Indian Ink, by Tom Stoppard. Book report #20 (2020)

I have had this slim lovely book on my shelves for a very long time, but had never actually read it till now. I purchased this book on 05 April 1995, at the Aldwych Theatre in London where I had just seen the play. I was in England for a week to visit my at-the-time (shortly-to-be-ex) boyfriend, as well as visit with my good friend (at that time, living in Yorkshire). One thing I had not done on my first visit to England the previous year was attend the theatre, so this trip involved a few plays, with this being the stand-out (the other was a not-very-funny comedy production of Gogol’s “The Nose” at non-West End theatre North of London).

The selection of the play was somewhat random, and dictated by both schedule and economy. Hence, a Wednesday matinee of “Indian Ink”, which fit both timing and price. The theatre was a London theatre dream, complete with red velvet seats and ice cream as an intermission snack. It was after the play that I purchased the book, in the lobby of the theatre.

In “Indian Ink”, Flora Crewe is a young English poet who travels to India for her health, seeking hot dry climates. On her way to the hills, she spends some time in a small Indian city where she gives a lecture on the London literary scene, of which she is an active member. She meets Nirad Das, a painter, who offers to paint her portrait. A difficult romance ensues. Flora leaves the town for the hills, where a few months later she dies. The story is set in 1930 India and mid- to late-1980s London and India, as a literary scholar tries to piece together her time in India.

I thought the play was wonderful – totally engaging, with real chemistry between the main characters. The production itself was also engaging, with a true sense of the stifling environment – both the heat of India and the constraints of moral codes in both Indian and British society. In reading the play now, I can recall the production very vividly and found again the characters very engaging. One thing I learned in the play was the age of the characters (Flora is in her late-20s/early 30s so so close to my own age when I saw the play, while Nirad is a bit older, possibly late 30s), and the disparities with the ages of the actors who played them (Felicity Kendal was nearly 50 at the time of the play, and Art Malik not much younger). The age difference is not a factor in the the story, and while it didn’t affect the delivery of the play IMHO, as the chemistry between Flora and Nirad was palpable and attractive, on reading the script now, it is a bit hard to reconcile it to the actors. The more mature actors made a bit more sense, lending gravitas and wisdom to Flora and melancholy to Nirad, which would have been missing to have them be too young.

Reading the play brought back many memories – of seeing the play, but also of that trip to England and my own youthful romances (which were tame compared to Flora’s but to me seemed worldly and poetic and (somewhat) tragic). It led me to wonder how Flora, if she’d lived, would have looked back on the loves of her 20s. Perhaps as I do – with no regrets but certainly wistfulness for those people and times, and for the girl I was then, all of which are part of who I am now.

Fate: keep.

12 – set in a place I’ve never been (India)
24 – a new author to me
28 – leftover (since 1995)
29 – a play

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