Editor’s note: The author of this play as well as the accompanying artist elected to publish this work anonymously. In the words of the author: “It is a matter of great shame for a democracy that its writers have to submit their work anonymously.”
April 2nd 2021
The world has folded. A tree in Manipur now hangs upside down above the bed in
KUNJA’sroom in a city in India. The tree is a Panggong Tree (Butea monosperma) used in Manipur to make effigies of the dead when the body is not found. A bed is the focus of the room.
Projection on a wall: June 5th, 2015. Rebels ambush an army convoy in Manipur killing 20 soldiers in the deadliest attack on Indian army since the Kargil war.
GAURAVis tackling KUNJAwho is hysterical.
Kunja, there is no one. You are high.
Hide me! Hide.
We are not in Manipur.
They’ll catch every young person they can find. This was a big attack. They will spare no one.
It’s the drugs.
I was here with you right? You’ll tell them I was here with you. Don’t let me disappear.
GAURAVmanages to pin KUNJAto the ground.
You are safe.
They eat our flesh.
Why aren’t you doing anything?
Remember— Remember what we said?
There is no one outside. We are here, you and I. Here, where we go out holding hands and no one harms us.
In this big big city, no one can find us. No one breaks house doors down. Guns don’t exist. Bombs are fire crackers. This city is a rainbow.
They speak together.
Manipur is far far away. 3190 kms. 5 hours by plane. 70 hours on a train.
Manipur is far far away. 3190 kms. 5 hours by plane. 70 hours on a train.
They can’t just come here, right?
In this city, there is only police.
GAURAVreleases KUNJA.Both sit up.
Cold water bath. Glucon-D. Fries. It will pass.
Are you with them?
One day you’ll wake up and find me gone. No body, no trace. Will you look for me, Gaurav? What do y’all do when you find out that someone has disappeared? We make an effigy of the person from the branches of the Panggong tree. Will you make an effigy of me? Keep it with you? On this bed?
This bed has been my country for a long time.
GAURAVdoesn’t wake up.
KUNJAis painting GAURAV’sback. There are paint bottles strewn around. GAURAVtwitches every time KUNJAtouches the paintbrush to his back.
It feels icky.
You want me to paint or not?
It helps you, right?
It helps you. You like watching me paint. Mountains. Flowers. Dicks. You think I am recovering if I’m drawing mountains.
You relapse whenever you start painting flowers.
I relapse when I think you’re going to join the army.
GAURAVtakes a rag and starts wiping his back.
What if they find out you’re gay?
Do I look gay?
Won’t you get expelled?
I’m only gay for you!
I had a friend Faariz in Manipur. He wanted to join PREPAK. It’s a UG.
Another terrorist story—
We call them freedom fighters.
Wrong history books. We’re already free.
He was also involved in some tax collection things for them in college. Very motivated. Then he realised he was queer. With that he knew he could never join PREPAK or any other movement in Manipur. Forget the army, if PREPAK found out they would killed him first. I remember telling him that we don’t have to join any movements that don’t have a place for us. And I am saying that to you now.
I was born to be in the army.
You think the army has a place for you? What are you going to do when other officers bring their wives and girlfriends to army parties? Take me along?
The results will be out in a week and I’m getting in.
Don’t join the army. The army is sick.
You are sick.
What if I told you I wanted to join PREPAK. Fight the occupation. Kill soldiers. Would you still love me?
Then how do I love you if you join the army? (Shouting as if he’s sloganeering at a protest) Army rapes us. Takes our flesh!
They’re people, you know? With wives, mothers, sons, sisters. Lovers. Like you are mine. I wanted to cry. I couldn’t. I spent the night holding you down waiting for you to come back to your senses, you fucking druggie.
FAARIZis hanging from the Panggong tree. KUNJAis making his bed.
If love keeps people together then what does ideology do?
Can you separate the two?
What if my freedom lies in the struggle between the two? In the middle. Gaurav struggles to keep loving me.
Occupation takes work.
That’s not how it is between us.
Can love erase identity?
Sometimes after an orgy, we all sit around and discuss how we started slamming. I want to tell them that I was tired of identity. The first time I slammed was the first time I had sex without identity. It was the best thing in the world.
And then you became a slammer.
But it’s an identity without history. It’s light. Has no weight. No matter who you are, where you are from, once you get inside that’s it!
Do you become Indian after slamming?
Yes. Till I’m high I remain Indian.
Feels like community. When I first came here, a boy I met on Grindr took me for a party. I was blown away the second I entered. It felt like another nation, one where I fit in. And then I started meeting people and realised this community I so terribly want to be a part of, that I feel I’m part of, doesn’t know anything about me. Where I come from, what I have lived, what I want. And they don’t want to know either.
