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Ground Zero - A Stage Play
|by Dr. Vishnu Sharma|
Groundzero is a bare stage play in contemporary setting. It explores the metaphor of ground zero. In this play, the theme of terror revolves round family dynamics. PIF, facing mid-life crisis, drifts to a cult run by a eunuch named OSO. His son, TIM, a young journalist tries to expose the vile of the cult. In an effort to preempt the blitz, OSO transfixes PIF to ground zero for his refusal to divulge the identity of the journalist. MIT, the wife of PIF, assumes the role of the Mother Goddess, emancipates her husband and her son, and transfixes OSO in stead. Midst the crumbling structure evoking the sounds of the 9/11 tragedy, a child firefighter offers a helping hand that OSO fails to grasp. The play echoes the Age of Anxiety through resonant imagery and meaningful allusions.
Characters in order of Appearance
PIF: An ambitious salesman undergoing mid-life crisis.
PIF: (Playfully nudging MIT) Hey MIT, still asleep? …I guess so, but you aren’t snoring. Sleep without snoring is no good. Better snore or let’s have pillow talk. (PIF tries to draw her closer)
MIT: Has my bird come in the windowsill?
PIF: Not yet.
MIT: (Pushing him away) Then why do you disturb me?
PIF: (Drawing her close again) I know when the bird comes, you will dump me in the bed.
MIT: (Trying to get away ) You have an awkward touch.
PIF: Just when I try to please you.
MIT: Please you or me?
PIF: I don’t know why you are so edgy. You ignore my needs.
MIT: You are crazy. You don’t let me be myself.
PIF: The problem is—you dream a lot.
PIF: No, I mean when you sleep.
MIT: Well, I can’t help that.
PIF: You drift away from me when you dream. (PIF takes a brief pause, looks at her playfully, seductive) You cling to me when you have nightmares.
MIT: My dreams turn into nightmares when I find you caught up in perils. Always at groundzero.
PIF: I don’t know where you get such vibes from. Groundzero of your nightmares is a subtle invention of your mind. Even in sleep, you find faults with me.
MIT: My angst arises from your reckless behavior.
PIF: There is nothing wrong with my behavior. Why do you always imply I cheat?
MIT: Your secrets leave a sordid trail.
PIF: You insist on the replay of every single moment I happen to be out of your sight. Even when I am excreting.
MIT: Who knows what you do with your excretion? I bet you play with it. I have noticed you smelling it.
PIF: You pry—even there.
MIT: I don’t pry. I am just concerned. You’re careless with yourself. Look at your belly. It’s getting bigger every day.
PIF: You exaggerate. You believe that even my baldness is my own doing. By the way, why do you stop me from growing a beard? You never allow me innocent pursuits.
MIT: Is it innocent to over drink? To smoke pot? To tell lies? To chase women? To negotiate sinister cults?
PIF: I am a man. I need some space.
MIT: (Exasperated). The proverbial space! You need it only to associate with lousy people.
PIF: The people you call lousy are necessary people. They promote my sales.
MIT: You knock at the wrong doors. I wonder if you sell at all. You always come home dried up like a Halloween pumpkin.
PIF: You greet me with caustic eyes. Do I look like Willy Loman to you or what?
MIT: You are no match even to that poor Salesman of American drama. Your style of doing things is not working.
A brief pause
PIF: What about the poems I wrote for you?
MIT: Who knows whom you wrote those so-called love things for?
PIF: Your distrust goes too far, MIT. It hurts.
MIT: I don’t mean to hurt you PIF, but something has happened to your poetic verve. You haven’t written anything lately that excites me.
PIF: I need to be inspired.
MIT: And I don’t inspire you. (pause) How could you not write?
PIF: Think about it. Aren’t you destructive?
MIT: It seems, we are destroying each other.
PIF: It does not have to be this way. Remember …
MIT: When you came to my cottage on a white horse …
PIF: You hid behind the flowers …
MIT: You brought me a beautiful emerald ring …
PIF: You made me that wild-colored cardigan.
MIT: We had such a promise.
PIF: Of caring, loving …
MIT: Of building each other up, social success …
PIF: Of spiritual enlightenment …
MIT: Sounds hyperbolic. But never mind. We didn’t unite to destroy each other.
