(An adaptation of Franck Pavloff’s originally French short fable)
Prakash Bare (1986 EEE)
Scene 1: New law
Tom’s apartment. Ram and Tom are sitting on chairs sipping coffee. Ram looks towards the audience and narrates: Tom has been my friend for the last 25 years. We spend most of the weekends together. In coffee shops. Or my house. Or here, at his place. Having some beer. Munching something. Playing rummy. And chatting about the world around. He is a very interesting person. But today he is down for some reason. He has been lamenting something about his old dog.
Tom (talking to himself): Munna was very special. We had a very special bond.
(Ram shuffles the card and starts distributing it. They are about to play a hand of rummy)
Tom: He understands all my thoughts. Just by looking at my eyes. When i administered the injection he looked at my eyes. With complete trust. I couldnt look back. He slept on my lap. Believing that I will never hurt him..
Ram: That’s very sad. How old was he?
Tom: 15 on coming Jan.
Ram: Aah then he was a senior citizen.
Tom: Yeah.. he was getting there.
Ram: Tom, then you shouldn’t worry too much.
Tom: No, no. I am not worried.. I am just..
Tom: You see, I just couldn’t pass him off as a brown one.
Ram: Of course you can’t. He was a Black Lab(labrador). Right?
Ram (Now a bit curious and worried): What was actually wrong with him?
Tom: He just wasn’t brown. That’s all.
Ram: So they have started it on the dogs now?
Ram: Oh.. Last month it had been the cats. I knew about it.
Ram: I had one myself. A stray that I had picked up from the streets.
Tom: I remember, the scruffy little black and white one.
Ram: (nods) I was very fond of the little fellow.
Tom: What happened to it?
Ram: I had to get rid of him.
Ram: I mean they had a point, the cat population was getting way out of hand. And the state scientists kept saying, the main thing is to look after the brown ones. According to the latest research the brown pets are better suited to our culture and tradition than others. They eat less and produce less poop, it seems.
Tom: Oh.. I didn’t know that.
Ram: At the end of the day a cat’s a cat and it made perfect sense to solve the problem once and for all by getting rid of the ones that aren’t brown.
Tom: What did you do?
Ram: Well, they had made it really easy. The cops. They gave out free arsenic pellets. All you had to do was mix them in their food and that was the end of that.
Tom: It must have been tough.
Ram: I was heartbroken first. But I soon got over it.
Ram: But I am sorry Tom about your dog.
Tom: Munna was not just a dog for me.
Ram: I know..
Tom: Do you think what they are saying is true? Are brown dogs really superior to others?
Ram: I have no idea. I suppose so.. Anyway Tom, you shouldn’t bother too much. Take things easy.
Tom: Ofcourse.. I.. (swallows the sorrow) I am going to take it in my stride.
Ram: That’s the right thing to do. It doesn’t make sense to get too worked up on these kinds of issues.
Tom: I agree.
[Niaz, Tom’s next door neighbor walks in].
Niaz: Hello Guys! Good evening!.
Ram and Tom: Good evening!
Niaz: Did you hear the news?
Tom: What news?
Niaz: Your newspaper Daily Express, would no longer be appearing!
Ram: Why? Are they on strike?
Tom: Then? Have they gone bankrupt or something?
Niaz: No, no. Nothing like that. (sits down) It’s to do with that brown business.
Tom: What? the brown ones?
Niaz: Every single day.. Something or other.. new development happens with this new law.
Niaz: It’s got to the point ..where they are even beginning to question scientific facts.
Ram: People don’t even know what to think anymore.
Tom: (suddenly remembers something) But what about the obituary column?
Ram: Tom starts his day reading obituaries.
Tom: At the end of the day you still got to have some kind of paper. I mean you’ve got to have some way of finding out what’s going on. Don’t you?
Ram: Come on, my friend. You will just have to start getting your news from Brown News. There is nothing else out there. And, their obituary section is not too bad apparently.
Niaz: And you’ve got the TV.. Brown Reporter. Their news is the most entertaining.
Tom: Which is that? The nation wants to know?
