Age: 13, Grade: 8
School Name: Saint Ann’s School, Brooklyn, NY
Educator: Alex Darrow
Category: Dramatic Script
Houses on the Coast
Scene 1 – House in India, Interior — Midday. There is a small stove where ANINA BA (85) is cooking pouris. RAJI (7) sits on a small counter beside it. Raji is looking out a small window that light streams through despite makeshift curtains covering it.
Even though she is bored, Raji still has a smile plastered over her face, and is nodding along to Baby Ko Bass Pasand Hai, which is playing in the background. There is a plate of Jalebis next to
her, and a glass of milk. Her shirt is encased in dried sweat. She is wearing a tee-shirt and shorts. Her hair is in a messy, and short bun.
Anina Ba, is swaying slightly to the beat of the music, and is looking content. Her face is lined with wrinkles, and there are a wiry set of glasses on her face. She is flipping pouris with her hands and then putting them on a small plate beside her. She is wearing a sari, and because of the heat, her bindi is both stuck on, and falling off due to sweat.
Come here and help me flip these chapatis.
Ok, but let me finish my jalebis first though.
Anina Ba has a classically indian accent, but Raji’s is american. There is a sense of innocence Raji’s voice, and wisdom in Anina’s. The hardships of adulthood isn’t in it yet, only the present childhood happiness.
Acha, okay. Finish quickly though, these won’t make themselves and your Mami and Papi are coming tonight for dinner.
Raji’s face lights up when Anina Ba says “Papi” it is clear she doesn’t see him often. As Anina Ba finishes talking she does a small head tilt.
Papi’s back? He’s coming to dinner?!
He will be if there is a dinner to serve, he will be if you finish up quickly. Do you want him to come?
She is clearly joking, but there is a certain sternness in her voice. There is a certain passive aggressiveness to everything she says.
Raji quickly stuffs the rest of the jalebis in her mouth, and brings the glass of milk to her mouth carefully.
ANINA BA (CONT’D)
Don’t choke. I will not drive you to the hospital if there is an emergency. The prius is still in the shoppe.
Go slowly, and then come over here to help me.
Raji doesn’t seem to be heading Anina Ba’s warning, and chews the large mass of food that she has stuffed in her mouth.
ANINA BA (CONT’D)
(Pause to herself more than Raji)
one day, you will get hurt, and it won’t be able to say it wasn’t my fault.
Now wash up and get over here.
Raji quickly drains the glass of milk, and puts both the glass and the bowl in the sink. She then leans over to wash her hands and jumps off the counter to dry them. She dries them on a washcloth, and walks over to Anina Ba.
Hold the pan like this…
and when it starts to bubble then you put the spatula under and flip.
Raji does this, and starts to splatter oil. A cry of glee, hidden even, escapes her mouth.
ANINA BA (CONT’D)
Oy, be careful! Don’t make this an emergency for me.
Anina Ba chuckles softly, and walks off stage, smiling. Raji stands there and watches her, a respect deep in her eyes. The lights change, and it’s now a press conference for Raji’s(27) book.
You’ve talked about how your great-grandmother’s house was in Delhi, but that is not a city that is widely regarded as coastal. How did the name Houses on the Coast arise?
While my Anina Ba’s house, and the environment in which she lived was the driving factor in my writing this book, and lots of the stories in this book are my memories from her house in Delhi, I also traveled a lot as a child, and was always moving due to my father’s job. Most of my favourite places that I lived in were coastal, or close to an absolutely stunning body of water.
What is the significance of the sub-line of your book? Was it a piece of advice your Anina Ba gave to you on your vacations?
”Ek aur ek gyarah hote hei“ means “unity is strength” That made me know that she was always gonna be there. That she, never even in death, would leave me. She knew that, even when I was seven or eight that, she was going to pass soon. Not from any preexisting medical conditions, but from just old age, and she was a firm believer in making the most of life, but not overdoing your time on earth.
Do you remember the day she died? You talk about it in the book, and I guess I was just wondering if you remembered anything from that day, or more rather was it from memories, or it was just from what people had told you.
Yeah, I do, kinda I guess.
(Takes a deep breath)
I don’t remember much about that day. I mean I remember it, but not really. I remember telling my mom that Anina Ba wasn’t looking to well, and this feeling of having to brace for impact, and then I remember this feeling of limbo. I remember the inability of sight setting in, and my body temperature rise. I remember watching my chest heave, and not be able to move. There was this swirl of reds and blues. I remember by body falling to the floor as she told my mother that she was dying. I remember how pained she looked, I remember the facade she put on as she told me that everything was alright. That she was fine, and would always live on in me, and it was simply her time. I remember my Papi catching me, and telling me it alright, holding me as I crumbled. I remember her strength most of all, and this feeling somehow of a white light coming to take me. LikeI was the one dying, not her, but truthfully I did die a little that day. I realised I would never have that connection with anyone else. That fealing of home no matter where we were living, that safe fealing. I knew that that was special. She was more of a mother to me than my own mother most of the time. She would try and help me with my homework, and make me kaju kathlie. Stygian blacks. I remember being lifted, this state of… this missing… this torment. Watching painfully, watching the reds of autumn… no, I don’t know. I remember wanting to go with her.
