Page 1 of 3
They were royals, a long time ago. Now they just played pretend. The court of the Abdalis and later the Durranis held power in Afghanistan from 1747 to 1842. But to me, the descendants “dynasty” simply compromised of four sisters, three brothers and their mother living in a creaky great house in the old walled city of Peshawar. My mother was one of the sisters. And while all the sisters had left the house, there was one that was still there – because even after ten years of marriage she was waiting for her husband to return and collect her. Top dog was my youngest uncle; sharp tongued and handsome he assumed pride of place. Barking orders, hitting the servants and controlling the lands. He parading his fair plump newborn son around like a trophy of manhood. I was introduced to my mothers life when we moved from London to Peshawar at the age of 13. While still not entered into puberty; I was allowed to wear what I wanted. So I chose an array of long cotton maxi’s as my uniform. Everyone lived together – the courtyard was large with a red hexagonal fountain in it. With the sun beating down on us – Sami (my cousin) and I stripped down to our underwear and jumped around in the cool fountain. Then tired from play we’d go to the servant girl and get dusted in talc, put ironed clean clothes on soon falling asleep by the fans. By nightfall we were recharged to cause mayhem again. And without a backward glance Sami and I leapt out of the charpoys and ran out into the dusty lane for boiled corn, hitching free rides on the tangas that passed by.
Page 2 of 3We wouldn’t stop there – always pushing the boundaries. Bravely walking up to the milk stall, ‘Give me some milk,’ Sami shouted. The milkwala knew who we were, so without even asking for money he leapt into action. While he rummaged around for clean cups we threw the ladle of yogurt into the milk churn and ran off. The night didn’t end well ‘So you think this is clever. A simple shopkeeper comes to the house and dares to question us, because of you two,’ screamed Uncle. ‘Learn some manners, never let this family down. Do you understand.’ Panting and sweating as his hands rained down on us. With the pathan code of your guest being a gift from god and your responsibility; whenever male guests did arrive they went straight to the batak for hookahs and drink. The woman guests came into the courtyard and peeled off there chadors, airing their sweaty armpits. They sat and gossiped about marriage, money and their kismet while tucking into pulao and roast chicken The elders ended up in Nanis rooms – while she reclined with a hookah. Bano rocked back and forth pressing her legs. At that age you didn’t notice the cracks. The days for us were filled with running under the house in a warren of catacomb like tunnels filled with large vases, crockery, old carpets and trunks. Sick of all the stories the elders told, constantly reminiscing of a past long gone, Sami and I never bothered to look into the trunks. Unperturbed Sami and I coughed and spluttered in the dusty confines.
Page 3 of 3Nani told us that when she was younger she ate in nothing less then gold or silver plates. For her, as a baby, it had been normal to even play with those them. A wedding invitation soon came from the neighbours. The elders decided not to go, in there eyes the neighbours weren’t of our class but Sami and I were children and the rules didn’t apply to us. So we went. Almost forgetting I was a girl – I scowled when Sami and I were separated in the wedding house. He went downstairs while I was led upstairs. Most wedding’s had a professional come in and dance. The music blared out, a signal for her to enter. She came in with hips gyrating and hair swinging. The women of the house looked down from the balcony hiding behind the rolled straw curtains covering their mouths to stop any whimper escaping to the men below. They looked on wideeyed and almost in admiration at this brazen hussy of a woman – secretly they all wanted her freedom. She danced towards the men and snatched the money away from their hands; the men placed them in obscene places to titillate and play with her. The household women drew gasps. Strolling back with smiles on our faces, Sami and I separated to our respective mothers bosoms and lay on the charpoys laid in the courtyard. The fans whirred and my aunt stirred the pot of boiled corn. Kawa was severed and I eyed Sami licking his red lips at the prospect of food. By the summer of 1991 I left Peshawar and now my cousins and I are spread all over the world from Nice to America. We don’t meet much but we still carry our past. And sometimes over Facebook I send Sami a smiley emoji to say hi.
THE RADCLIFFE LINE BY NAJMA YUSUFI AND BOB WALTON
Contact: Najma Yusufi
Sir Cyril Radcliffe: Chairman of the Boundary Commission Julian Thompson: British civil servant, based in Delhi Seema: Servant-girl, 1947 / Grandmother, 2008
Jasmine: Seema’s grand-daughter
The servant-girl Seema’s father (doubled up)
Darkness. Music introduces the television news. Projection-image of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, followed by a series of images of the hotel and other sites – Leopold Café, Nariman House, the Metro cinema, etc – involved in the bombings of 26 November 2008, to accompany the voice of the newscaster.
