previous
no next



  ― 49 ―

The Sacred Place

A Play in One Act.

Scene — An Indian hawker's room, in the slum quarter of the city. The whitewashed walls are stained and dilapidated looking. One small window overlooks the street.

There are two or three chairs; some rugs lying on the floor serve as a couch or bed. There is no covering on the floor. A hawker's bundle, tied at the corners, rests against the wall. There is a fireplace, with oven.

It is afternoon, but the light is dim.

The hawkers are dressed in shabby European clothes, but wear turbans, white and red. The SAID SHAH SHEREEF, an old man, who wears a fez, sits on a low chair, near the fireplace. AKBAR ALMAD is cooking chaputties at the oven. RAM CHANDRA and ABDULLA, smoking narghiles, recline on the rugs.

MUNSHI GOOLAM MUHAMMED, a young man, better dressed than the others, walks about nervously. He is ill at ease, gesticulating half apologetically, though his tone is gay and plausible.

MUHAMMED.

So the Fast is over.


SHAH.

Yes. The Fast of the Ram'zan is over.


MUHAMMED.

Now you eat. Now you smoke. Good.


SHAH.

You do not keep the fast.


  ― 50 ―


MUHAMMED.

No. We have only one life. Why should we not enjoy ourselves ?


SHAH.

You are a rich merchant. You can talk of enjoyment.


MUHAMMED.

I have a good shop — that is all.


SHAH.

You are rich, Munshi Goolam Muhammed. We are only poor hawkers.


MUHAMMED.

But I have debts owing to me. If everybody paid it would be well.


SHAH.

We travel over the strange and lonely country. We walk miles and miles in the dust and heat, carrying our bundles. We sleep all night under the trees. Yet we do not complain. We do not envy you.


(AKBAR ALMAD finishes cooking, and puts chaputties on tray.)

AKBAR ALMAD.

Will you eat?


MUHAMMED.

I have already dined.


RAM CHANDRA.

Give me chaputties.


ABDULLA.

I have fasted, but I cannot eat yet. I will finish my smoke.


(AKBAR ALMAD Sits with the others on couch.)

MUHAMMED.

Do not be angry, but I am tired of your old ways. You have made a little Asia in Melbourne.


SHAH.

We keep by ourselves. We live in peace.


MUHAMMED.

It is not right. You are out of the world. I believe in progress.


SHAH.

Where do you find what you call progress?


MUHAMMED.

Why, here, everywhere, of course.


SHAH.

I cannot see it.


MUHAMMED.

This is only the slum quarter. . . Ah! the air is stifling. I must smoke. (Lights cigarette.)


SHAH.

All sorts of people seem to live here. We have Chinese, Sikhs and Syrians in the next street. I had a conversation yesterday with a man from Smyrna — a Christian. We came to the conclusion that our own religion was the best.


ABDULLA.

(Looking up.) Yes, that is so.


SHAH.

If you believed in it. But you must have faith. Now this is a Christian city. I look round, and what do I see ? The “push” is as lively as ever. Thieves


  ― 51 ―
and young “bucks” hang around the pubs, and unveiled women scream and brawl at the street corners. It is true we live in the slums. But here we see the Christian people without the mask.


MUHAMMED.

There are always bad people and good people.


SHAH.

That is so, Muhammed. There are bad people who do not live in the slums.


MUHAMMED.

Melbourne is a very fine city.


SHAH.

But not so fine as Delhi, the city of Akbar.


RAM CHANDRA.

I come Bambai . . bara shara big place, very fine.


ABDULLA.

I come Colombo. O, the palms and pearls and the perfumes!


SHAH.

We come from different places, but we are all children of God.


RAM CHANDRA.

We are Mahommedans.


ABDULLA.

Yes, we are all true believers.


MUHAMMED.

Bah! You will not learn. You are too old-fashioned. It is all superstition.


SHAH.

What do you say, Muhammed ?


MUHAMMED.

