A Play

NOORIE A Mother Speaks from the Grave

Jahed Ahmed, Mehul Kamdar & Tanbira Talukder

Published on December 29, 2007

Note to the readers: This is a play in revision, written and dedicated by us to the memory of a young Bangladeshi Bar Dancer who died after suffering inhuman treatment in an Indian prison. What we present now is an English draft. A revised version as well as translations in Bengali, Hindi and Tamil would follow. We are working with theatre groups in Texas, in India and in the Netherlands to perform this play to make the plight of refugees in India and of bar dancers better known. We request the support and help of groups interested in performing this play with whatever modifications/alterations/changes they wish to make to make it more acceptable to a local audience. While the rights for the play rest with Mukto-Mona, we do not request anything other than an acknowledgement from any groups performing this play on our behalf and on behalf of Mid Day, the Mumbai newspaper that first broke the story of the dancer on whose life this fiction is based.

We do request, however, that if some group charges for tickets and makes money, that they donate some of it to any reputable organization working for the welfare of refugees and for bar dancers in different parts of the world.

Please send your comments, views and suggestions to our forums. We hope that we shall refine the play further with your support. All suggestions that are accepted would be gratefully acknowledged in the final version.

Thanks and best wishes,

Mukto-Mona Moderation Team.
 

NOORIE A Mother Speaks from the Grave

 (A Play in 5 Acts)

Dedication: This play is based on the real life incident of a "bar dancer" as strippers are known in India who committed suicide after being separated from her children, when the family were arrested as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The story was originally broken by the Mumbai based newspaper Mid Day after some of the police and prison staff spoke to the newspaper, horrified by what happened. We dedicate this play to suffering people, especially refugees, everywhere, to the editors and staff at Mid Day for their example in being the only Indian newspaper to carry this terrible tale and to brave people like the police and prison staff who took this story to the newspaper. Our thanks also go to Mr Joe Nathan, Editor of Confluence, without a doubt the finest expatriate news and perspectives journal of the South Asian community, for his wholehearted support for this project the moment he heard about it.

We hope to feature this play in English and Bengali languages on the Mukto-Mona website and welcome it's translation and performance in various languages by anyone who wishes to do this on a voluntary basis. As always, we welcome reproduction of this play anywhere with acknowledgement of the writers and of the Mukto-Mona organization as the holders of the copyrights. Any modification/improvisation/suggestions are welcome and if anyone chooses to perform this play anywhere, please let us know about the performance and send us copies of any review of any performance that takes place anywhere. We would also welcome translations of this play into any language and, if the translated version is sent to us in a pdf format, would be glad to post it with the English and Bengali translations on our website with full credit to the translators.

Thank you very much for your support and we hope that this play would bring the Sheikh family and millions of suffering people living as refugees across the world the recognition that they deserve. This suffering must end and we hope that our next play would be a more positive one than this one.

 

Characters:

Noorie The Bar Dancer. She is a young woman in her early 30s, very pretty and with a smiling expression when she is with her children, but with a visibly lost expression when she is alone

Aslam Her husband. He is about ten years her senior and looks haggard far beyond his age

Sabina Their daughter, 10 years old and normally quiet, but loud and noisy when she argues with her brother Irfan or when she protests to her parents about anything being discussed

Irfan The son, 7 years old and an active and happy boy who loves nothing more than lying down with his head on his mother's lap

Shanta Another dancer at the bar, younger than Noorie but not as pretty. She always keeps glancing at her cell phone. It is obvious that she also works as a call girl and gets text messages from her clients

Madhuri The third bar dancer.

Naveen: Madhuri's boyfriend who still calls her on her cell phone from time to time and meets her occasionally. He is tall, fair and somewhat plump

Bai Her name is never spoken. She is the woman who recruits for the bar and manages the girls. A strict disciplinarian, she also protects the girls while they work there

Ali Ahsan Noorie's Boss in Dhaka, a wealthy political leader who is attracted to her

Mrs Majeda Ahsan His wife, a Womens' Rights activist. She is about five years younger than her husband

Haidar Mia A "dalal" who persuades Noorie and family to escape to India

Minor characters Police and Prison staff, Prisoners, Bouncers and waiters at the bar, Protestors outside the bar, a politician in a Nehru cap
 

Act I Scene I
 

The bathroom in an Indian prison. The scene is dank and the walls are in need of maintenance with paint peeling off. Noorie is lying slumped by a tap under which a bucket stands, her wrists are bleeding and two other prisoners, women, come in, look at her and start screaming. Some prison warders and a policewoman enter and try to revive Noorie, and then pick her up and carry her out. As the room empties, the light dims and a voice comes from the background.

Noorie: So they are carrying me away. (Laughs) I am being treated better in death than I ever was in life. (Laughs even more) You may wonder why I am laughing when I know that my babies will never see me again. Well, I looked at myself as they carried me away. It was something that I did not do for six years. (Pauses) I never looked at myself except when I dressed before I went on the floor. (slows down even more) I tried not to look at myself even then, but how could anyone dress without a mirror? I had to look ...(She is about to say "attractive" or something similar, but lets the word trail off.) (After a pause, she continues) The men looked at me. They stared at me in the bar and on the street. Some smiled while others undressed me with their eyes even when I was with my family. The women in the basti would turn away and slap their boys if they looked in my direction. They would fight with their men if they caught them looking at me. (Laughs again)

The men would be there at night, especially on Saturdays when they received their wages. And the boys wanted to be there when they were old enough. Their families might not have had food to eat, but they had to be there. They had to watch me, look at me, throw their money my way. Did I feel bad for their families? I did. I still do. But I had a husband and children to feed. I had a life to live. (Her voice breaks and recovers)

It's funny, isn't it? I am being carried away from a bathroom with my clothes on. (Laughs) This, after six years in the presence of men with them mostly off. (Pauses) I could not bear to have a mirror in the bathroom at home. (Her voice breaks almost to a whisper) This is the first time that I am looking at myself after I started working. Tell me, do I look beautiful? I was named Noorie after all, short for "Noor-e-Chashmi." Or, did everyone stare at me for some reason other than how I looked? (Laughs softly)

Dying was not very different from living. My babies will never see me again. Or I them. But then, they weren't going to let me see them anyway. (Sobs) Do you think I would have done this if I could comb Sabina's hair in the morning before sending her to school? She liked red ribbons in her hair. Or, if I could make Irfan his favorite macch do piaza? We came from one hell to Mumbai, and now are in our own, little, separate cells. Some day, my babies will understand. And so will my husband. Some day I don't want that day to come soon - we shall be together as a family. Don't tell my babies that I am gone.(Pleads) Please! Smile for them. Don't cry for me. Help them be brave. They need you, now that I am no longer around...

(Curtain comes down and lights fade out)
 

Act I Scene II


A tiny room at a typical Indian chawl. There is an ancient black and white TV in a corner, a stove burns and Noorie is cooking on it. Enter Aslam with Noorie and Irfan.

Sabina: (Screaming) Ammie, the headmistress has called Bajan tomorrow. Irfan hit another boy

(Aslam rolls out a mat and sits down resignedly, saying nothing.)

Noorie: (Sternly) What did you do, Irfan?