Ram: (laughs) Yup. The nation wants to know.. If you don’t like them then there is social media.. Whatsapp university!
Niaz: They are the most creative. You don’t have to do anything. All the juiciest news will come in search of you.
Tom: Preposterous.. But what is the reason for shutting down the Express?
Niaz: Isn’t that obvious? They were up to something. It seems their every edition contained words like cats and dogs, and not always alongside the word Brown.
Tom: That’s just preposterous! The law IS a law. There is no point playing cat and mouse with it.
(All three go silent absorbing the new development)
Ram: Brown.. (Both Tom and Niaz look at Ram) Brown cat.. And brown mouse!
(all three laugh)
Tom: Oh.. That’s right.
Scene 2: Acceptance
(Another weekend. Ram’s apartment. He talks to the audience)
Ram: The new law was applied to many other areas in the following days. But slowly we got used to it. Once we readily accepted it things were okay and we even became happy.
Today is Saturday. I have invited Tom to come over to watch the IPL Final. Actually Brown IPL. In Brown Chinnaswamy stadium.. Between Brown Indians and Brown Devils.
(Tom and Niaz enters)
Ram: There they are! Talk of the brown devils..
Niaz and Tom: “Brown evening!”
Ram: Very brown evening! Come come.. the match is about to start. Wow.. You’ve got some great brown costumes!
Niaz: Better be safe.
Ram: Yup. Look at mine!
(All are wearing brown costumes)
(Ram notices Tom’s new dog and starts laughing. The dog starts running around the room and dives under the sofa.)
Ram: Wow.. look at him. He is a gigantic beast. Looks more like a cow!
Niaz: Yes.. Perfectly brown from the tip of his tail to the end of his snout.
Ram: Look at his eyes. That is brown too. He is browntastic!
Tom: He is far more friendly than my last one. More obedient too.
And to think of all the fuss I made about that black Labrador!
Ram: That’s okay man.
(The dog makes another round trip in the room and once again goes under the sofa. And starts barking. Everyone looks at him in amazement.)
Ram: What is he saying?
Tom: Cant you figure that? He is saying “I am brown”, “I am brown”.
Ram: Really. That’s so cool..
(Laughter. Jumping.. High fives.. Celebration.)
Suddenly Ram’s cat bolts into the room, shots up the curtains and sits on top of the wardrobe.
Tom: What? You too?
Ram: I’m afraid so.
Niaz: Wow look at her! Beautiful!
Tom: Talk about coincidence!
Niaz: What is she saying?
Ram: I am brown too.. I am brown too..
Niaz: (to the cat) Of course you are very very brown.. Brown fur.. Brown tail..
Tom: Brown eyes..
Ram: (Picking the cat from the wardrobe) I’ve always been more of a cat person, myself.. Isn’t he lovely?
Tom: so cute!
Ram: Now come and take a seat.. Would you like some brown coffee?
Niaz: Only if you have some Brown pastry.. (all three laugh) made with Brown Sugar (laugh). It’s always safe to add Brown as a prefix or suffix. At least, that way we won’t attract any undue attention.
Ran: Very true.
Tom: Somehow I am feeling very happy today.
Ram: Right. It’s very special day.
Tom: Dont you now feel that whatever changes happening in our country is nothing to worry about?
Ram: Absolutely! You do what you are supposed to do.. Then you are totally safe! Perhaps these new regulations will make life simpler for everyone.
Tom: For the law abiding people, Yes. Cant say about those activists on the street who are protesting.
Ram: They are playing a dangerous game. You can’t depend on them. They just protest. They don’t know how difficult it is to run a country.
Tom: Anti nationals.
Ram: Yeah. They actually remind me of my grand maternal uncle who spoiled his entire life and all the family assets for the independence struggle. Do you know what he got in return?
Ram: A Tamra patra!
Tom: It’s totally not worth it.
Niaz: Tom, when is John coming back? He graduated last week. Right?
Tom: I asked both my children to take citizenship there.. after their studies.
Ram: That’s the right thing to do. Really thoughtful of you. It’s safer to stay away from all the trouble here.
Niaz: A very very brown strategy 😉
Tom: I havent felt this much relieved and happy for a long time.