It is superstition . . . all your religion. I do not believe one word of it.


SHAH.

You think you are very wise, Muhammed. You love your money, and will not make the pilgrimage to Mecca.


MUHAMMED.

The pilgrimage! I do not believe in that — all that trouble for nothing.


SHAH.

Why stay at home, and live like a dog!


RAM CHANDRA.

I go Mecca next year.


SHAH.

You will see many wonders. It is good to make the pilgrimage. It is education. There we see different races of people — Arab, Persian, Syrian, Egyptian, Indian — we all meet and tell our adventures, and pray together at the holy places, and drink coffee in Mussah bazaar — so our religion teaches. Who travels for money ends as a vagabond, but whoso travels for education becomes a philosopher.


MUHAMMED.

I have no time to waste on that. I do not want to see Mecca.


  ― 52 ―


SHAH.

Every step towards Mecca blots out a sin.


MUHAMMED.

. . I would rather go to Sydney or San Francisco. I like life . . . life.


SHAH.

That is well. Enjoy yourself, Muhammed, see the world; all religions permit that. You are a young man . . the time for you is not yet. I am getting an old man — the time is close — it is right I think of the wonders of God.


(SHAH goes to back of room. There is a door heavily curtained, and secured with a Yale lock. He draws aside the curtains and opens the door. A little mosque is revealed. On the altar lies a Koran, wrapped in a red cloth. The hawkers bow.)

HAWKERS.

The sacred place! Pak Jagah! Pak Jagah!


SHAH.

Behold our mosque . . the Sacred Place!


RAM CHANDRA.

This, is where we all come to worship.


SHAH.

Here is the Koran the Sacred Book!


HAWKERS.

Kitab! Kitab!


ABDULLA.

Said Shah Shereef read Koran. Arabic. I speak Hindustani.


MUHAMMED.

What a curious place for a mosque! I do not understand you. Tell me what is the good of it all ?


SHAH.

Prayer is a good thing. Prayer is better than sleep.


MUHAMMED.

Ah, it would be better if you minded your business.


RAM CHANDRA.

Said Shah Shereef holds the services. We bear witness to the truth of the Prophet's teaching.


SHAH.

You look surprised, Muhammed. We live our own life here. We are nomads, and even in the slums the nomads find their desert.


MUHAMMED.

I do not want your desert, no, no!


SHAH.

It is sweet in the desert, for there you may learn some of the secrets of God.


MUHAMMED.

I am a modern man. I have seen the world. I do not believe what your religion teaches. I do not believe.


  ― 53 ―


SHAH.

Mahommedans must have faith. I will tell you a story. Three years ago Abdul Khan lived in this city. He was not a good man. He would smoke, and drink wine, and gamble with cards, and say only midnight prayers.


MUHAMMED.

What are midnight prayers?


SHAH.

The prayers that nobody says. Only twice in a year would he come to our mosque. One day, in front of his house he picked up gold piece. He told lie. He said the gold belonged to him. It was greed. We did not believe him. Then Abdul Khan took the oath on his son's body. Do you know what happened?


MUHAMMED.

No.


SHAH.

That very night his little boy died. That is the truth, Muhammed. (To hawkers.) Do you remember Abdul Khan ?


HAWKERS.

Abdul Khan!


SHAH.

He confessed his fault. He became very good man.


MUHAMMED.

Bah! That is another superstition.


SHAH.

No, that is faith. Many things you can teach us, Muhammed, but you cannot teach us faith.


(SHAH goes to the Koran, and reads silently.)

MUHAMMED.

(To HAWKERS.) No wonder you remain poor. He has too much power over you. Wait a little! I will show you something. I will show you!


ABDULLA.

(Eating.) I will eat now.


AKBAR ALMAD.

Now I will smoke. The Fast is over.


MUHAMMED.

(Seeing the bundle in the corner.) Ah, here are the goods I sent. Have you divided them up ?


RAM CHANDRA.

Not yet.