VOICE 1 Good evening. And for our breaking news story, we have received confirmation of a series of co-ordinated attacks that
have taken place across the Indian city of Mumbai. We are now going over to Rory Cavendish, our correspondent in Mumbai.
(Sound of sirens and explosions in the background. Lighting effects so that the auditorium itself starts to feel as if it is close to the scene in Mumbai.)
(Speaking into mic, out of breath) Thank you, Laura. Yes, the attacks started in the early hours of the morning in the southern part of the city when people were fast asleep. Explosions have been reported in the Leopold Café that is popular with tourists, the Nariman House Jewish community centre and the Metro cinema. Eyewitness reports claim that three big explosions took
place inside the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, a luxury five-star hotel
visited by the élite of Mumbai and international businessmen and celebrities.
Voice fades out. Silence. Blackout.
SCENE 2 LONDON, 26 NOVEMBER 2008
Lights come up on Seema, as an elderly lady, sitting in a small sofa in her flat watching a television report of the bombings is being broadcast. Enter Jasmine, smartly dressed, business-style.
Hi, Gran. There you are as usual. Always watching the telly. It’s bad for your eyes, you know.
Jasmine, my dear, it is dreadful. Look what is going on. Yes, I know. Ma. Chaos in the office. I’ve been speaking to
journalists all day. (Jasmine turns the television off.)
It’s very bad for us in the Taj Group. Holiday companies are worried. Businesses cancelling the exec suites. We’ve been
JASMINE SEEMA JASMINE
getting non-stop calls from Mumbai. And from the other hotels in Agra, Bangalore, Goa.
Yes, I’m sure. You always work such long hours in that office, I don’t know how you cope with the pressure.
All part of the excitement of PR, Ma. Anyway, I’m going to be out of the office for a few days, Just popped by to let you know.
Off for a long weekend with one of your boy-friends again? I don’t know, I can’t keep track –
Not at all, Gran. I’m flying out to India this evening.
Jee – in the Mumbai office – he rang through and asked for
me especially. Said someone like me, British-born Indian – and
so drop-dead gorgeous and talented – no, actually he didn’t say that at all but I’m sure it’s what he was thinking –
He said he thought I would go down well out there. So he wants me to go and work on the team handling the situation. It’s a nightmare, apparently. The foreign press and the Pakistanis are all over them. British press are the worst, he says.
How can you go to that place?
It’s a wonderful opportunity, Gran. This could be my big break with the company.
You have a very good job with the company in this country, Jasmine. It’s dangerous out there.
The eyes of the world are on –
Your life will be in jeopardy.
Ma, India is a superpower now. Police, security forces.
I do not want you to go there, Jasmine. Why do you think I have never gone back there? Why do you think – ?
It’s not the backwater that it was in your time. Ma.
JASMINE SEEMA JASMINE SEEMA
SEEMA They brought it on themselves, Jasmine. JASMINE How can you say that?
Seema turns away, stands silently, then turns back to face Jasmine.
SEEMA JASMINE SEEMA JASMINE SEEMA
I’ll tell you how. Because – Because what?
Your grandfather was Radcliffe’s right-hand man. Radcliffe? Who’s Radcliffe?
Sir Cyril Radcliffe – the reason we are here, the reason India is divided, and the reason for all this.
You know, Ma, please don’t be upset but sometimes I think you want to just hold me back.
Hold you back?
Keep me close to you, stop me from doing something with my life.
Jasmine, it’s a bad world. So many people with hidden agendas. I just don’t want you to face such things.
But dreaming up names from the past to stop me from going to India is not the way.
So that’s what you think: Radcliffe is just a name? Well, you’re wrong, Jasmine – very wrong.
So tell me, what the hell has it got to do with me going to India? What’s it got to do with all this?
(She points to blank television-screen. Blackout.)
SCENE 3: NORTH WEST INDIA, JULY 1947
A mountain-top. Radcliffe and Thompson, in hiking gear, are in conversation between breaths as they enter. They stop and look out at the panoramic view.
RADCLIFFE THOMPSON RADCLIFFE
Ah! At last, Thompson. What a climb.
But worth it, Sir Cyril. Look at that view. Breath-taking, eh? (Laughs) Certainly is. Daresay you’re pretty fond of the place. And all those pretty girls.
Ah, yes. The pretty girls. Well, I wouldn’t have stayed here all these years if there weren’t any local attractions, sir. We’re well looked after in the Service.
