turning towards Raza) Has the devil joined us here? That means the world outside is being deprived of him! But that’s ridiculous. There must be chaos reigning without him. How wonderful! Confusion everywhere- a balancing element of life disappearing suddenly! The madness must be now ripe to make history.
Raza: Do you think the devil belongs to the feminine gender? I’m sure it should be feminine. It has all the womanly traits. Why should it have to be associated with the masculine gender?
Thomas: (He has his left hand on his chest) I can feel the spirit of the devil hovering around me. Oh! To be a devil and to hover!
(Just then nurse Martha enters with the tea tray. She smiles at them and keeps the tray on the side stool. She looks very attractive in her tight-fitting uniform. However, her head attire appears a bit large for her head. Both are just staring at her)
Martha: How are things, Mr. Thomas?
(Thomas glances at Raza and moves a step away from her)
Thomas: (Thoughtfully and politely) Nurse Martha, have you lately perceived any difference in yourself?
Martha: (Surprised) No, why? Life continues as usual- except that I had a fight with my boyfriend!
Thomas: (With excitement in his voice) Nurse Martha, we can understand. I am sure it is quite an experience! My dear lady, just imagine, do you realize that you- you, are the chosen one? How fortunate! (Enchanted- his eyes are fixed on her)
Martha: (Offering a cup of tea to him) I don’t understand?
Thomas: (Moving back another step) Please keep the cup on the table. I would help myself.
Martha: (Shrugs her shoulders) As you wish. (Looking at Raza, who is lying in his bed with closed eyes) Mr. Raza seems to have fallen asleep. I will bring his tea later. No point waking him.
Thomas: (Staring at her shapely shoes) I wish I were in your shoes. Hats off to the grace with which you carry…….
Martha: (Sounding annoyed, she cuts his sentence) Nonsense! I am not carrying. (She stumbles and gathering the tea tray, quickly goes out, almost banging the door)
Thomas: (Admiringly) My, my! What grace and style!
Raza: (Sits up- woken by the bang of the door) If I am elected, I shall declare this home open to everybody. It is a bliss everyone is entitled to, but very few enjoy it.
Thomas: Raza, you know- they were in absolute harmony with each other-.
Raza: Who? What are you harping on?
Thomas: Nurse Martha and the devil in her. She was just here with the tea, and looked so proud and dignified in her carriage.
Raza: (With a smile) I told you, didn’t I? The devil feels most comfortable in a woman. She even has the tendency of extending herself into the surroundings.
Thomas: (Sits down on the chair with the cup of tea) You mean she may also have entered in us. Fantastic! (He stiffly straightens the collar of his shirt)
Raza: (As if in a trance) Yes, we are all in the same boat.
Thomas: I have always felt a great affinity with the devil. And now that I know her sex, I may seriously think of getting married. Ah, to be married!
Raza: Clever idea. Marriage is supposed to be such a holy alliance! Ha! Ha! Ha!
Thomas: (Innocently) Tell me, why don’t animals get married? Does the devil have nothing to do with them?
Raza: No, she does not deal with dumb creatures.
Thomas: Sensible. Yes, speech is the main fuel for the lovely devil. Decided then- I won’t become an eagle. I would rather be married.
Raza: (Jumping up from the bed). I felt my bed shaking!
Thomas: (Casually) No, you are just being shaken by her. You know, she is very restless.
Raza: (Starts pacing around the room) Maybe you are right. We are all drubbed and shaken from our inside. It’s all a matter of how well one can handle it.
(Nurse Martha enters again with a cup of tea.)
Martha: Some tea for you, Mr. Raza. (Hands over the cup to him) You were asleep when I brought it earlier. And why are appearing so ruffled?
Raza: (Attempting to bring cheer) No dear, to the contrary- I am at peace. I have let-go myself up and feel at ease, more relaxed.
Thomas: (Glancing at her knowingly) We’re all in in the same boat, Nurse Martha, aren’t we? It feels good.
Raza: (Betraying an irresistible urge to speak) Nurse Martha, I plan to contest in the coming elections. And if I am elected, I promise to share everyone’s burden. Together shall we carry the world on our shoulders! (He pretends to carry it)
Martha: (Laughing) But only Tarzan can do that alone. What are you driving at?
Thomas: (Talking more to himself) I feel her affecting me. I feel bitchy.
