Between a Rock and a Hard Place

By Arjoyita Roy

Act I- Perception  

The living room of Sm. Nandita Ray in the heart of Kolkata, the adornment is opulent. Upstage center is the couch and a table, upstage right is a bookshelf stacked with the literary classics of all times, next to it is a stereo system and a few audio cassettes shrouded in dust. The Chandeliers reflect the bewitching blush of the spitting images of Lord Krishna put up on the wall. There is a Hindu Alter towards the eastern corner, stacked with the idols of Lord Krishna besides it is a framed photograph of Mr. Arun Ray. A large window overlooks the garden: the staircase leads to the bedroom of Nandita visible through the screen light when it is back lit & next to it is the room of her children Aniket and Anindita, visible through the screen light when it is back lit. There is an exit to the main door and an exit to the kitchen next to it.

The wall clock shows half past six in the evening, bhaktigeet can be heard, a popular hymn “Aarti kunj bihari ki” playing. Nandita is in her late forties wrapped up in a white Kolkata cotton sari. She looks for the matchbox and then lights the diaa humming along with the tune. Aniket enters from the staircase. Aniket is in his teens, glued to his cell phone he enters the stage and rests himself on the couch munching on a pack of potato chips.  

Nandita: Stop munching and try to shed some pounds in order to restore your health.
Aniket: (irritatingly) I believe there is nothing wrong with it; Beauty is more in the eyes of the beholder.
Nandita: I hope you find your beauty but mind you, fairy-tales and fables are for kids.
Aniket: They are allegorical, but apparently, it seems to be out of your league.
Nandita: (teasing him) I hope to find you responsible girl who likes you this way: shabby. You know at your age I captivated your father’s attention with my charm.
Aniket: (ironically) yes and then you were forged to rage a proxy war for a lifetime against your will.
Nandita: I wanted to live up to His expectations...
Aniket: (interrupting) sadly enough you did not raise your voice at the nick of time and failed to mend your fortune, and I will not follow your footsteps.
Nandita: (unmindful) why don’t you join me instead of sticking to the gizmos?
Aniket: (gives her a blank gaze and moves next to Nandita) OK.
Nandita: (exchanges glances with Aniket and gives him a sarcastic smile with folded hands) Miracles seldom happen, but they do.
Aniket: (to himself) yes only a Miracle can save me now.
Nandita: (casually holding her plate filled with oblations) I know your results are due, not much time left.
Aniket: (with hands folded) I hope your GOD saves me from the impending disaster.
The telephone rings, Aniket crosses the center table, puts off the stereo playing the hymn and receives the call, while Nandita prays unmindful.
Aniket: (casually) yes, may I know who is it?
 An occasional puff of air makes its way through the window to flicker the oscillating flame and puts out the diaa lit before the frame that captured Mr. Arun’s Ray’s smile, frozen in time. Nandita drops the plate full of oblations, on the floor and it leaves her appalled.
Nandita: (suspiciously) I hope we are not heading towards a menacing holocaust!
Aniket: (irritatingly) silence please! I am discussing something important over the phone.
Nandita: (screams at the top her voice) Rita, Rita, where are you? Clean up the mess, now, right now I said.
The housekeeper enters from the kitchen with a broom, murmuring something to her and starts cleaning the floor while Nandita exits to her bedroom for a while through the staircase. Aniket keeps talking while the house cleaner eavesdrops.
Aniket: (stealthily, spotlights on Aniket) why did you ring me up at this odd hour? You could have called me up in my personal number, my mother is around, and you did grant your consent for what happened that night so you had better not accuse me for what followed behind closed doors. You can come over to my place and discuss the matter, come over with an alibi that we have a group assignment or something.
 Aniket bangs the receiver on the table, and senses the house cleaner looking at him and chuckling.
Aniket: (fuming furiously) what are you looking at me for? You are not paid to pilfer secrets and spill the beans at the wrong time to the wrong person, last time I spared you. You had every reason to blackmail me and gain...
Nandita enters from the staircase and interrupts.
Nandita: (angrily) what are you screaming at her for? She is elder to you, foster some respect! No, wonder why I spent so much to send you to an English medium school to acquire some etiquette.
Aniket: (looking straight into Nandita’s eyes) Margarette is coming over in a while.
Nandita: (in an inquisitive tone) who is this girl now?
 Aniket: Yes, she is coming over.
Nandita: (awestruck) you invited a girl in the house at the evening. Have you any idea people will mock at me, mind you mock at me for this, yours was an all-boy’s, what do you say, yes, Segregated school, so where did you get this female friend from?
Aniket: (irritatingly) you are dragging this.
Nandita: (angrily) how dare you raise your voice against me!
Aniket: (ironically) A friend of mine coming over to my place for some work. What is the big deal?
Nandita: A hard nut to crack, isn’t it? We live in a society and by virtue of this law; we have to abide by some protocols lest you are sneered by everyone.
Aniket: How does it matter to you?
Nandita: last week I met Mr.Sen in the market on letting him know that you plan to pursue Liberal Arts, he mentioned Liberal Arts is for girls, boys should pursue engineering or Medical and now look at his son, he joined an MNC a year ago and he is doing well and you want to pursue Liberal Arts.
Aniket: (gives her a sharp look) all my life I have seen you gasping to breathe in Liberty and blaming your circumstances and as I said, I will not walk into tour shoes.
Nandita: (laughs sarcastically) all throughout your life! You know why? Because I was caught between two mediating hemispheres.
Aniket: (sarcastically) look who is trying to move out of the woods now, the one who tries to confirm to the norms put forth by “society”.
Nandita: My times are over. Think about your future, you want to pursue Liberal Arts! It is a woman’s monopoly.
 ***
Aniket exits to his room through the staircase. Lights fade out.