It’s not just about words, it's about the gaze. You know when you first look at someone how you imagine their history? You see them at their home. You see them growing up. Celebrating a festival. Eating at a restaurant. You imagine them having sex, shaving, crying. The way people look at us here, their gaze is empty. They’re not able to imagine our histories. That’s why they act the way they act. I tried to make this country my friend. I told them about my past and showed them how I eat. But I just couldn’t fill their gaze. And then I slammed, and for the first time I didn’t look into their eyes. All I could see was dick and ass and balls. And I knew that’s all they saw. Our vision was united. Years of abandonment vanished the second I injected. I found community. Something I never had.
KUNJAgets up on the bed. He looks at the audience and mimes taking a slam. His eyes start to glow. A visual is projected on the wall: A very close shot of a hairy asshole opening into a universe.
The freedom struggle ends at a slam?
Slamming is the celebration of freedom. And it's so intense, this party, that we forget we’re not actually free.
We also take drugs to forget about the occupation for a while.
No matter what you do, the occupation finds a way to occupy you. I’d forgotten about Manipur. My bed had become my country. And then I met Gaurav. He told me the first time we met that he wanted to join the army. Later that night when I was slammed, a soldier appeared outside the door. And then more and more. Gaurav stuck with me through all of it. Can you imagine staying up night after night trying to convince someone there is no one outside the door?
What are you going to do if he gets posted to Manipur?
I will go visit him.
He tortures us? Or disappears someone?
The Supreme Court has declared that the army will be held accountable.
Maybe as collateral damage then. In an attack. What are you going to do when he comes home after that?
Cook him a meal! Pork and bamboo shoots. Smoked. Exactly like Imaa makes it. A spicy beef salad on the side.
He doesn’t eat those things.
I’ll make him.
KUNJAstarts searching for something under his bed. He messes up the bed he just made. He opens drawers and tries to empty out pockets of his clothes and trashing the room.
Why are you still here? Go home to AFSPA!
Won’t you visit?
I don’t give a damn about that shithole. I hope they disappear the entire place.
So many effigies you’ll have to make. Do you still do it? Make effigies? Paint on them? Give them names?
I never made an effigy of you.
When you do, paint me with the memory of a fierce battle. Where I kill 100 Indian soldiers.
Got stuff? Just one more time. Or my veins are going to burst.
Several anxious guys enter and stand around KUNJA who takes his clothes off slowly as he speaks. In the end, he gets naked and positions himself on the edge of the bed on all fours. The men take off their clothes and slam each other.
Welcome! Everyone is welcome. Fat skinny sissy sluts down market on the market fake commercial prostitute destitute dudes studs uncles aunties boys guys hunks punks from this place that place small place no place come find a space sane sorted insane distorted models politicians auto drivers butchers bankers accountants actors liars cheat saints masters slaves herpes gonorrhea hiv syphilis tops bottoms bottoms who top tops who bottom preferably top miserably bottom white black pink yellow brown blue high caste low caste no caste hindu muslim, sikhs christians tribes even the denotified atheists monks fanatics junks english speaking and those who stopped speaking altogether 8 inch 10 inch 3 inch tight loose open close.
GAURAVenters without KUNJAnoticing.
From here there everywhere everyone, everyone is welcome to the ocean. Come take a dip, it doesn’t matter if you can’t swim. Just get your own stuff and that will keep you afloat. Or find someone to pay for your ticket. Three thousand rupees to take so far you will forget where you are from. Bareback at your own risk. Break the needle after one use, sharing will give you things you don’t need. If you feel like you’re losing it just smoke some weed. That’s all. Now come on! The universe is begging to get fucked.
KUNJAspots GAURAV. GAURAVwalks to KUNJAand helps him stand on his feet.
You were supposed to be my de-addiction program. You give me time. But no energy.
GAURAVpicks up KUNJA’sclothes. He makes KUNJAput them back on.
Let’s go home?
I like the sound of that.
KUNJAand GAURAVwalk away together.
Bottles of alcohol and half filled glasses on the floor.
GAURAVand KUNJAare in bed. GAURAV is trying to penetrate KUNJA. He can’t get hard.
It’s not hard.
Do it again.
We don’t have to.
I need to.
Let me clean up.
Do you clean up in a slam orgy?
Can I top?
You’re not getting hard.
Why can’t you blow me?
My back hurts.
My head hurts. I need to fuck. I’m begging you.
I’ll shower and I’ll make some food. We can eat. And then fuck.
You’re punishing me for getting in?
I have made peace with it.
I don’t care about your peace tonight. This is the greatest thing to happen to me and I’m not going to let you fuck this up. Even if you are unhappy, you will smile. Even if you feel like dying, you will act like you have never been more horny. You will give me the best orgasm of my life.
What should I do?
Tell me you’re afraid that I might fuck other boys in the academy.
It’s not porn.
A tall muscular guy blowing me in the night in the bathroom and drinking my cum.
I will be happy for you.
Will you also fuck while I am gone?
I don’t know.
How will I know?
What do you want me to do?
What if you fall in love with someone else?
KUNJAtries to get up. GAURAVholds him down.
Will you cheat on me?
What if you feel horny?
I will think about you.
What if I cheat on you?
Don’t tell me.
Don’t ask don’t tell.
So is that your strategy? You won’t tell me?
Gaurav, I need to take a shit.
I don’t care.
GAURAVgoes to finger KUNJA. KUNJAresists. GAURAVpulls his finger out. It has shit on it. He brings it close to KUNJA’sface.
I’ll hit you Gaurav.
I will make you eat your shit if you cheat on me.
I will cheat on you, you shithead.
I know. You can’t control it. It’s in your fucking DNA. Animals.
GAURAVis holding a big paintbrush in his hand. KUNJAis standing next to him. He is naked and has some paint on his arm. They are surrounded by tubs of paints.
I’m not a painter.
You are, my love. It’s amazing what you do when you paint. When my friend Faariz disappeared, I started making effigies of him with branches of the Panggong tree. I would paint those effigies in different colours imagining I was giving the effigy things to remember. Bring it to life. When other boys were playing sports outside, I would be in my room making effigies and painting. I painted a thousand effigies. I could only paint memories onto them, give them new thoughts but I was never able to take away their pain. When you paint, you erase. It’s a gift you have. And there is so much I need to forget. Paint.
GAURAVpaints a stroke on KUNJA’sother hand.
I don’t want to do this.
I give the memory of the khwairamband bazaar, running through its lanes as a kid, cruising through its alleys as a teenager eying men.
Tell me about cruising in that bazaar?
I don’t remember.
I give the memory of our school trip to the Kangla fort, and the one of walking through its corridors hand in hand when no one is watching with a boy I first barebacked.
I give the memory of the first time I heard someone say I love you, and the memory of wanting to say the words but not being able to.
I give the memory of being beaten up by an Assam Rifles officer for breaking curfew. I give the memory of being beaten up by an AR officer for being drunk. The memory of my uncle being slapped by an officer for answering back. I give.
I can’t do this.
Please let me.
I give the smell of Morok Mepta.
You can remember that at least.
I give the sound of the Pung. I give my body memory that remembers thang-ta moves.
I give up all that I have seen to have a new vision.
I give the trees. I will not remember their names anymore.
The folklores, poubi lai, saroi ngaroi, the songs, I forget the lyrics to the lai haraoba ishei. Can I keep the tune?
Just let it go.
I give the names of the deities. The rituals of sanamahism.
We have plenty. I’ll teach you.
I give my father’s dreams. My mother’s voice that calls me home.
Don’t do this for me.
I am doing this for myself.
GAURAVstarts to paint faster.
The games we play. I give the names we call the army.
I give the views of the valley. The taste of our water.
I give up.
I give up memories of driving on the highway that is still under repair after 5 years. I give up motorbike rides with friends, lovers, friends who became lovers, lovers who never became friends.
I give up words from our language. I give up the cuss words we call Indians.
GAURAVpauses, then starts to paint KUNJAfaster, violently.
The dreams of freedom. I give up.
GAURAVmoves to KUNJA’sneck. KUNJAmoves away.
Wait— But can I keep the memory of Irom’s fast? I was a kid when she started fasting. I grew up with the fast.
Let it go.
GAURAVgoes to paint KUNJA’sneck but KUNJAdodges GAURAV.
No, please. Just that. It was a movement I felt I was a part of. I helped paint the banner for meira paibi. I was the only boy who knew about the protest. They chose me.
GAURAVgrabs KUNJAby the neck and he paints it. KUNJAstruggles to set himself free.
You have to forget.
GAURAVpaints over KUNJA’sneck.
Do you remember now?
GAURAVstarts painting all over KUNJA.
Now forget about everything you saw while growing up.
Forget the skies.
The relationships you have to give up.
Your history. You can’t have a history. Give up the festivals. Forget about the movies you saw. The songs you danced to.
KUNJAbreaks down in tears.
Why are you doing this?
You were never there. Give up the sounds. The touch you cannot remember. That disgusting food you have to give up.
You have to now! Do you remember the birds you see there?
Nongin. Thembi marikpi. Langmeidong.
GAURAVpaints on KUNJA’sface.
Give up the language, give up the bodies, give up the dreams. I fucking need you to give up the dreams. You cannot dream like a Manipuri anymore. You will not dream. I am taking away those mornings. From now on you must only remember the nights from here. The seasons here. You will only remember this rain.
GAURAVfinishes painting all of KUNJA. GAURAVstands up and takes a few steps back admiring his creation.
You are one of us now.
KUNJAstands up. He looks at his hands and body. He opens his right palm which was clenched in a fist.
Wait— You forgot—
KUNJAstretches his palm towards GAURAV, a part that doesn’t have paint on it.
GAURAVpicks up the paintbrush. He dips it in black paint. He gently paints a stroke onto KUNJA’spalm.
GAURAVsteps away. Lights dim slowly on GAURAV. Slowly, he disappears.
Lights dim slowly on the bed.
KUNJAturns and looks around the room. His eyes fall on the paintbrush that is lying on the floor. He picks it up. He looks up at the Panggong tree.
KUNJAleaves the room.