Dear Soho Rep community,
I’m Shayok Misha Chowdhury, and I’m sharing with you an excerpt from Public Obscenities, the play I’m writing during this rare gift of time Soho Rep’s Project Number One has given me. It’s a bilingual play, in English and Bengali.
Choton (Bengali American, PhD student) and his boyfriend Raheem (Black American, cinematographer) are lying awake under a mosquito net, in Choton’s family home in Kolkata. In the room adjacent, Norom Thammi (which translates literally to Soft Grandmother) and her caretaker, Jitesh, are asleep.
It’s 2 am. Choton and Raheem are jet-lagged and messaging with local boys on Grindr to find interviewees for the project they’re in town working on.
Earlier in the evening, Raheem discovered a roll of film that’s been sitting undeveloped for thirty years inside Choton’s grandfather’s old Rolleicord camera. They’ve decided to get it developed:
RAHEEM The film definitely deteriorates. Especially in this heat.
CHOTON Maybe he had a double life.
(Still fiddling on Grindr.)
Maybe he had a whole other family.
(CHOTON puts down the phone and lies facing RAHEEM.)
CHOTON Or maybe every time he cut his toenails, he put them in a neat little line and took close-ups of them.
RAHEEM So there’s a hidden stash.
CHOTON Of toenails?
RAHEEM Of toenail fetish pics.
(To the framed photo of his grandfather) Dadu? Tumi ki tomar pa’er nokher chhobi gulo kothhao lukiye rekhechho?
I asked him.
RAHEEM What’d he say?
CHOTON It takes a while. There’s this whole other circuitry the question has to travel through, you know? And then who knows if he remembers where he put them? It’s not instantaneous.
(CHOTON turns, offering himself as little spoon to RAHEEM.)
CHOTON Right there. That’s where he died. In that easy chair.
Then, from somewhere:
a muffled, animal moan, startling them out of their skin.)
JITESH (from the other room) Ei je. Hyan—
CHOTON —scared the shit out of me.
(Sounds of movement from NOROM THAMMI’s room.)
RAHEEM What was—
CHOTON She has nightmares.
JITESH Aaaste, aaste.
(We hear NOROM THAMMI’s voice: incomprehensible, viscous with sleep.)
Haat ta dhawro. Ekhane dhawro. Byas—
(The bed creaks: NOROM THAMMI struggling to rise, supported by JITESH. CHOTON and RAHEEM listen to the muted sounds of their conversation.)
CHOTON (Quietly) We used to take turns sleeping with her. Me and Tinky. Sometimes we’d both squeeze in there, she used to sleep on that single bed in Kaku’s computer room. Just sandwiching her. Two little twiglets, and she was like this big, soft kol balish. Like this.
(He plucks a side pillow from the foot of the bed.)
Kol balish. But better. You know? Warm. Not like Thakuma. I mean I loved my grandmother, but she was like a…she was a lady, you know what I mean? Like an actual bhawdromohila. Everything sharp, in its place. But Norom Thammi…she would just kind of smother us, just scoop us into all that jelly.
(Backlit, the curtained window onto the foyer is a screen. NOROM THAMMI, supported by JITESH: a single, spectral silhouette moving slowly across it.)
RAHEEM We should probably set an alarm, huh?
(CHOTON gives him a look.)
I’m just saying, if we don’t, we might sleep through the interview.
CHOTON I just want to wake up naturally for once.
RAHEEM Hey, it’s your work. I’m just the cameraman.
(CHOTON reluctantly picks up his phone. Its screen light glows on his face.)
CHOTON What time?
RAHEEM Up to you.
RAHEEM You have things you need to get done before?
(He is distracted by another Grindr message.)
Look. More sweetoo:
(He shows RAHEEM.)
That’s kinda hot actually.
RAHEEM Yeah, it’s a nice view.
(CHOTON scrolls through the pics.)
Show me that one?
CHOTON You like him?
RAHEEM Yeah, he has a nice dick.
Can I see?
(He takes the phone.)
CHOTON (Re: the alarm) I set it for 9:30.