Act II- Oblivion

Nandita rests herself on the couch, looks at Arun’s frame and speaks to herself, spotlights on Nandita, the audience lends an ear to her conscience.
Nandita: Ever since you left, things went out of hands; our children refuse to comply with me. Ever since you left us, there has not been a day that we did not notice an argument. Anindita wants to pursue higher studies, in a foreign land; she has mastered the art of pretention. She wants to run away from me. Your son wants to follow her footsteps.  I want them to be happy but...
 The doorbell rings, the housekeeper enters from the kitchen and opens the door to Anindita the wall clock shows half past seven in the evening. Anindita enters, a young girl in her early twenties decked up in Western attire.
Anindita enters and embraces Nandita from behind.
Nandita: what is it now? In addition, where were you for so long? Look its half past seven, you told me you would return by six. You owe me an explanation.
Anindita: (tries to ease the situation by putting up a fake smile) Mom, it is the final year of my college and I was just hanging around with my friends.
Nandita: (rising her voice in a tone of anguish) roaming around the city with young girls that too dressed up like this? What if some relative of ours found you on the streets playing the fool in the name of college?  You are just too young to read what crosses the mind of young men besides that we have a reputation to maintain.
Anindita: (moving her fingers in the gesture of an inverted comma) Mom, this is in, it looks trendy, who wants to look like a filthy “behen-jee” and I beg you mom please let us not indulge ourselves into another tussle now.
Nandita: I always obeyed my mother and never answered her back; the current generation does not know how to foster respect.
Anindita: Mom you better expect fatty to blindly obey all your orders, the puppet you always wanted to own, all his life he has lived up to your expectations, I have always been troublesome, isn’t it? Moreover, raising me has always been like watering the neighbors garden, so why invest your brains when I won’t even bring you profitable returns.

Nandita: (gives her an ironic look) give your loud mouth a break. God bless your “future in-laws.”

Nandita exits to the kitchen, Anindita moves upstairs to her room. Lights fade out. The screen is back lit; Anindita enters the bedroom to find Aniket banging shut the wardrobe in a hurry as beads of sweat find their way down his forehead.
Anindita: Hey, What’s up?
Aniket: (ironically) the rooftop.
Anindita: I must say you have developed a good sense of humor fatty.
Aniket: (fuming furiously) don’t call me that again.
Anindita: (giggles) Look, someone is burning out of rage.
Aniket: (blows up and yells at her) what makes you utter that? Just because you fit in doesn’t mean you have all the right to plague my life with your taunt. Do you even know how it feels when you forbid me from voicing my opinion and carry out mom’s orders? Do you even understand how it feels when I am mortified for the way I look? Why would you empathise with me? You pursued Commerce and look at me, I could not even gear up the courage to pursue science and confirm to the norms, unlike Mr. Sen’s son I want to pursue Liberal Arts and give wings to my dreams.
Anindita: (mocking at him) Liberal Arts;  Will that fetch you a penny or is it just that you are trying to conceal the fact that you lack intellectual acumen to act like a Man?
Aniket: (annoyingly) carrying out something that provides solace to the soul does not make someone any less of a Man.
Anindita: (raising her fingers in the gesture of an inverted comma) we know what follows next, you will say, “I don’t lend an ear to the age-old norms that you have nurtured with utmost care.”
Aniket: It doesn’t appeal to my intellect how can you scale one’s intelligence by what one takes up, even if not backed by one’s will, but the nod of approval from the society is taken into consideration

Act III (Concluding part) continues here....