MAN IN COAT
On stage, a chair and table, WRITER's study. WRITER sits, and cannot write, because of a strangeness characteristic of a life without truth. In his empty works, he has discovered the ideas which to him have already been lost, and he can only begin to look for them. He gets up, and starts wondering, as he moves to centre front, in the light.
WRITER: I believe in greatness, like every other human. Suddenly, art will cloud my imagination, but my thoughts will refuse it. The crows have been talking to me, they tell me I am lying. It is true. One of them said to me, "You must change your path. This is the path of a lie. It will lead you to darkness. See the light." I think about the truth, and it means something to me: the crow is telling a lie. The question is whether I know it or not. Five years ago, I worked in a theatre company. We performed a play in which I played the character of a writer. It was a summer morning and the city was lighting its fire as we arose.
Outside the theatre space, on a road. Some actors standing. These are YOUNG MAN, YOUNG WOMAN, MAN IN COAT. Tea cups on the ground. A graffiti of a boy holding a paintbrush on the background of the stage, where there is the door.
YOUNG WOMAN: I thought you didn't know.
MAN IN COAT: I know that. It was raining and I was there.
YOUNG WOMAN: Are you drunk? You're hiding something.
MAN IN COAT: It's only a play. (Serious) In theatre, we're trying to speak the truth. No, I'm not hiding anything.
YOUNG MAN: I believe what he is saying is right. (Pause) I am not of the opinion that the director will be on time. Should we start rehearsing?
WRITER: Am I late?
YOUNG MAN: We're early. We were discussing if we should start rehearsing.
MAN IN COAT: Were you there last time at the theatre?
YOUNG WOMAN: What did you think?
WRITER: It's not true. I know it had happened. I don't believe what others are saying, however.
YOUNG MAN: Let's stop talking about this. There's no reason to think, because we're wasting our time as we speak.
DIRECTOR: You didn't go inside? I got caught up with a friend who I wanted to talk to about his career.
WRITER: What does he want to do?
DIRECTOR: He is an engineer. He wants to work in an automobile company. He told me the best way to do that is to start a small business. He opened the business and it became successful. Now he wants to know what he should do. I told him he wanted to work in automobile all this while.
YOUNG WOMAN: Are we performing the play? It's the only real thing about our lives. I don't want to let that go. I asked about the play. Perhaps, I don't know this. Or maybe I do. In any case, I'll start acting. I believe in theatre, because it's what I have wanted to know about all my life.
MAN IN COAT: There's a lot of noise. (Towards the audience) I know this place as something else. I can see the greatest work of art in these cars, trees, buildings. It is true. We see in reality a story. It is what we mean when we say life is a human idea. The man in the corner who was searching for directions has stopped asking others and has figured out his way. He is walking briskly, away from it all. He does not stop to see where he is going. He turns left in a lane, and disappears. He is a man of few words. He does not say anything. He, however, has told me that a story is told without words.
DIRECTOR: Let's start rehearsal.
The actors exit. Fade out.
The rehearsal space. Some chairs. A book lying on a table.
The actors sit on the chairs except WRITER who stands by the table and reads the book.
WRITER: A book of philosophy. (Reading) Truth is a silent voice. It speaks what it can only live with. (Stops reading) I've hardly read anything. I would like to rewrite the idea of knowledge. To carry on living like this is too much to take. It's the hour when I might have lost courage that I remember with most certainty. I was free.
YOUNG MAN: Why do you remember, the quiet moments? Yes. Silence teaches us what to listen to, how to listen to it -
WRITER: Does it tell you why?
YOUNG WOMAN: It doesn't. No one knows silence. (To WRITER) You had written a story. What does it speak of? Is it silent, or spoken in language, in words?
DIRECTOR: Let's rehearse it. We are here to do something. (Afterthought) It may be true, after all. What? Only yesterday I met a man at a general store. Sober eyes, but masked expression. He told me, I have done it, I began truly living. I asked him how, he replied, by trying.
YOUNG WOMAN: Who might have been true?
DIRECTOR: The man at the general store.
YOUNG WOMAN: What about the play?
DIRECTOR: Let's rehearse it.
YOUNG WOMAN: You said something about the play being true…
DIRECTOR: That's impossible…
MAN IN COAT: (To WRITER) Your story is written truthfully. (Walks to centre front. Picks a feather from the floor.) Only the truth is lighter than a feather, such as this. On stage and in life. Sometimes, one cannot tell one from the other.
YOUNG MAN: Is it a story? Or the truth?
MAN IN COAT drops feather, sees it sail towards the floor near him.
MAN IN COAT: It's a story. But a true story.
DIRECTOR: That's what I've been saying.
YOUNG MAN: I agree.
YOUNG WOMAN: Shall we start the rehearsal?
Court. Centre stage, judge's table. DIRECTOR sits here. On either side of him, are YOUNG MAN and WRITER, and YOUNG WOMAN and MAN IN COAT.
DIRECTOR: Order. What was once sacred, namely, the law, is now being put under trial. Nothing, not even God, can turn the wheel of Truth over the Fate of Man. (Reading from book) Justice is a man's conscience of right and wrong. (Closing book) In the light of truth, it must be added. (To WRITER) I read the document. It's with me. It's written here that the writer of this document has murdered someone. Have you written this?
DIRECTOR: It's true, then. Let us proceed with the trial. The case against the writer of the document that has been proven in court as evidence for the murder of an unidentified man will resume proceeding.
MAN IN COAT walks towards WRITER.
MAN IN COAT: Those men of power prove, as all greatness does, that mountains are human heights. A mountain soars above man, and at night haunts us with visions of immortal thought. The dark where stars and moons have an earthly wonder, and in human questions we find divine answers. As a lawyer, I know the meaning of asking a question. However, I cannot be clear, as a pond, what I should ask you. What I see in your story, I present it before the court.
MAN IN COAT walks over to YOUNG MAN.
MAN IN COAT: You are the police officer in charge of this case. What is the statement given by the writer?
YOUNG MAN: The writer has confessed that the facts of the story presented to the court are true. It is not a story, but it is the truth. In the story, the writer has committed a murder.
WRITER: It is a story that speaks truthfully.
YOUNG WOMAN: He's guilty. I saw him commit the murder. I saw him at the park, weeping to himself, shouting between sobs, "What can I do? I killed him." I went closer to see what was there and saw a dead body.
WRITER: I think of my life. Who am I? I am a writer. I tell this story, but this isn't my story, it's about the dead. I know about a dead man. He was dead when I found him. I have merely told his tale. I did not know him. I don't remember a scream. But I saw a man, a shadow, and heard a voice cry out: I believe in the truth. I went to see what it was, there was a dead body. I have merely given it a voice. I don't know what happened. There was nothing else there. Just an ordinary park. The trees were whistling, and his voice could be heard a long time after he died. In this sense, death exerts its influence over life. I have only heard it sing. It has no voice, and so cannot be heard. In this light, I have told the truth in my story.
In the writer's study. WRITER walks to his study, sits, begins writing, as light fades out.
Ritwik Chaudhary is a writer and actor. His writing can be found in Indian Ruminations, RIC Journal, Kitaab, Zeno Magazine, and Countercurrents. Ritwik recommends the Parakh Theatre Group.