PIF: We wanted to affirm, not negate life.
MIT: Then what law of nature has brought us here—to the threshold of destruction, PIF?
PIF: It is not the law of nature.
MIT: We can both be more tolerant. Give me a smile. Say ‘Cheese.’
PIF: A massage may help … or tea.
MIT: Massage is a trap.
PIF: You seem to enjoy it.
MIT: Not always.
PIF: Well, then let me go and make tea.
MIT: If the tea tastes just r-i-g-h-t.
PIF: It will taste r-i-g-h-t if you don’t add too much s-u-g-a-r.
MIT: You never put enough of sugar.
PIF: You always add more. It takes away tea’s flavor. Don’t forget, sugar is for tea, tea is not for sugar.
MIT: Both tea and sugar are for each other. That’s all I know, and that’s enough.
A bird alights on the windowsill. Birdsong is heard. .
PIF: (Pointing to the bird) Lo, the spoiler has come. We won’t be able to enjoy tea.
MIT: Why? It is a benign bird. (She rises and comes close to the bird.) How tenderly it looks at us.
PIF: Looks at you. Not us. You pamper it. You think it sings for you.
MIT: It does. (Birdsong) How sweet! Let me talk with it.
PIF: A sheer fantasy! I wonder when you’ll start living in the real world.
MIT: My world is real.
PIF: I doubt if this bird comes from any nest at all. It looks so strange and weird. We don’t even know its name.
MIT: How does it matter? It is so fresh and alive. It brings me messages.
PIF: From the underworld, I believe.
MIT: Now you really annoy me.
PIF: Your notions about this bird are intriguing. The result of reading fairy tales. Or visits to antique shops.
MIT: I stopped buying antiques long ago.
PIF: The junk already in your collection is enough for a lifetime.
MIT: Sacred emblems look junk to you. How can you appreciate the birdsong? It sings of my son. Our TIM. (To the bird) Tell me how my TIM is. Is he in love yet? (Birdsong response) Lonely? He attracted many girls from early on. Not all the spinsters could keep from pinching his apple cheeks. (Birdsong response) Does he miss me? His mother?
PIF: How can this bird tell you all that? Better, ask your son. He will be home this weekend. I have already promised him a day out.
MIT: Weekend will come when it comes. The bird is right here.
PIF: To waste our time and spoil the mood.
MIT: You need not waste your time. Go and make tea.
PIF makes an unsuccessful gesture of scaring away the bird. He shrugs his shoulders and then leaves. MIT turns to the bird lovingly.
MIT: Dear one, don’t mind what my husband just said. The poor fellow is tricked into wrong expressions. Lately he has been under some shadow. Maybe some sort of sorcery or witchcraft. I wish him turn to you for light and joy. Now tell me where my brother is. Why does he never call? Is he also under stress? We used to play in the groves all day, picking cherries and apples. He’d make me stand on his shoulders to peek into bird nests. You smell of those same orchards. Is that where you come from? (Birdsong response) And my father? He must have become very feeble. He used to lose his fatigue whenever he saw me. My mother would get so jealous. (Extended birdsong response) Your song brings them all … all back. Sing fervently. I will get your beak set in gold, and put a jewel on your head … I promise.
PIF brings tea. Looks at MIT and the bird.
PIF: I knew you’d get involved with this sinister bird. I knew you’d spoil the enjoyment of tea.
MIT: Nothing is spoiled, PIF. I won’t add sugar if it annoys you. Bring the cups here, to bed. Let us enjoy the tea.
PIF: First, scare the bird away.
MIT: No. I can’t do that. It’s a little precious bird. It’s nature.
PIF: It’s ugly. (To the bird) Go! (Bird stays, birdsong. PIF runs at it and shouts like a maniac) OUT!!
The tray slips down from his hands. MIT and PIF stare at each in disappointment and disgust. Sound of birdsong flying away.
MIT: So we won’t have tea this morning. And the bird won’t disturb you anymore.
PIF: I am sorry, MIT. I don’t know why it happened.
MIT: It always does. You lose control.
PIF: I’ll make more tea.
MIT: If the bird returns?
PIF: I won’t get upset, I promise. Your happiness is important to me.