Irfan: (Looks down and slowly replies) He said bad things about you. Said that you danced with your clothes off before strange men. He said we were kaffirs because of what you did at work. Said you were a whore

(Noorie's face turns ashen for a moment and then she gets up and goes to her son and hugs him, forcing a smile)

Noorie: (Speaking slowly to herself) Yes...the same kind of whore for whom they are ready to blow themselves up. (Louder, to Irfan) Don't bother about what anyone says. You must study hard and do well in school so that you could become a doctor

Irfan: I don't want to become a doctor. I want to become a policeman. Then I'll be able to hit anyone who says anything bad about you

( Noorie looks surprised and bursts out laughing. She looks at Aslam and he looks at her and turns away. She hugs her son hard and kisses him)

Noorie: I found some Hilsa fish in the market today. We don't get it often here. Go change from your uniform, your food will soon be ready

(As the children go out, Aslam speaks. He has a soft voice, that of a broken man)

Aslam: The headmistress said that she didn't want you to come to the school. She wants me to drop the children off and pick them up. I'll do that. What else do I do anyway?

( Noorie goes up to him and tries to put her arms around him. He does not respond and looks away. She looks close to tears)

Noorie: You haven't touched me since I started working. I don't do this because I enjoy it. If I didn't, none of us would eat. When you do this, it is as if you agree with the boy whom Irfan hit today

(Tears well up in her eyes and she goes back to her stove. Aslam says nothing and just looks down. He does not even move his head once his gaze is downwards. Irfan comes running in, as if in a hurry)

Irfan: Bajan, is India better than Bangladesh? Some of the boys at school say it is

Aslam: (Resignedly and reluctantly at the same time) Yes, my son, at the moment, it is better for us

(Lights fade slowly and Noorie's voice is heard in the background again)

Noorie: That was home. We didn't have much, but we were happy. (Laughs) You don't believe me, do you? (Laughs even more) Well, it's true. We were happy. I was happy. I had my children and I had food for them to eat. That week, I took them to the beach. Irfan enjoyed riding a horse. I love the beach myself. No one stares at me like in the basti or where I worked. Sabina would have corn with masala rubbed on it and Irfan always wanted the golas. I didn't have any money left after that except for the rent. But I was working. Earning money. Living with my family. Sometimes, I even smiled. (laughs and then the laughter turns into sobs as the curtain closes and the voice fades out)



Act II Scene I
 

(The make up room at the bar. Noorie and Shanta are getting dressed before a mirror and chatting while they apply their makeup. They wear Indian style cabaret clothing that is mainly several single colored sheets stuck into their underclothes so that they could pull them out one by one when they dance)

Shanta: (In a half bullying, half tempting voice) Why don't you come with me? You could make much more money on the side. Don't tell me what we make here is enough

Noorie: To me, it is. I have no interest in doing what you do (She applies makeup to her eyes with an eyebrow pencil as she speaks)

Shanta: (Stares ahead for some time, doing nothing, and then speaks, almost spitefully) If you could give the burkha up to do this, what is the big deal about what I am doing?

Noorie: (Closes her eyes. It is clear that she is very angry and is trying to keep her emotions in check as she does not want a fight) Do what you want, Shanta. I live my life and you can live yours. I have no interest in what you do and don;t talk to me about it again

Shanta: (Still doing nothing, she pauses again and then leans forward to put on some lipstick and then speaks) What do I care? Do whatever you want. I have a scooter now. (Laughs and continues) and a cellphone. And jewelry. And I buy my clothes at the Heera Panna mall

Noorie: (completely unemotional) Very good. I hope you buy a car and a home too

Shanta: (You can see that she is frustrated. She opens her mouth as if she is about to say something and then stops. Then, slowly, she continues) I am thinking of cutting my hair. I was told that I would look like a college student if I did. These men all like college students a lot

Noorie: (Relaxed after the exchange) Don't forget to ask Bai before you do anything. You know how particular she is about how you should look

Shanta: (Gets up and looks at herself in the mirror) So what if she doesn't like me? This isn't the only bar in Mumbai and this isn't the only place where I earn money

Noorie: (Irritated) Do whatever you want, just make sure it isn't anything foolish

Shanta: (Laughs nervously) What we are doing could there be anything more foolish than this? Or, anything more f... (It is clear that she is about to express an obscenity but stops and becomes serious)

(Noorie says nothing but goes up to her and gives her a hug. Enter Bai. She is an older woman, in her fifties and it is obvious that she must have been beautiful when she was younger. You can see that she has an authoritative manner and is firm about what she is doing)

Bai: You're both early today

Noorie and Shanta together: Yes, Bai

Noorie: My bus got here faster than usual and Shanta has a scooter now

Bai: A scooter? Good for you...

Shanta: (Desperately as if she wants Bai to think about something else) Bai, can I cut my hair? People tell me that I would look like a college student if I did

Bai: (Looks at her carefully) Turn your face

(Shanta turns her face first to one side and the looks straight at Bai hesitatingly. Then, she turns her face to the other side.)

Bai: (Approvingly) Yes, you may. Just don't have it cut too short like one of those officers. I don't want you looking older than you are

Noorie: (Smiles) You made her day, Bai. She was scared to ask you

Bai: (Laughs) It's a good thing she asked. (Turns towards Shanta) Why would I say no to something that would make you look better? (She then addresses both the girls) Have your chai if you want. The other girls should be here soon and we have more than an hour before we start. (Then speaks sternly to Shanta) If you're going to smoke, have some pan or chiclets before you go on the floor. And spray some perfume on yourself. I don't want any of the men smelling smoke on your body or your mouth

(She walks out with the same authoritative walk with which she came in)

Shanta: (With the defeated voice of someone who hates doing something that she is ordered to but knows that she has to do it) Yes, with all those bast... (stops saying the whole word and continues with vehemence) smoking and drinking in there, what f... (stops herself from saying the swear word again) difference is it going to make if I have a few puffs. It's not that I enjoy smoking. (Her voice trails off) I just have to...

Noorie: She gave you the permission that you wanted. Be happy and let's get some chai. Madhuri should be here any moment

(Curtain falls as the two women leave the room)


                                          Act II Scene II


(In the dark, Noorie's voice is heard again)

Noorie: Yes, Madhuri, my best friend in India. She was the one who got me into this line of work. Do you want to know why I still consider her my best friend? (Laughs) If she didn't, we'd all have died of starvation without being able to do anything about it. At least, when I died, I was able to die because I chose to. Had I died earlier, It wouldn't have been a matter of choice. (Laughs) Look at the choices my life threw me! (Laughs wildly)

(The lights come on to reveal the dressing room again. Noorie and Shanta are drinking tea when Madhuri rushes in. She is a very pretty young woman and her body is that of a woman who has a child. She wears a saree and almost trips as she comes in, picks her dress up
and goes to a corner)

Shanta: (Mocking her) You needn't be shy about changing before us. We're all going to take our clothes off before strange men in a little while (Laughs mock-ironically)

Noorie: Shut up! Shanta!

(Madhuri says nothing as she collects her dancing clothes and goes out)

Shanta: (Laughing) What are you mad about? Did I lie about what we were going to do?

Noorie: (Irritated) So what would you do next? Go home naked from here?

Shanta: (Laughs and then turns serious) If I were paid enough, I would ride a donkey home naked from here and then disappear with the money not to be seen again. (Her speech slows) I might even think of a future

(Enter Madhuri dressed in her dancing clothes. She does not seem to care about the casual taunts that Shanta threw her way as she speaks to Noorie)

Madhuri: Good to see you relaxing, Noorie

Noorie: How is the little one?

Madhuri: She is why I'm late (Smiles) Her father called me

Noorie: Not late at all. We're all early

Madhuri: I need a cup of tea

Shanta: So, are you still in touch with the bastard?

