Light and dark

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on February 14, 2020

Almost 36 years ago, at the end of October, I wrote my first play. It was called Lights Out. It was based on an eyewitness account of a gang-rape. One reason I was able to write the bulk of it in the course of a single weekend was the sudden lull in all my deadlines. Why? Because that was the weekend of Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

This week, I received a slender little volume that means a lot to me: A stand-alone edition of that play. It’s been published before, in three separate collections. It’s about to appear in one more, a compendium of all my plays, called Blood and Laughter. It’s been filmed in three separate productions, most recently as a cineplay directed by Ritesh Menon. But I’ve always believed it could stand on its own. And here it is.

The publisher is World View Publications. The owner, Sachin Rastogi, is a passionate bibliophile who does his best to keep students supplied with affordable literary texts. He approached me through a friend, in November last year, by e-mail. He said he’d like to publish a “critical edition” of my play. I was in Elsewhere, and entering that state of pre-travel frenzy that blocks out all rational thought. So I was a little cool towards this friendly query. Plus I needed the permission of my primary publisher, Hachette India.

I had to ask Rastogi what he meant by a “critical edition”. When I understood the concept, I confessed that I didn’t have anything in the way of essays or scholarly texts in connection with Lights Out. Even though the internet suggests that there are articles and essays about the play out there, they’re not accessible to me. The best I could offer was a small collection of reviews and an interview from the days of the first few performances, in the mid-’80s. There wasn’t time to solicit a foreword or introduction written by anyone else, so I needed to do that myself. And all of this whilst also proofreading and writing introductions for the plays in Hachette’s compendium!

Throughout this negotiation, Rastogi has been unfailingly polite, mild-mannered and prompt. This was despite the fact that he had a tight deadline to meet: The commencement of the academic year. He showed me a first draft of the proposed cover on January 21. Ten days later, a first proof. I completed proofing while I was travelling and also struggling with a monster cough. On February 6, I returned the PDF to him and we firmed up the copyright page. The next day we had a final series of exchanges about the cover.

And on February 11, POP! The book was in my hands! I met Rastogi for the first time at the IIC Annexe’s reception area. On TV, there were news clips of the Aam Aadmi Party’s stunning victory. For a play that began life under a terrible shadow, it felt like a wonderful celebration.

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

Published on February 14, 2020

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