MIT: I don’t know if I want tea, now.
PIF: We shouldn’t regret anything.
MIT: Except regret. (A brief pause ) Do I look grim?
PIF: Only a little bit. Let me relax you. (Rubs her head.) Tea can follow. Let’s give each other some massage, and make it memorable.
PIF leads MIT to the bed. They give each other massage, and improvise certain Tantrik postures interspersed with suitable pauses.
MIT: Above everything, massage! (Pause and an erotic posture) PIF, aren’t we settling into strange habits?
PIF: Habits? Strange?
MIT: Yes. What do you think?
PIF: What can I say? (Another posture)
MIT: Can anyone enlighten us?
PIF: What’s the use of asking anybody? You will get bookish answers.
MIT: Let’s just enjoy the massage.
PIF: If we can. (Pause and a new posture)
MIT: What else?
PIF: It is strange that we can’t do anything else.
MIT: I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
PIF: Both, laugh and cry at the same time, I guess.
MIT: Let’s then do it. And get it over with.
PIF: And start our day.
Lights begin to fade as they burst into laughter, punctuated by the crooning of a bird. Echoes and reechoes while they roll in the bed.
Pantomime - PIF is giving TIM, his son, a piggyback ride.
PIF: Stop this nonsense, TIM. You’re breaking my back. You are not a child any more. You’re a man now.
PIF: Don’t you know?
TIM: I do, but the child in me likes to surge up sometimes.
PIF: In any case, this ride is no fun anymore.
TIM: Yes, it is. It is a rare fun, Dad. I am having it after such a long time. I starved for piggyback rides on you when I was a kid. Let me have some compensation.
PIF: By the way, where are we now?
TIM: In Disney Land.
PIF: Publicized in a very big way. Obviously, how could you resist coming to Disney Land?
TIM: Do you resent it?
PIF: No. Resenting would not improve anything. Just look around and get rid of Disney Land.
TIM: Look, how exciting it is! How colorful! I want to see all the fabulous corners of Disney Land. Why don’t you move faster? Do you need whipping?
PIF: Disney Land is very complicated, son. It is very crazy. We will get lost in this labyrinth.
TIM: It’s really hard to explore Disney Land in one lifetime.
PIF: (After trotting and long pause) Now what is this place? It’s very hot here.
TIM: How do I know? You moved away from Disney Land in a huff.
PIF: It looks like Arab Street. Hot and dangerous. Let me skip it.
TIM: Why? Are you afraid, Dad?
PIF: Yes, I am. Arab Street has become notorious. Who knows how and when we may be shot or blasted?
TIM: Why fear? This can happen anywhere. Arab Street is all over.
PIF: There are places you must not miss seeing before a suicide bomber blasts us.
TIM: I know you’re in a hurry. Perhaps you want to take me to Wall Street. I am too young to speculate on Wall Street.
PIF: No doubt, Wall Street is treacherous. Bullish one minute, bearish the next. Let’s just look at the skyline of Manhattan. You may be able to see the twin towers of the World Trade Center chitchatting with the Statue of Liberty. Don’t you want to see those monuments?
TIM: Why not? I’ve seen them only in pictures. I want to have an intimate look at them. Nobody should miss the real experience of visiting such rare sights. Take me there before your legs give way.
PIF: (Focusing offstage) The weather is treacherous. I see lots of haze around twin towers.
TIM: That’s why I can’t see them clearly.
PIF: Why not to end this ride now?
TIM: So soon?
PIF: It’s my age. I can’t move faster, and I can’t carry you anymore.
TIM: You have done remarkably well, except that you tend to be rather abrupt. You need to have patience.
PIF: I didn’t realize that you would grow so bulky and so big. It’s your mom’s work. She fed you indiscriminately
TIM: You blame Mom for everything. How does it matter if I am bulky? I am still your child, Dad. I am sure you won’t drop me. You won’t make me fall. You love me Dad, don’t you?
PIF: I wonder if I can continue loving you if you don’t get down. Don’t you see I am suffering from arthritis? My bones crack. I have a heart condition. I may collapse at any moment.
TIM: Exactly Dad. You may collapse at any moment. That’s why I don’t want you to miss this opportunity.
PIF: What opportunity?
