Thursday, February 09, 2012

Tailored to Fit

. Rani, a psychotic tailor
. Jhumpa, the concerned friend
. Mr. Ezekiel, a black suit
. Mrs. Senpai, a kimono
. Thumri Kakkar, a kurta punjabi
. Guria, a six-year-old’s ghagra
. Vijay, the apologetic visitor

Scene One:
A tailor’s shop – the roller shutters are drawn shut. Rani is sitting at her sewing machine. There is a constant drone of the machine – it is the only sound that can be heard above the traffic outside. The wall of the store is lined with clothes on hangers. Glitzy shiny stuff – it’s December, and close to festival time.
A huge pile of cloth lies like a mountain of multicolor downstage right. Stage left is devoted to a tiny bed and a small dresser.

Rani: It’s lonely in winter. All year around you don’t notice it so much. But when winter gets around and everyone’s getting ready to put up their Christmas lights all over the place – and there’s enough work to do to keep you from getting out – but not enough to lose yourself in – Pujo’s better – at least there’s so much to do then that you’ll never finish on time. I miss Abba.

Girl(Voice from outside and a rap on the shutters): Rani! Rani! You forgot again, didn’t you!

(Rani gets up from the machine and rolls the shutters up – just a little so that the girl outside can come in. You get a glimpse of the street too, when she comes in – and it’s all bright lights and festivity.  Walking feet pass by, in glittering shoes. The girl’s about the same age as Rani, but dressed brighter – as if she’s just come in from the street outside)

Rani: Forgot what?

Girl: We were supposed to go to the ghat today – have phuchka? (she looks around the shop) Dhurr – you’re going to say there’s too much work again, aren’t you.

Rani: He’d die again if he found out I was going out with all that left –

Girl: Who? You’ve been talking to yourself again, haven’t you?

Rani: No. I mean, I really don’t have the time, Jhumpa, I have too much to do.

Jhumpa: Well, it’s not as if it’s Eid or something. 

Rani: It's Christmas!

Jhumpa: Ok, ok – I get it, I’m going. Vijay’s waiting for me anyway. Worst thing Mr. Akhtar ever did was to leave you his shop. It’s not like you need the money – and you’ll graduate soon enough! (Rani gently pushes her out and rolls the shutter back down on her) Why can’t you just sell the damn thing?

Rani: Bye, Jhumpa. 
(she turns around and, staring at the cloth pile, sinks to the floor)

Rani: Mr. Ezekiel knows, don’t you, Mr. Ezekiel?
(the pile of cloth on the floor shifts slightly – and a child crawls out. She’s about thirteen, and looks exactly like Rani. She’s dressed in a ghagra that’s way too big for her and is trailing on the floor. She turns around and drags out a black suit from the heap. The last bit comes out loose suddenly – and she slips and falls on her back. She gets up and arranges the suit on a low stool just upstage right of the cloth pile. Arranges it so that it looks like a person’s sitting there. Then she laughs and disappears.)

Rani: How are you, Mr. Ezekiel? Too many years under Mrs. Chatterjee’s petticoat? That can’t have been fun. How does it feel to still be here after ten years? Has it really been that long? Has it? Oh yes – oh my god yes – ten years. Do you feel like a smoke, Mr. Ezekiel? Do you feel like you need a drink?  It’s winter, you know – not so difficult to find rum in winter. But you can’t drink, can you, Mr. Ezekiel? Because you’re not really Mr. Ezekiel. Mr. Ezekiel died on the way back to Lindsay street after he gave Abba his measurements – and never came back for you. Are you lonely, then, Mr. Ezekiel’s suit? Did you curse Abba for not cutting you up and making you into tiny little mourning suits for Mr. Ezekiel’s sons? Did you want to visit the funeral? Do you want to run away? Do you want to run away away away and never ever have to come back to this little shop where you were made – with those very needles over there – and those reels of thread over there – and that old machine over there – and those hands…
Or do you want to stay here forever, Mr. Ezekiel? With Guria and Miss Senpai and Thumri and those clothes over there that’ll you’ll never get to know because they’ll all be on their way before the season turns – and those scraps over there that you had a little fling with in the summer who will all be leaving you for a patchwork drapery for a wedding hall. All the things you know and the only things you know.

Jhumpa (outside the door, crying): Rani! Raaani! Open the rollers.

