Playwright Rajesh Talwar uses fictional as well as real-life scenarios, such as the conflict in Ukraine, to spark an important global debate through his play – How to Kill Everyone on the Planet – Ukraine and Other Recipes for a Nuclear Matricide. Published while the war in Ukraine continues, the play’s script is concerning the survival of our planet in a conflict-ridden world.
From Outer Space, four members of the Cosmic Crisis Committee watch a situation in Islamabad that has the potential to escalate into a full-blown nuclear war between India and Pakistan. A conflict between Singapore and Malaysia could also escalate into a World War.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine raises the real and immediate possibility of nuclear warfare with horrific consequences for the entire planet. At the military academy in Moscow, a Russian instructor discusses the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and explains to his students how artificial intelligence (AI) can be a game-changer in the conflict.
Meanwhile, the Hairies, a violent, meat-eating, alien species descend on Earth with a view to colonising it. Will the Blue Planet survive? Will humans commit global harakiri by carrying out a ‘nuclear matricide’ and will the planet become a ball of fire?
Playwright Rajesh Talwar uses fictional as well as real-life scenarios, such as the conflict in Ukraine, to spark an important global debate.
How to Kill everyone on the Planet: Ukraine and other recipes for a Nuclear Matricide (Bridging Borders) released on 24th June 2022.
Rajesh Talwar has written thirty-four books. These include novels, children’s stories, plays, self-help books, and non-fiction works covering issues of social justice, culture and law.
Rajesh Talwar plays cover diverse contemporary themes and historical retellings. They include Inside Gayland, The Bride Who Would Not Burn, Conquest at Noon, The Killings in November, Kaash Kashmir, Aurangzeb: The Darkness in His Heart, Gandhi, Ambedkar and the Four-legged Scorpion, High Fidelity Transmission and A Nuclear Matricide.
He writes, Hundreds of novels, films and documentaries have been made on the theme but there has been comparatively little theatre. Perhaps this play could help bridge that gap. As an Indian I am all too aware of the risk of having an unstable, nuclear armed neighbour that is open to influence by extreme elements. As a matter of fact, a scene in the play has a notable terrorist urging the Pakistani Prime Minister to nuke India. In choosing a suitable title for the play, I was looking for something that was simple and direct, yet sufficiently distinctive in this age of the Internet.”
“After a few days of mulling over the matter How to Kill Everyone on the Planet came to my mind. I was confident though, within seconds of that thought emerging, that such an obvious title would have already been taken, for surely, we, the denizens of the Blue Planet, have done everything we possibly can to obliterate ourselves,” he adds.
Writing on contemporary issues using real life incidents will bring out many points of reference, as you will read in this extract which is based on the accidental killing of an Indian student in Ukraine due to shelling in the ongoing war situation between Ukraine and Russia.
Extract (Scene 7):
1 March, 2022, Kharkiv, Ukraine, Planet Earth. It is six days since the Russians invaded Ukraine. The scene takes place in an underground bunker where three medical students, two boys and a girl, have been living for the past few days. The bunker includes a kitchenette and an attached bathroom. All three students are in their twenties. The boys are Indian and have a wheat-coloured complexion; the girl is extremely fair and Ukrainian. Tall, bespectacled Nalin is aged 26 years while Akash, who also wears glasses but is shorter and thinner than Nalin is 25 years. Olga, the girl, is aged 24 years. She is slim and attractive with blonde hair and blue eyes. Mattresses have been spread on the floor; there are a couple of small tables and three chairs. One of the tables has food items placed on it, and the other has thick medical textbooks, a transistor and mobile phones. It is nine in the morning.
Akash: Did you sleep much last night?
Nalin: Hardly a couple of hours. The shelling and the explosions from time to time kept me awake.
Olga: Same here.
Nalin: I actually turned on the table lamp and tried to read something. Olga: Something medical?
Nalin: Yes, I was reading Gray’s Anatomy, although to be honest, I’m not sure if there is any point in reading or studying right now.
Akash: The only advantage of doing so is that most of the material is so dull it can help you go to sleep. Everyone laughs.
Olga: Thank you both for allowing me to stay in your bunker.
Nalin: You are most welcome.
Akash: It was no problem at all. (pause) And besides you and Nalin are such good friends.
Olga: (pretends to be annoyed) And what do you mean by that statement, Akash? I thought Nalin and I were something more than good friends. Isn’t that the case,
Nalin? (smiles) Anyhow, as you know, the place I rented is just a five-minute walk away but it has no bunker. When the war began, I papered over all the windows and shut them tight, but then there was a big explosion not far away, and two windows shattered. I knew then I had to move to some place safer. At first, I thought of staying at the bunkers below the university hostels, but, as you may know, they are really crowded and uncomfortable.
Nalin: Yes, fifty people in one bunker.
Akash: They do have a lot of bunkers though. Thousands of students have been accommodated. A couple of gyms have been converted into bunkers as well.
Olga: Each bunker is so crowded and equipped with hardly two or three toilets. It’s not an easy situation. That’s why I decided to call Nalin, and ask if the two of you would be okay with me joining.
Nalin: I’m so happy you are here, but tell me, didn’t you think of going home to your parent’s place? They must be so worried about you.
Olga: As I am for them. Here in Kharkiv, we are in the north-east of the country. My parents live in the south. It’s probably
not a good idea to do any travelling right now, what with the shelling going on. My parents wish me to stay put. You guys were wise to have rented a place that had a bunker.
Akash: More lucky than wise.
Nalin: Absolutely. We didn’t really care about the fact that there was a bunker below our residence. We didn’t imagine there would ever be a need to use it.