Martha: (Looking at her watch) Oh, my God! I have lots of work to do and look at me- chatting around. I should run off. Anyway boys, thanks for changing my mood. (Flirtingly) An idle man is a devil’s workshop!
Raza: You said it. Our whole body is her workshop at present, isn’t it Mr. Thomas?
Martha: (In a more serious tone) The doctor will be visiting you in about ten minutes. Now, you boys, behave yourselves. (She plays with Thomas’s hair while going out)
Thomas: Having her within me has instilled a new confidence. (He stands straight, admiring himself in the mirror on the wall.)
Raza: Somehow, I feel positive of winning the elections. Thomas, you will soon feel proud of having shared this room with me. (Getting sober) You know, when I first came to this place, I used to wonder what were these doctors always discussing. Gradually, I realized they actually sat and voiced their own fears, their own problems, making us their guinea pigs in the process. If you ask me, they are all themselves the cases that they take us to be, in fact, acute cases! As a matter of fact, it’s we who can cure them of their maladies. Observe the doctor when he comes. You’ll get to know what I mean.
Thomas: Aren’t you talking sense all of a sudden? (He studies Raza closely)
Raza: Sanity comes on its own when one has to take up a task. This is a law of nature. The doctor is supposed to come any time now. I’ll start doing my duty immediately on his arrival.
Thomas: (Feeling his stomach) There she goes-. She’s having her fill from each part of my body. The naughty little creature!
Raza: Watch him when he comes. He’ll be all happiness and joy. But don’t be taken in by that. This man is, in fact, very troubled within.
Thomas; (Viewing the portrait of Mona Lisa hung on the wall) Mr. Raza, I want to fall in love. I am so full of it and feel a bit suffocated. I’m going to open the window and let in the fresh flow of air and aroma of love dwell in the room.
(Thomas goes and opens the window shutter. Raza in the meantime sits back comfortably on the chair, reading the newspaper)
Raza: They say that the earth has slowed down in its rotation. (Raising his head) Did you know that the earth is moving? Interesting! Wow- one day we will be at the top and the sky below us.
Thomas: Oh! I pity God’s state when his residence in the Heavens’ takes a toss. Can you imagine His plight being at the mercy of humans?
Raza: We must be kind to Him at that time. That will indeed be our true test.
Thomas: Yes of course. Though rough at times, he has been nice to us. We will surely reciprocate.
Raza: You talk like a great sage. Hats off to you! (He pretends to remove his hat from his bare head and bow to Thomas)
(There is a knock at the door and Dr. Ghosh enters, closing the door behind him. He is a spectacled, short middle-aged man, with a moustache, essentially happy-go-lucky, but distraught at the moment.)
Dr. Ghosh: (Adjusting his spectacles) Good afternoon, gentlemen. Having an enjoyable day? (Feeling the fresh air from the window, he walks over to it)
Raza: Hello Doctor, how are you? Why do you look so tired?
Thomas: Nice to see you, Doctor. Aren’t we all in the same boat?
Dr. Ghosh: What do you mean- all in the same boat? I am coming from a Board meeting. (Laughs) They are so upsetting, the whole pack of them.
Thomas: Who are they, Doctor?
Raza: (With compassion) Please sit down, Doctor. I understand how you feel. It must be a torture to deal with the situation. Tell us what the problem is. Maybe we can be of some help.
(The Doctor gives Raza a puzzled look, laughs again and sits down)
Thomas: She has burdened you, Doctor. Your male characteristics must be very dominant, or she wouldn’t have so taken to you.
Dr. Ghosh: Who? Who is this She?
Thomas: Aren’t you nervous?
Dr. Ghosh: Not really. But who are you referring to as She?
Raza: (Ignoring the question) Don’t be worried. I know it’s rather tough for you. Things will soon seem steady.
Dr. Ghosh: They had better be! But you haven’t answered my question. Who on earth is this She?
Raza: Ah- She. She is a wonderful being. Omnipotent, as they say. But I would first ask you a more urgent question; how would you treat God, if you were suddenly called upon, may be to govern Him?
DR GHOSH. (Spontaneously and indifferently) I would govern Him the way I govern the whole lot of people here. (Laughs over what he has said)
Raza: You seem to have a hidden dislike for Him. And naturally so, you are mortal after all.
Thomas: Your fellow professionals seem to have upset you.
