This week I met with the team of people who will be working on the reading of my play THE MATING GAME SHOW on Monday, 20th September. The group is called SALAAM -- the name stands for South Asian League of Artists in AMerica -- begun by Geeta Citygirl. She was born and brought up in the US and she changed her surname from Chopra to Citygirl. SALAAM is very active and has been able to maintain itself in production for three years, which is highly commendable for a small group most of whose members support themselves with day jobs other than theatre. They have done readings of my plays before, so this is not my first time with them, but for me of course it's always rathre thrilling to be present at a reading.
This time the director is a playwright too -- his name is PAUL KNOX and one of his recent staged works is a play called KALIGHAT. I haven't seen it, but from reviews and notices that appeared in the NYC press at the time it was produced (last year, I think) it is a powerful and moving play set in Mother Teresa's home for the dying, in Calcutta.
On Monday evening, I went over to Geeta's apartment in order to spend a little time with her, Paul and two other SALAAM members, Priya Mathew and Anuvab Pal so that we could decide on the logistics of the reading. I had a slightly revised version of the play's script which needed to be printed out and decisions needed to be taken about the cast of actors. The choice of who will read which parts is a crucial one and most our time in Geeta's house was taken up with that. There are a number of young Indians ("South Asians" is the correct term these days, because it includes Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans) who are considering acting as a career. It isn't easy to earn a living as a brown-skinned actor whose most likely roles are Asian Shopkeeper or Asian Taxi-driver ... but from the discussion on Monday night, it was clear that there were a number of names to choose from and also a number of on-going productions that were keeping several of the actors busy.
Geeta's apartment was some distance away from where I am and I got quite lost on the subway getting there! The New York subway system is quite different to London's -- though there are maps and numbers, it's not always obvious how to switch from one line to the next -- but anyway, it only meant a half hour delay and one trip going in the wrong direction. Geeta lives in a vast housing complex, in a cheery, light-filled space that she calls her 'crib' -- because it's where she sleeps! -- bursting with books and posters and gadgets. She is a little shorter than me, has shoulder-length hair, a big friendly smile and more energy than can be contained in a football field. She had laid out snacks to eat -- two types of chips, two dips, cheese, cookies and drinks. Priyanka and Anuvab left around 8 pm while Paul and I stayed till about nine.
When it was time to go howeward, Paul introduced me to the bus system as he was going part of the way in the same direction as me. I didn't have the necessary small change with me, so we went down to the subway station to buy a MetroCard. My brain goes blank when I am faced by machines that sell train and bus tickets -- it's VERY silly, because they're designed to be idiot-proof -- but I always sink to below-idiot standards the first time around. Anyway, Paul was very patient -- he talked me through the choices like a Kindergarten schoolteacher whose dull student is unable to figure out how to fit square blocks into square holes -- and I am now the proud possessor of a multiple-use MetroCard.
We talked on the bus-ride about his work and his visits to India. He told me that on his first visit he spent six months in Calcutta, working with the Sisters of Charity in the home for the dying, and his play KALIGHAT is of course inspired by some of his experiences there. He is a young man and I cannot imagine what it must have been like to go straight from the US to a home for the dying in Calcutta, but that's what he did, and he seems remarkably centred and accepting of his experiences there.
I hope to post more material about the rehearsals and the reading here as events scroll out. I'm sort of hoping that by doing this I will inspire other bloggers -- Zig! I'm looking at you here! -- to think in terms of doing stuff along SALAAM's lines. I'm going to post a link to SALAAM on the right and will hope that all those who link to YES will also follow links to KITABKHANA, ZIGZACKLY and CAFERATI -- all featured on the right -- when they have the time. All are India-based lit.-inspired blogs, each with its own spices and meats to offer, good places to make connections and to meet new names and faces. I also want to mention that the revisions I made to THE MATING GAME SHOW were made possible on account of the informal reading hosted at Nilanjana Roy's home in New Delhi, with the generous participation of herself and Debangshu. Maybe when I'm back we can do a reprise ... of course I'm really only thinking of the quantities of chocolate cake that greased the wheels of literature on that occasion, so it's not very surprising that I should be looking forward to more of the same!