Writer: Mahesh Dattani
“Are you near your closet?”
A voice, urgent but friendly, begins this audio play by director and writer, Mahesh Dattani. The listener is asked to relocate to where they store their clothes. We are asked to select a garment, something you wouldn’t want others to see. The voice encourages us to be adventurous – a silk scarf, a jacket. Wear masculine garb, or feminine – it’s up to you.
We hear the rustling of fabric; heavy, weighted swathes of it. The voice sings a folk song, and introduces herself. She is a sari – rare, handmade and valuable. She has been sitting, carefully folded, in a closet. Until a little boy eagerly dives in, and pulls out the garment to try it on.
The sari (voiced by Swati Das) laughs as the boy can’t quite get the hang of wearing her – the folds are too much for his body. She also remarks that this is only the second time she has been worn – the first was ceremonial, the second time, now, is informal and playful. The sari remarks how she has caught the eye of “a fanciful little boy”. He is not meant to be touching the garment, let alone wearing it. But the sari doesn’t care. This is their secret, and secrets, we are reassured, are exciting.
Dattani’s play not only explores the possibilities when gender roles are swept aside, but the intrinsic meaning of the sari itself. She tells us her ancestry goes back over 850 years. She is a patola sari (a double sari usually made from silk) and was crafted by a family (surprisingly men only) to be worn by a Queen. The garment since then has been handed down through families, displayed at weddings. Only the curious little boy is brave enough to wear it, trail it along the floor and billow the fabric up into the air. There is an appreciation of its beauty, but a healthy disregard of the weight of authority. What should and shouldn’t be done, the idea of an heirloom being essentially untouchable; tucked away in a cupboard for years. Out in the open, the sari revels in the experience.
A Little Drape of Heaven takes a good, long look at traditions and what holds them in place. Dattani imagines a new life for the sari, repurposed, as the boy grows up. The initial secrecy surrounding the garment (we hear the thudding of his heartbeat as he fears being discovered with the sari) is swept away as the rigidity of gender conformity begins to loosen.
Over the passage of time, secrets become truths. There is a generosity in Dattani’s writing. There is no judgement, no assumptions made. The freedom to let go, to let your guard down, to simply breathe, will be performing an essential service for some. The play acknowledges that there is still work to be done, a hand needing to be outstretched. Told simply, but effectively, A Little Drape of Heaven celebrates the power (and potential) of secrets and stories.
Available online until 28 August 2022
The Camden Fringe runs from 1-28 August 2022