Dr. Ghosh: (A bit agitatedly) They have upset my foot! But let’s forget them and talk about you.
Raza: (With fondness) Doctor, you take so much interest in us. Won’t you give us the privilege to feel concerned about you as well?
Dr. Ghosh: (Softened and stretching his legs a bit, as if deciding to spend a longer time with them) Now that you talk about it, I do feel tried. Okay, I’ll take a little rest here, talking to you.
Raza: You need it, Doctor. And tell me, how would you treat God, if He suddenly made his appearance accepting your supremacy?
Dr.Ghosh: (Restlessly) I would refuse to talk to Him or even see Him.
Raza: (Taken aback) Now, now, this is being unjust to Him.
Dr. Ghosh: (Impatiently) I really don’t believe in Him.
Thomas: Peace, Doctor. Even though you can’t see Him, he is still present everywhere. How subtle! To be everywhere, and yet not be seen!
Dr. Ghosh: (Bursting into laugher) But- (Thomas intervenes)
Thomas: (With all earnestness) Peace, doctor, peace! Try to feel Her. She is in your pulse- don’t go by the apparent.
Raza: (Comes closer to the Doctor, and whispers confidingly) Doctor, She is the devil.
Dr. Ghosh: (Still laughing nervously) You advocate Her and Him–. That’s indeed first- rate. Exactly what I advised all those fools at the meeting- to create a balance- but they dismissed my suggestions outright- Madcaps!
Raza: Remove the wool from your head, remove all constrictions and feel freedom, Doctor. You need to relax completely.
Dr. Ghosh: (Removing his felt hat) Yes, thank you! I barked all my wit to scare them out of the little holes they euphemistically call their minds. But they feared the outside realities, scared to get out of their comfort zones- the whining pigs.
Raza: (Patronizingly) Forget them, Doctor, and try to perceive His and Her presence- they are the ones who matter.
Thomas: (Inquisitively) Do you read literature, Doctor? They say that literary exercises are often set perfectly to help us perceive both.
Dr. Ghosh: (Stretching further on the chair, and in a more eased tone) To tell you the truth, I’m very fond of literature. I might myself write a great novel one day. You see, I have always felt it in my blood.
Thomas: Yes Doctor, I see it. What a surrealistic potent cocktail- to have both Her and literature in you!
Dr. Ghosh: (Distraughtly) What do you mean- ah- whatever-.
Thomas: Doctor, you are no doubt the blessed one.
Dr. Ghosh: (With a hint of irritation in the voice) Oh, common on- I don’t understand what you are driving at-. I mean, your talk is all over, and yet I am now finding a sense somewhere in it.
Raza: And I do believe, Doctor, one day you will write a great book.
Dr. Ghosh: (Looking at his watch and with a sigh) Ah, I should go now. My other patients must be waiting for me.
Raza: No Doctor, you look very stressed. You are very, very tired. Lie down on my bed for a while- it will help.
Dr. Ghosh: Well, I won’t deny that I am feeling tired.
Raza: One personal question, Doctor. Eh-h, do you have anybody at home to look after you?
Dr. Ghosh: Yes, why, my wife. But why do you ask?
Raza: Ah- just by the way. I wish you could live here with us. We feel so happy when you visit us.
Dr. Ghosh: (Suddenly, holding his stomach) I feel cramps in my tommy!
Thomas: (Knowingly) Do you?
Raza: I know it’s She!
Dr. Ghosh: (Pleasantly alarmed) What?
Thomas: (Assuringly) Never mind. You’ll adjust to her.
(Dr. Ghosh stands up, takes a few deep breaths and looks relieved)
Dr. Ghosh: (Peeping out of the window) Ah! What a lovely breeze! And look at those beautiful flowers being caressed by it-.
Raza: Lovely, aren’t they? I see God in them. Their very pretty sight cures me of all ailments.
Thomas: Ah! God’s beauty! (Jumps up) That means God also belongs to the female gender. The whole world seems to be undergoing a sexual disorder. God save us! (He crosses his heart)
Dr. Ghosh: (Gives Thomas a puzzled look and laughs casually) Ah- you indeed are funny! And I should be out from here now.
Thomas: (As if panicked) No, no, Doctor. Don’t step out yet. It could be dangerous. You should first get attuned to her being in you.