Madhuri: Don't call him that (Weakly) I was responsible too, and foolish...

Shanta: (Sarcastic) Oh, yes, but his parents are still alive, aren't they? And what is he doing? Studying at university? It was fine when he wanted to stick it inside you but the moment he had to take responsibility, he had to hide behind his parents and his caste Madhuri: (Sounding weak) Some tea, please! Shanta, I know that you mean well and I don't want to argue with you. Life isn't all black and white as you suggest it is, sometimes

(Noorie goes out and brings Madhuri a cup of tea)

Shanta: (Opens her mouth as if she is going to speak and then shuts it. She hesitates a second time and then speaks anyway) So does he send you any money, or do you send him money that you should keep for yourself and the baby?

Madhuri: Why are you always in such an angry mood? Can't you be happy sometimes at least?

Shanta: It's nothing, forget it

Noorie: (You can see that she's trying to defuse the situation) Shanta wanted to cut her hair and Bai let her

Madhuri: Really?

(Shanta smiles and looks down)

Madhuri: You'll look very nice. Just don't cut it too short

Shanta: I was thinking about short, really short, like a college student (Thinks for a moment) Like that American actress in that movie about her dead boyfriend who returns to save her from a murderer

Madhuri: Look here (Stares at Shanta) I guess you're right, you might be able to pull it off

(Bai comes in)

Bai: You start in 15 minutes. Noorie, you'll go on the floor first followed by Shanta and Madhuri will close up

(Exit Bai)

Shanta: (Sarcastically again) Ladies, get ready. You have a role to perform, to dance with your clothes off amidst strange men. Your work impacts on the future of our great nation and on the society that we live in. If you fail, the world would be doomed to destruction and
sorrow. Up the world and up the bar dancers, up also the men's dicks as they reach for the sky! The sky is the limit! Glory to our motherland and glory be to god!

(All three laugh hysterically as the curtain closes)


                                          Act II Scene III


It is early in the morning. Sabina, Aslam and Irfan are at home, the children preparing to go to school. Aslam presses the children's clothes with an old coal iron on a bed sheet, sitting on the floor. Noorie goes out with a thin, cheap towel and a soap in her hands, it is clear that she is going to have a bath. Irfan sits on the bed sheet that he slept on, watching his father.

Irfan: Bajan, why does Ammie work at night and come home only in the morning?

Aslam: (With a dead expression in his eyes) Her job is different

Irfan: What job does she have?

Aslam: (After a long pause) She works in a hotel

Irfan: Which hotel, Bajan?

Aslam: (You can see him doing his best to stay calm) The Taj Hotel

Irfan: (Brightens up) The one by the Gateway of India?

Aslam: (Nervous) Yes, that one

Irfan: If any of the boys tell me that she dances, I'll tell them where she works. (Slows his speech) I won't hit them

Aslam: (Looking down at the school uniforms that he is ironing): No, don't tell them that. Don't even talk to them. They are bad boys

Irfan: (Disappointed) But they are the boys in my class. If I don't talk to them, who will I play with?

Aslam: Don't worry. We'll move from here soon. You'll be in a better school with good children. You won't have to worry about these bad boys

Irfan: But when are we going to move, Bajan?

Aslam: Very soon. (He folds the clothes that he has been ironing and moves them to a corner) Did you brush your teeth?

Irfan: (Smiles) Yes, I did, even before Noorie. She takes too long and keeps staring at herself in the mirror

Aslam: She is always ready in time to go to school. You shouldn't talk about your sister like that

Irfan: (Whispers excitedly as if he's revealing a secret) She says that she wants to become a film actress. She wants to become a heroine. Her friends keep talking about the movies all the time and they all want to wear bright clothes like in the films

Aslam: (Smiling) All girls like looking nice. And many of them want to become heroines. She has a long way to go before she can decide

Irfan: (Still whispering) Don't tell her that I told you this or she'll pinch me like she does. Don't even tell Ammie

Aslam: (With a forced, serious expression) I won't

Irfan: Promise?

Aslam: I promise

(Sabina comes into the room and looks at her brother)

Sabina: Well you can go now. The water is ready

(Irfan gets up, grabs his ironed uniform and a towel and leaves)

Sabina: When will Ammie be home?

Aslam: Any moment. Her bus must have got delayed

Sabina: I hope there's time for her to comb my hair

Aslam: There will be, don't worry. Both of you are up early today

(Enter Noorie. She looks tired, but happy, and has a big plastic shopping bag with her. Noorie runs up to her and hugs her)

Sabina: Ammie!

Noorie: (Mock sternly) Let me put these bags down, girl. I've got something special for all of you

(Aslam turns away and says nothing, lapsing into his usual silence whenever his wife is home)
Noorie: What did you get?

Noorie: (Teasing) Guess...

Sabina: (Very excited) A pink dress and red ribbons

Noorie: (Hugs her daughter again) Yes, and some rosogollas for all of us to eat. Go and get me a comb and your ribbons, I must get you ready for school

( Sabina runs out)

Aslam: (angry) Why do you have to spend money on things like this?

Noorie: (Looking hurt but she forces herself to stay calm) It is for the children. Why am I doing what I do if it is not for them?

(Aslam turns silent and looks away, lapsing into silence after his short outburst, as Sabina returns and sits before her mother with her hair hanging behind her back. Enter Irfan as Noorie starts combing Sabina's hair. He tiptoes silently behind his mother and suddenly grabs her from behind)

Noorie: (Startled, but pleased, speaks to him in a mock-angry tone) Why do you scare me like that?

Irfan: (Laughing) Because you don't hug me as much as you hug Sabina

Noorie: That's not true

Sabina: (Angry) You just wait...

Irfan: (Laughs louder) I can run faster than you. (He speaks to his mother) I know what you got her. What did you get me?

Noorie: (Teases him) She guessed what I got her. Why don't you guess
what I got you?

Irfan: (Excited) A Cricket bat

Noorie: Very good!

Irfan: No sweets for me?

Noorie: The rosogollas are for everyone

Irfan: I want two for myself and only one for Sabina

Sabina: You're not going to run fast enough to get away from me...

(The curtain falls as they all laugh)


                                         
 ACT III Scene I

(The stage is dark again and the sounds of a home are heard in the background. Noorie speaks from the darkness)

Noorie: You might wonder how we came to Mumbai. I wonder why we came here all the time. I know how we landed here, but as for as the "why" maybe you could help me understand myself? Go on, try to think about this and help me with your thoughts... I did talk to my children about this as they kept asking me questions all the time...

(Spotlight on Noorie and Sabina standing in front of the curtain)

Sabina: Ma, why did we leave our country? Amar Shonar Bangla they say, why did we leave such a beautiful place?

Noorie: It is beautiful, but we are poor. The poor have no country

(The spotlight fades and Noorie's voice continues from the background)

Noorie: I discussed this with my friends. Madhuri was the brightest girl in her village. Her parents were hide flayers, the lowest of the low Hindu castes. Everyone at her high school thought that she would do well at university and she wanted to become a doctor herself. She worked hard during the 11th and 12th grades and wrote the exams very well. But the strain was too much for her. She needed a break. And that came in the form of her classmate, Naveen Joshi, a good looking Brahmin boy in her class. The exams ended in february and Madhuri and Naveen began to spend time in each other's company. It was not long before she became pregnant.

