Looking for me
Man (without wanting to): No!
Woman: No! (Laughs loudly) No! Think again! How do you know, hmm? How do you know if you’ve ever loved anyone — when your memories are all gone?
Man (calmly): Go away!
Woman (irritably): What?
Man: Nothing, just go away… No, don’t. I’ll go away… I have to go… Only I have to go… I… I… Leave me alone. (He wants to shout very loudly: "Go away!" But it comes out in a very calm voice) Go away!
Woman (Like a little girl, in baby talk): Hey, don’t be like that! (Turning serious) You… why are you looking at me like that?
Man: Go away! I’m not the one you think I am.
Woman (Mocking): Scared?
Man (Inadvertently): Hmm?
Woman: No, nothing. You’re scared of something! Of a ghost or perhaps of your own shadow… of a little bunny rabbit… of a great big witch… There’s this light — very bright… darkness-tearing, far-seeing light. When you go towards the light, the shadow becomes smaller, and when you move away from the light, the shadow grows. The shadow’s hands are huge. Then our hands try to grasp the shadow… And, then the light climbs very high… even up to the Moon-Uncle…
Isn’t the moonlight lovely tonight?
Why do you hate me so?
Man: I… (laughs) No… I… I don’t know ‘hate’.
Woman (fuming): Then what do you know?
Man (after thinking a little): Smile!
Woman (inadvertently): Hmm!
Man: The smile! I didn’t like the way you smiled at me. Seriously, I didn’t like it at all.
Woman: Should I weep now? Come on, we’ve met after such a long time; what should I do, smile or cry? (She tries to smile) No! You haven’t changed. Your hair is greying a bit. But, that would happen to me too. (To herself) And what about me… Have I changed? (Takes a mirror out of her handbag) My eyes… wrinkles gathering under my eyes — the web of wrinkles is woven strand by strand… But the spider won’t be found in it — the spider won’t be caught.
Yes — I’ve changed! If you look at it that way — a great change! As big as a mangalsutra! (Hand on her mangalsutra.)
Man (suddenly): Were you his lover?
Woman: Who told you?
Man: Your man… I mean… your husband.
Woman (thoughtfully): It’s strange. It’s all a tangle. And the tangle is not unravelling. It’s getting tighter. Though my husband was your brother, I want you. Just the way I wanted you before. The very same way. I don’t understand anything. I don’t know any more. I can’t let go of the past. If I do, I’ll be wounded. Even torn apart, perhaps. And, this new… I can’t accept it. (Slumps dejectedly)
Woman (inadvertently): Hmm?
Man: I would call this a duel.
Woman (suddenly): Call it whatever. You… you just talk. Don’t do anything else! But, but what should I call it? Trishanku… I’ve become a Trishanku. And my husband? What if my husband called it adultery? What should I do then?
Man: You were a little wrong then — when you were talking about ‘accept’, ‘new’ and so on. All that is okay only if it’s decided that I’m that person. Till then, don’t take anything for granted.
Woman: When we were at college, we used to play cards. Bridge, rummy… even flush, for fun. Smooth cards — dipped in some smoothening powder. Different designs on them, but the same shape. Whatever the picture, the shapes would be identical, and all the four corners would be curved — so they wouldn’t hurt the fingers. We would go on playing, and the smoothening powder would run out and the cards would stiffen, turn rough. Even there, the queen was the queen, and even the king was the king.
And then, shuffle. Shuffle the cards again and again. And they would get rougher and rougher. Then break the almost perfect rummy and build houses of cards. Stack two cards at an acute angle. On that, a horizontal card… then again at an acute angle… again, a horizontal card… the house rose taller… and then… pull out the cards… one at a time… horizontal… no, slanting… without bringing down the house… I used to draw out the cards… but this card turned out to be the king. Whenever I drew out a card, it turned out to be the king. And, then a puff of air from someone… a draught. All the queens were pulled out… and then… brought the whole house tumbling down… again, the game began… but this time it was Prince-and-Pauper…
(In her usual voice) Shall… shall we play cards again?
Man: I don’t remember anything.
Woman: Your brother used to think I loved him, but…
Man: But you married him…
Woman (furious): I wasn’t going to marry him. I had to. I had to — to save the honour of your royal family.
Man (ignoring her): In the newspapers, you get counselling for ‘women’s problems’.
Woman (with touching innocence): Don’t you really remember anything?
Man (first shakes his head, then speaks): No!
Woman (furious): If you’re not the one I loved — I love — with all my heart, then let me at least look at his ghost. (Looks at him. Laughs) You pursed your lips. Why did you purse your lips? So, is this disturbing? Hmm! Did you feel that you’d heard this sentence before? On some evening… on the lawns… My words are stinging you — specially my tone?
Man: No, the question doesn’t arise.
Woman: If you’re not him, then how come his ghost — that’s sitting in front of me — pursed its lips the way he used to?
Man: It’s possible! I may resemble him. There may be some likeness, perhaps. I’m not denying that. But I’m not him.
An eminent Marathi playwright, Satish Alekar has been active on the theatre scene since the early seventies. A founder member of the Theatre Academy of Pune, his best-known works are ‘Mahanirvan’ (1974) and ‘Begum Barve’ (1979)