(Dr. Ghosh just stares at Thomas. With a shrug he moves to the door)
Raza: Wait Doctor. We are so happy together. You need some cheering up. Thomas, please put on some African music. Let’s dance- I’ll perform the Zulu dance.
(Thomas immediately goes to the corner table and puts on the music disc. Soft African music is heard in the background. Raza starts swinging to it)
Raza: (Moving towards the Doctor) Come Doctor, please join me- you will feel the energy flow and a blissful calm.
(Dr. Ghosh gives out a hearty laugh. Automatically, the rhythm of the music makes his body move to the beat and soon he is involved working out his steps. Instinctively, Thomas also joins them)
Raza: Hey, I say, this is indeed relaxing and enjoyable! (His dancing gets more intense and he gives out a yell) This sure is fun!
(Just then, Nurse Martha enters the room with the evening newspaper. Seeing them all vigorously swinging away, she is taken aback and stops short)
Martha: (Attempting to regain her composure, she speaks loudly) Doctor, the patients in room number nine are getting crazy and are asking for you.
Dr. Ghosh: (Totally involved with his dance steps) Hi, Nurse! Come, come- join us- you will feel good! The patients can look after themselves for a while. Da da di di–.
Martha: (Confused) Careful, Doctor. Your spectacles are going to fall.
Dr. Ghosh: Let them fall. Come, let’s perform the waltz. You are the ideal partner for it. (Moves towards her to hold her hands)
Martha: (Nervously moving back) No, no- thank you, Doctor. (She rushes for the door. Her left foot slips in the process, and Raza quickly moves to hold her. Thanking him, she hurries out)
Dr. Ghosh: (Almost shrieking) Atta-boy! This is fantastic! (Looking around) Why have you stopped dancing, Raza? Come! Join the show- there’s no point thinking too much.
Raza: (He is swing again) Oh, to think or not to think? That’s the question.
(While the three of them are busy dancing in the three corners of the room, the Chief of the Hospital Dr. Mayur, his deputy Dr. Raman and nurse Martha enter the room quietly. Unnoticed, they stand on one side, watching the scene. They have dumb expressions on their faces)
Thomas: Isn’t she seeping into us!
Dr. Ghosh: Yes, I agree- this is great- I have never felt so good-. Those morons had ruined my day!
Dr. Mayur: (In a loud voice) Dr. Ghosh, could you please step here for a minute?
Dr. Ghosh: (Looking at him from a distance, and still dancing) Ah! There’s the great man himself. Finished with the meeting, Dr. Mayur?
Dr. Mayur: (In an exasperated tone) Yes, yes- would you please stop your acrobatics and listen to me- if you don’t mind!
Dr. Ghosh: Mind? Why do you always have to talk about the mind? Where’s the mind? Please, Doctor, do help me find it- (Laughs heartily) or, come, as long as you can’t find it, join us and shake a leg.
(The pace of the dance increases)
Thomas: I bet she will win with them as well.
Dr. Ghosh: Ah! I am falling in love with her.
Raza: (Laughing) She is She!
Dr. Mayur: (To his assistant) Nurse Martha was right indeed. He is losing it!
Dr. Ghosh: Come on, Martha. We need you more than they do. (He tries to hold her- she hesitantly relents and for a few seconds, is a part of the dance, but soon jerks herself free from Dr. Ghosh’s hand)
Dr. Mayur: (Controlling his anger) Please, Dr. Ghosh, don’t forget you are on duty! Your behavior at the meeting was also highly questionable.
Dr. Ghosh: (Mockingly) Questionable- to me, everything you say and do is questionable! Please don’t interfere with whatever I choose to do. And stop talking like a schoolteacher, you chicken-head!
Thomas: I would like to have chicken for dinner.
Dr. Mayur: (With hands up in the air and desperation in his voice) This is serious! He is moving towards insanity- we need to do something urgently.
Dr. Ghosh: And you have reached the peak of it. (Laughs boisterously- Thomas and Raza join him)
Dr. Mayur: (Losing control of himself- jumping in the merrily dancing group of Dr. Ghosh, Raza and Thomas) I say- come, let’s stop them! Stop it, stop it- stop-. Grab him- lock him up- lock him-. (Dancingly, he and his assistants try to hold Dr. Ghosh’s movements. Curtain falls amidst laughs and shrieks and music)
One of the best story I have ever read