ABDULLA.

Shah will do what is right. He is a just man.


MUHAMMED.

(Nervously.) No, no. I will show you what justice is. . . It is very hot here. I want air. (Looks out of window.) Ah, I see someone.


ABDULLA.

(Looking out of window.) It is a policeman. He is coming this way.


MUHAMMED.

Yes, I expected him. I must speak with him.


  ― 54 ―


SHAH.

(Turning round.) Your behaviour is very strange. What weight is on your mind ?


MUHAMMED.

(Excitedly.) You will soon learn my meaning. (To SHAH, who is reading.) I go now Said Shah Shereef. I go, but that is not the end not at all. I will show you who is right. (Exit MUHAMMED.)


ABDULLA.

What does he mean ?


SHAH.

I do not know. Munshi Goolam Muhammed is very excited.


RAM CHANDRA.

He has been gambling, and losing money.


ABDULLA.

Why did he come here?


SHAH.

I think not for good purpose. No matter. Let us forget him. I will read in the book.


(SHAH reads quietly.)

A pause.

RAM CHANDRA.

I go into the far bush to-morrow.


AKBAR ALMAD.

Next week I go North.


RAM CHANDRA.

I wander three months to farm and station, and mining camp. It is a hard life. I carry my bundle like a heavy load of sins. I live on the road. I sleep under the stars.


AKBAR ALMAD.

I do not like the bush. The women have rough voices, and the children throw stones.


RAM CHANDRA.

I save money to go back Bambai. I think of that on the lonely roads. . Bambai. . . I would sit at the café where the beautiful women pass, and watch the pigeons playing round the fountain.


(Silence.)

(Then a knock at the door.)

AKBAR ALMAD.

Who is that?


ABDULLA.

Polis!


SHAH.

One moment.


(He shuts door of mosque, draws curtains, and returns to his chair.)

(Another knock.)

SHAH.

Open the door.


(ABDULLA opens door.)

(Enter CONSTABLE MATTHEWS.)

HAWKERS.

Salam!


  ― 55 ―


CONSTABLE.

Good day. I want to see Said Shah Shereef.


RAM CHANDRA.

(Pointing.) The Said Shah.


CONSTABLE.

Are you Said Shah Shereef ?


SHAH.

Yes. That is my name.


CONSTABLE.

I have a bit of business with you.


SHAH.

Speak, I listen.


CONSTABLE.

I have a summons for you.


(CONSTABLE takes out blue paper.)

HAWKERS.

A summons!


SHAH.

I do not understand.


CONSTABLE.

Here it is.


(He hands the summons to SHAH, who examines it carefully.)

AKBAR ALMAD.

(Putting away tray as CONSTABLE approaches.) Please do not be offended. No alien shadow must fall across the food.


SHAH.

I am a poor man.


CONSTABLE.

That's not my business.


SHAH.

I do not read English. What does this paper say?


CONSTABLE.

It is a summons issued by Munshi Goolam Muhammed.


SHAH.

Muhammed!


HAWKERS.

Munshi Goolam Muhammed!


SHAH.

I do not understand.


CONSTABLE.

It is for £7.16.6 for goods sold and delivered. Muhammed says you haven't paid for them.


SHAH.

I have paid him.


CONSTABLE.

It has nothing to do with me. You must settle the matter between you. The case comes off at Seymour on the 29th.


(Enter MUHAMMED excitedly. He stands by CONSTABLE.)

MUHAMMED.

I summon you, Shah Shereef


HAWKERS.

(Muttering.) Ya-hu! Hu-ya!


CONSTABLE.

There's nothing more I can do. (Going.)


MUHAMMED.

(Holds him.) Wait!


SHAH.

Are you afraid, Muhammed ?


MUHAMMED.

Afraid. No! Everything will be all right.


SHAH.

That is as God wills.


MUHAMMED.

I will have the law.


  ― 56 ―


CONSTABLE.

