Script to stage

The happy comings and goings at a recent conference

The South Asia Conference I attended in Madison, Wisconsin, was good fun. I had been given a room at the conference venue, the Madison Concourse Hotel. It was around 5 pm when I arrived and the lobby was already swarming with academics. Most had flown in from around the US. What a complete contrast to my usual life. It was like leaping from a tiny goldfish bowl into a giant aquarium, full of much bigger and more powerful fish.

The hotel achieved a very agreeable balance between being grand and most efficiently run, while also being human-scaled and friendly.

My charming host, Dr Aparna Dharwadker, Head of Theatre and English at Wisconsin University (WU), was waiting for me in the lobby. We had met once, many years ago, so it was good to catch up with her. My stay was only for two nights and I had to plunge right into the swim of events. The conference represents a major meeting point for many different academic disciplines with South Asia as their focus. I had just enough time to rush up to the 12th floor, have a shower and change before rushing down again in time for the buffet dinner that had been organised for all visitors and delegates.

The weekend, for me, involved two highlights: at 8 the next morning I would have 45 minutes in which to talk about my play Harvest to a group of mostly Aparna’s students. In the evening, there was to be a rehearsed reading of the play, directed by one of these students, Katherine Lieder. We had met earlier in the year, in India: bright as an acetylene torch, highly focused, intensely driven. Being in her company is like having an energy transfusion! She presented a paper at the morning’s session, another in the afternoon and then, after lunch, began preparing for the evening’s reading.

The play’s main character is a young woman called Jaya. At this performance, Jaya’s part was played by a very attractive person, Dr Ayeshah Emon. She lectures on Language and Culture at WU. She and Aparna were both performing that evening. Ayeshah, who is originally from Pakistan, needed sari-tying help, so both of them came to my room to get dressed. It was like being college students together, the three of us chatting and exchanging stories of growing up in different parts of the subcontinent. I had lived in Pakistan for three years as a child and have fond memories.

Though I’ve seen the play many times, a good performance is always interesting to attend. The multi-ethnic cast held the scripts in their hands, but they read with passion and good energy. Afterwards, we all went to the Capital Tap House, a local bar and eatery, as guests of Aparna’s equally charming husband Vinay, also a professor at WU. Everyone was in high and good spirits, but we were all tired too. The evening ended early with hugs and happy farewells. In spring next year, there will be a staged performance of the play. Perchance we shall all meet again.

MANJULA PADMANABHAN, author and artist, tells us tales of her parallel life in Elsewhere, US, in this fortnightly series

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Published on November 28, 2014

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