Not for everyone though, the colonial life – despite the stunning views. Just look at that. Mountains beyond mountains. A bit like this partition nightmare you’ve been landed with, sir – one damned complication after another.
Hmm. However, they might have difficulties out here, Thompson, but it’s a magnificent country. Superb natural resources.
‘They’ don’t have to deal with all the problems, though, sir. You’re the one in the hot seat, chairing this Boundary Commission. Hope you’ve got broad shoulders, sir.
Broad enough for what I’ve got to do. See that peak over there? (Radcliffe takes out map and unfolds it.)
Now, take a line east from there across to that first ridge – And there you have it, the border.
Defined by the lie of the land. New independent India that way.
New independent Pakistan over there.
Just like that?
Oh, not exactly. Can’t walk the whole border, you know. On Wednesday I took a flight across the region. That helped. But some compromises will be necessary, I’m sure.
That’s the problem, Sir Cyril. Some pretty hard-line factions out here, you know. Muslims hate the Hindus. Hindus hate the Muslims. Both of them hate the British. You could go round in circles forever.
(Radcliffe starts to fold map and put it away in rucksack.)
RADCLIFFE Now that is something I don’t intend to do, Thompson. And if this map is right, we can head down this track and back through
(Radcliffe leads the way and they walk out. Blackout.)
SCENE 4 DELHI, JULY 1947.
Music playing on a gramophone – Vaughan Williams: ‘The Lark Ascending’. At
a table, Radcliffe is writing in his diary.
RADCLIFFE 14th July 1947, Delhi. After a week here at the Boundary
Commission, this heat is still insufferable. But not as insufferable as the task I’ve been given. When I met Mountbatten on my arrival, he said he’d negotiated everything successfully. ‘Complete agreement,’ he said, with a nod and a wink, as if he’d been playing poker with Nehru and Jinnah. But when I met Nehru and Jinnah to discuss the arrangements, they said the agreement was four weeks. Four weeks, if not less. Ridiculous! No-one has ever mentioned such a short time-scale. Now I really am beginning to wonder what kind of a hand Mountbatten has dealt me. (A deep sigh. He pauses and taps the pen to the rhythm of the music, thinking, before he resumes writing.) Still, Thompson’s a decent chap, I must say. Been out here for years in the service. Knows the ways of the locals, their idiosyncrasies. He may be the one man I can turn to, the one reliable voice in a cacophony of demands. Though he does have an eye for the ladies, I hear.
SCENE 5 DELHI, JULY 1947
In Thompson’s house, young Seema, a servant, is laying a plate and cutlery onto table which has a bowl of food on it. When Thompson enters, she nods her acknowledgement, steps aside and stands waiting. Thompson lifts the lid of the bowl, dips a spoon in and samples the food. He shows an expression of distaste.
THOMPSON SEEMA THOMPSON SEEMA THOMPSON SEEMA THOMPSON SEEMA THOMPSON SEEMA THOMPSON
Who prepared it?
Cook. Is there anything wrong, sahib? It’s disgusting.
I’m sorry, sahib.
What’s he trying to do – poison me?
I am very –
Don’t give me sorry. It’s revolting.
(Thompson slams the lid on the bowl of food and throws the spoon down.)
It’s your job to provide me with the food I expect, incompetent fool.
Sahib, I’ll clear it now and tell cook –
And don’t try and blame the cook, damn you. Take some responsibility.
Sahib, I am your servant, jee. I am so, so sorry. I beg for forgiveness. Please, just give me one minute. Cook will not make this mistake again, I’ll make sure of it.
Don’t just stand there then, go!
(Seema exits. Thompson looks at her as she leaves and strides out after her. Blackout.
SCENE 6 LONDON, NOVEMBER 2008.
In Seema’s flat, Jasmine and Seema are seated side-by-side on the sofa. Jasmine stands.
me this now?
Jasmine, Beta, I have been so protective of you since your
mother passed away. I made a promise to Sir Cyril Radcliffe
that I’d not turn back and that no one from my family would
Ma, what’s that got to do with me going? Why are you telling
ever go back to India, out of respect for all the problems he faced. Beta, you don’t know what he did for us.
Ma, you’re not making any sense. What is all this about?
Sir Cyril Radcliffe, he was a great man. A servant of the British Government. And my master.