(Rani jumps up and lets her in)

Jhumpa: Oh Rani! I saw them together at the ghats. Vijay and Jasmine. I didn’t know what to do! Why didn’t I see this coming!

Rani: Come in and sit down.

Jhumpa: Rani, I’m such an idiot. I don’t want go back home – can I stay with you to – (sees Mr. Ezekiel) ohhh. Who – oh. Oh, it’s just a suit. What the hell are you playing at? I got so scared!

Rani: It’s alright, Jhumpa. You can stay here tonight. Do you want some dinner?

Jhumpa: No – oh Rani – I’m so stupid. (starts crying again)

Rani: Sit down – I’ll get you something to drink.
(exit stage left)

(Jhumpa sits on the bed – her eyes keep straying towards the suit on the stool. She gets up once or twice and looks for Rani near the left wings – and keeps turning to look at Mr. Ezekiel. Then she looks back at the open rollers, shivers, and lowers them down. As soon as they shut – the lights go off – and Jhumpa screams in the dark.)

Scene Two:
The same. In the dark, the clothes look sinister – especially the suit propped up on the stool. The heaps and piles of cloth here and there create eerie shapes. There is hardly any light – just a soft glow from within the left wings.

Rani: Jhumpa, I’m here. I’m coming – don’t worry.
(She enters with a candle and sets it down centre stage.  Jhumpa is crouched against the rollers)

Rani: Sit on the bed, Jhumpa. Don’t worry – there’s a load shedding at this time every other day. It’s usually not so bad during winter, but the power will be back in about an hour or so. I can roll the shutter up if you want – but there’s no light outside, either.

Jhumpa: NO. I mean, do you have any more candles? I hate the shadows. The place looks so damn depressing. Especially the suit. Will you get that off the chair?

Rani: Oh, you mean Mr. Ezekiel?

Jhumpa: Oh my god.

Rani: Don’t worry about him – he’s been here forever. He’s not the only one. There’s Mrs. Senpai.
(The child walks into the room again while she speaks, dragging another garment in with her. She sets it up on a hanger – and hangs that against a wall with the glitzy new costumes. It’s a bright red kimono.)
She’s getting old. She used to belong to a famous actor – Rina Brown, have you heard of her? Took them more than five years to film that Tokyo movie. So long that she needed some loosening at the waist and the hip – well practically everywhere along the sides. And then she just got left here. Maybe she got so fat that they couldn’t do the movie anymore. I don’t know – it never came out. She’s around here somewhere. (moves around with the candle and finds the kimono)
Here she is. Isn’t she gorgeous?

Jhumpa: I wish you’d get more candles.

Rani: And there’s Thumri Kakkar. He’s not as old as the rest of them – you’ll quite like him. He’s tall and handsome and makes the strangest comments at the strangest times.
(The child walks in with another garment, and sits it up against the rollers this time)
He came with a bunch of other wedding clothes the groom had worn – to cut up and create babies’ blankets from – god knows why they’d want such uncomfortable babes’ blankets. Anyway, the baby died, I think – and they got divorced. And when he came back to pick all his clothes up – he wasn’t very calm you see – and he left poor Thumri behind. I don’t know when he’d worn Thumri – his wedding night – or the following morning – god knows. But I bet Thumri’s sad – to be made for such happy family occasions and then discarded after a single wear. Here he is, see, sitting like he’s about to fall apart at the seams. Poor Thumri Kakkar. Do you want some dinner, too?

Jhumpa: RANI. Candles!

Rani: Oh, sorry. I’ll get some more.
(exit stage left)

Jhumpa: Leave me your candle!

Rani: Sorry!
(Rani comes back and leaves her a candle)
(Jhumpa walks to centre stage with the candle and does a few double takes. Mr. Ezekiel, Mrs. Senpai and Thumri Kakkar have all shifted their postures while she wasn’t looking)

Jhumpa: RANI! Come back quick!
(She inspects each of the garments closely with the candle and prods the pile of clothes on the floor. When she looks up, the garments move synchronously and jerkingly.)
(Rani walks in carrying a lit candle and a packet)

Jhumpa: It’s Mr. Ezekiel – (she points at him)

Rani: Mr. Ezekiel, have you been moving again?
(Jhumpa shrinks away from them)

Rani: Oh Jhumpa, it’s nothing to be worried about. He keeps doing this, the stupid adorable little man. I mean, suit. Oh, I mean – Mr. Ezekiel tell her. Tell her it’s all alright.