(The spotlight comes on again and Madhuri comes and stands beneath it. She has a baby in her arms and is kissing and cuddling it. Noorie's voice continues from the background)

Noorie: Her parents went to Naveen's parents to speak to them about this. If they didn't, they would still have been alive. The Joshis called Madhuri a whore and told her parents that if they did not leave, they would call a town panchayat and make Madhuri's pregnancy public. That evening, Madhuri's parents took a step that poor Dalit farmers take whenever things become too difficult for them to manage. They ate cupfuls of insecticide and died. Madhuri wanted to do this as well, but Naveen stopped her.

(Naveen joins Madhuri under the spotlight)

Naveen: Our little girl is beautiful

Madhuri: (Half angry, half mischievous) Our girl?

Naveen: (Irritated) Yes, she is ours. Mine...

Madhuri: (Sarcastic) I remember hearing you say this before your parents

Naveen: I couldn't do anything other than what I did. I have no money...

(Madhuri cuts him off)

Madhuri: Of course, I am wealthy and my parents were millionaires...

Naveen: (Pleading) I still come to see you, don't I? My parents don't like my doing this but I still do...

Madhuri: (Still sarcastic) What you can do with me, you can't with your mother or your father

Naveen: (Goes red but forces himself to become calm and pleads again) I am at university now. In another year, I'll have a job. I'll do something for both of you when I have my own money. I promise...

Madhuri: (Laughing) Yes, you will. I'm sure you will. When you want something that you can;t get anywhere else, you'll be here, all right (Laughs even more)

Naveen: (Almost begging) Please come... Let's go to your room...

Madhuri: (Mocking him) So, that's what it is. (Laughs) If only you had a condom on, my parents would still have been alive

Naveen: (Sweating) Madhuri, please...

Madhuri: I wonder when they'll invent a condom for your and other mens' minds (Laughs)

(Naveen leaves and Madhuri goes back to cuddling the baby. Noorie's voice continues from the background)

Noorie: We were the best of friends. We laughed together, cried together and when we were away from our children, we did everything together. I did meet her on that day after Naveen left.

(Noorie joins Madhuri under the spotlight. She looks tired and pale and appears preoccupied)

Madhuri: (Still cuddling the baby, but smiling when Noorie joins her) What is it? Why are you so serious today?

Noorie: I dreamed of my parents, of friends and of relatives I left back in Bangladesh. I can;t stop thinking about them today and I'm forcing myself not to cry

Madhuri: (Keen to change the topic) I heard that Sabina topped her class...

Noorie: (Softly) Do you think about your parents and your friends in your home town?

Madhuri: (Very firmly and loudly) NO!

Noorie: (Even more softly) Your case is different, I guess. India is your own country. You live among your own people...

Madhuri: (Loud and sarcastic as moments before) My own country, Noorie? My own people? Is that why I dance with my clothes off before drunk men who try to stick their paws and their money into my underwear?

(Noorie looks down while Madhuri stares at her and the lights fade out. Noorie's voice continues from the background)

Noorie: Well, let me come back to why I left my "own" country. Aslam worked on our little farm but the sea kept coming closer and closer to our plot and the salt came faster than the water itself. At first the farms closest to the shore became too salty. The salt that made our food so tasty was killing our crops and keeping us from growing anything to eat. And, as the villagers packed up and left one by one, we decided to leave too. Sabina was four and Irfan was a baby. We had to feed them. And then, we had to eat. So, from our little village, we went to the biggest city in our country. Dhaka. There were big houses and bigger slums a little away from them. It was noisy, oh yes, terribly noisy. I thought that it was the noisiest place in the world, but that was because I had not seen Mumbai yet. Aslam began pulling a tonga but that still did not pay enough. At first, we tried something different. I would eat one meal and he would give that meal up, then he would have the next one and I would go hungry and so on. We found that that didn't work. I had to breast feed my little boy. And then this lady told me that thee was a big house where they wanted a servant. They would pay me and also let me eat after the master and the Mistress had eaten. There were just two people. Their children were far away studying somewhere. I wouldn't have much work with just two people in the house, or so I thought... (The curtain opens to show the living room of a fashionable home in Dhaka. Mrs Majeda Ahsan, the mistress of the house, is seated on a plush leather sofa, speaking int a cordless phone. She gesticulates with her free hand as she speaks. She wears a henna type dye in her hair and wears a glittering watch and expensive jewelry with a casual air. Noorie waits by her with a glass of some soft drink on a tray. She looks at her mistress patiently while she speaks)

Mrs Ahsan: (On the phone) I do think that we need to have a signature campaign for the terrible treatment that that poor girl received when she was detained at La Guardia airport. Two hours because her name resembled that of someone on some FBI list! Imagine... (she nods her heads in between breaks as if she is listening carefully to what the other person says and continues) Yes, it is outrageous! I was at La Guardia last year seeing both my children off. Imagine if they did this to me! What do these Americans think they are? Gods? (She pauses to listen to the other person and continues after a while) Of course! I shall get the e-mail as well as the Postal Address of the White House. We did meet the Ambassador at a party last year and I have his personal number. Sure, we'll talk tomorrow after I speak to the Ambassador. (She looks down at her watch) I have to go now. There is a meeting of womens' groups at the Sheraton. (Disconnects the phone and picks up the glass that Noorie is offering her, takes a sip and shouts at Noorie) Don't you know not to expose this drink to air for so long that it's gas escapes? And it is hot as well! Don't you people have any brains? (She looks at the door and shouts) Driver!!!

(Enter her husband. Mr Ahsan wears a suit with a religious cap on his head. He has the henna type dye in both his hair as well as on his neatly trimmed beard)

Mr Ahsan: I have some good news. The Minister was very cordial and told me that he would take care of the complaint that I had spoken to his Secretary about.

Mrs Ahsan: That is fantastic. Yes, it really is! (Looks down at her watch again) I must go, or I'll be late... (Rushes out)

(Mr Ahsan sits down. Noorie stands still waiting for him to say something. He looks ahead for a while, saying nothing, and then commands her)

Mr Ahsan: Get me a glass of cold water. It must be really cold and I want three large ice cubes in it

(Noorie runs out while the sound of a car driving away is head in the background. Re-enter Noorie with the water in a few moments to find Mr Ahsan standing up by the door, which he has quietly shut. She goes up to him and he picks the glass up while staring at her face at first and then at her breasts. She looks down embarrassed and hesitant and is about to leave when he reaches down and grabs one of her hands with his free hand and pulls her to him, holding his forefinger in the hand holding the glass to his lips. Noorie looks shocked and says nothing as her Master pulls her to him, but she struggles and breaks free and stands a little away, still nervous and too scared to run)

Mr Ahsan: don't be afraid. Madam isn't here and I do think that you look very beautiful. (He winks at her while Noorie looks white as a sheet. He continues talking as he slowly walks towards her) Come to me and I'll give you 2000 taka. You are really beautiful... OK, I'll give you more (Slowly advances to her after putting the water down and reaches out to grab her. Noorie's eyes start watering and he speaks to her calmly) No need to cry...I am going to make you happy...I'll buy you a TV next month...

(As he is about to kiss her, the door flies open and enter a furious Mrs Ahsan who rushes and grabs Noorie by her hair)

Mrs Ahsan: You whore! (She starts slapping Noorie and Mr Ahsan does nothing) I'll kill you and your entire family, you whore...(Noorie tries to protest but then she shields herself from the repeated slaps and trips. After she falls down, Mrs Ahsan starts kicking her and that is when Mr Ahsan tries to stop her. Mrs Ahsan then goes to the couch, sits down and starts crying)

Mrs Ahsan: A servant, Ali, a damn servant...