Yes, in 1947, in Dehli. We all lived there, me, your great grandfather, in the ambassador’s compound. Sir Cyril Radcliffe in the big house. His colleague, Mr Julian Thompson, in another residence. The big house, you know,
it was so grand and had big windows opening on to a lovely lawn. They had tea there, on the lawn. Baba and me, we lived in the quarters just behind the main house. I even had my own courtyard. Your Baba, he kept a bird there, called Mina.
DELHI, JULY 1947
In his office, Radcliffe is seated at a table, poring over a map. Thompson is standing to the side, looking out of the window. In the background, bird-song.
THOMPSON RADCLIFFE THOMPSON RADCLIFFE
This isn’t going at all well, Thompson.
Oh, I don’t know, sir. I thought you handled Nehru and Jinnah
pretty well. All things considered.
It’s the ‘all things considered’ that’s the problem, though. Too many contradictory factors to take into account. Not enough
time to sort anything out properly.
If I may say so, sir –
– perhaps you’re being too much of a perfectionist with this?
I’m only trying to fulfil my brief, you know. Same as I’ve always done. His Majesty’s Government expects –
The government, sir, will be happy to get the lines drawn on the map and to let the various factions fight it out amongst themselves like cats and dogs after we’ve left.
I don’t think so, Thompson. They will be looking for an honourable settlement – though heaven knows – and I wouldn’t
THOMPSON RADCLIFFE THOMPSON RADCLIFFE
say this to anyone else, you understand, because I trust you, Thompson, I appreciate your -?
Of course, sir. Thank you.
Well, I just can’t –
I can’t, no matter how I try, I just can’t see a clear way towards a solution.
Sir, I’m sure –
And I am fearful, Thompson, most fearful that if I botch this – I really do worry about the consequences.
DELHI, JULY 1947
Seema is stacking plates on a tray. Thompson sits at the table at the end of his meal. He places his knife and fork across the plate.
SEEMA Shall I take that, sahib?
THOMPSON SEEMA THOMPSON
Listen girl, I wanted to say sorry for snapping at you like that. No sir, I am sorry.
Pretty girl like you, I’m sure you can find ways of making it up
SEEMA THOMPSON SEEMA
Sir, are you married?
Not yet but one day I hope to set up home in a cottage with a white picket fence in the English countryside.
It’s a type of boundary wall, but it’s a pretty wooden one. Sahib, if you don’t mind, tell me what is the English countryside like?
Beautiful. Here, stop hovering and sit here. Come on.
(He goes to a sofa and sits. He pats the empty space beside him. Seema sits.)
THOMPSON The countryside is green and rolling. It’s idyllic. We have low hills that are full of trees and fields where the sheep and cows
graze, all divided by neat little hedges. SEEMA Is it hot? Who waters the plants?
THOMPSON No, it’s not steaming hot like this bloody place. And God waters the plants with His lovely gentle rain. Maybe one day
you’ll get to see it.
SEEMA That would be a dream, Sahib.
SCENE 9 DELHI, JULY 1947
Music on the gramophone – Vaughan Williams: ‘The Lark Ascending’. At his desk, Radcliffe looks over his diary, writes a little, reads it aloud.
24th July 1947, Delhi. I’ve just had to lock myself away and get on with it. Too many people are trying to crowd in on me, each with their own map imprinted in their mind. India should have this waterway. Oh no, Pakistan should have it. And what of these hillsides, or those plantations? So many divisions – by caste and religion, by language, history and culture. If I draw a line this way, someone gives me ten good reasons why it should be drawn that way. And as for my so-called
governmental advisers, they seem to have formed their opinions over cocktails at the polo-club. That’s why I’m determined to arrive at my recommendations independently, get these boundaries drawn as I think fit. Let me see now.
DELHI, AUGUST 1947
In Thompson’s house, he is snoozing on the sofa, snoring. Seema enters.
SEEMA Sir Cyril Radcliffe, sahib – he has requested your company for
dinner this evening.
THOMPSON SEEMA THOMPSON SEEMA
Blast, I’m still half asleep. Are my clothes ready? Yes. The afternoon’s over. It’s five o’clock.
God, where does the time go? It’s the heat, sahib.
THOMPSON SEEMA THOMPSON
No, it’s you. I can smell that rose perfume you wear.
I wear it for you, sahib.
That’s very naughty of you, Seema. You know I find it
irresistible. More irresistible than Sir Cyril Radcliff, you know.
(He draws her into a passionate embrace on the sofa. Thompson pulls away.)
THOMPSON SEEMA THOMPSON SEEMA THOMPSON SEEMA THOMPSON SEEMA (Thompson stands.)
