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Thursday, August 20, 2009

American Life

Manhattan: Shakespeare in the Parking Lot

So there we stood in the parking lot at the corner of Ludlow and Broome in New York’s fabled Lower East Side, watching a performance of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. It was a warm August evening and all the chairs were taken. Eventually we just squatted on the ground. I thought it would be some amateur effort but was pleasantly surprised at the caliber of the actors and the innovation of their production.

The play was staged by The Drilling CompaNY, an Off-Broadway troupe, which proclaims it is a jazz player that endeavors “to extend the same freedom in creation and production to theater artists that jazz extends to musicians.” The play performed that evening was truly Haryanvi in its intrigues and malafides. It got a bit uncomfortable after an hour of watching it and a Martini beckoned, so we left. It’s not like we didn’t know the end. We luxuriated in the performance, walked to a wondrous bistro: there to eat, drink and be merry with our daughter and her friend.

As we walked back to her place in Gramercy on that night in Manhattan, I couldn’t help marveling at her world of hard work and joyous play. As a twenty-something, our daughter lives this carelessly sophisticated life that is enviable. To live in Lower Manhattan, to have a good job, to have good friends, to shrug off care with awareness and compassion is a life devoutly to be wished.

Beneath her seemingly hard Manhattan exterior, she is good for a cuddly hug and nostalgia. “I’m not ready for this scenario,” I told her: a stereotypical situation when parents visit from the Old World and she takes care of everything. “Deal with it, Dad. This is a different America than when you lived here,” she said. Truth is both our daughters are “cool.” They get it from us because we defined “cool,” way back in the 1960s and 1970s.

It’s only a matter of time before they start saying “groovy” and “far out.” Already women are wearing long skirts and caftans; men are letting their shirts hang out rather tucked in. What they need to know is “whatever,” the coolest of all words today, was first articulated by Archie Bunker in the hit sitcom, “All in the Family.” He said that to a Latino woman character in the show, whose name he found unpronounceable.

Regardless, we spent a wonderful weekend with her. She had a problem because I like steak and burgers; her mother prefers exotic foods like tapas and sushi. “Ok, parents, you can visit only one at a time. I can’t handle these different tastes,” she said as we ended up in a low-grade Italian restaurant with terrible food and brown bag wine on MacDougal Street in the West Village, after much this and that.

Our first weekend in Manhattan was a revelation. Our daughter runs an enlightened home, small but neat and comfortable. We got an insight to her life, which seems to be a lot more about quality than quantity. It is so different than when we lived there in the seventies. She fits into the Manhattan life so easily, where we had to make certain painful adjustments living in Chicago. She was born in America but grew up in Delhi; in the past six years she has lived in Lower Manhattan , you’d think she’d always lived there.

And she ain’t never coming back, that’s for sure. That somewhat sad realization for us is tempered by the knowledge that she has a “Sholay” poster on her dining room wall. And that she went to the Independence Day parade and stood in line to have kulfi.

What a difference a generation makes!

Copyright Rajiv Desai 2009