It's my firm conviction that all you Asiatics love litigation.


SHAH.

I do not owe Muhammed money.


CONSTABLE.

What do I know about that ? I have only to serve the summons.


SHAH.

I say I do not owe Muhammed money.


MUHAMMED.

Look! It is written down on the blue paper.


SHAH.

There must be some mistake. Let us have light on the matter.


ABDULLA.

Tum kharab admi!


SHAH.

I would speak with you, Munshi Goolam Muhammed.


MUHAMMED.

What do you want?


SHAH.

Do you swear I owe you this money?


MUHAMMED.

Yes. I swear.


SHAH.

What is it for ?


MUHAMMED.

You buy goods from my shop. I trust you. You owe me the debt.


RAM CHANDRA.

Tohmat! It is false.


SHAH.

What goods do you mean?


MUHAMMED.

The silks you buy, and fine soap, and pretty bracelets — what the ladies like.


CONSTABLE.

(Seeing bundle in corner.) Is this the stuff ?


MUHAMMED.

Yes; and fine shawls from Kashmir, soft to the touch.


SHAH.

I paid for all these goods.


MUHAMMED.

No, no. Shah Shereef, you forget it.


CONSTABLE.

It's a funny business. Haven't you got a receipt, or a business book, or something ?


SHAH.

We have only one book.


CONSTABLE.

What book is that?


SHAH.

The Koran.


CONSTABLE.

Never mind that. Did you buy these things from Muhammed, or not?


SHAH.

Yes. I bought them.


MUHAMMED.

You owe me the debt.


SHAH.

You must deal honestly, Muhammed. You must not draw from the poor.


MUHAMMED.

You owe me the debt.


SHAH.

Are you speaking truth, Muhammed?


  ― 57 ―


MUHAMMED.

(Plausibly.) The truth of my story is this. I go to the City Court for my licence. I hear the cases. It is justice. The British law is justice. The judge — very good man — he sit on the Bench. I say you owe me the debt. You say you know nothing about it. Well, that is so. We go to the Court. We state our case. The judge, he will decide between us. That is justice. Am I not speaking right ?


SHAH.

No. Munshi Goolam Muhammed, you are a liar.


MUHAMMED.

A liar you say. I defy you.


AKBAR ALMAD.

Jhuta! Jhuta!


SHAH.

Your heart is black, Muhammed.


MUHAMMED.

It is an insult.


SHAH.

I say you are the son of a dog.


MUHAMMED.

You would humiliate me before this gentleman.


SHAH.

You are the son of a dog.


AKBAR ALMAD.

Kutta! Kutta!


MUHAMMED.

I thrust back the insult in your face.


(MUHAMMED rushes at SHAH. The CONSTABLE keeps them apart, the HAWKERS gather round muttering.)

MUHAMMED.

(Shouting.) I summon you. I summon you.


CONSTABLE.

That's enough. Keep back there. No disturbance. You can argue the matter out without fighting.


SHAH.

I forget myself. This is a holy day. The gates of Paradise are open. The books of good and evil will be balanced.


MUHAMMED.

We shall see in the Court.


SHAH.

No. Why should we wait ? We shall decide to-day.


RAM CHANDRA.

Aj! Aj!


MUHAMMED.

How so? How we decide?


SHAH.

We shall decide now, Muhammed.


RAM CHANDRA.

Ab hi! Ab hi!


MUHAMMED.

We shall go to Seymour.


SHAH.

No. Let us go to the Sacred Place!


MUHAMMED.

We must ask the judge to decide between us.


  ― 58 ―


SHAH.

God will be our judge. Come — the Sacred Place.


HAWKERS.

Pak jagah! Pak jagah!


CONSTABLE.

What's all this about? What are you going to do ?


SHAH.

I will show you.


MUHAMMED.

I want justice — the British law.


SHAH.

I want the Shara — the Mahommedan law.


AKBAR ALMAD.

Shara! Shara!


(SHAH goes up to the mosque.)