Mr Ahsan: Calm down, Majeda, there is no reason for you to get excited

Mrs Ahsan: No reason, you tell me there is no reason? And excited? Who is excited, you bastard? You're as excited as a dog after a bitch in heat...

Mr Ahsan: Majeda! Don't speak to me like that before a servant,
please...

(Mrs Ahsan cries and then Mr Ahsan turns towards Noorie who is quietly tearful in a corner of the room)

Mr Ahsan: (In a cold voice) I want you and your family to get out of Dhaka. If I see you anywhere in this city again, I'll kill you, your husband and your children and no one will be able to do anything, do you understand? (He reaches into his pocket, pulls out some money from his wallet and pushes it into Noorie's hands) Get out! Right now! (Noorie runs out of the main door)


                                        
   Act III Scene II


(It is the inside of a small hut in Dhaka. Noorie is crying while Aslam looks at her. A much younger Irfan is in his arms while a younger Sabina is running around playing)

Aslam: I don't know why this happens to us. First our farm and home and now this...

(Noorie just sobs)

Aslam: (Worried) Haidar Mia should be here any moment. He warned me that the lady might try to send people to kill us

(Noorie sobs more quietly and as Sabina goes near her, grabs and hugs her while the child struggles to break free and continue playing)

Aslam: I just don't know what to do (He sits down and puts his young son down)

(Enter Haidar Mia. He looks like a religious man, dressed in a starched white shirt and lungi and has a knitted religious cap on his head. His hair is very short and he has a long, flowing white beard)

Aslam: As salamu walaikum, Haidar Mia

Haidar Mia: Walaikum salam

(Noorie stops sobbing and dabs her eyes with her saree. She gets up and goes to the little clay stove in a corner and sits by it)

Haidar Mia: You are all in grave danger if you ask me...

Aslam: I am frightened, Haidar Mia, after you told me this. I spoke to two other tonga pullers and they told me the same thing

Haidar Mia: You know what it is like, Aslam bhai the rich can always hire people to kill you if they want to (He looks in Noorie's direction and, seeing that she has an expression of suspicion on her face, speaks to Aslam while looking at her) Even if they don't kill you the lady could hire someone to throw an acid bulb on your wife's face. You must have heard of all the acid attacks taking place in Dhaka...

Aslam: (Even more worried) What do you think we should do, Haidar Mia?

Haidar Mia: (Speaking as if he is doing them a favor) I could help you to escape to India, to Mumbai, which is a very rich city there

(Noorie looks even more suspicious)

Aslam: What will we do there?

Haidar Mia: (Still speaking to Aslam while looking at Noorie) Mumbai is a very rich city. Haven't you heard about all the film stars there? Mithun Chakroborty? Sushmita Sen?

Aslam: (Hesitant) Yes...

Haidar Mia: You will easily get a job there. In such a rich city there will always be many jobs. (Lowers his voice as if he is telling them a secret) I know someone who can take you across the border to Kolkata and then put you on a train to Mumbai

Aslam: But...

Haidar Mia: (Acting irritated) Well, decide what you want to do. If you want to risk your own lives and even more your children's, over here, that is your choice. I was only trying to help you. (Looks Aslam squarely in the face) What am I going to gain out of this? Nothing! I am only going to introduce you to people who could take you across and save your lives if you want to go

Aslam: (Sounding depressed) But we have only been running from one place to another...first from our village to Dhaka and now...

Haidar Mia: (Enthusiastic as he can see that Aslam is hooked) You know how tough the Indian army and police are at the border...they often ask for lakhs of taka for each person they let in, but I know someone who could get you in cheap

Aslam: Lakhs of taka? We have very little...

Haidar Mia: (In an encouraging tone) Why are you worried? Didn't I say that I was here for you? What do you have?

Aslam: Just the papers for my land and some jewelry...

Haidar Mia: (In a condescending tone) Well, normally, my people wouldn;t even look at this, but let me talk to themselves

Aslam: Thank you Haidar Mia, Allah will bless you for your help to us

Haidar Mia: May he bless you, too, and save you from danger...(Looks at his watch) I must leave. Keep the papers and the jewelry ready. I'll try to get you across as soon as I can (Gets up and leaves) Allah Hafiz

Aslam: Allah Hafiz, Haidar Mia

Noorie: Do we have to give up everything that we own?

Aslam: Shut your mouth. If you didn't get into trouble, we wouldn't have to run away. Can;t you see that Haidar Mia is trying to help us?

Noorie: Is he really?

Aslam: You heard what he said we have hardly anything. What is the agent who takes us across going to give him out of it? They have to pay the Indian army and police...

Noorie: I am worried...

Aslam: And I am even more worried than you are. Worried about all of us getting killed or of you ending up with a face burned by acid

Noorie: But...

Aslam: No ifs and buts. We are going. I'd much rather beg on the streets of Mumbai and be safe than live here in danger the rest of my life

(As they argue, the lights go off and the curtain falls. In the dark, Noorie's voice sounds loud again)

Noorie: That was how we left the country where we and all our ancestors had been born. That was how we left a land that our greatest poets described as golden and where the Firangs first came when they wanted to establish their empire in India. My husband spoke about begging in a safe place instead of living in fear in our own land. (Laughs) But it was not he who begged on the streets of Mumbai. (Voice breaks) It was Sabina and Irfan...what could we do? We had no money and the children were hungry. They saw other children begging...they didn;t understand the language that the other children spoke...they begged, not for money, but for food in our language. (Sobs) It was Bai who noticed them. She speaks our language. She wondered where they had come from and Irfan led her to us. She bought us food. It was strange food but I had never had food that tasted better...The little ones fell in love with her (Laughs softly)

And then she asked us what we could do for a job. There are no tongas in Mumbai and it would have been impossible for my husband to get a license to drive a taxi. Bai asked the two of us to come to her workplace to decide for ourselves if I would like to work there...(Her voice gets progressively softer) We went...I couldn't believe what I saw...Was Bai asking me to do this? I felt my stomach churn the first time I saw what went on from behind a screen...But we had to eat. We needed a roof above our heads. I needed to see my children in school so that they would never have to go through this again...I did not speak but just nodded my head when Bai asked me if I was willing to do this. My husband spoke even less. Someone who was always happy to chat before this, he hardly spoke after that. You would think that he was dumb if you just met him...He never even said As salamu walaikum or Allah Hafeez when he met someone or wished them goodbye...it was as if he was alive on the outside but dead inside...he couldn't even touch me his wife! I was a widow whose husband was alive...(Sobs and cries as the scene ends with her sobs fading out)


                                          Act III Scene III



(Outside the bar, there are a dozen or so protestors goaded on by a politician in a Nehru cap. They shout slogans against the bar and are watched by the bouncers who stand outside the entrance as if to make sure that they do not prevent anyone who wants to come in. Noorie manages to sneak in from the side and enters the dressing room where Shanta and Madhuri are getting ready for the evening performance)

Shanta: (Sarcastically as always) Did you see those bas...(cuts the word short and continues) outside?

(Noorie just nods and picks her dress up to go into the changing room)

Madhuri: (Sadly) I hope they don't frighten the patrons away. That would mean less tips for us...

Shanta: Don't you worry, when they're done shouting they just might come in and watch us strip (Laughs)

Madhuri: (Sarcastic now) Yeah...

