Setting: high school in small-town Illinois
Arun Patel and Greg Atkins are best friends at Bluefish High School, a commonplace small-town high school in a commonplace town in Illinois. They are eighteen, in the senior year.
Greg is a dumpy, plump, pale Irish American. Arun is a stunningly handsome, dark-skinned Indian American. Cue scenes of Greg standing up for Arun, who is taunted mercilessly by his classmates and given names like camel jockey, towel-head, and sand nigger.
Arun and Greg dream of becoming famous, world-renowned actors. Arun, however, has the talent. Greg does not. Both hope to go to NYC after graduation, and attend Juilliard. The school’s final theatrical show is announced their senior year: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.
The two chums cannot wait to audition, and know they are made for these roles. The far-more talented Arun, however, believes he is right not for Tom but of the main character, Huckleberry. After the auditions, held by the school’s frumpy middle-aged drama teacher, Mr. Wills, they are told that they will likely get parts, and would find out the results a week later. Although Mr. Wills does not specify what the parts will be, his demeanor (winks, smiles etc) suggest that they have won the lead roles.
Arun’s parents, like most parents of Indian descent, want Arun to give up his foolish dreams of being an actor, and do something “important” like becoming a surgeon, engineer, or IT man.
When they discover that Arun has the chance to play a major lead along with his friend, they change their minds and throw a party with Greg’s family. Both sets of parents are delighted. The party, held at Arun’s small house, is a vibrant scene that evokes an embracing of Indian culture by contemporary White America. Here, at long last, Arun and Greg have gotten their parents’ permission to pursue their dreams.
Come Monday, Mr. Wills calls them into his classroom to personally tell them which roles they won. With delight, he tells Greg that he will playing Tom Sawyer! Arun is delighted, knowing that he has won the lead role! Observing Arun’s grinning face, Mr. Wills reassuringly tells
Arun that he has an even more special part.
Last scene: the play’s opening night performance
Greg is giving, as expected, a bad performance as Tom Sawyer. Arun, onstage, is rowing a boat. But he is not playing Huckleberry; a nameless young blond White boy is playing the lead role. Arun, instead, is playing Jim. The Runaway Slave. His dark brown skin has been made-up to look even darker in the bright lights. ###
Ashok Rajamani is a writer and artist living in NYC. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including South Asian Review, Catamaran Literary Journal, and 3am magazine. His memoir, BRAIN KARMA, will be published by Algonquin Books in 2011. For more info: www.ashokrajamani.com.