May 31, 2000
Independence in India: A Play in Three Acts
As you read this, think about the stories of independence you've learned about your own country or a place that your ancestors colonized. What events stick out in your mind? How are those similar or different to other independence stories?
Spotlight on SMALL CHILD, dressed in simple garments, stage left.
This is a true story.
(WOMAN speaks slowly into a microphone offstage. Indian classical music, with tablas, drumlike instruments, and a sitar, a stringed instrument, playing in the background. WOMAN appears stage right, dressed in an elegant sari. She walks slowly across to the SMALL CHILD as she speaks.)
The British controlled India for almost a century and a half. They arrived in the early 19th century. They left on the 14th of August 1947. Like any other colony, India provided Britain with resources. Indians mined coal and extracted iron.
SMALL CHILD, interrupting:
Is it my turn yet?
No, not yet.
(clears throat, then continues)
SOLDIER 1, firing gun:
Bam! Good shot, Muhammad!
SOLDIER 2, firing gun:
Yes! Why, thank you, Ravi!
SOLDIER 3, resting rifle on its butt end:
Come on, men, let's rest a while!
(SOLDIERS gather in a half-circle, center stage, putting their guns down. They begin to smoke cigarettes.)
You know, I have heard there's a new sort of weapon they're going to give us.
What? These Brits give us new arms? They haven't given us new outfits, let alone enough food to eat!
Or tea to drink, either!
No, this is only what I hear. The bullets are unclean.
Unclean? What do you mean? We have to bite off the bullet heads to load them!
SOLDIER 4, with a serious gaze:
But-- Wait. The grease on the bullets? Is that unclean?
It would only be unclean for us Muslims if it was made from pig fat.
It would be unclean for us Hindus if it was made from cow fat.
(SOLDIERS look at each other, murmuring)
SMALL CHILD'S VOICE, offstage:
Is it my turn yet?
SOLDIERS, IN UNION, looking offstage:
No, not yet!
How can they do this to us?
(SOLDIERS grab their soldiers, and run off stage right, shooting wildly)
This was the legendary beginning of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. Some consider it the First War of Independence, because in the end, the British government transferred control of our country from the East India Company to the viceroy of the British Crown.
(Spotlight on WOMAN, dressed in Punjabi-style salwar-kameez (pajama-like trousers drawn tightly at the waist and ankles worn with a long and loose tunic or kameez), and dupatta, a shawl-like scarf, stage left.)
With British colonization came British roads, British railways, British schools, and the English language. Indians built a railway across their country to transport raw goods and finished materials for their new masters. However, this railway also encouraged the different peoples from this vast country to think about a unified India. A trip from Delhi in the north to Madras in the south, a journey which previously would not have been attempted, now took less than 2 days by train. Our second step towards independence arose from this sense of unity.
(Train whistle blows. Two people in a stylized train compartment sit next to each other, jostling about as they converse.)
TRAIN PERSON 1:
TRAIN PERSON 2:
SMALL CHILD suddenly appears in compartment, wanting to say something, but TRAIN PEOPLE bob their heads sideways and pat SMALL CHILD on the head.
(Dim lights, curtain down)
(Audience members may circle to the back where pakoras, samosas, idlis with sauce and hot glasses of tea are being served).
To learn more about the events which we briefly share with you today, please follow these links on the internet. (clears throat)
(Spotlight on WOMAN, standing, dressed in simple cotton garments)
Many things besides the train system started to encourage unity. Our third step towards Independence had to be taken by a true leader.
(Spotlight suddenly shines on Gandhi, seated and spinning his own cotton thread, stage right).
Ideas of independence and democracy arose in thinkers across the country. Out of these ideas, the Indian National Congress came about in 1885. But Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, our "Mahatma," was the first to mobilize the entire country. He organized the Indian National Congress into satyagraha movements, the policy of nonviolent resistance as a means of pressing for political reform, like: burning all the British clothes and replacing them with homespun cotton ones, a salt march to the sea to make salt in defiance of the British salt tax, and the Quit India movement, started in August, 1942.
(Small child appears, stage left. GANDHI rises. WOMAN crosses the stage and exits with him, while small child runs after them.)
JAWAHARLAL NEHRU appears stage left.
Not all is to be easy, though. Along with Independence comes Partition. Our nation was torn into separate parts, based on religion, and I was the first prime minister of this newly-born Republic of India.
(NEHRU bows his head, then exits stage right)
The birth of our nation created India, Pakistan, and East Pakistan. Struggles over that land continue through today.
MARK TWAIN (entering, stage right):
India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, grandmother of legend, and great grand mother of tradition. Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only.
Thank you, Mr. Twain. Did you also know that we're currently the world's largest democracy? We Indians also make up a sixth of the entire world population?
Well now, is that right?
(SMALL CHILD, WOMAN, and NARRATOR quietly walk onstage. CONTINGENT OF INDIAN SOLDIERS and TWO PEOPLE FROM TRAIN, following GANDHI and JAWAHARLAL NEHRU, also start to file onstage as NARRATOR speaks.)
Yes, Mark. Our history stretches back thousands of years. We are responsible for the numbering system that includes zero. We give ayurvedic medicine to the world. We were far advanced in botany, chemistry, and metallurgy before you in the West. We also have Sanskrit, yoga, and philosophy. Two major religions started here: Hinduism and Buddhism.
(ASSEMBLED CAST stands, facing audience. SMALL CHILD, obviously very agitated, hops on one foot.)
An independent India arose on August 15, 1947. For the last fifty years, we've been working to live in a free, united, democratic India. Although there will continue to be challenges, we will continue to step forward.
(pause as SMALL CHILD looks around ASSEMBLED CAST, who are all nodding)
SMALL CHILD (blurts out):
Thank you for coming to our show!
p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...firstname.lastname@example.org
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