The Crooked Tree
The stage would be horizontally divided in two parts.
The part in the back would further be divided in two halves. The left side would function as doctor’s room and office of the adoption agency, to be used for Act II & IV respectively. The right side would function as the protagonist’s home.
The front part of the stage would be at a lower height but still above the audience seating space. This would function as a park.
The play can be performed by 9 actors.
The protagonist, Rama, is biologically a male and identifies as a female. The child, Chunnu is between 6-8 years of age.
The play is set up in urban Delhi, in contemporary times (post the NALSA judgment).
The park. Late autumn evening.
Rama is sitting on a bench, looking straight.
An evening walker, with earphones, enters the scene. Nat King Cole’s ‘Quizas’ starts playing. He looks for a bench to sit, crosses Rama and sits on the adjacent bench. The music stops.
A child, Chunnu, enters the scene. He goes and sits next to her. Silence. She continues to look at people in the park. He playfully looks at her every now and then. After a minute, he suddenly gets up, goes behind the bench and pokes her. He smiles, almost inviting her to chase him and when he sees her getting up, runs away.
She runs to catch him, laughing…
A doctor’s clinic.
Rama is patiently sitting in the waiting lounge. She casually goes through the magazines placed at the table, ignoring the subtle but curious stares of the patients leaving from the doctor’s office.
Rama collects her stuff and goes in
Doctor: Please sit. So what it is that I may help you with today?
Rama: Sir, I wish to adopt a child and one of the required documents for the application is a certificate from a medical practitioner declaring that I am fit to do so.
Doctor: (unsure) Err…okay, give me a minute madam. (He opens his side cabinet and takes out a module on procedures.) (Reading aloud) “shall be physically, mentally and emotionally stable, …and shall not have any life threatening condition”. (He closes the module. Pause.) (He repeats slowly without directly addressing Rama -) mental and emotional well being…
Rama: What makes you unsure sir?
Doctor: (chuckles awkwardly) Please don’t get me wrong Madam…I just wanted to ensure that…umm…you know…(shrugs)…Anyways, I guess we both can agree on the fact that people belonging to your community are pretty prone to HIV in general and that is a factor we definitely cannot overlook.
Rama: I have a valid STD panel test which says that I am not HIV positive.
Doctor: (noting down) Not presently HIV positive …
Rama: I don’t know what you mean by that sir.
Doctor: Oh…Oh…no no Miss Rama (chuckles nervously) …the thing is when I certify in as many words that you are physically and mentally fit its my license on the line ha ha…and with all the medico-legal cases these days you know the environment is pretty hostile towards doctors…so one can never be too sure hahaha
Rama: (slowly) Lets not talk about hostile environments …
Doctor: I understand haha…sure let me write you the certificate…it’s R-A-M-A right? …Err Male?
Chunnu: Look at that one! (points to a leaning tree, growing obliquely from a sharp bent at its bottom) It will break into a dance any second now.
Rama: (laughing) A freaky, (pause) dancing tree; (pause and then softly) that might be relatable.
They walk towards the tree; he walks a little ahead of her. He stares at the patterns of the bark and murmurs something, as if talking to himself. Rama stands at a distance and observes him.
Chunnu: (suddenly becoming aware of her gaze, turns) Do you find it funny? Vishnu says I am eg-ccentric.
Rama: I am not sure if I have ever known what that means kid. Maybe I can ask Vishnu.
Chunnu: Vishnu doesn’t talk to adults. The last time he did, he says he fell sick for straight three days.
Rama: (laughing) What about you kid? Talking to me fails to have any such effect on your well being?
Chunnu: Nah, I am older. I can handle adults.
Rama: (throwing a ball towards him) Well let’s see if you can handle this.
Rama waiting in a living room setup. She appears anxious and Nat King Cole’s ‘Quizas’ continues from the opening scene.
*Knock on the door* Rama turns the music off.
Social worker enters and looks a little uncertain when he sees Rama, he had not anticipated a transgender opening the door. The social worker in a hurried manner checks the piece of paper in his hand to reconfirm the address.
Social Worker: Um…is this B/206? …Rama Mehta? …I am sorry; I may have entered the wrong house…
Rama: You’re at the right address sir, please come in.
Social Worker: (hesitant) Okay.
He moves his eyes around the room with a certain expression of surprise
Rama: (smiling) The numbering of the apartments is a bit confusing you see…Would you like something to drink? Wate…?
Social Worker: (hesitant) That wouldn’t be necessary, thank you. Hello, this is Harish Shukla.
Rama: Rama Mehta as you already know.
Social Worker: The people at the agency don’t let you be even on the weekends; it gets tiring filling all these questionnaires, uploading them online…Anyways Ma’am I just want to get done with this as soon as possible so that I can make it on time for lunch (chuckles and then scrutinizing the form) so you’ve signed up as a female in the online portal…
Rama: (affirming) That’s correct sir.
Social Worker: (still scrutinizing the form, now closely) I see…I see
Noting down things as he is asking his questions
Social Worker: So what do you do for a living Ma’am?
Rama: I run an NGO called “Pinak” which works towards the education of girls who are victims of human trafficking and are forced into sex work.
Social Worker: …but do you think your work pays you enough to sustain a child’s needs? (apathetically) Sometimes doing the best for the society doesn’t ensure food on the table (short laughter).
Rama: I have attached my income proof in the online portal and I think this is enough to run my home with a child.
Social Worker: So you’re a working wo…I see…how do you plan to look after the child when you’ll be away for work or something?
Rama: I’ve made this decision keeping my work life as a factor sir, I can mostly manage the affairs of the NGO from home itself thanks to some very efficient people at the office and the days I really have to be somewhere I can always ask Mrs. Doshi who lives next door to look after the child. She’s a housewife and is a very amiable and courteous woman.