Ram: How about then having some beer?
Tom: Sure.Thats a great idea.
Ram: Niaz – why don’t you sing something. Do you have any special numbers for today’s occasion?
Niaz: How about a brown song?
Ram and Tom: That will be great.
Niaz: (thinks for a while) then starts singing “Brown girl in the ring.. “
Singing and dancing.. Celebration.
Scene 3: Crack down
(Next day early morning. Ram’s apartment. Ram talking to the audience)
Tam: That was one great celebration we had yesterday. We sang and danced till midnight. No one actually cared to watch the match. We didn’t even know who won and what the final score was. It was such fun! I just now woke up..what’s the time now! let me get ready.
(Niaz enters the house in a hurry.)
Niaz: Hi Ram..
Ram: What a surprise! Come in, Niaz..
Niaz: Ram.. Ram.. Listen.. They picked up Tom.
Niaz: The cops came and arrested him.
Niaz: Just now. I am coming straight from the apartment.
Ram: What happened? Everything was okay till yesterday!
Niaz: I was going up to his flat.. for our usual Sunday morning brunch. As I came up the stairs I got the shock of my life. The door of his flat had been kicked in and two guys in brown uniforms were standing in front of it.. telling people to keep moving.
Ram: And then?
Niaz: I pretended that I was on my way to the flat upstairs. And went up the staircase to the next floor where I took the lift back down.
Ram: But what is the issue?
Niaz: It’s the same. About his dog.
Ram: But his dog is brown. We know that. Everyone has seen it.
Niaz: That’s what i also thought. When I came outside in the street, people were whispering “Well, it seems he previously had a black one”.
Niaz: Yes, previously. It’s now an offense to have had one that wasn’t brown in the first place.
Ram: You are kidding!
Niaz: No. That’s the new law.
Ram: They can’t keep changing the rules. How can they find out these things?
Niaz: You have to produce a letter from the govt about all your previous pets. Else, all they have to do is ask one of the neighbors.
Ram: This is crazy! Shit!
Niaz: What happened? You too..?
Ram: Yeah I had a black and white cat. And everyone in my block knows that.
Ram: If it is a crime to have one previously then they can arrest me anytime.
Niaz: It seems 500 people were arrested today. Tom is one of them.
Ram: Now what will happen?
Niaz: Don’t know. The official line is that even though they have recently bought a brown animal that doesn’t mean they have in fact changed their way of thinking.
Ram: I should have never gotten into this business of pets.. You are really smart. You never had one.
Niaz: I was thinking of getting a cat. Luckily I didn’t.
(Niaz gets a call. Some unpleasant news. She hangs up and checks the message.)
Niaz: I can’t believe this!
Ram: What happened?
Niaz: They just announced another addendum to the law. (reading from the phone) “Even if you have never actually owned a pet, but someone in your family, your father or brother or a cousin, for example – if any one of them had at some point in their life owned, a pet that was not brown then you are guilty.”
(to Ram) We are all guilty.
Ram: What nonsense is this.
Niaz: I don’t know what’s going on.. I need to go, Ram. Call you later..
(Niaz leaves abruptly. Turns back on reaching the door) You stay safe.
Ram: You too..
(Ram walks around restlessly)
(Time passes. Very late that Sunday night. Ram’s monologue.)
Ram: The whole night I couldn’t sleep a wink. This is all getting out of hand. The world is going mad..
And I was thinking I was safe with my new brown cat! I should have been suspicious of the browns from the start. That first law of theirs about the cats. I should have said something then. After all, it was my cat. And Tom’s dog. We should just have said: NO! Should have stood up to them then.
But what could we do? I mean, everything happened so quickly. And then there was work. And all the everyday stuff to worry about. Anyway, we were not the only ones. Everyone did the same thing. Kept their heads down. All we wanted was a bit of peace and quiet.
What is it! Someone is knocking at the door. So early in the morning? Noone comes round at this time. It’s not even daylight yet. It’s still brown. Stop.. Stop knocking so loudly. I am coming..
(Turns to the audience) I AM AFRAID..