India Song (1973), by Marguerite Duras, is an experimental play set in colonial India during the 1930s. Through her unique use of disembodied voices as narrators, Duras presents a composite account of the tragic love story of Anne-Marie Stretter, wife of the French ambassador to India.
In 1972, Duras was commissioned by Britain’s National Theatre to write India Song as a play, although it was not staged at that time. India Song was first published in book form as a play/screenplay/ novel in 1973. It was adapted to film as a motion picture released in 1975 and first performed on stage in 1993.
India Songis narrated by four voices, two female and two male, who recall the events of one night at a party held at the French embassy in Calcutta in 1937 and the following day at the French residence on an island in the Indian Ocean. Anne- Marie Stretter is an object of fascination for everyone. Although married to Ambassador Stretter, she has taken Michael Richardson as her lover. Two other men, a French vice-consul and a young French attaché, are also in love with her. One night, Anne- Marie commits suicide by walking into the Indian Ocean to drown herself. Her story is set within the luxurious confines of European colonial life, where the privileged white colonists take refuge from the poverty, disease, starvation, and suffering of the Indian people.
India Song covers many themes, including love, desire, passion, and the social inequalities of colonial domination.
‘‘India Song,’’ a blues tune is heard being played on a piano. Two disembodied female voices, voice 1 and voice 2, are heard talking to each other. The two voices indicate that Michael Richardson had been engaged to a local woman in the town of S. Thala but that he met Anne-Marie Stretter at a dance one night and fell in love with her. After meeting Anne-Marie, he abandoned his fianceé and followed Anne-Marie to Calcutta. Anne-Marie, dressed in black, lounges on a couch. Michael Richardson sits next to her, while a third man stands nearby. The voices explain that Anne-Marie died one night while in India and that Michael Richardson left the country after her death.
Anne-Marie and Michael get up from the couch and begin dancing. The two voices speak as if partially remembering a story they had heard long ago. They remember that the setting of the dancing couple is the French embassy in Calcutta, India. The street sounds of Calcutta can be heard in the distance. A beggar woman is heard, shouting and laughing. The two voices recall that the beggar woman, who is crazy, is from Burma. The voices state that the beggar woman got pregnant at the age of seventeen and was kicked out of the house by her mother. They say that she spent ten years walking across Asia, before arriving in Calcutta.
Anne-Marie enters the French embassy. She stands in the middle of the room and weeps silently. Michael Richardson enters, takes Anne-Marie in his arms, and gently lays her down on the floor. He sits down beside her and watches her sleep. The voices state that Michael’s former fiancée died after he abandoned her for Anne-Marie. A second man, the Stretters’ guest, enters and sits beside Anne-Marie. Both men lie down next to her.
The two voices begin to recount the ‘‘ballad of Anne-Marie Stretter.’’ They say that Anne-Marie was originally from Venice and that she married a French colonial official at the age of 18. She later met Ambassador Stretter and left her first husband to marry him. For the next seventeen years, she moved with Ambassador Stretter to various cities throughout Asia.
As the two voices talk about Anne-Marie, the vice-consul can be heard in the distance, crying in despair. The voices explain that, in the city of Lahore, the vice-consul shot a gun from his balcony at the lepers and beggars below him. The voices recall that Anne-Marie first attempted to commit suicide while in Chandernagor. In the distance, a glow emanates from the horizon, which the voices identity as...
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