I’m sorry, Seema.
What is it, sahib?
This whole partition thing, it’s driving me crazy, Seema.
When are you going back?
When this blasted division ends. Couple of weeks maybe. Take me with you.
To England of course.
THOMPSON Seema, I – You’re so lovely, Seema. These past few days have been delightful. Such fun. And you’re such a little –
(He turns, tweaks her nose and pulls her up to kiss. Again he breaks off and walks across the room.)
THOMPSON SEEMA THOMPSON SEEMA
THOMPSON SEEMA THOMPSON SEEMA
But taking you back to England with me is out of the question. It’s just not the done thing, Seema. You know what everyone will think. Completely out of the question.
But I would be –
I say, you’re not holding out for that, are you?
No, sahib … I can’t.
I’m glad you see it from my point of view.
But it’s not like that. My father has been talking of marrying me off. To a husband from India, of course.
Oh. Well – very sensible, I’m sure.
But I want to come to England with you. Please. Darling, let’s talk logistics some other time.
I love you. I never thought I could but now, now I know.
THOMPSON Oh dear, we’ll have to find a cure for that ailment.
(They embrace again. Laughter and kissing. Thompson pushes her back onto the sofa and climbs on top of her, pulling at her clothes, kissing her forcefully.) SEEMA What are you doing?
THOMPSON Nothing that you don’t want. Put your hand here. It’s nothing,
don’t be scared.
(They make love, Seema submitting, then lie quietly.) SEEMA Please, I’m hurting.
Sahib, why, what is that?
My love for you, Seema. Open your legs now, mmm?
Please, I can’t. Mmm.
I don’t think I should
Not even for me. Just lie still, girl. Ahh.
This isn’t right, sir.
THOMPSON Blood. Oh dear, go and clean yourself.
(Seema rushes out. Sound of water splashing.)
SEEMA THOMPSON SEEMA THOMPSON Blackout.
(Calling) But I didn’t want it this way, I really didn’t.
Oh come on, girl, you’ve been making eyes at me ever since I arrived.
(Entering) I refused. Didn’t look like that to me.
You never gave me a chance.
Be a sport and get my suit and shirt ready, Seema.
SCENE 11 DELHI, AUGUST 1947
As before. Radcliffe’s office with ‘The Lark Ascending’ on the gramophone and Radcliffe writing in his diary.
RADCLIFFE 4 August, 1947, Delhi. So hot, so damned humid. I never thought it would be so difficult, never dreamed I would feel so
uncomfortable. All the committees, the boards, the
commissions I’ve served on: I’ve never felt so much out of my depth. Yet I must not let it be seen. I must see this through. It is my duty, however much I was misled. Sometimes everything seems like a dream-world. Nothing fixed. Everything pressing in on me and when I try to grasp it or push at it, there’s nothing there. No substance. At night I lie awake. By day it’s as if I’m in a nightmare. Maps, maps and more maps, and yet no way out.
Elderly Seema is seated. Jasmine stands at a distance, looking away.
SEEMA JASMINE SEEMA
The hotel will be OK without you, Baba.
You know nothing about these things, Ma.
I promised Sir Cyril that no-one from our family would ever set foot in India again. I don’t want questions asked. Do you hear
SEEMA’S FLAT, LONDON. NOVEMBER 2008
me? I don’t want questions asked.
Actually, I think it’s time quite a lot of questions were asked. Why have you kept all this secret? Why did you make such promises? If you wanted to do so for yourself, yes, fine. But for your children? Your grandchildren? You cannot possibly expect me to abide by it. The world is changing, Ma.
India is changing, yes, but the tradition of knowing whose bloodline you come from has not ended.
I know my bloodline: you, mum and dad.
And who was your mother’s father? Have you ever thought of that?
You know I’ve thought of it but what’s the point? You’ve never explained. Everything has always been such a secret, a mystery. Ma, why are you telling me this now? It hasn’t got anything to do with me going to Mumbai, has it?
He was your mother’s father. What? Who?
SEEMA Julian Thompson. He was your grandfather.
SCENE 13 DELHI, AUGUST 1947
Radcliffe is sitting at his desk flicking through sheaves of papers, clearly frustrated, impatient. When Thompson enters, he turns and they shake hands.
Ah. Thank you for coming along, Thompson. Didn’t know whether you’d be busy on other things.
Not at all. Only too happy to be of assistance, Sir Cyril.
So much to get sorted, I’m sure you must be run off your feet. Still, as I say, very grateful for you finding the time. Now look. You’ve had dealings with Nehru and Jinnah.