Shanta: I'll bet all my money they would love to have one of us dance for them in private (Laughs)

Madhuri: I'll bet none of them had to starve...

(Noorie comes out dressed in her dance costume)

Noorie: What is their problem anyway? We haven't stolen anything from
them or harmed them

Shanta: I wonder what they think of when they fu..(Cuts the word short)

Madhuri: (Sarcastic) about us

(All three laugh)

Shanta: (Angry) I'll bet they close their eyes when they do it with their wives. That way, they could dream of actresses or us or whatever better (Laughs a bitter laugh)

Noorie: (Trying to defuse the situation) Why do we care about them?
We have work to do...

Madhuri: Haven't you heard? The politicians plan to close all dance
bars down...

Noorie: (Shocked) All dance bars?

Shanta: Yes, the bas...(Stops short)

Noorie: Why?

Madhuri: They consider us immoral

Noorie: (Confused, she sits down as if to digest this information) What have we done to them?

Shanta: (Bitter) If they wanted to do stuff to me to let this go on, I'd let them (Laughs bitterly while the other two are silent)

Madhuri: They say that we are destroying families and homes throughout the state and want us out of business

Noorie: So what could we do about it?

Shanta: Nothing. Get ready to starve (Increasingly bitter)

Noorie: Can't we do anything about it?

Madhuri: I've heard that all the bar dancers in the state are planning to protest by marching to the State Assembly

Noorie: Would it help in any way?

Madhuri: Your guess is as good as mine...

Noorie: Everyone of them needs to spend some time at one of our homes. They need to see that we have to do this so we and our families could eat. It's not as if we enjoy it...

Shanta: Must make them feel powerful and manly to put women who are forced to strip for a living to starve. What great reformers and leaders they are! And when they're in bed, they surely dream about us!

Madhuri: The performance will start soon. We must not be depressed...It mustn't show...

Noorie: Sabina's birthday will be soon. I need to buy something nice
for her...

Shanta: I wish the bastards' dicks rot and fall off...

Noorie: (Mock-matter of factly) If that happened to too many of them, we would close down anyway as we wouldn't have any clients

(All three laugh and hug each other as the lights go out. This time, it is Shanta's voice in the dark)

Shanta: Noorie and Madhuri had to do this for their children. Want to know who I do it for? Everyone in my family. My mother thinks that I work as a secretary in this big city. (Laughs wildly) That is why I want to get my hair cut and look like an office worker. No one's going to know, not even Noorie and Madhuri. (Laughs softly) You know, we (hesitates) dancers care for each other. We know exactly what each of us does when we're not at work who do we talk to other than each other? I don't want my two friends worrying about me. I do go further than they do in my work... (voice breaks) I'd like to stop if I could, but what would I do? I guess the leaders will stop us if they get half a chance... They probably want to keep the best among us to dance for them in private. I'd love to do a lap dance on one of the dhoti types in private or strip out on the street while they protest, just to see what reaction their reaction is! (Laughs wildly and voice fades out)


                                         
  Act IV Scene I

(The dressing room. Noorie, Shanta and Madhuri are all dressed and ready to go on the floor. Noorie has a cup of tea while Madhuri speaks in a happy, excited tone. Shanta pulls a cigarette out of her bag and puts it into her mouth)

Noorie: When did you start smoking?

Shanta: (Laughs) Yesterday. I like it so far!

Madhuri: (Laughs too) One more good habit?

Shanta: (Mocking) I am the saint here, aren't I? (Laughs) Saint Shanta of the dance bars of Mumbai (Laughs even more)

Noorie: You're not a saint, you're an angel

Shanta: (Incredulous) What did you just say?

Madhuri: (Teasing) Don't pretend that you didn't hear what she said. Are you sure you don't want her to repeat it?

Noorie: Thank you, Shanta, for the dress you bought for Sabina. It is really beautiful but I'm not going to take it home until her birthday. I want it to be a surprise

Shanta: (Seeming surprised at the compliments) It's nothing, nothing at all

Noorie: Now, I want to get you a gift

Shanta: What's this? An exchange? You don't have to do anything in return

Noorie: No, but I want to. I want to buy your mother a saree. I want you to come here early tomorrow so that we could quickly run out and buy one before work. I would buy one without asking you, but I don't know what she would like

(Shanta nods. You can see that she is overwhelmed. Enter Bai)

All three together: Good evening, Bai

Bai: I have some bad news for all of us

(The three girls turn quiet)

Bai: There is a discussion scheduled in the State Assembly on the subject of dance bars. The netas want to shut us down. I didn't think it would go this far, but it does seem as if no one wants to think about us

Madhuri: What about the march that was planned?

Shanta: (Bitter) We could all march as much as we want to, but I doubt it would make any difference. No one cares if a few thousand die of starvation. Don't you know, we live in Mumbai? The greatest city in the greatest country, India?

Madhuri: If the netas fail, I'll deposit half a week's salary in the hundi at the temple near my place

Shanta: (Laughs bitterly) Who do you think put most money into religious places? The poor. And look at what they get...we get...

Noorie: There must be a way to change this...we need to eat and so do our families
 
Shanta: Who do you think cares? The netas? Come every election and they make loud noises about farmers killing themselves with pesticides. Once the elections are over, they would gladly send pesticides across if they could to whoever criticizes them

Madhuri: At least they talk about the farmers and promise to help them. We don't even get talked about...

Bai: I had to tell you this because you may need to have some plans in mind if they do close us down. I also need to tell you to put this out of your minds now. You have to go on the floor in twenty minutes

(Exit Bai)

Noorie: We must join the march, all of us...

Madhuri and Shanta: Yes, we must

Shanta: (Laughs) The ban, if it comes into effect, is only going to be in this state. Both of you could easily go to another state and find bars to work in. I'm the one with problems my family thinks I have a job at an office here (Laughs uncomfortably)

(The lights go out as the curtain falls. In the dark, Madhuri's voice is heard)

Madhuri: 75,000 of us marched to the State Assembly asking that our right to livelihood not be taken away. An equal number of waiters and other bar staff were also in danger of losing their jobs. What do the netas think? That we love doing what we do? And yet, we have to. We have no other jobs. We have no other way of feeding our families. How long could we keep uprooting ourselves and moving from place to place? Yes, some of the younger ones would go to Dubai or some other Arab country. Some would be forced to do worse. A womens' group tried collecting signatures to ask for help for our lot. They did not say anything about banning dance bars just asked that those of us whose livelihoods were going to be lost should be helped in some way as we were going to starve otherwise. The banners came out With slogans which said that they would force the mothers of the women speaking on our behalf to strip in public. These were the people that our netas, the great elected representatives of the people of the state of Maharashtra listened to. And the netas agreed with them completely. Because, in just a few weeks, dance bars were permanently closed. Between one set of men who would, at least pay us to strip and dance and another that wanted us to starve and to strip our mothers if we protested that we would starve, we knew which side we trusted. Noorie and I prepared to go to Goa. Shanta did not tell us what her plans were. (Her voice fades and the scene ends)


                                        
Act IV Scene II

(Noorie's home. She is cooking while speaking to Aslam)

Noorie: We have no choice but to move

Aslam: What about the childrens' schooling?

Noorie: If we don't move, they would starve. Schooling is the last of my worries at the moment

Aslam: First from or home to Dhaka and then to Mumbai and now this...

Noorie: Yes, it isn't easy...

Aslam: Why is this happening to us?

Noorie: (Trying to calm him) It is happening to many. We are not the only ones

(Enter Sabina and Irfan, running)

Sabina: Ammie, are we moving somewhere else?