TIM: The opportunity of giving a good piggyback ride to your own son. If you miss it you’ll regret it. Carrying regrets to the grave is no good.
PIF: So, you have started visualizing me in my grave!
TIM: No. I didn’t mean that. In fact, I don’t see you collapsing at all. You may never collapse. You can’t be a collapsing type.
TIM: That’s my observation. By the way, you are moving so well even without whipping. I am so proud of you, Dad.
PIF: I don’t believe you.
TIM: I don’t expect you to. Just cheer up. This physical activity will do you good. You need it.
PIF: Stop this joke. (PIF deliberately throws TIM down and faces him.) You don’t know what I need.
TIM: It’s difficult to understand fathers. It’s also difficult to understand sons.
PIF: I understand you well. You’re under the influence of your Mom. She always hated the thought of my giving you piggyback rides. ‘Too risky’, she thought. ‘I’d make you fall.’ I didn’t like to invite her wrath.
TIM: That’s why you never gave me a piggyback ride? You never liked me. Tell me Dad, am I your own son or not?
PIF: What a question!
TIM: A very natural and a crucial question.
PIF: You should have asked your Mom.
TIM: Whenever Mom bought me toys, you resented it. You thought it was a waste of money.
PIF: Money was never the problem.
TIM: Then, what was?
PIF: Your mother’s over-indulgence. She pampered you too much.
TIM: Well, you could have pampered me, too. Even a little bit would have made me happier.
PIF: Your mother never taught you anything about being frugal, and she never let me teach you.
TIM: That’s not true. You just gave so much attention to PIM. Even now she is your darling. And me? You always make me feel awkward and uncomfortable.
PIF: You’re afraid of my high standards. I wonder how you will fare in this world of cut-throat competition!
TIM: How did you learn to compete in this hostile world, Dad?
PIF: Do you really want to learn? Dare you experience the truth?
TIM: Why not? Tell me, does truth hurt? If I am your son, I am entitled to inherit the lessons of your life.
PIF: Lessons are hard to learn. You are so delicate and easygoing. I don’t think you’re interested in anything involving hardship.
TIM: You are mistaken, Dad. I am strong and robust. I am ready to face the world. How could it be otherwise?
PIF: If you are not boasting, then come on. Let me have a piggyback ride on your back.
TIM: You? Having a piggyback ride on my back?
PIF: Yes, a piggyback ride on your back!
TIM: You astound me Dad. It seems to be a good joke. Do sons give fathers piggyback rides?
PIF: Yes, they do. Fathers invariably like to have such rides.
TIM: Did your father have piggyback rides on your back?
PIF: Yes, he did. I enjoyed giving him such rides.
TIM: So, you expect me to enjoy giving you piggyback rides. I am not sure if it is sensible.
PIF: Just let me have one. It will be something rare for me. You said you’re strong. Let me test your strength.
TIM: Dad, I am not as strong as you think. I mean my strength is of a different type. A piggyback ride on my back is not the right way of testing it.
PIF: Don’t slip into anxiety. I am not as obese as my father was. Let me have the satisfaction of at least one good piggyback ride on your back. I deserve it, son. I have waited for it so long.
TIM: You have become quite obese waiting for this chance. I can’t carry you. My heart palpitates. It seems to be congenital. Could be your genes.
PIF: Never mind. My genes would not betray you. Don’t try to wriggle out. I will be content with a very brief one, I promise.
TIM: I don’t think you can be content so soon.
PIF: I am very reasonable. I will balance myself in such a way that you won’t hurt. Just try. This is the only way you will learn responsibility. This may be your last chance. (PIF makes TIM recline on his knees, and ‘rides’ on his back.) Now move.
TIM: You’re heavy, Dad.
PIF: My dad was heavier.
TIM: My shoulders are frail.
PIF: Mine were too, but I never hesitated to carry my Dad on my back.
TIM: Did you really carry him?
PIF: Yes, very often, very long, very far. Even strangers could see that.
TIM: Don’t expect me to do what you did.
PIF: Why not? You’re stronger than I was at your age. Move to the right.
TIM: Are you really having any fun Dad?
PIF: Not as much as I anticipated. Do you know TIM, my father was constantly under heavy debt, heavy debt?
TIM: He never bought you toys, I guess.
