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Zaidi’s impeccable portrait of Delhi’s Tibetans-in-exile
ADITYA MANI JHA  13th Apr 2013

A scene from So Many Socks | PHOTO: Ameet Mallapur

've been living in Delhi for about a year now. The metropolis' novelty hasn't quite worn off, and a certain familiarity with city's oddities and idiosyncretic speech patterns has crept in. As I was watching Quasar Thakore Padamsee's production of Annie Zaidi's play So Many Socks last Sunday at the IHC (India Habitat Centre), a quintessentially Delhi mise-en-scène had me chuckling at its devastating accuracy. So Many Socks is about a family of Tibetan exiles in Delhi, living near Majnu-ka-tilla, a refugee colony dating back to the 60s. At one point, protagonist Tashi's mother is surrounded by a group of tourists, even as she stands at the brink of her homeland. And although their exchange seems no more than friendly banter, it tells you a great deal about life in the capital and how it feels to be displaced by forces you probably cannot contemplate fighting.

"That woman, she went on and on. 'Bada Ladakh-wala feel aata hai aapke face se. We are also planning. Road trip to Ladakh.' I could have raised a finger, pointed. 'There, that's where I belong.' But I couldn't. They were all waiting for an answer, looking at me. So I said, 'Tusi dasso.' Then they really looked at me. My eyes, my hair, my hands. 'Garhwal?' No. 'Shillong?' No. 'Sure not Ladhaki'? 'Nepali!' 'Bhutani!' 'Arre, Asam-Usum, that side?' 'Mumma, you keep quiet'. And this child, she looked at me, up and down, up and down, and she said, 'I know! Aunty is from Majnu-ka-tila.'... They hugged me. They laughed. They said, 'Lo ji! Dilli-wale nikle'."

Zaidi’s writing is as fluent and unfussy as ever, as she takes on slapstick and dramatic intensity with equal ease.So Many Socks is just another day at the office, then, for one of our most versatile writers.

Tashi is a young man who's passionately involved with the Free Tibet movement, thinking nothing of the occasional brush with the law which his activism brings about. The tension between Tashi and his relatively apolitical mother spills to the surface when Momo, Tashi's maternal grandmother, is shot by the police following an unfortunate incident outside a monastery. The three generations of this family have magnificently realised story arcs. Is it wrong to seek an oasis of contentment in exile, even as your people continue to risk everything for independence? Conversely, how do you explain to your loved ones that your cause is bigger than you or them? (Assuming, of course, that you believe that yourself)

Zaidi's writing is as fluent and unfussy as ever, as she takes on slapstick and dramatic intensity with equal ease. So Many Socks is just another day at the office, then, for one of our most versatile writers. Be it fiction (the recent Love Stories #1-14), reportage (the superb, hard-hitting Known Turf) or poetry (Crush), Zaidi's style is pliant and yet immediately recognizable. On the night, the cast, too, was impeccable, with Bhavna Pani delivering a memorable performance as Tashi's mother. In a priceless moment early on in the play, we get to see how Tashi's parents met.

Pa: It would be fun if I kept talking to you in my language, and you talked in your language, and if we still, somehow understand each other... Can you imagine? It would be a moment of cosmic perfection.

(Ama smiles a little)

Pa: Where are you from?

(Ama hesitates, answers in Tibetan.)

Ama: [I don't know.]

Pa: Wow. What is that?

Ama: [Must have been my father tongue, seeing how my Ama won't speak it.]

Pa: I got that. Ama. Mother. Mother tongue. That's what you said, yes? ... Yes!

Ama: (in English) Cosmic perfection.

At last month's Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (META), So Many Socks earned 10 nominations, with Pani winning Best Supporting Actor (Female). On Sunday night, an enthralled audience's thunderous applause showed just why they've been rated so highly.

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