On numerous occasions, sir, I have, as you say, ‘had dealings’. Well, I thought they were supposed to be helping me bring all this to a resolution, not make things more difficult.
That’s what we expect of them, sir. It’s not necessarily what
their own people expect. The Indian National Congress and the
Muslim League don’t often see eye-to-eye. They’d rather be at each other’s throats, in fact. They aren’t exactly your ideal bed- partners, you know.
RADCLIFFE Hmm. Well, take for example, this issue of the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
(He unfolds a map and spreads it out on the table.)
THOMPSON RADCLIFFE THOMPSON RADCLIFFE THOMPSON
RADCLIFFE THOMPSON RADCLIFFE
Yes, Jinnah places a very high premium on that little area. But isn’t it true that they are 90-odd per cent non-Muslim? Ninety-eight per cent, sir … give or take a per-cent or two. Then according to the principle we’ve adopted –
Have you noticed the way that the border will slice this village in two, sir?
Heavens, you know I hadn’t – I think I’ve been so distracted by some of the bigger issues –
The principles –
RADCLIFFE THOMPSON RADCLIFFE THOMPSON
Exactly. To be fair to –
And similarly, sir – in the foothills here – borders like that will only deepen the divisions. Now, if I may say so, it would only take a slight deviation like this –
Yes. Yes, I see.
And if the Chittagongs were to be awarded to Jinnah, to Pakistan –
But Nehru –
The Sutlej Canal, sir.
What about it?
East of the Sutlej, I think you’ll find our Mr Nehru would be very happy if he were to be given control of that little watery jewel.
Oh, I don’t know, Thompson. I just don’t –
I’m sure it will all come together very nicely, sir. You can hand over your report and then it’s back to England.
SCENE 14 DELHI, AUGUST 1947
In Thompson’s house, Thompson is standing in the middle of the room while Seema lights incense.
know, don’t you, Seema, you naughty little girl.
(Thompson takes Seema in his arms and guides her back towards the sofa. Just as he is about to push her down onto it, she speaks.)
SEEMA Are you going to marry me and take me back to England? THOMPSON Oh, not that again! I’ve told you, Seema. No. Do you
What’s that smell?
It’s an incense stick. Jasmine. Do you like it, sahib?
Hmm. It has a powerful effect, you know. Yes, I think you do
SEEMA In our culture a girl is supposed to marry the man she loses her virginity to.
Ah well, in my culture that used to be the case a very long time ago but this is now, modern times, not a long time ago.
Well things may have changed for your people but they haven’t changed here and my father wants me married off.
Steady on. Steady on, Seema. I think you should listen to your father. Talks some sense. Get married. It’ll do you good to get out of here. Rich husband from Bombay, eh?
Don’t you understand what I just told you? I am not a virgin
Anymore. I couldn’t. You are the only man that I can marry now.
THOMPSON Look, I really have to go. Another meeting with old Radcliffe.
Need to go over some maps and so on. Nothing but damned maps these days. I suggest you give your father’s idea some thought.
SEEMA What does that mean?
Listen, I haven’t got time for this, girl.
But you had time when you forced yourself on me, on an innocent girl.
I never forced myself on you, you wanted it as much as I did. Then do the right thing. I thought that is what you were always
taught in England.
THOMPSON Well you thought wrong, old girl. I can’t take a native back to
England. I’d be the laughing stock.
SEEMA And me? You think I won’t be laughed at and pointed at? A
white man’s whore. Can’t you see? (SCREAMING)
THOMPSON I won’t have you shouting at me like that. Get out. Get
What is it, girl? Or are you trying to get me into trouble with
the bloody – ?
I am not trying anything, I have come to tell you something. Maybe then –
THOMPSON SEEMA THOMPSON SEEMA
Tell me something?
I am with child.
Bloody hell, girl. Are you sure it’s mine?
Sahib, you know I was a virgin. You are the only man I would
ever allow to touch me. In my eyes, you are my husband.
Good God, girl. What are you going to do to fix this? In
case you haven’t noticed, you simple-minded peasant, we are
on the verge of civil war.
Sahib, what do you mean, fix this? (Hysterical.) I have spoken
to a molvi – he’s a priest – and he can marry us.
I mean, get rid of it. I don’t want some half-caste making a
laughing stock of me.
Get rid of it? Are you not going to marry me or not? I am with your child.
(Thompson takes money out of his wallet and thrusts it at Seema.)
