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  • Hidden Fires and Other Monologues
  • Manjula Padmanabhan (bio)

Author's Note

The following monologues were written during the time of the Gujarat riots in 2002. I began with the intention of making a record of what was happening in Gujarat, but by the time I finished Invocations, the last of five pieces [four of which are printed here], I realized it was pointless to tie them down to specific dates or personalities or governments. The despair I felt in 2002 was no different from what I had felt during the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 or while reading about the pogroms against the Jews in Hitler's Germany. There is a sameness about violent mobs that transcends nations, communities, religions, politics. We go to war because of imagined differences between ourselves and our enemies, but we are all much more the same than we are different. It was in the name of that sameness that I wrote these pieces.

Hidden Fires

The stage is dark. A red spotlight snaps on. A man is standing under it … He appears disheveled. He looks over his shoulder a couple of times before he starts to speak. He is calm, but taut.


Yes … yes! I can talk about it. Why not? I'm not ashamed. I am not afraid. Let me tell you how it was, in that first week. I was there at the beginning.

Yes—ten! That was my score. I refuse to be ashamed of it. I can explain it all—you see, they weren't really … people. Yes, ten or ten and a half—depending on how you count the one who was pregnant. In such a situation, do we count one … or one and a half? Or two? Anyway! The point is, ten … cases were involved.

It started without warning. I was standing in my shop. One moment I was thinking about my nephew's engagement, and the next moment … there was a sound. A customer in the shop, a woman—she heard the sound before me. She said, What's that? Then I heard it too.

We both stepped out. We saw someone running. Behind him were seven others, maybe eight. They were carrying [End Page 73] sticks. The one in front was running towards me. His mouth was open, no sound coming out. I knew what I had to do.

I stood in his path. He swerved to avoid me, but I held him. In that instant the boys caught up. They leapt at the man, jumped straight at him! And stamped him out.

I heard the crunch of his bones as they broke him. Scorching red juice spurted from his nose. In his final moment, he looked straight at me. The heat of his life was like a blaze in my face! And then … he was out.

Others like this one had begun running in the streets. Some of them were female. If you want to—yes, you could call them people. I don't, of course. There's no point. That's what you don't understand. They looked like men, they looked like women. But in reality … well…

You have to understand. Some people are not … people. They share the street with you and me … but inside, deep inside … they're not people

How else can I say it? There are some things you just know. And once you know it, you can't stop knowing it. It's like red-hot coal—it takes only one lesson to know everything you need to about getting burnt.

You call them people? I call them red-hot coals. From an ancient fire. Not people at all. So long as they remain cool and unmoved, they're all right. But the moment they begin to smoke, the moment they show that ancient heat—then! Ah, then. That's when we—we who can get burnt from that distant fire—that's when we must take action.

Who fanned those coals back to life—was it Them? Was it Us? Who set the streets aflame with them? Was it Them or was it Us? Frankly, I don't care. When a fire is raging out of...


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pp. 73-96
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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