Noorie: (surprised by the question) We may have to...

Irfan: Let's go back to Bangladesh. No one wants us to be here (Looks dejected)

Noorie: (Beckoning him) Come here. (Irfan walks up to her and she hugs him) What happened now?

Irfan: It happens all the time. The other children say that we speak funny and that we smell bad...

Noorie: (Calmly though you can see her frustration on her face) You know that's not true...

Irfan: Even they know it isn't. They make fun of what we eat and they still want to share my food every day at lunch

(Noorie and Sabina laugh while Aslam looks up at his son from where he is sitting and then looks down as he usually does)

Irfan: (Smiling) Wherever we go, we won;t have these boys. They can say whatever they want when we're gone. They won;t even get to share my food. I know they'll be sorry (Sounds pleased)

Noorie: Exactly! Now, since youlre speaking about food, aren't you hungry? Go, wash your hands, change your clothes and come right here. We have a nice dinner getting ready before I leave to work

(The children rush out to change and Noorie and Aslam speak in hushed tones as if they do not want the children to hear what they're speaking about)

Noorie: How do they know?

Aslam: Do you think they don't know what you do for a living?

Noorie: What?

Aslam: They are not stupid. They know everything by now. They feel bad for you but won't show it. They feel worse for me. I spend more time with them than you do and I do overhear them speaking among themselves

Noorie: Why didn;t you tell me this before?

(Aslam says nothing at first, then sighs and speaks)

Aslam: Irfan wanted to know if there was a beach in Goa. Noorie told him that the beach there was better than the one in Mumbai. She even told him that it was so beautiful that many foreigners came there. And then he asked her if we would be going there because we were foreigners in India...

Noorie: Where do they learn all this...

Aslam: (Chuckles and looks down again) I told you that they weren't stupid

Noorie: They're a lot smarter than I thought. I hope they study hard and do well. (Looks blankly ahead of her) If they do well in life, what I am doing would be well worth it

(re-enter Irfan and Sabina dressed and in smiles)

Sabina: Ammie could we have a cake for my birthday?

(Aslam looks up as if he is about to say something and then looks down silent)

Noorie: Sure, I'll get you a nice cake

Irfan: I should have two cakes on my birthday, then

Sabina: I'll pinch you for that

Irfan: Don't care if you pinch me as long as there are two cakes on my birthday and only one on yours (Makes a face at Sabina and she makes a face back at him. Aslam smiles briefly and shakes his head without lifting his eyes off the floor)

Noorie: (Half joking) Must you two always fight?

(Lights dim as the family eat happily. Aslam's voice is heard from the background)

Aslam: (In the monotone of a broken man) When we were children and we would laugh or argue at ho9me, my grandmother would always say that by god's will we would continue to do this for a long time. I do wonder, very often, whether that will no longer works? I can no longer laugh with my children. Neither can I remember what I laughed about as a child with my brothers and sisters. What I do remember is that I did laugh, though that, too, is a fading memory these days. I've seen people forget a lot of things when they grow old. Do they forget happy moments because they are going to be with god soon? I am tired. I do wish old age would come and help me forget everything, especially what happened over the past few years. I hope it doesn't take too long.


                                   
        Act IV Scene III


(Noorie's home. It is Sabina's birthday and the family are together. A cheap cake stands on a folding stool and the family are dressed in their best clothing. There is an air of excitement and several packages are on a mat on the floor, unopened)

Sabina: (Almost begging) Ammie, can't I open the gifts now?

Noorie: (Sternly) No, you can't. Some are gifts from people who will be here. Let them come here, you should offer them a slice of cake first and then open the gifts. (Laughs) The gifts won't run away!

Irfan: (Teasing) Don't let her open them, Ammie. I'll open them after the guests leave

Sabina: (Angry) You...

Irfan: (Laughs) Yes, me...

Aslam: (Calmly) Stop it. Our guests should be here any moment. You shouldn't be fighting when we have guests

Irfan: These will be our first guests since we came to India

Sabina: (Mischievously) What do you remember about our home in Bangladesh? You could neither talk nor walk when we were there

Irfan: (Angry) You don't remember anything either...

Sabina: (Arrogantly, knowing that she now has an advantage over her brother) I was much older than you were and am still older than you. (Makes a face at Irfan and continues) I remember going to the beach there. It was not as crowded as our beaches here are...

Irfan: These are not our beaches. Those were our beaches

Sabina: (Still arrogant) well, we're here now. These are now our beaches

Irfan: No, they're not...

(Enter Madhuri with her baby)

Madhuri: Happy birthday, Sabina! What are you two fighting about?

Sabina and Irfan together: Nothing

Sabina: We always tease each other

Irfan: Yes...

Madhuri: So how old are you today?

Sabina: (Glowing) Eleven

Irfan: I'll be eight in three months

Madhuri: (Laughing gently) Very nice...

Aslam: Won't you sit down?

Madhuri: Thank you (She sits on one of the mats on the floor and puts the baby down beside her. The children rush to look at the baby

Noorie: Very nice of you to come Madhuri

Madhuri: You knew that I was going to come... (Turns towards Sabina) I have a gift for you but I won't give it to you until I get a slice of cake

Sabina: (Excited) Ammie, can't we cut the cake now?

Noorie: You have to wait, Sabina, Shanta Aunty has to come. She has sent a gift for you as you know

Irfan: (Mischievously) I hope she comes late

Sabine: (Pincing him while he laughs) I won;t spare you for that

Noorie: (Sternly to Irfan) Stop this! It's her birthday today...

(Enter Shanta)

Shanta: Happy birthday, Sabina!

Sabina: Thank you, aunty!

Shanta: (To Aslam) Salaam Bhai Jaan

(Aslam replies with a quick smile which fades in a moment and says nothing)

Madhuri: Shanta, come sit with me

(Shanta goes and sits beside the baby and coos over it)

Noorie: (In jest) So, you're not going to wish me, are you?

Shanta: (Equally in jest) I know how mother and son are the two of you don't need anyone else. So how could I interrupt your conversation

(They laugh and Sabina goes up to the cake and looks eagerly at Noorie standing by it. The women laugh even more and Noorie gets a knife. Everyone gets up and sings Happy Birthday to You and then Sabina slices the cake with her mother's help and starts handing the slices over to everyone. As they eat, Noorie finally gives Sabina the permission that she wants)

Noorie: Sabina, you can open the gifts now

(Sabina and Irfan rush and open the packets together and she then hugs her mother first, then her father and then Madhuri and Shanta. In the distance the siren from a police car is heard. It comes closer and you can hear the sound of heavy booted policemen jumping out of the jeep. Enter one male and three female police officers. The male police officer speaks)

Police Officer: Aslam Mia, you are under arrest for being present illegally in India. Noor-e-Chashmi Begum you are also under arrest for working illegally in India without a work permit

Noorie: (Looks faint) What about my children...

Shanta: Noorie apa, I'll take them...

(She is cut off by the police officer)

Police Officer: Your children are also illegal foreign citizens in India. They will be taken care of by the Indian state and returned to you when your family is deported to your country, Bangladesh

(He handcuffs Aslam and one of the women officers does the same to Noorie. The two other officers take the children who are crying and screaming by now and drags them away)
Madhuri: (White as a sheet) Why did they have to do that? She was not a thief or a terrorist...