THOMPSON Take this. Give it to the local midwife here to fix you up. SEEMA How dare you? You have ruined me, you have ruined me.
Come, come with me. Explain this shame to my father. Come! (She screams.)
Have you lost your mind? Never ever try talking to me again, girl.
Yes, it’s easy to throw me out and treat me like a cheap
prostitute. I have loved you truly and now this child is the result of that love, a part of you and me together.
THOMPSON I should have used one of the local whores had I known all this trouble you were making for me. Shall I tell you
something, old girl?
SEEMA Marry me. Understand what you have done, please. (She breaks down in tears.)
THOMPSON Well, keep the bastard if you want, I don’t care. God knows
who else you’ve been with. I’ll soon be gone from this god- forsaken land of yours. What you choose to do with yourself and that bastard you have in your belly is your own matter. Do I make myself clear, girl?
In Radcliffe’s office, he lays down a pencil and ruler and folds a map. He flicks
open the pages of his diary.
Yes, yes, sahib, you make yourself, and your kind, very clear. But Allah will not forgive you for what you have done, he is watching you. And I – I – I will tell Sir Cyril.
You breathe a word of this to him and I’ll kill you.
DELHI, AUGUST 1947
12th August 1947, Delhi. The heat is so appalling that at noon it looks like the blackest night and feels like the mouth of hell. Less than a week and I’ll be on my way back to England. I know now that my efforts will please no-one. The days spent poring over maps and calculations. Nights lying awake under my mosquito-net, sweating, the nausea churning inside. How I dream at this moment of being home with my dearest Antonia, strolling through green fields beside the river, sitting under a willow perhaps, and simply watching the world drift by – clouds reflected in the water, a gentle breeze …
Projection of commentary and images from Pathé News.
VOICE The rains come in India. It’s the monsoon season. Fields are flooded and rivers break their banks. And all the time the
bloodshed goes on. As the new dominions of Pakistan and
(Lights fade on him.)
India take over their own affairs, communal hatred flares up in Punjab. Fleeing from their looted bloodstained towns, there comes a new exodus. A million displaced persons. Independence has not yet brought them peace. Rejoicing turns to horror and mourning. Throughout this vast land, Hindus and Muslims seek safety in new surroundings. Peace loving people, theirs is the real tragedy.
SCENE 18 DELHI, AUGUST 1947
Sounds of fire and bombs, people screaming. melancholic music. In the shadows, punctuated by flashes of light, figures rushing, passing each other. Seema and her father enter.
SEEMA’S FATHER We have lost all, my daughter. My heart can’t take this
SEEMA Baba, you have to, we have to leave now.
VOICE The mother-of-a-bitch Hindus have thrown a grenade on the
Karachi-bound tezgam! Everyone is dead! Rivers of blood!
SEEMA’S FATHER SEEMA
But that is where we are heading.
Ya, Allah! I have to ask for Sir Cyril Radcliffe’s help. Baba, Baba, wait.
Sister, there are rivers of blood everywhere ahead. Your feet
are going to have to step through them.
(They rush out amidst flashing lights and sounds of explosions.)
SCENE 19 DELHI, AUGUST 1947
‘The Lark Ascending’ on the gramophone. Radcliffe writing in his diary, pen scratching.
RADCLIFFE 15th August 1947, Delhi. My final day. Independence has been
(Explosions. Flashes of light.)
SEEMA Baba, you have to wait. How can I do this without you? Wait
declared. But my decisions won’t be released for another day or two … All wrong. I’ve known it from the start. People
are on the move, hundreds of thousands. Millions. Whole villages, entire towns, shifting in anticipation. And the fighting.
They’re at it already. Snipers, bomb-attacks, raids … And I knew it would happen. Mountbatten knew it would happen. The government – Damn it! (THUMPS TABLE)
(Thompson enters hurriedly.)
Sorry to intrude, sir, but there’s been a spot of bother –
Yes, Thompson, I’m sure that’s how they describe it at the club.
The bloodshed, Thompson. It’s only just begun. It could go on for god-knows how long. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs –
At each other’s throats like jackals, sir. It’s only to be expected, after all.
DELHI, AUGUST, 1947
And my hands, our hands, are covered in the stuff. Sir?
The blood, Thompson, the blood!
(Radcliffe starts tearing up his papers, one page slowly and demonstratively then another page, then another.)