SHAH.

Here is our mosque — this is the Sacred Place.


(SHAH draws aside curtains and unlocks door again, revealing the little mosque, with the Koran on the altar.)

SHAH.

And this is the Koran — our Sacred Book.


ABDULLA.

(To CONSTABLE) The Koran!


(SHAH now confronts MUHAMMED, who is very excited.)

SHAH.

You swear I owe you money?


MUHAMMED.

Yes. I swear it.


SHAH.

That is well. How much?


MUHAMMED.

It is written on the paper.


SHAH.

(Looking at summons) Seven pounds sixteen shillings . . and sixpence. I will get the money.


(SHAH gets his purse, takes out money, and slowly counts it.)

SHAH.

Seven pounds-sixteen shillings and sixpence. . . Here it all is (shows money in his hand.) We will try the case now.


MUHAMMED.

I want justice. I want the law. That is all I ask. Am I not speaking right, Mr. Matthews?


SHAH.

There is no law but the law of the Prophet.


MUHAMMED.

You forgot yourself, Shah Shereef. This is English country. Where is the judge?


SHAH.

We are Mahommedans. God will be our judge.


(SHAH returns to mosque.)

SHAH.

Here is the money. See, I place it on the Koran, the Sacred Book. (Puts money on book.) I call God to witness I do not owe the money. (SHAH looks at MUHAMMED, who has become very nervous.) Go, Munshi Goolam Muhammed, if the money is yours,


  ― 59 ―
take it. Allah will approve. Go, take the money. And if your deed is right you will receive the holy favours. Why do you hesitate ? Take the money — there it lies before you. But if you act a lie, Muhammed — if I have paid the debt, God will punish you. You know the truth of my words. God will punish you.


RAM CHANDRA.

It is the Sacred Place.


ABDULLA.

Pak jagah!


SHAH.

God will judge us. Why do you wait, Muhammed ? What have you to fear if your cause is just ! Look ! There is the money — on the Sacred Book. Go, take it!


(MUHAMMED moves nervously towards mosque.)

SHAH.

Will you take the oath on the Sacred Book ?


ABDULLA.

Abdul Khan!


HAWKERS.

Abdul Khan!


SHAH.

Remember Abdul Khan! He defied God. (MUHAMMED pauses.)


SHAH.

Go, Munshi Goolam Muhammed, take what is owing to you — but no more. God is watching you.


(MUHAMMED approaches mosque.)

SHAH.

I warn you. If you act falsely like a thief and a liar, you will be struck dead, Muhammed. Go!


(MUHAMMED draws back and cries out in fear.)

MUHAMMED.

I will be struck dead. I ask pardon of God. I have committed a fault.


SHAH.

What do you say, Muhammed?


MUHAMMED.

It is the Sacred Place.


ABDULLA.

Pak jagah!


MUHAMMED.

I have lied. I have eaten dirt. You have paid for the goods, Shah Shereef. You do not owe the money.


SHAH.

May your heart be cleansed, Muhammed.


(SHAH goes back to mosque and takes up the money.)

SHAH.

(To CONSTABLE) That is the law of the Prophet.


CONSTABLE.

It beats me. . Anyway I'm glad you settled it between you. So you won't appear, Muhammed ? (MUHAMMED shakes his head.) I think it will be all right then. Good-day.


  ― 60 ―


MUHAMMED.

I go too.


HAWKERS.

(muttering.) Hu-ya, Muhammed. Hu-ya!


SHAH.

All is forgiven. You have faith, Muhammed. You are a true believer. Depart in peace.


(Exit CONSTABLE followed by MUHAMMED)

(SHAH shuts door of mosque and draws curtains.)

(AKBAR ALMAD brings forth tray of food. The HAWKERS sit round the couch together.)

SHAH.

The Fast of the Ram'zan is over. La ilahi Illallah!


HAWKERS.

La ilahi Illallah!


CURTAIN
previous
no next