Synopsis: The Lost Dog is not so much about racial attacks on Indian students in Australia as much it is about their process of acculturation, sense of loss and xenophobia. It is a 30-minute play in which a dog is a character like any other human beings.
Set of a sit out area of a restaurant. Downstage centre there are a couple of benches and tables on a raised platform and upstage a door opens into the kitchen. There is a menu displayed outside on a board, next to a bench. Kitchen is separated by an imaginary wall and a door in the middle that actors use to hop in and out. Steps lead to the road where imaginary cars pass by; wherefrom people enter and exit the restaurant.
Pawan is sitting on a bench, downstage right. Couple of bags are carelessly lying about on the bench, across him. He stands up and walks further downstage, inhales deep and stretches his arms.
Pawan ---- Haa! The air—ha, so crisp on my face! (Opens the zip of his jacket and wipes drops of sweat on his brow, moves his head as if he is watching the cars whizz by.)
Gurinder comes in from the kitchen with a tray. He is dressed in a pair of casual jeans and a tight tee shirt that flatters his toned physique, he sports a goatee and his hair is pulled behind with a hair-band. A diamond stud shines in his ear and he looks quite a contrast in comparison with Pawan wrapped in an old fashioned woollen jacket which he keeps pulling like a shawl. Pawan is in awe of his surroundings while Gurinder looks pleased with himself and wears a look of smugness; enters smiling at the world at large.
Gurinder Good view from here, no. That stretch across the road over there—yeah, that’s the creek, (puts the tray on the table, Pawan pushes bags to one side to make room. Gurinder takes a map out of one bag and traces the lines on map with finger) so we are here at the Port Campbell and this is your creek by the sea.
Pawan I don’t believe this, (stretches his arm out in the direction of the sea) the sea follows you, wherever you go.
Gurinder Hmmn. I see you have enjoyed this trip thoroughly. You did like the city though, but The Great Ocean Road-- this was a hit. Now may be you should get an agent, or actually you can do it yourself.
Pawan There you go marching with Australian flag to my face, not again please. I like it, but I can’t live here. It’s so uummn foreign. I can’t understand a word here. How do you guys interpret them?
Gurinder Interpret-haha, no we follow it easily. It doesn’t take long, don’t worry you’ll get by. Watch a lot of Aussie channels and you will pick the accent. In a month you will be able to tell Brit accent from let’s say Irish. We all felt lost initially but one gets by--- I mean I met an agent from Jharkhand, now that fellow cannot construct one single sentence straight. But there he is a practicing lawyer; see what I mean. Cheer up man; you stand a good chance of making it big over here, just play your cards right.
Pawan C’mon I may get by somehow but this will never be home. Even if it were heaven on earth, I have to go back to the gutter, because that’s where I belong.
Gurinder How can you cling to a place? Damn you Pawan, you’ve been in that hole for years, ever since you were born. You are twenty-six, hell; move out—see the world.
PawanI I can always tour the world like this you see—I mean I am here on a paid holiday, no. (Pawan looks at the map again.)
Gurinder Ah it’s not the same. It doesn’t teach you much, look you can’t even order a cup of coffee here, can’t live in a box all your life man.
Pawan But that’s because we agreed about the currency exchange, that you pay in dollars and I repay in Indian rupee to your folks. Suits both of us, no. (Folds the map and shoves it gently to one side clearing the table)
Gurinder Fine that’s an arrangement to save money on exchanging currencies, but look at you, you don’t step out of your comfort zone. See you can –oh chuck that, look (sigh); well mind you getting into this country is becoming increasingly difficult.
Pawan stretches a bit and then unwraps a sandwich from the plate. Gurinder picks up the other and bites a mouthful. Pawan checks the contents within.
Pawan Vegetarian, no?
Pawan (Bites) Yeah I heard that, all your friends were cribbing about points, they’ve raised the bar no. But I.T. still has maximum points or thereabout.
Gurinder Exactly, so while I.T. is still in demand apply for a P.R., once they have a surfeit of software guys you’ll be blocked. You just have to download a form, write I.E.L.T.S. and then come down.
Pawan (Through mouthful) Ummn coffee?
Gurinder I’ll have to fetch it-- don’t worry, I have asked the lady to make it extra hot for you.
Pawan Thanks Gary. I can have cold meals, but coffee it had better be hot. Wonder why they cool the hot coffee here, I mean rather have cold coffee. No. You don’t mind lukewarm coffee?
Gurinder Got used to it, one does.
Pawan My word, you have hot dames here; they more than make up for cool coffee.
Gurinder Nice word you have coined-- cool coffee. But what’s your problem, you have the hottest dames in Chandigarh, best in India I had say.
Pawan You think so, hmmn they are pretty alright, but a size too big, XL actually ha. (Two women walk in to the restaurant and go past the boys into the kitchen, Pawan scans her legs) Over here every one’s so hot ---I mean even the aunties.
Gurinder Eeks! Pawan don’t even entertain that word, aunties, hell no! No one’s an aunty here and these white girls treat us like a lamp post, okay. Indian girls are our best bet and they are good c’mon nothing like a desi girl (Sing film song. Pawan joins in. Women are now coming out of the kitchen and they look at the boys with curiosity)
Pawan Now that’s fun-- singing and all, remember college days, you had so many hit songs those days. My word nothing like the golden oldies, though it’s another thing that they make lousy songs these days. Remember, it was Juhi Chawla all the way—ha, the good old days.
Gurinder Yeah the good old days; lying about on the grass on a winter afternoon; nothing mattered then, not even the next minute. Though I remember you weren’t really a part of our lazy gang; in fact you were forever slogging in the library. (Pawan burps unmindful of others. Women on the other table, turn to look at him. Gurinder looks at them in embarrassment even as Pawan goes on without realising that he had caused an awkward moment)
Pawan Ummn sorry! You see I never forget where I come from, even at college I didn’t hoodwink myself into believing that things would fall in place automatically. I knew then and still hold that a college degree is the ticket for those at the bottom or actually even in the middle of the pyramid. If I had not made it through to M.Tech in the Punjab University I would have ended as a sales boy somewhere. For you there were other alternatives, like your parents bailed you out by sending you over here; mine didn’t have that money.
Gurinder Don’t get worked up man, you are doing fine. And even if you hadn’t made it, I am sure things would have sorted themselves out. But now, you can change the course of your destiny. You can come here, do things.
Pawan (Sighs) Not now, it’s late.
Gurinder (Gets up to go in, folds the map) It’s never too late Pawan—never. But first let’s put this in-- the most important paper! If we lose this, we are done for days. (puts it away carefully in the bag) Okay so (thinks of the next thing)-- now I’ll get us two extra hot coffee.
Pawan walks over to the edge of the elevated sit out area, as if mulling over something.
Pawan What’s that now, a dog –ha! Funny, a dog on the Great Ocean Road; a nice caption for a photograph though. Gary, my boy, you are missing a poser. Ha. (Whistles a film song).
Gurinder returns with coffee; puts it down on the table and looks over Pawan’s shoulder.
Gurinder Enjoying the view, hmmn?
Pawan Yes, the Pacific and it’s blue waters. That tree by the creek, isn’t it a neat frame? When we came in, there was an old couple there, and now I see a golden Labrador in their stead.
Gurinder sits down, continues looking at the sea and Pawan sighs after the dialogue and
walks back to the seat.
Gurinder The Great Ocean Road is like life; a journey without destination. People come and go leaving footprints on sand, like emotions in our lives. Some last longer than others, but they fade eventually.
Pawan Right Gary, that was poetic-- and we try and trap these experiences in a shutter box. You put in a lot of effort into photography; nature inspires man, they say so, I don’t know? Ah the sky is so blue here and (touches the coffee cup) the coffee so hot, ha.
Gurinder Now, isn’t that what I have been saying for years—the sky, the sea, the winds all unadulterated, unlike India where even basic drinking water is contaminated. C’mon this is a cleaner, healthier place: look at people’s faces, don’t they radiate health? It’s not the faces alone they sap your spirit, bleach it like the sky, a dull white-blue.
Pawan They? You mean the system, hmmn that I can’t dispute. Anyway I have been thinking about this Gary makeover? (sips coffee)
Gurinder Now where did that come from? (Picks up his coffee and looks at the road across.) At least we got a good parking space, just across, yeah so Gary—actually Gurinder is kind of long, tedious for foreigners. You see somebody christened me Gary at Uni and it stayed, that simple.
Pawan You don’t think you’ve lost your name—identity? You’ve given up all religious insignia as well.
Gurinder You know, what’s the problem with you; you bloody think too much! I can’t wear a turban and beard if I want to be on a front end job, right. You have to feed yourself, pay rentals, bills and there’s the study-loan back home; can’t sit with a turban on my head for the rest of my life. I don’t believe in rigid religious rules anyways, God is within not in any insignia or whatever.
Pawan Don’t get worked up, I just asked.
They continue sipping coffee alongside oblivious to the dog who crosses the road and walk
up the stairs. Dog comes to their seat from behind, looks at them directly.
Pawan Hey how did this one get here? Ha, ha.
Gurinder Blast, what the hell is this?
Pawan Ha ha, this is that dog under the tree by the creek ha, imagine he actually crossed the road to get here, ha ha.
Gurinder Bloody hell, did you call him? (Gurinder is nervous and edgy.)
Pawan No, but why are you getting worked up? This is fun, a dog on the Great Ocean Road, ha ha. Doesn’t look stray—wonder who’s he with?
Gurinder Pawan you silly, there are no stray dogs over here. May be he’s lost his master or the master’s lost him, whatever.
Dog looks from one to the other, sits down eyeing the sandwich.
Pawan Hey Goldie, you lost?
Dog continues to look at him, and then the food on the table—shakes his head, licks his paw.
Pawan You hungry, my golden boy?
Dog stiffens up and stretches, still eyeing the food.
Gurinder (Irritable) How can you call him Goldie, I am sure he has a proper Christian name.
Pawan But that’s how dogs get their names in Chandigarh, golden dogs like this little one are Goldie, black Alsatian’s a tiger—actually we have a dog by the name of Mafia. Then we have blackies, brownies haha.
Dog becomes alert suddenly, as if he understands—then stretches and stands up.
Pawan You like me—here take this—(Pawan starts to offer his sandwich. Dog stops stretching and stands still and alert in expectation. Gurinder leaps in disbelief at Pawan, pins his hand down on the table.)
Gurinder You crazy, he is somebody else’s dog! Leave him alone. (Almost barking at Pawan, while making a deliberate effort to tone down the volume.)
Pawan (Surprised) So what? No harm in feeding a hungry soul. He looks starved, take a closer look. (Turning to the dog) Hey Goldie, you hungry? (Dog looks from one to the other)
Gurinder You can’t feed him human food, please this isn’t your stray dog in India who can be fed leftovers. There are rules over here. Pawan I tell you man, don’t take it easy here; you could be in deep trouble and so could I because of your foolishness.
Pawan (Diffidently withdrawing from the dog. Dog sits down realising he has lost favour with Gurinder) What’s this dog to me anyway, go away Goldie. Shoo.
Gurinder Hell--sorry I just got anxious, listen let’s gulp our coffees and get going. It’s three and a half hours run to the city, and say your byes to the Pacific—we’ll take a different route into the city.
Pawan Don’t tell me! But why can’t we—oh well ofcourse it is a longer route. So we leave the Ocean Road?
Gurinder Yup, listen I will run across to the car, and get the wide lens out—this view (points in the direction of the sea) needs a wide shot.
Gurinder exits stage darting across, Pawan looks at the sea and then smiles at the dog. The dog looks around and goes over to the other table. Stands by the women awaiting response; and then bored he lies down to take a nap.
Woman1 Hey where did you come from?
Woman2 Hello, sweet little thing. Queer isn’t he?—(they laugh)
Gurinder returns with a lens and on returning to the table he gets the camera out and adjusts the lens.
Gurinder Where’s that friend of yours gone, don’t look so sad I will take you out to the beach tomorrow.
Pawan Over there—there next to those white women. The guy’s starving I tell you.
Gurinder Ha, ha poor him. May be I should click him—what do you say, but those women might object.
Pawan I don’t know—don’t you think you should report him somewhere?
Gurinder No worries, somebody will take him over. (Adjusting the lens on the camera.)
Pawan But why can’t we inform the guy who runs the place?
Gurinder A lady, there’s a lady in there.
Pawan White? (Excited )
Gurinder Depends, on how young is your young.
Pawan Ha, you won’t tell me; anyhow I asked out of sheer curiosity, nothing serious.
Gurinder Hmmn, so why not own up your curiosity—go in and see for yourself, doesn’t need much courage, does it?
Pawan Oh forget it, not important. But now are we turning our back on this poor creature?
Dog wakes up and looks at Pawan, anxiously.
Pawan There, did you see him? I tell you this is no ordinary dog, he is special—he knows he’s being discussed.
Gurinder Okay, I give up, I will report him inside, but no more after this, we’ll hit the road straight. (Gurinder goes inside reluctantly, dog looks at one and then the other in pain and goes back to sleep.)
Pawan (To himself) Poor guy, what if his master doesn’t turn up?
Gurinder comes out of the kitchen, looking at his mobile screen.
Pawan What did they say?
Gurinder (upset) Oh something, it’s their headache—through with coffee?
Pawan Something’s amiss—did she not like it?
Gurinder Oh no, she was fine, busy rather-- it’s lunch hour. They’ll see about him later.
(Gurinder looks at his mobile again)
Pawan You got a call from someone—problem back home?
Gurinder No, not back home; (sigh) a guy was beaten up last night.
Pawan Oh my God! Another student—hell! Somebody you knew?
Gurinder Not directly but he is at the Uni, Rony’s class mate. The Alumni and students will meet at R. M.I.T. tomorrow to express solidarity and all: you can come along if you like. That was Rony’s text about the meeting—not that it helps, but--. (looks at the text again)
Pawan But how is that boy, I mean is he still in the hospital?
Gurinder Don’t know about that, but it seems they minced him—bloody hulks! Last month they squashed a guy’s nose and one eye- ugh, nearly gone.
Pawan Ugh bad! It’s inhuman, there’s got to be a way to stop it.
Gurinder Bastards! They get drunk and bash Indians like it’s some sort of a pastime. I shudder at the thought of the guy they attacked last month. Last night’s victim I think has a couple of broken teeth and may be jaw—hell I don’t know.
Pawan This is awful, why do you want to live here at all?
Gurinde C’mon man accept it, it’s a dog’s life for us—here or there. No difference, at least you get money here. Tell you what, that citizen dog over there-- he has more rights than an immigrant human. Ha, a citizen dog. You think I could sleep like this under the open sky without fearing for my life.
People come in and leave, a group goes into the kitchen. Noises come in from inside, Pawan and Gurinder become still for some time. Dog wakes up when Gurinder mentions him, looks across at the boys and studies the women who are sitting on the bench next to him, stretches his neck to see the new visitors inside and then shakes his head in disgust and falls asleep. Women are clearing their things off the table, packing and all.
Pawan What about the guy’s folks back home—how would they know? This is scary no. I mean your very own parents who put in all their savings to get you here, are expecting a call from you not knowing you are dead.
Gurinder No Pawan, the scary bit is that one could lie dead at a station and nobody would notice, neither at the station nor at the flat. And that someone could be me Pawan.
Pawan Sighs. But why Indians? I mean Indian community has been around for long, why now?
Gurinder Oh there are too many theories doing rounds—but you ask me, it has always been bad. Even five years ago there were cases, ofcourse now there’s an unleash of hooligans. They are not terrorists mind you, just a bunch of hooligans that the police of the first world is unable to tackle.
Guests who had come in leave from the other exit of the kitchen with their carry away packets –upstage right, talking among themselves. Women behind wear their jackets and exit from the side. They exit discussing the dog which is evident from their parting looks.
Pawan They report it a lot in news in India and there have been reassurances by the Australian High Commission on television. I am sure it’s some phase that will pass.
Gurinder Anyhow let’s go our way before it gets late, can’t worry about death on this wonderful stretch.
Pawan Are you sure, may be you need rest or coffee? You look off, mate.
Gurinder I’ll manage, hey (rising and collecting things on the table) wait, we were about to take a wide shot of the creek, hello I nearly forgot.
Pawan Oh yes, the bench by the tree and the tree—
Gurinder And the tree by the creek and the deep blue waters beyond----
Pawan And may be a wee bit of the skies above---
Gurinder And the hills yonder—ha good verse now let’s click them all, listen—oh what’s that, everybody’s left! When did those women leave?
Pawan Have they, it’s so much quieter here, the comings and the goings of the people---very silent.
Gurinder Yeah just different from us, not that theirs is a better way of being. I think fuss is more fun, hmmn living here cuts you off from your core, who you really are. I mean in India people shake the restaurant with their pitch, shouting at each other, laughing at their own jokes; now we are a funny lot don’t you think?
Pawan Yes Gary, so long as you include yourself amongst Indians and not them—pointing at the woman inside. Okay, then should we click the dog as well?
Gurinder Dog, you think so—well let’s get the creek first. (Gurinder moves around with the camera to click. Pawan hands him the lens as he changes from one to another. Pawan is fascinated by the dog’s composure. Dog looks up at their activity by merely lifting his head, shakes his head in disgust and sleeps off.)
Pawan Did you get the mountains?
Gurinder Not quite—may be if I were to shift focus, here you take a look. (Hands the camera to Pawan who scrolls the photos on the viewfinder).
Pawan Good shots man, the lens changes the perspective--ummn should we go for the dog now—poor guy he’s fast asleep.
Gurinder Actually it’s good in a way, a sleeping dog is easier to capture. The lost dog, how’s that for a caption?
Pawan May be you can do a theme of lost folks—the dog, the immigrant Indian, new arrivals on the airport—they bloody look so scared. There were a couple of students on my flight, nervous like they were going to write an exam.
Gurinder On the flight they are still hopeful, a month here and they look like they have lost it.
Pawan Don’t they want to run away then? (Pawan shifts seat to clear view for Gurinder, as he changes lens and checks angles)
Gurinder Aww hell, direct glare from the sun: no wonder the fellow’s parked his arse in the sunny spot. (Stops to brood.) They can’t –as in there is no option for them. Don’t forget Pawan, these are not your bright I.I.T. ans’; they are here because they couldn’t make it to the U.S.-U.K. or for that matter even to a good college in India. Had I cleared an entrance in India I wouldn’t have bothered either. So how do they go back and to what? But it gets okay once you are six months old. (Looks through the lens)
Pawan (Sits on another bench, facing the sea)—Oh the view is wonderful from here—still waters sparkling in the sun—the orange tint over there--(lost for words.)
Gurinder No, not the sea, I’ll take your instead—(clicks)
Pawan Smiles sheepishly, should have warned me—how’s it looking?
Gurinder (looks at the screen)---Not bad, ha, just your paunch, why do you have a paunch silly, a paunch at twenty-six, what happens at forty? Okay now over to good boy Goldie.
Shifts his position and takes a stance, Goldie who had been sleeping silently so far shuffles.
Gurinder What man, he was dead as a log up till now and suddenly he decides to move-- a curious dog indeed.
Pawan Laughs aloud.
Gurinder Shhh, you can’t laugh like this here—it’s rude.
Pawan If you could see your own face you wouldn’t stop at a smile either. (Pawan pulls a face—breaks into a fit of laughter)
Gurinder again takes stance, getting his camera in position and as he starts to click the dog Goldie moves again, licks his paw and looks up at him, goes back to sleep. Gurinder looks at him in disbelief and disgust, still holding the camera in his hand. Pawan is besides himself, in peals of laughter. Goldie moves again, and Gurinder shuts the shutter of the camera.
Gurinder This model’s no good! Okay then, pack up. (Gurinder turns to the table behind and starts packing.
Pawan Should we not check with the lady inside about the dog—what do you say how old is she? (Pawan stands up and grins sheepishly at his own words.)
Gurinder I don’t know and I don’t care, why don’t you check it out for yourself? I’m waiting in there. (Points towards the car.)
Pawan Pulling your leg buddy, come let’s go. (Pawan starts to pick up his jacket that is folded and put away carelessly on the table.)
Gurinder Now that’s what I have been saying—you are nervous talking to a white woman, no? (Wide lens slips out of his hand and falls down.) Hell—here—
Both Pawan and Gurinder leap to get the lens from the floor. Two white boys enter from the front entrance, one of them picks it. Pawan stops and looks nervously at Gurinder. The dog looks up and now sits up alert and expectantly. Gurinder stops short of holding out his hand for the lens.
Gurinder Ummn—Hi! That’s mine.
Phil and Mike are white men in their twenties, big built but not fat. They have an air of carefree happiness and they walk in rather pleased with life. Phil picks the lens on the floor and examines it.
Phil Neat little thing, Nixon?
Gurinder Yes, D-90.
Mike Hey you got a D-90! Mind if I have a look?
Gurinder offers his camera with hesitation, Pawan looks more worried and fidgety than before.
Mike Awesome. Hey should I click you guys?
Gurinder and Pawan ease into a smile.
Gurinder Oh yes, why not. We haven’t a single picture in the same frame.
Pawan Good idea, why didn’t we think of it before. (They stand next to each other and smile.)
Phil (Laughing) Okay, cheese everybody. (Mike clicks them).
Everybody (Together)---Cheese—(They laugh).
Mike Hey see if you are okay with this—looks nice.
Phil (Closes in to see the picture on the screen.) Pretty good camera.
Mike hands over the camera to Gurinder who with some measure of hesitation inches closer to them.
Gurinder Excellent, thanks. Do you want me to take your picture?
Phil Oh yes, just that we have an old beauty, not half as good as yours.
Mike pulls the camera over his neck.
Gurinder No worries, I’ll shoot you with this and then mail it. (Waves his camera)
Mike Will ya, that’s kind of you. (Phil closes in and they pose). Here we are.
Gurinder (Looking through the viewfinder) Okay boys your turn to go cheese.
Gurinder Neat! And we’ve got the dog as well.
Mike (Turning behind)—Him, ha who’s he with?
Pawan Lost, (awkwardness in Pawan’s address) poor guy he’s been here for over an hour now.
Phil Ugh-- careless masters.
Mike What a handsome Lab! Oh my mail I.D., before we forget, m-i-k-e email@example.com
Gurinder (notes it in his mobile)—Excellent I’ll mail it in a day or two. See you guys then.
Pawan and Gurinder shake hands with Phil and Mike and mumble byes. They collect their bags from the table and start down the stairs. Phil and Mike enter the kitchen. Pawan and Gurinder wait to cross the road—are now downstage centre.
Pawan Cars move at a killing speed, here.
Gurinder Yeah, people are in a hurry to get out to the city-getting late; an hour later it will be a haunted town. Last time we stayed the night here. Absolutely quiet, so much so you can hear the sea in the hotel.
Pawan (Concentrating on the cars, turns to look at the dog) Poor guy he’s still waiting to be found.
Pawan I was a bit scared initially, you know the rules enunciated by the police, for Indians to not display valuables and all.
Gurinder Honestly I was scared for my life more than the camera. Last night’s attack got to me, I think. But not everyone is bad—in fact most are friendly.
Pawan Yes these were nice guys.
Gurinder Actually it’s like the movement of the tectonic plates beneath the earth’s surface. You see when the plates move beneath they bring about a change on the surface as well, like an earthquake or a tsunami. That is what is happening here; immigrants are the tectonic plates beneath and the locals are the surface—one cannot move without affecting the other.
Pawan Hmmn interesting, like Chekov said, ‘All things pass.’ This will pass as well.
Quickly they take a step to cross the road.
The play and it's title 'The Lost Dog' are the intellectual property of the author, Rashma N. Kalsie. The play may be reproduced with author's permission only. The play can be produced only in its original form, any changes to the script may be incorporated with playwright's permission. However the credit shall be given to the author in every production/publication/telecast of the play. The play is a stage-adaptation of the original story by the same title,'The Lost Dog', by Rashma N.Kalsie.
Name: Rashma N. Kalsie