What are you doing, sir? The papers, sir – the Commisssion – Oh, don’t worry about the Commission, Thompson (He
tears more paper.). They’ve got their report. All this,
these notes and maps and plans of mine, these are just steps on
the road to chaos. (A riot of paper being torn, then a moment of silence. Radcliffe strikes a match and puts it to the paper.) They call it partition, Thompson. They should have called it perdition.
Radcliffe is seated at his desk, head in hands, burnt papers all around. Seema enters, stops and takes in the scene, then steps forward.
SEEMA RADCLIFFE SEEMA RADCLIFFE SEEMA RADCLIFFE SEEMA
Sahib. What has happened?
Oh, I’ve just been getting rid of some papers.
But all these ashes. I will clean it up for you.
No, that won’t be necessary.
It is my duty, sahib. I will –
No, Seema. Now why are you here? Aren’t you leaving?
Sir, I beg for your mercy. Baba is waiting for me. I beg for your
RADCLIFFE Please, there is never a need to beg. I’m burdened enough. SEEMA Sir, I have to tell you this – otherwise I, my Baba, our whole
family, will die in this partition, and if the partition doesn’t kill us, the shame will.
RADCLIFFE SEEMA RADCLIFFE SEEMA
The shame that one of your men has put on me. Which man?
Mr Julian Thompson, sir. He is responsible for this. You can
ask him, sir. I am not scared anymore. RADCLIFFE That bastard, how could he?
SEEMA I was his servant, sir. I had to do what he bade me do.
(They study each other for a while, Radcliffe assessing Seema’s veracity.) RADCLIFFE I see. Listen, it’s too late now to call him in and try to get any
sense out of him. He’ll deny it anyway. If what you say is true-
SEEMA RADCLIFFE SEEMA RADCLIFFE
Oh it is, sir, I swear –
And you won’t be the first, I’m sure of it. More’s the pity. Thank you, sir. But he told me –
I’m sure he did, Seema. Nevertheless, I promise I will do
everything in my power to get you to a safe place.
The only place that can be safe for us now, sir, safe away from
all the shame, is England.
RADCLIFFE I understand, Seema. Now look, your father – is he safe?
(Radcliffe guides Seema out. Lights fade.)
LONDON, NOVEMBER 2008
Projected footage from YouTube news video (‘Taj hotel encounter caught on CCTV, Mumbai terrorist attacks 26 November 2008’) or similar. Suddenly, it is muted. Elderly Seema is seated, Jasmine stands opposite her.
JASMINE Ma, so this is the reason?
SEEMA All those years ago I promised Sir Cyril Radcliffe that I
wouldn’t tarnish the name of the British any more than it
had been already. What Julian Thompson did to me, I’ll never forgive him. Sir Cyril Radcliffe, he made mistakes but he was our saviour, Jasmine.
JASMINE Is that truly so, Ma?
SCENE 22 A COUNTRY-HOUSE, ENGLAND, 1947
Music on the gramophone – ‘A Lark Ascending’. Radcliffe turns music down to low background level, walks across to look out of the window. He takes a deep breath.
RADCLIFFE What a beautiful day! I don’t think anyone can begin to
understand how happy I am to be home. September in glorious
Gloucestershire. Nevertheless, I have to undertake one
final duty. Before I pop it in the post… let’s see now.
(He goes to desk and picks up letter to read out loud.)
Dear Prime Minister. After serious deliberation on the consequences of my decisions regarding the boundaries between India and Pakistan, I have decided to decline the payment of forty thousand rupees so generously awarded to me. This will perhaps come as no surprise, sir, since I have expressed my misgivings about both the terms of my brief and the outcome …
(Bring up the volume of ‘The Lark Ascending’. Light fades on Radcliffe with the letter. )
In Seema’s flat. JASMINE
LONDON, NOVEMBER 2008
So that’s it, that’s what you’ve hidden from me all these years, Ma. And you decide to tell me just as I am about to fly out to
India. But I’m still going. I may be able to see the house where you and Baba lived.
SEEMA It’s all gone now, I’m sure. Destroyed. There will be no trace of us there now, Jasmine.
JASMINE Well just as well. What has that old life given you? Pain.
Suffering. Come with me, Ma. Maybe not on this trip but we’ll go there one day. You’ll see it’s the age of industry and internet there now. Look. Front cover of The Times:
(Jasmine picks up newspaper and reads headline aloud.)
JASMINE “INDIA INC – WHY THE WORLD’S BIGGEST
DEMOCRACY IS THE NEXT GREAT SUPERPOWER.”
SEEMA And still all these troubles, Beta.
JASMINE I have to go there, Ma. More than ever now. Blackout.