PIF. Never. He sold away the toys I got from others.
TIM: To pay off his debts?
PIF: Maybe. Or for meeting his personal needs.
TIM: Such as?
PIF: I don’t know. He never told me.
TIM: Did your Mom tell you?
PIF: There was no need to tell. It was obvious that he was a needy person.
TIM: So he did not have fun when you gave him piggyback rides?
PIF: He was satisfied. At least he knew his son was not a useless person and could take responsibility. He had faith in me.
TIM: I never thought you would ever ask me to give you a piggyback ride. I could drive you to Macedonia, to Chechnya, to Tibet, to Kabul, to Defur. Even flying you in a helicopter to places at some point in time, would be a pleasure.
PIF: If you go on talking like this, you may end up navigating me in cyber space on the Internet. I am not ready for such an anticlimax.
TIM: I never thought you’d ask for a piggyback ride. You’re punishing me for the atrocity of your own father.
PIF: I am not punishing you for anything. My father was not atrocious. In fact, he was the most compassionate person on earth.
TIM: Oh, that is why he incurred so much debt. It comes to the same thing. You had to bear the brunt.
PIF: You know nothing about it. I liked to give him rides.
TIM: I don’t understand you, Dad.
MIT: I do. I understand your Dad so well. He has always played strange and cruel games. He will never get off your back once he saddles there. He always needs someone to use for his personal satisfaction.
PIF: (Getting down) That’s a lie. You never let me have any satisfaction whatsoever. I was playing an innocent game with my son.
MIT: (Comes close and pats TIM) Is it innocent to crush your son under your burden? His forehead is perspiring. His face is turned pale.
PIF: Stop these antics, MIT. It didn’t hurt him. He was just enjoying it.
MIT: ‘He was just enjoying it’. How do you know? You are not his mother.
PIF: I know precisely because I am not his mother. Your problem is that you won’t let me be anybody to him. What kind of mother are you? Tonight you will keep hovering over him with all your herbs. You will sleep in his bed.
MIT: Why can’t I sleep in my son’s bed? I’m his mother.
PIF: But you will sleep in his bed to tease me. To tell him tales. To alienate me from him.
TIM: She has sung me many a lullaby in my childhood, Dad. She will bring me sweet dreams.
PIF: You are sadly mistaken, son. Listen to me. Your Mom is a tyrant. She likes to possess you, as she possesses me. If you pay attention to her tales, she will alienate you from everybody in the world. You will not be able to relate to any girl adequately.
MIT: Do you know how intensely vicious you are, PIF? You have a sinister imagination.
PIF: What about you?
MIT: I wonder how I could live with you so long? Can you give me back those years?
PIF: Can you give me back mine?
TIM: Please keep your ancient grudges to yourself. I have come to spend a few holidays with you. PIM will be arriving any moment. Do you want to depress your children by your incessant quarrels? Should we stop visiting because there is no peace in this home, no harmony?
MIT: Good that PIM is also coming. My daughter can handle her Dad better than I do. Don’t you worry, and let me bring some cake for you. You are so tired. You need some nourishment. (She leaves)
PIF: Now, TIM we need to talk before PIM comes and your Mom starts sniffing around.
TIM: I don’t understand, Dad. Talk about what?
PIF: About … about our chance encounter at …
TIM: Al Tantra Cave? That notorious place?
PIF: Sh…sh. Keep your voice low.
TIM: Don’t worry Dad. I didn’t go there to spy on you.
PIF: I know, but why were you there?
TIM: I went there as an investigative journalist. I am aghast that sex, drugs money laundering and assassination go there in the name of holy mission. You ‘ll see my blitz on Al Tantra in the press very soon.
PIF: It’s unimaginable. I’m confused.
TIM: I’m not. I have evidence. It’s going to be my magnum opus. (Pause) Why have you plunged into anxiety?
PIF: I don’t know. (Pause) Will you avoid telling your Mom about our meeting in that den? She always smells disaster. I’m afraid she will be mad at us.
TIM: Not at me. I have good understanding with her. I wonder what you were doing there. I was shocked to see you in that den.
MIT enters with cake
MIT: Where? In which den? I’m sure, in some nefarious club.