Shanta: We aren't thieves or terrorists either but they want to starve us to death. At the very least, she and her family will be fed by the state while they are in custody... (Voice breaks) We will have to continue to do what we have been doing just to eat...(voice lowers into a whisper and fades out) Why can't the netas understand that we too want to live...

(The curtain drops over a shocked Shanta and Madhuri in full light with both women sobbing and hugging each other)


                                         
 ACT V Scene I


(Noorie is sitting dejected in a womens' prison while other prisoners try to speak to her)

Prisoner 1: (She is a plump woman in her 50s with grey hair and speaks in a squeaky voice. You can see that she is popular among other prisoners and has probably been inside for a long time) Why do you keep crying? You're not going to be here very long. The government does not believe in spending money even on Indians. Do you think they'll spend on a Bangladeshi? You and your family will be sent home very soon

Prisoner 2: (She is much younger and is skinny with thick glasses) Akka, when we get released from this hell, we'll have to go back to another hell. You'll go back to your country...

Prisoner 1: She's right. We'll still be here

Noorie: (Sobbing) My children, my children...

Prisoner 2: (In a consoling voice) Don't worry, Akka, they'll be well looked after. The netas are afraid of the newspapers. They won't let anything bad happen to children

Prisoner 1: You know, they even treat us OK. My man used to beat me but we don't get beaten here...

Prisoner 2: (Sadly) You're right... I'll have to be ready for beatings when I get out...

Noorie: (Still sobbing but more quietly. You can see that she is exhausted) Neither of my children can be without me...

Prisoner 1: Nor you without them. Yes, I know how you feel. I've been here a long time and I will be here for a long time after you're gone from here. But it will be OK...

Prisoner 2: God will take care of them, Akka. If you suffer now, the rewards would be greater

Noorie: (Calming down) I had the reward of being with my children until recently. I don't need anything beyond that

Prisoner 2: Don't worry, Akka. You will have to go to the court soon and they will send you back to Bangladesh. They won't keep you long... You'll be back in your country soon

Noorie: (Sighs) My country...

Prisoner 1: Don't you want to go back?

Noorie: (Looks down like Aslam used to) I want to go back to Sabina
and Irfan...

Prisoner 2: (Somewhat stern) Crying is not going to help. Maybe you should think about praying...

(Noorie seems to slide down and goes still)

Prisoner 1: What happened to her?

Prisoner 2: She seems to have fainted...

Prisoner 1: Let's get the warden...

(Lights dim over Noorie lying on the ground and her voice is heard in
the background)

Noorie: (Laughs) You probably find it funny to listen to me laugh now. Well, it's all over. Over for the moment, at least. But, going back, that was the first time they carried me out of the prison. My stomach had been hurting badly for a few days since I was arrested. I thought it was because I hardly ate. I was used to eating with my children...or with Madhuri and Shanta at the bar...I thought it was hunger. It wasn't. Turns out that something was wrong inside. They took me to a doctor who gave me some injections, took some X Rays and then even too me to a hospital and operated on me. They were trying to keep me alive when I was dying inside. I was dying without my children before me. If they were brought to me I would have
recovered. Now, I never will...

It turns out that the government was ready to spend money on us. They spent money on my surgery and I guess they spent some on feeding all of us. If they didn't want us to go back to Bangladesh, why didn't they just let us out? I would have had to find some job...if the bars
were going to be closed all over the country, I would have found myself some other job somewhere else...I could have been a cook or a domestic servant...I only wanted to feed my children (Voice slows) They didn't let me care for my Sabina and Irfan. They took them away from me. They kept me away from them for six months. I knew that I would never see them again. When I came to know this, I died. Yes, I died. (Laughs wildly) I died, I died before I killed myself! I died away from my children, away from my Sabina and my Irfan! I Noorie Aslam died before I killed myself, I died before I killed myself, I died before I killed myself, I died before I killed myself....(Voice fades to a whisper and dies)


                                           Act V Scene II


(Madhuri and Shanta are under a spotlight before a closed curtain)

Madhuri: Did you hear about what Noorie did?

(Shanta just nods)

Madhuri: I can't believe it...just six months ago we were laughing and enjoying ourselves whenever we had a little time...

Shanta: (Starts slowly and then speaks progressively faster and more aggressively) She's gone. The bitch! She's gone...she's left us and Irfan and Sabina and her husband...the fucking bitch...she's gone! She decided to leave...didn't want to be with anyone anymore...the bitch! She decided to leave us for good...the bitch! The fucking bitch! The bitch! I wish I could slap her across her face for what she did! I wish I could pull her hair...Noorie, you bitch! (Shouts out the last three words)

Madhuri: (Sobs quietly in contrast and puts her hand on Shanta's back) She decided to take her life. I thought she was the fighter among us...We were the weak ones...She was always so strong...(sobs heavily)

Shanta: She was a bitch! She pretended to be strong before us and then decided to kill herself when no one was watching. A phoney! A liar! A bloody liar! A bitch! (Sobs) I love you, Noorie, why did you do this, I love you...

Madhuri: (Bitter) Be happy for her. She's gone to a better place. We'll have to dance with our clothes off very soon...

Shanta: (Serious and calm) We have to go and see Sabina and Irfan...

Madhuri: Would they know about...

Shanta: (Shaking her head) We're not going to talk about Noorie...We'll take them some Bengali food and tell them that the you'll soon be going to Bangladesh

(Madhuri nods)

Shanta: We'll also try to meet Aslam Bhai...

Madhuri: Would they allow us to? They would let us see the children...

Shanta: We'll try...we must meet Sabina and Irfan!

Madhuri: (Calm and firm by now) Yes, we must!

Shanta: What a bitch she turned out to be...left us to suffer and took the easy way out...(shakes her head) What a bitch! Called herself our friend and went away leaving us by ourselves...went away leaving those poor children by themselves...

Madhuri: Don't keep calling her names...

Shanta: (Angry) You can't stop me. I feel cheated. She called herself our friend. She had no right to do this...Noorie, you bitch!

(Madhuri hugs her and they both cry as the curtain falls)


                                           Act V Scene III


(The lights are on on an empty stage. Noorie's voice is heard in the background)

Noorie: I guessed that that was how Shanta would react. I did do my best to be her friend, you know... I also knew what Madhuri would do. Poor girls! They have hardly any choice, as they said. They'll have to continue to do what I stopped doing when I killed myself. Poor girls! I know they'll visit Sabina and Irfan as long as they can. But soon they'll have to move...(Her voice sounds frightened) My babies!

I was scared when I finally decided to...I was worried...What would happen to my babies? But it was becoming clear that I wasn't going to see them...I was frightened...It was my fear that pushed me to...And the pain...The pain in my stomach and the more pain inside all of me...I had to do it, do you understand? I had to! I couldn't take it any longer...It was too much, do you understand? (Voice breaks) You do, don't you? (Sobs)

I'm dead. I can't keep talking. I have to go. I must be patient. I must wait. Someday, my babies and my husband will join me. Some day, you all will...I hope that day doesn't come soon, but I shall be waiting. Patiently. If you see my babies, give them a hug. Don't tell them I'm gone, please...(Voice fades out)

(Enter Sabina, confused and crying, screaming)

Sabina: Ammie, Bajan, Ammie.....Ammie...(Her voice fades as she exits the stage)

(Enter Irfan crying. He says nothing, cries and walks to the center of the stage, sits down and cries as the curtain descends with the lights still on)


 

(The End)

___

About the authors: Jahed Ahmed, Mehul Kamdar and Tanbira Talukder  are the members of Mukto-Mona Moderation Team.