I would have followed that woman into a burning house if it meant that I could spend more time with her. I mean I was fourteen, and whenever I was sick, she would be with me, telling me stories. Weather they be folklore, or her memories from when she was younger, I didn’t care. She was the best thing that ever happened to me. Her dying was never real to me. I mean it was at first, but not after that, and writing this book somewhat helped me come to terms with that, because she isn’t really gone. I know she’s still here, maybe not on this world, but she is still watching over me. I guess most of what I know was from what others told me, but I remember the emotion. I remember that feeling of hopelessness. That feeling of never return.
Woah, that was heavy. Alright, next question.
Was that the worst pain you ever felt, and have every felt since?
Okay another heavy one, alright.
You guys are really pulling out the heavy hitters here, trying to make me cry.
(Laughs, wipes her eyes)
I think so. I mean, I hope so. I don’t know. There was this sort of dull… meaningless, emotionless void. I guess there was nothing really that I was feeling during her ceremony. There was a certain amount of denial involved. I wanted to… I wanted to be able to cry like my mom, or talk and be honest and vulnerable like my papi, but I wasn’t able to, because it wasn’t real to me. There was so much going on in my life that I didn’t have the time to really process. My papi took time off work to cope, but there were to many unknown variables in my life so I couldn’t cope, I didn’t have time. I wasn’t sure of anything in my life back then. Any light questions out there?
Sorry, I can try and pick another question.
No, its alright, go ahead
You have talked about how you had a car crash when you were ten. Has that continued to affect your life now?
Yes, most certainly.
I was in a car crash when I was ten and my lungs got pretty damaged from smoke inhalation, and my doctors didn’t really think I’d live till twenty. I would not even live long enough to get a university under graduate degree I went to a fantastic university, I went to Cal Tech.
But I was told to never give up from my Anina Ba, she was the driving force in my recovery. When I was fist told that my lungs were degrading, I was the fucking
(Puts her hand to her mouth)
Sorry, sorry, I was the stubbournest kid you had ever met, and I don’t think my doctors thought that I would be strict with my medication, and staying to my diet, but I did. My Anina Ba made sure I did.
She told me that I couldn’t die before she did. That was essential to her. She could die before my parents, she lived longer than my Nana and Nani, but not me. I was the driving force in her continuous will to live. She was the one that gave me the will to live. She is the only, the singular reason that I am still here today. I know a fact that if she had left me sooner than I would not be where I am today. The only other thing that kept me going was my passion for my parents to not have to burry another one of the children.
(Pauses, unsure if she should say this)
I don’t talk about this in the book, but my mother had a son, I was a twin. I was the lucky one. My parents lost my brother two weeks after we were born. His name was Krishna, and my parents only got to hold him once or twice.
(Wipes her eyes)
He had a partial penumeothorax, or for those of you that don’t know what that means, a collapsed lung. He never was able to breathe on his own. Maybe my life would have been different if he was still alive. Maybe I would have had more courage to stop my parents from paying outrageous hospital bills, and just let Krishna be their child, but after he died, they were never the same. I couldn’t let them lose two children. I wouldn’t do that to them.
Now, do you have any lighter questions? Anything at all?
Yeah, sort of. Did you learn anything about yourself whilst writing this memoir, and who taught you to write?
Yes, okay, this is a question I can answer.
I learned to write from different writer that were terrible at what they did. They taught me to not be so afraid with my writing, that stuff would still sell even if utterly horrible. And I learned a lot about myself, which I know sounds cliche, but it is true. I came to terms, and got closure with a lot of things that I had not quite come to terms with. I guess it was a way for me to vent about all the things that I was secretly despising, but it also put me into therapy. I had not been since I was a kid, and it has been so helpful for working on the things in my life that I am in control of, and come to realise what I’m not so in control of. It helped me get over a lot childhood trauma as well. Like my Anina Ba dying, I still don’t know how to veiw that, but being able to talk to another person who has a degree in assesing a person’s mental status is helpful.
That’s all we have time for, thank you all so much, and please buy the book. Houses on the Coast comes out in four days. Thank you.
Raji gets up and starts to walk off stage, the younger version of herself is standing there with her Anina Ba, waiting to take her home.