TIM: I don’t go to clubs except for my assignments, Mom.
MIT: Thank God. But what was your Dad doing there?
TIM: I don’t know. I never asked him and he did not tell me.
MIT So ‘never ask, never tell’ policy is at work in this house too. I will not allow this to happen under my roof. Come on PIF. Be a good boy. Tell me which den TIM is talking about? (She grabs and shakes PIF) Where were you? What were you doing there?
PIF: Stop making fuss, MIT. I didn’t do anything wrong.
MIT: You are hiding something. I will get the truth from your intestines. Tell me fast or I’ll kill myself. Maybe I’ll kill you.
PIF: This is tyranny. I refuse to subMIT to it. I will tell you nothing. Absolutely nothing. On principle.
MIT: I know your principles well. (She gets hold of his throat and screams) I will get the name of the place, and the name of the wench you visited. From your own mouth. Here and now! Do you hear me?
TIM: Cool down Mom. You have high blood pressure!
PIF: Take care of her TIM. She may not have a stroke. She may not pass out.
TIM: How can she pass out? She has to feed me with her wonder cake. Am I right, Mom? You know I like it from your hands. And I need it desperately.
MIT: I know, son. And I won’t pass out. I will feed you the cake first, but I will get the truth from your Dad. He is mistaken if he thinks he can hide it from me.
PIM: (Enters with a traveling bag) Who is hiding what from whom? What’s this going on? I heard Mom yelling. Are tempers running high again? Mom and Dad?
PIF: Your Mom has high blood pressure, PIM. It aggravates periodically. Now you’re home, it’ll be all right.
PIM: Come on Mom! Here I am. Your daughter. Your first born. Home from school. (They hug) You should not suffer any more.
MIT: Welcome home, PIM. Yes, it is high blood pressure. Has recurred at a wrong TIMe. Now, you both are with me. It will subside. I have to feed you with your favorite cake. (Feeding them) Do you think it will subside, PIF?
PIF is silent and sullen.
PIM: Speak out Dad! Say ‘yes’ to Mom. Why are you so sullen? Tell her she will be absolutely cured. We all love her so much.
PIF: Yes, MIT. We love you. Me and PIM and TIM. Why should you suffer? (To TIM) Is she not already feeling better, TIM?
TIM: I bet, she is.
PIM: Look Mom, I have brought beautiful sunglasses for you. (She puts sunglasses on her mother’s eyes) You look so cute in these glasses.
MIT: Thank you, my child.
PIF: What have you brought for me, PIM? Only vibes?
PIM: You can wait, Dad. How does the world look like with these glasses, Mom?
MIT: A bit darker.
PIM: Oh no, Mom. Just the glare of the sun gets mellowed down. It should be soothing for your eyes.
MIT: I don’t know, but you are my moonshine. Have some more cake.
PIM: Well, I will have only a very small bite. I am dieting.
TIM: And dating?
PIM: (To TIM) Shut up. (To PIF) Why don’t you have some, Dad, unless you are concerned with your blood sugar?
MIT: No, PIM. Don’t let your Dad have it. Sugar is not good for him.
PIF: Your Mom weans me away from all things sweat.
MIT: Do you see how your Dad stings? He is responsible for my high blood pressure.
PIF: Why don’t you tell the truth? You have opted for high blood pressure simply to harass me.
PIM: No acrimony any more, Dad and Mom. Now forget your ancient grudges, and smile. You need to cultivate some sense of humor. TIM, let’s make the world a bit cheerful for Mom and Dad.
TIM: By our magic laughter, you mean? The laughter we always have at home?
PIM: Exactly. Whenever we come, we find Mom and Dad getting mad at each other.
TIM: And then, our laughter changes the atmosphere. It fills the TIMe and space of this home. It cures their malady. I’m ready to laugh. Are you ready, PIM?
PIM: Yes, I‘m. It has to be very loud this TIMe.
TIM: Loud indeed. It takes a lot of energy, though.
PIM: Join us Mom and Dad. Just don’t remain aloof.
TIM: Try and let this laughter echo and reecho in the minds and the spaces all over.
PIM: Join us everybody, join us heartily …
They laugh. PIF and MIT join with their pathetic grudges and the laughter is eventually drowned in the laughter of the audience
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