Writing a play has always been a daunting task to me –it has not become easier with time. A playwrighting teacher at university read a draft of my short play once and told me that I was “vomiting exposition like a novelist.” I initially thought it was a compliment, dreamily imagining myself giving the acceptance speech for the Booker Prize in 2030, but a quick look at her face corrected my understanding of her intentions.
In 2014, I had just graduated from university and moved to Canada, where my family lived. While puttering around somewhat aimlessly through this new and uncharted phase, I always kept coming back to theatre – volunteering in theatre festivals as a stage hand, auditioning for various roles around the city, and eventually, daring to respond to calls for script submissions. One such draft, of a play entitled The Creases in My Sari, was chosen for workshopping and a staged reading at a festival hosted by Alumnae Theatre , a vibrant theatre company whose presence in the city spanned many decades. One of the producers of the festival, Carolyn Zapf, adopted my play (and along with it, me and served as my dramaturg, sitting patiently with me as I revised the play about a dozen times.
The story that I chose to tell was a result of my experience of moving to Toronto in 2009, less than two months after the Sri Lankan civil war ended. I was born and raised in Sri Lanka in a somewhat apolitical Tamil family. My family, unlike thousands of other Sri Lankan Tamils, did not leave Sri Lanka because of political persecution, but because they wanted to pursue economic opportunities in the “First World.” We moved to Scarborough, home to many Sri Lankan Tamils, many of whom fled the war. In various corner shops and bakeries, I would see pictures of the recently killed Prabharan, leader of the Tamil Tigers, glaring down at us from walls, adorned with flowers. I was shocked and stunned because in Sri Lanka, support of the Tigers was rarely expressed publicly. So conditioned was I by my Sri Lankan upbringing that I thought I would be arrested for walking into such a store.
The Creases in My Sari tells the story of Maheshwari, a young woman in her twenties whose mother fled to Canada from Sri Lanka when she was still a baby. Feeling detached from her Sri Lankan identity , Mahesh meets Chanaka , a Sinhalese man and falls in love with him, to her mother’s disapproval.
All of this is set against the backdrop of the end of the Sri Lankan war, during which time Toronto saw a variety of protests and road closures because of the masses of people opposing the Sri Lankan government’s treatment of civilians. After the reading in March 2015, I took the hard copy of my script and put it away, promising myself not to look at it for a year. By the time 2016 came along, Alumnae Theatre told me that the play had been chosen for a full staged performance as part of their FireWorks Festival.
After revising the play and handing it over to the director, I mostly stayed removed from the rehearsal process because I had moved to India by that time. I excitedly waited for friends and family to share their feedback with me, and I could never fully fathom the fact that all this effort was going into a play that I had written.
The Creases in My Sari, as a piece of dramatic writing, is not something that I am proud of. There are some plot holes, and as an ambassador of my culture and experiences, I am always wary of appropriating my own culture or “exoticising” it. But the actual act of writing and developing with it all the tools and resources that I had has been one of the most important experiences of my life – it is intensely humbling, and is a testament to how the creative mind is fluid and is constantly reinventing itself. It has shown me that it is okay to be embarrassed by our own work because that embarrassment will be an agent of change, proving to ourselves that we are dynamic, changing human beings, making sense of the world in newer and clearer ways as we navigate our way through it.