Sunday, June 19, 2022

A staging, at last

It has taken thirteen years but, finally, my play 'Name, Place, Animal, Thing' got staged. The Bay Area Drama Company produced it and Rita Bhatia directed the shows ran at Sunnyvale Theatre recently.

This script was shortlisted for The Hindu Playwrights prize in 2009, but was not staged at the time, partly because I was a freelance journalist who had very little contact with theatre makers. A couple of wonderful readings happened during the pandemic (Atri Bannerjee directed a dramatized reading for the Almeida Theatre in the UK and the Panas Panas Theatre in Kuala Lumpur did a Zoom reading) but this is the first time the play has been staged with costumes, props et al. 

I am glad that the artistic director, Basab Pradhan reached out and made this happen. I couldn't be there to watch the show but many others, especially the South Asian community in the Bay Area, did come to watch. This matters a great deal to me since the play focuses on the intersection of domestic work, class and gender as it plays out in South Asia. 

I was asked to write a blog post too, to help audiences engage deeper with the themes of the play. I wrote at some length so that readers may have a bit of historic perspective viz domestic work and child labour in independent India. Here's something to chew on: 

The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, was applicable to 64 professions that were deemed hazardous; domestic work was not included. Activists lobbied the Indian government to change the law so that children under the age of 14 could no longer be employed as domestic workers. Initially, the notification was restricted to government servants, who comprise a negligible percentage of the population. Still, the government did concede that children should not be employed in households. The work can be never-ending (a domestic worker can be woken up in the middle of the night to perform a chore) and the risks of exploitation are high since constant oversight is not possible.

In 2006, the government of India finally expanded this order into a law so that children under 14 are no longer permitted to undertake domestic work. However, there are an estimated 150 million child labourers between the ages of 5 and 14, of which at least 7.4 million are domestic workers. More recent studies suggest that 74 percent of child domestic workers in India are between the ages of 12 and 16. Clearly, implementation of the law is weak. Besides, the law only applies to children under 14. What happens to the 15-year-old who lives and works in someone else’s house?

One of the activists I'd met in 2006 told me that if the law were properly implemented, employers are afraid they will be “orphaned for the lack of a slave”.

The script is included in a set of three published in book form as well and you may buy it  online or, ideally, in any bookstore that stocks it. A Kindle version is also available here: 

Sunday, June 05, 2022

"Against the impossible dimensions of this city, the 12 small lives flicker bravely..."

A new review of City of Incident

"Against the impossible dimensions of this city, the 12 small lives flicker bravely under the razor-gaze of the author’s lens. It begins with a moment, an image, a mood that flowers into a story. One life is linked to another, seeds are sown in an early chapter that will sprout in a later one. Sometimes it is a vague intersection, the sort of thing that is natural in a thrumming metropolis, sometimes a deep connection is forged. But mostly each is returned to their own life – who can refuse to live it?! – by the metronome of their own circumstances.

Riot was urgent and political; City is restrained and almost entirely focused on the individual. We are to know no names; identities are linked mostly to class. As in Greek tragedy, the moments of greatest drama are all conducted off-stage and we get to hear of it only through the chance words of others. In my view, it is the economy of this stylistic choice that makes City so compelling."

- Devapriya Roy writes in The Indian Express

Thursday, June 02, 2022

City of Incident: Reviews

"We are reminded that the author’s voice, shining through the telling, illuminating the prose, is what keeps the novel vital and alive. While binge-watching leaves us exhausted and glazed-eyed in the wake of a series, when we dive into the quiet, transformative pool of powerful prose, we emerge renewed."

- A review by Devapriya Roy in the Indian Express

"Sight and insight; every episode, and there are twelve interlinked ones, appears at first glance a stand-alone narrative even though the blurb advises us they are interlinked. But the interlinks are subtle and demand of the reader the embrace of that same cinematic gaze that defines the telling of this novel: the reader has to remember that a the plastic bag will reappear as a defining moment in the emotive core of other protagonists inhabiting this city whose own core is defined by the precincts of the railway line at one end and high rise apartments at the other. In between the skywalk on which the dispossessed make their homes as ladies in their clackety-clack heels pass by. For Zaidi, this contrasting scene of poverty and middling affluence is not the site for social realism, breast-beating about the iniquities that plague the city. They are the locations of illusions, of yearnings, and glimmers of redemption from love denied or a life despised."

"Haruki Murakami once asked, “Why do people have to be this lonely? What’s the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves.” Zaidi posits a painful answer to this question, unflinchingly marking the social divisions that proliferate her web.

Some of these social markers inevitably crisscross – like gender complicating class relations. Zaidi also pays attention to how these divisions are uniquely manifested in the space of a city, which is as merciful as alienating in its bequeathal of anonymity."

- A review of City of Incident by Gayathri Shankar in

"This sense of something just beyond — something nameless that is tantalisingly within one’s grasp, but recedes as soon as one stretches out a hand to it — unites Zaidi’s characters, all of whom labour under different forms of constraint: everyday constraints imposed by class, patriarchy, age."

- A review by Gautam Bhatia in The Hindu

"City of Incident captures the aspirations and losses of a bunch of people irrespective of their socio-economic status—there’s a trinket seller, a bank employee, a policeman, a security guard, etcetera. Most of them are unhappy in their own ways, some more than the other. As an author, Zaidi doesn’t provide her characters with many dialogues. She sets the stage simply by establishing the scene and ruminates on the peripheries that carry it forward."

"This is where people meet; this is where they fall in love and this is where they settle down. Those riding its trains, buses and ferries have their dreams too, though mostly unfulfilled. That is a given. But one cannot brush them aside or push them under the mildewing carpet of memory."

- A review by Ganesh Saili in The New Indian Express

"The narration is lively and attractive. The story is not to delve deeper into the lives but to understand the merging of the city, its color, and the people’s psyches."

"Short sketches are meant to be packed with detail, not a word out of place, and this is exactly the vividness that characterises this collection. And yet there is a sense of universality about the sketches as the reader will instantly recognise such characters in their lives too. The empathy with which she writes is at the heart and soul of every story. The stories linger with the reader after the book is closed."

- A review by Jaya Bhattacharji Rose 

"A diverse cast of characters — a cop, a bank teller, a security guard, a fragile woman having an affair, her lover, his ex-wife… — show up and, one by one, reveal parts of themselves: their thoughts, their observations, how other people see them, how they see other people, a significant life-altering incident. The local train runs in the backdrop."

Other reviews on Goodreads: 

More reviews on Amazon: 

Tweets by @anniezaidi