Social Worker: A neighbor?! What about relatives…I mean any family members, close kin…?
Rama: (looking at the floor) I haven’t stayed with my family for the past 10 years now.
Social Worker: Don’t you think it would be easier with someone to help you with this…because trust me Ma’am…children can be handful at times (short laughter). Hum dono se ek nahin sambhalti…
Rama: I have a lot of close friends and neighbors who would be there any moment I need them.
Social Worker: (noting down) And I assume they are like you?
Rama: (with an unsure expression) I don’t get your assumption sir.
Social Worker: (an embarrassed smile, trying to defend his question): Arre…I just wanted to ask about the people that the child would grow up with… just some things we need to fill this stupid questionnaire with.
Rama: (forcing a smile on her face) Not an issue sir.
Social Worker: (clears his throat and while looking at the form) So this doesn’t seem like a hostile neighborhood.
Rama: I see no reason why it should be one sir.
Social Worker: Not at all…not at all Ma’am! Lets…umm talk about your locality? Hm?
Rama: I have been living in Mayur Vihar for the last 5 years’ sir and the locality is safe and as you might’ve noticed on your way here, everything that a child needs from an ice cream store to a hospital is hardly a walk away.
Social Worker: (smiles hesitantly): Acha…I think this is enough for the questionnaire here…It’s a Saturday and my wife is cooking my favorite bhindi…I should rush. Thank you.
Rama: Why do you look like a grumpy ape? Bad day at school?
Chunnu: School is an alien world; it vanishes with the dispersal bell.
Rama: What about your other worlds then?
Chunnu: In my other world I play home with my friends.
Rama: What do you become?
Chunnu: The child, I get to throw tantrums. What would you be – father or mother?
Rama: I can be your friend.
Chunnu: His royal highness, Chunnu, bestows his friendship only on people who serve him ice cream.
Rama: What ice cream? My favourite would be those strawberry ice candies because they would leave a rose colour on my lips, like mother’s lipstick…
Chunnu: If my lips were green (he laughs mimicking a popular monster on TV, she gets the reference and laughs too).
Chunnu: I played ‘bhindi’ in a play on vegetables once.
They continue laughing.
A government office setup. Old creaky fans and typical wooden furniture. Two tables, arranged next to each other and a third table placed separately at a distance. The time is around 11 AM. Three people play Government officers- two men, one woman.
Rama enters the office and sees happy heteronormative mother and child pictures all around. She walks towards the first officer.
Rama: Excuse me…
Officer: (paying no attention to her) Mishra ji! …please pass me the files that I wanted Singh sir to sign!
Officer: (still engrossed in the file) Yes…
He looks up and sees Rama, suddenly realizing that she is a transwoman. He looks at his co-worker Mishra who is also staring at Rama.
Rama: (ignoring Mishra’s glares) Sir, I just wanted some clarification regarding the home survey report. It says…
Officer: (very quickly) Application Number?
Officer: (reluctantly) The one that is assigned to you once you register!
Rama: Um yes… (hurriedly open her folder and turns the first page) BD0381
Officer: (enters the number on his computer; after a second, reading from the screen…) It says you have supplied incorrect information about your gender.
All this while Mishra continues to listen to their conversation while pretending to work.
He turns the computer screen towards her and points to ‘female’ in her application form. He looks at her questioningly. Pause. After a few seconds…
Rama: (authoritatively) I have a Supreme Court judgment that backs my right to self-identify to any gender irrespective of my gender at birth.
Officer: (unable to comprehend her statement, in an irritated tone) And what does that even mean? …Mishra! Bhai dekho…Do you understand what she is saying?
Mishra: (moves his seat; now actively involved in the conversation) hmm…I understand what the order says Mr. …
Rama: (agitated) Miss Rama!
Mishra: Ab dekhiye! What you mention as gender is very material to your application…now (clearing his throat) the law is very clear on the fact that if you are a single biological male parent you cannot adopt a girl child…and about a male child…(pause) to be honest we have to factor in the best interest of the child. We simply cannot make the child go through social trauma just by his association with you…
Officer: Ma’am these children have a real chance to lead a happy life in future …And think of it, what if you contact HIV tomorrow…Aren’t you being selfish here!
Rama: (startled) I can’t believe this…this is clearly arbitrary…I –
Mishra: (cutting in) Ma’am we don’t need a workshop on procedures here, CARA has the statutory authority to decide the best interest of the child. If you disagree then you are free to go your own way.
Rama and Chunnu are standing in front of an ice-cream truck. She buys him ice-cream. He looks at her, almost wanting to say something but decides against it. She notices that he looks overwhelmed.
Rama: (while handing over the ice-cream) Don’t let your voice go hoarse, not in your best interest.
Chunnu: They like faint voices back there.
After a few seconds.
Rama: It’s getting colder. Do you like winter evenings?
Chunnu: I guess; you don’t hear the mosquitoes sing…
Rama: (teasingly) Still better than you singing ‘I look like a finger la la la but I am a vegetable’.
Chunnu: At least that’s in a language I understand.
Rama: (noticing the traces of the early evening dew) What if their songs are made up of nice things? Things that are different… (and then suddenly looking at him, animatedly) Mosquito things!
Chunnu: (not understanding what she said, not particularly in response to her) I like you. Do you want to play sometime?
They exit. ‘Quizas’ starts playing in the ice-cream truck, continuing from the point it stopped in Act III.
This play has been contributed by SWAROOP MISHRA and TRIYYAMBIKA RAO who are both final year law students at O. P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana.