(This piece about Mallika Taneja’s play Thoda Dhyaan Se first appeared in The Friday Times on 14th October, 2016. I used to write a column called ‘Mumbai Diary’ for this Pakistani publication.)
A nude woman saunters in. The lady with the teenage daughter screams. Oh my God!
The eyes take you in. One by one. And all at once. For a whole ten minutes. Or more. You cannot tell.
The underarms are shaved. The bush isn’t it. She makes sure you notice. Every inch of skin. And the glint in those eyes.
You are the show. She, the spectator.
You could be shocked, surprised, stunned, disgusted, offended, alarmed, aroused, furious, fidgety. She wants to know. But not yet. The time will come.
The story begins. She is Delhi. City of lust and horror. City of forbidden streets. City of stoic negotiation and front page headlines. City of you asked for it. City of Thoda Dhyaan Se.
That is the title. The play is just her, and the voices in her head. Of Mummy, Papa, Bhaiyya, assorted aunties and uncles. Of that dreadful phrase: “What if?”
She speaks rapidly. Rajdhani Express-like. Now, you are watching. Garment upon garment upon garment upon garment upon garment.
Panties. Tops. Dupattas. Skirts. Salwars. No woman, this. A pile of clothes. Helmet and socks included. So protected that you can’t see her. Nothing short of a fortress.
The end. And the beginning.
She sits down. You are invited to ask questions. Closed room in Mumbai. No tickets. English-speaking audience. Hinglish-speaking actor. Entry by prior registration only.
Shoot! Blah blah. Period talk. Elitist shit. Body shaming. Guts and glory. Europe versus desi audience. Why no chaddi? Why did you wax? Why are you talking to a converted audience? Why hasn’t your dad seen the play?
She’s back to watching and smiling. Kya Dilli? Kya Mumbai? Ha! Stop patting your bloody back. It happens everywhere.
To women, men, trans people, gay people, heterosexuals, bisexuals, children, adults, sons and daughters. Grandchildren even.
What’s the solution? The teenager wants to know. The actor wishes she knew. Hmm. Hmm. Keep questioning everything, she says at last.
The show is over. The conversations aren’t. You walk out to claim your phone deposited at the registration desk.
A comment book and a helmet wait patiently. Wallets are pulled out. Purses open up. Gandhi notes of various denominations. He didn’t care much about clothes either, did he?
Chitter chatter. Blabber blabber. What if a pregnant woman? An obese woman? An old woman with wrinkled skin? A woman with breast cancer? A woman with a dildo? A woman with dark skin?
Intersectional feminism 101.
It gets more interesting. The thrill of discussion. The art of commenting. What if a nude man had played the part? Yikes. No. Dicks are dirty. Yes. Why not? Women too should see some meat. Ugh. What crap? Men don’t get raped. Come on, they do. No, they don’t.
It goes on. Mallika Taneja, hats off to you! You must go perform in Pakistan…