Back in January of 2011, when I was 24, my parents were trying their best to arrange my marriage. (If that sentence doesn’t grab your attention, I don’t know what will). My wonderful, liberal, wordly parents called to tell me about the various nice Indian boys who had responded to the online matrimonial profile they had set up on my behalf. I love my parents and I trust them, but wow, was this hard to take. I decided to go along with it at the time, deeply conflicted about the whole thing, but also treating it with the same attitude I treat everything else in my life- hey, it might make a good story.
It was also time for me, at the beginning of my second semester, to start writing a new play. Our professor Oliver Mayer encouraged us to write something personal. Of course since the idea of arranged marriage was in my head, I wanted to write about that, but hadn’t it been done a million times already?
I remember walking through campus with my friend and director Nathan Singh (here he is)
and talking about this problem, when he said- “You know, I’ve always had this idea. This Indian guy goes to his parents and says- ‘Mom, Dad, I want an arranged marriage.’ And they’re so happy. But then he adds… ‘to a man!'”
And suddenly the play appeared before me. I saw that scene in my head, I knew who the family was, the love interest arrived fully formed a few days later, and I wrote the play over the course of the semester like my fingers were on fire. I had so much fun writing it, and I got to ask the big big questions that were bugging me- why get married at all? How can you reconcile your own romantic and sexual desires with what your family expects from you? Does arranged marriage make more sense these days than the irrational process of marrying for love? What happens if I ‘settle’ for an arranged marriage and wake up one day ten years later unhappy and regretful? How do my parents (who had one conversation before they got married, and have stayed married for 25+ years) make their marriage work?
The reading at the end of that semester was so fantastic- it was so gratifying to hear these great actors read the play out loud, especially since I had written the characters with them in mind.
My friend Paul Rockower who happened to be there that day, amidst his nomadic travels, blogged about it and made my week.
Last year this play won 2nd place in the 2012 East West Players Face of the Future Playwriting Contest, and I got to see it done as a staged reading at the David Henry Hwang Theatre in Little Tokyo, directed by Nico Raineau. The turnout was so surprisingly great- so many South Asians in particular showed up, and laughed at all the right places. We got a standing ovation at the end, and it really was an incredible feeling.
And now, this semester, my challenge is to push the play to the next level. First drafts are typically much easier for me than re-writes, so this is tough. The advantage is that it’s been nearly two years since I first thought of this idea, and I’ve changed and matured as a person, and I’d like to get the play to mature over the next few months as well. I can see what it could be- and that is very exciting- but I am also a little lost about how to get there.
But I have time, and Megan, Zury and my professors, and with their help I can hopefully end up with something I’ll be happy to show the world (i.e., my parents).