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  • Writer's pictureHina Siddiqui

White Noise

Rani, a devdasi is in conversation with the Chorus.

Trigger warnings: foul language, description of rape and underage sex

Rani Bai

I stand in my window,

Plying my trade,

Making on my back

More than any of you’s ever made.


What do people do when a prostitute makes a joke?

I don’t know...

They go ‘whore’, ‘whore’, ‘whore’...

Rani Bai

So what if they dedicated me at six?

My parents had no choice, I swear

And time, any wounds will fix

Even the aching down there.


Did see you that girl? What was she wearing?

What a slut! No shame at all...

And then she’ll make a noise when those mawallis down the street grab and grope her...

Is it a question of modesty... and since she has none, what’s to stop us?

Would you like to go first? Or should I?

Rani Bai

The first was when I was fourteen

He promised a big, hefty sum,

And for a virgin was very keen.

I wanted to say no,

But what did I know?

Even so, where was I to go?

He took me in the back,

Forcing it in without any tact

That night I became a true devotee

For I took the Goddess’ name so many times, you see...





(yelling) There is nothing in the village...

Nothing... nothing...

Nothing but old women...

And prostitutes...


You can’t look at the problem from just one angel

Families who dedicate their daughters are not evil...

They do not dedicate their daughters out of ill will, or sheer negligence...

They don’t have the luxury of choice like we do...

The same constraints that lead parents to send their children to work at construction sites or restaurants, make them dedicate them to the Goddess…

There is no employment for these women and there’s certainly no rehabilitation.

Think about it...

How many of you would want Devadasis or their children working in your households?

Would your sons be safe?

Would your husbands be safe?

And who would you ultimately blame?




Rani Bai

I have an asset

Why shouldn’t I just use it?

It has an expiry date

Even the loftiest mountains must sag

In to the dust they will drag

The greenest valleys run dry

The brightest shudder must die

And then?

And then whose hunger will I sate?

People are whoring away their talents...

On television for the whole world to see,

Politicians are whoring away the nation...

But you’ve always let them be.

A voice, an art, your best game,

Leadership, integrity, even your aim,

Skills, abilities, your-God-fucking name...

Saab bikta hai babu, yahaan it’s all on sale...

White Noise is one of my most infamous plays. Most memorably, goons sent by some local political party tried to stop our production due to the mix of sex, violence and religion. We ended up blacking the stage out during certain explicit scenes.

The above piece is an excerpt from Rani Bai's scene. There were three more such scenes. And I still have people quoting lines from the play at me. Okay, I have one person quoting the lines at me.

I tried working with sex-workers in Budhwar Peth some years after this play was done and dusted. Admittedly, I should have done that first and then written a play about devdasis. It wasn't easy. The women were always on call. But I did manage to collect some narratives. I'll share them here sometime soon.

The play itself was inspired by one of the stories in William Dalrymple’s Nine Lives. You can read the original article he wrote about Rani Bai in the New Yorker here. If you'd like to read the full text of the play, get in touch with me and ask.

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