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Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on March 06, 2020


For some months now, I’ve been in conversation with a dear friend and fellow playwright, Elizabeth Wong. We met in Georgia, Alabama a thousand years ago at a dual theatre-workshop. Through the alchemy of unexpected friendships, we remained in touch despite living at opposite ends of this vast country: She in California on the West Coast, I in Rhode Island on the East.

Elizabeth is an award-winning playwright with a long list of achievements up her sleeve. I consider it my great good fortune to have her as a friend. Recent conversations have centred on a class she’s been teaching, on East Asian Drama. My play Harvest is amongst the works that she’s brought to her students. Here’s the exciting part: She teaches her class from California, while her students live in and around Boston! The Internet and a web-conferencing app called WebEx have made this long-distance educational relationship possible.

Today, as part of her class, she brought me into the circle of electronic sorcery. It began last weekend, with a trial run. She sent me a link to download to my laptop. Then with a click, a blink and a few seconds of uncertainty, there she was! A glowing face with a beaming smile and bright red head-phones perched like a crown on her head! We’ve exchanged photographs over the years but, for whatever reason, have never Skyped or in any other way seen one another in real-time. WebEx was wonderful. No delay or screen-freezing: It was the closest thing to looking in through a small window, straight into my friend’s work space, across the country from me. Despite all the casual magic that we have grown used to, with FaceTime and other smartphone wizardry, it was a sweet moment.

This afternoon I experienced an extension of that moment. Elizabeth had set up the time for the meeting. As the minutes ticked by towards the appointed minute, I arranged my laptop on a small table so that the camera would record me while I faced towards an open window. I fretted about how to look. Rumpled informal? Silk and pearls (not that I have any) formal? Ultimately I decided to go for neat-but-humdrum: After all, I’m at home, alone. No point pretending that I was on my way to the opera while sitting at my desk!

The meeting was great fun. I could see eight or nine young faces in small rectangles rimming the main image on the screen. That was mostly Elizabeth but also any of the students who happened to speak directly to me. We could all hear one another. An hour- and-a-half sped by with interesting questions about Harvest, sources of inspiration and the Writer’s Life. Elizabeth’s cat joined in for a few friendly minutes. Then the class was over. My friend and I continued talking, afternoon in her world, early evening in mine, until the light faded in my window and it was time to say goodbye.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

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Published on March 05, 2020
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