Jhumpa: No, no, no, Rani – it’s alright, I’m alright, I don’t want him to tell me anything – I –
(she drops the candle)
(Mr. Ezekiel gets out of his chair and picks it up and holds it out for her)

Mr. Ezekiel: Fire’s dangerous, didn’t you know?

(Jhumpa shrieks and runs to sit on the bed)

Mr. Ezekiel: Do you want help with those, dear?

Rani (lighting the other candles): Oh no, thank you. You might catch fire. You know how clumsy you always were with your sleeves. You keep Mrs. Senpai occupied – I think she’s trying to get at Jhumpa’s hair.
(Mrs. Senpai is indeed reaching out towards Jhumpa)
Sorry, Jhumpa – she’s a bit senile – and she misses her own hair you know. Try telling her she’s never had any – and you might just get scalped!

Mrs. Senpai: I beg your pardon? Me? I’d never.

Mr. Ezekiel: Why don’t you come here and sit with me, Mrs. Senpai – we’ll watch the candle flame flicker to and fro.
(He goes and helps Mrs. Senpai out towards the audience, sits with them and they watch the nearest flame with the utmost concentration)

Thumri: You’re sad. I’m sad. I can tell.

(Jhumpa stares at him)

Rani: Be nice, Jhumpa. I can usually never get him to talk.

Jhumpa: Hello.

Thumri: Never say hello to somebody. They’re going to leave you anyway.
(Jhumpa looks like she’s going to cry again)

Mrs. Senpai: There, there dear – Thumri, you rascal, who told you to say such unpleasant things? Talk about something nice – something you know about – like zippers and buttons and hooks!

Jhumpa: No, no, it’s alright. I’m sorry about that groom of yours.

Thumri: Well, he wasn’t my groom.

Jhumpa: (laughing nervously) I like your kurta – I mean, I like you. I mean, it’s a nice colour. I mean, is it grey or blue or purple – I can’t tell in the dark.

Thumri: I don’t know. But thank you. I like you too.

Jhumpa: Oh.

Thumri: Do you want to light a candle with me?

Jhumpa: Oh. I mean, I’d love to – but Rani said that –

Mr. Ezekiel: You’ve got a sane head on your collars. Listen to her Thumri, it will do you some good.

Thumri: It’s a beautiful head. I wish I had a beautiful head.

Jhumpa: I wish you had one, too. I could practically –

Mrs. Senpai: Oh, but we do have heads, dear, who told you we don’t? Look at us again!
(Heads peep out from the collars of the three garments – hands from the sleeves, and feet from the legs)

Thumri: You could practically what?

Scene Three:

Rani: Someone’s missing.  Where’s Guria?

Mr. Ezekiel: She must be talking to the shadows again.

Rani: Well, that means it’s dinnertime. Shall we have a candlelit meal?
Mrs. Senpai: I must get ready for it then – Rani, can you get me something for my hair?
Rani: Something for your – Mrs. Senpai! NO – but I think I can get something for – oh wait, I have just the right thing – what a change it will be - 
Mr. Ezekiel: Please don’t change her again, Rani, I couldn’t bear it if she changed.
Rani: Mr. Ezekiel – it’s just a bow! There – how’s that Mrs. Senpai?
Mrs. Senpai: Is it new? What did I have on before?
Rani: Mrs. Senpai! I must do something about that memory of yours – do you think – yes, I think I should stitch some satin into your head – or maybe a quarter meter of muslin would do the trick – what do you think, Mr. Ezekiel? 
Mr. Ezekiel:  Oh but – Mrs. Senpai’s perfect! You’re the finest seamstress in all the land, Rani, but –
Rani: Alright, alright, Mr. Ezekiel – I must get some dinner now. We’ll talk about this later.  (exits)
Jhumpa: Do you need help? 
Thumri: She’ll manage on her own – Rani always does. 
Jhumpa: Oh. Good. 
(The child runs in, picks up some clothes off the shelves, and tries to set them up standing against the bed.)
Jhumpa: Who is that?
Mr. Ezekiel: That’s Guria.
Jhumpa: What is she trying to do?
Thumri: Get the clothes to talk to her. 
Mr. Ezekiel: It’s what Rani used to do – a long time ago.
(The clothes keep falling off.)
Jhumpa: Why won’t they talk?
Thumri: Not everybody wants to talk.
Mrs. Senpai: It just isn’t time yet.
Jhumpa: What does that mean?
Mrs. Senpai: What, dear?
Jhumpa: What you said just now… when do the clothes – when do you start talking?
Mrs. Senpai: Is that what I said? I don’t remember. You have beautiful hair.
Mr. Ezekiel: Sorry, she forgets things sometimes. 
Thumri: But you do have beautiful hair.
Jhumpa: When did you start talking?
Thumri: Rani thinks it’s when she stitched me a voice.
Jhumpa: She can stitch you voices?
Mrs. Senpai: She thinks she can.
Mr. Ezekiel: She can stitch anything.
Thumri: I would have talked to you even if she hadn’t stitched me a voice.
Mr. Ezekiel: No you wouldn’t.
Thumri: Mr. Ezekiel, cloth boxes don’t make us talk. 
Jhumpa: What makes you talk, then?
Thumri: What makes you talk?
Jhumpa: Oh. But I’m not like – I mean – I can talk because – I – can’t say.
(Guria tries to prop the clothes up against something else – the roller shutters.) 
Mr. Ezekiel: They’re just very new clothes.  Rani just finished stitching them. 
Mrs. Senpai: She stitched the collar half a centimeter tighter than it should be. She does that when she’s stitching clothes for people she doesn’t like very much. 
Mr. Ezekiel: That’s not true, Mrs. Senpai. Rani wouldn’t do that. 
Jhumpa: Who are these clothes for, then?
Mrs. Senpai: I don’t remember. 
Mr. Ezekiel: Vijay. It says so on the bill.
Jhumpa: Who?
Thumri: Are you alright? 
Jhumpa: I think I’ll go see if Rani needs help. (exits)
Thumri(looking after Jhumpa): Rani really can’t stitch everything, you know.
Mr. Ezekiel: Thumri, what do you think would happen if someone took a large pair of scissors and cut us up?
Mrs. Senpai: Mr. Ezekiel! What a horrid thought! Why would anyone do that? And even if they did – Rani would just stitch us back up again.
Mr. Ezekiel: Do you think clothes go to heaven?
Thumri: Do you think she ran away? I always scare people off. 

Scene Four:
(Rani walks in with a tray, followed by Jhumpa, with glasses.)
Rani: We’ll need some more candles. Where is Guria?
(The child runs to them and blows out the nearest candle)

Rani: Oh, I’m so sorry. That’s Guria. That ghagra – that’s mine. From back when I was six. Guria, what are you doing?
(Guria blows out a few more candles and runs to Rani and whispers something in her ear)

Rani: Oh. She says there’s someone standing outside the shutter who wants all the candles off.

Jhumpa (whimpering): No. Why?
(Someone bangs on the roller doors from outside. Guria blows off the candles one by one, as Ezekiel and Senpai and Thumri walk to their original positions on stage)

Rani: Don’t worry, dear, let me see.
(There is only one candle left now, in her hand. She rolls up the shutters and a man bends and walks in, completely drenched. Jhumpa whimpers softly)

Rani: Vijay! You’re completely drenched! What are you doing here? Is it about that shirt and pants that you wanted. They’re stitched and done. I’ll fetch them for you?
(she walks off to the right of the stage, looking for the clothes)

Vijay: No – no – I came for Jhumpa. I – I – there she is – I came to say I’m sorry. About letting you down like that. With Jasmine, I mean. I’m really sorry. I should have told you. I shouldn’t have sprung it on you like that there – at the ghat. Me and Jasmine – we’re both very very sorry. She wanted to tell you too – but it’s just that I can’t find her. I can’t find her anywhere. I’m sorry –

Rani: That’s so strange. I can’t find Vijay’s clothes anywhere.

Vijay: It’s alright. I don’t need them now. I’ll go look for Jasmine now.
(he blows out the candle)

Scene Five:
The lights come one – the same room. Everything in the same place. All the people are also standing exactly where they were – except the garments are just garments now, sitting/standing in their original positions and places. And in place of Vijay, there is a shirt and a pair of jeans propped against the roller.
(Jhumpa sinks into Mr. Ezekiel’s lap)

Jhumpa: It was so dark – so dark. I didn’t mean to. I got so angry, seeing them together that I just lost it and flew at them – and before I knew it they were in the river – and I didn’t know what to do – I’m so stupid. So stupid. (she breaks down)

Rani: Oh. There they are. Vijay’s clothes. I finished making them a while back. I was looking for them, you know.
You can come visit him whenever you want.


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