Akash: Yes, and frankly, Olga, these past four years, we must have visited it on hardly five to six occasions. First, when our landlady showed us the accommodation and we took the place on rent, and then later we came down a few times to dump some of our stuff here.
Nalin: Basically, we used it as a storeroom. (wistfully) If all had gone well, in another six months I would have been a qualified doctor.
Akash: Man proposes, God disposes. Olga: Your bunker is really small though.
Akash: It is. I don’t think we could have any more guests. Otherwise, we would have offered to someone in need that they could also stay.
Olga: Some houses in Ukraine have these kinds of bunkers from World War II times.
Nalin: Yes, this one is really old. But the landlady got it done up and the electrical wiring and plumbing is all quite new.
Olga: And the heating arrangements. Thank God for that! It’s minus seven outside.
Nalin: Tell me, Olga, as a Ukrainian you might have a better idea than us, how much longer do you think this war could drag on?
Olga: Your guess is as good as mine, Nalin. One thing I do know is that the Russians are not going to leave so easily, even under great international pressure. Unless everyone in the planet comes together. (pause) And your country, India, sorry to say, is not being of much help to us in that regard right now.
Nalin: That is true, Olga but I must tell you that we have good reasons for taking this position. We are surrounded by two foes, Pakistan and China. It is a worrying security environment and we simply cannot afford to antagonise the Russians.
Olga: Why? What will happen if you do? Nalin: We buy eighty percent of our defence equipment from Russia. Following skirmishes last year, the Chinese have amassed thousands of troops in the Himalayas just across the border. The situation is tense and worrying. We need to have our forces ready and defence equipment in good working order. If we antagonise Russia, then we will not be able to rely on them for spares, maintenance, repairs….
Akash: We have also ordered an extremely high-value surface-to-air missile defence system from the Russians.
Olga: (after a pause) Okay, okay, I understand now. Listen, I’m not blaming you guys or your government for a second, but that may not be true of many of our classmates at the National Medical University.
Nalin: Thanks Olga, we do understand the point of view of Ukrainian students.
Akash: By the way it’s nine in the morning now. The night time curfew is over – and we need to eat. I do not wish to eat out of a tin today.
Olga: Not sure if it’s safe to step outside though.
Nalin: Akash is right, we need to eat, and we do need various other small things like
toothpaste, soap and cooking oil. Last time Akash stepped out to buy a few things for us; today it’s my turn.
Olga: It’s been four days since any one of us stepped out.
Akash: Four days of indiscriminate artillery shelling.
Nalin: And bombing from the skies. (pause) Listen, I’m going to go. The shop at the end of the street in the corner will be open now. I’ve made a list of all we need.
Olga: Are you sure?
Nalin: I am sure.
Olga: I can go too. Let me go today.
Nalin: No, not today, Olga, maybe next time. Let me go today.
Olga: (repeats) Are you sure?
Nalin: Yes, I too can’t spend another day eating baked beans out of tins. We need fresh vegetables. I’ll be back in ten, fifteen minutes and then we can all sit down to eat a proper breakfast.
Akash: Sounds good. Olga: I am so looking forward to that.
The sound of a mobile phone ringing interrupts their conversation. All three look to the table where their mobiles have been placed.
Olga: It’s yours, Nalin. It must be so early in the morning in India.
Akash: His Mom calls first thing in the morning.
Nalin picks up the phone and starts speaking.
Nalin: Hello, Mother. Yes, we are fine, Mother. How are you? And how is Papa and Elder Sister? No problem at all, Mother. No, I could not call yesterday because I could not get a signal. Sometimes we don’t get a signal for hours. I know you were worried, Mother, but you must not worry. It’s not good for your blood pressure. There is nothing we can do when the signal goes. Just be patient and wait for the signal to come. Yes, I know you could not sleep, Mother, but please don’t worry. We will get through this crisis. No, I haven’t met Naveen for a few days, but I heard from friends that he is fine. Where is Papa? I want to speak to him. He has gone for his bath? Okay, no problem. You will call again in five minutes? No, Mother, don’t do that. (thinking quickly) Right now, I have to speak with one of my university professors. When should he call? Tell him to call after half an hour. My call should be over by then.
Akash: Which Naveen was your mother talking about?
Olga: The Naveen in our class?
Nalin: Yes, Naveen Shekharappa.
Olga: Naveen S H E K H A R A P P A. You guys have such complicated names.
Nalin: Olga S H E V C H E N K O is no less complicated for us.
Olga: (laughs) Naveen is from your home town, isn’t he?
Nalin: Yes, we are from the same town in Chalageri, Haveri District in Karnataka. Our families know each other very well.
Olga: I like Naveen. He’s a great guy. Akash: Top of the class but always willing to help others.
Nalin: He was like that even when he was a kid. Very bright, very hardworking, very helpful. (pauses) I think his father took a large bank loan to send him here for medical studies.
Akash: Most of our families had to take loans, Nalin.
Nalin: That’s true. Alright, I’ll head off. (puts on a jacket hung on one of the chairs) Let me just get these boots on. (starts to wear his snowshoes)
Olga: (looks worried) Are you sure you feel okay to go out Nalin? There were a couple of explosions this morning.
Nalin: I know. Don’t worry. (gives Olga a hug) I’ll be back in ten minutes. (stands up and starts to climb up the stairs that lead up to a large steel door.) Naveen pushes open the heavy door. Cold wind rushes in.
Olga: Hey Nalin, put on some gloves too.
Akash: It must be freezing outside.
Olga: It should be minus six, minus seven; it could be even lower.
Nalin: Listen, I’ll just go and come.
Olga: There could be a long queue. You may have to wait in the cold. Nalin: It’s okay, really.
Olga: (angry now) Don’t be so stubborn, Nalin! Please put on gloves and wear my cap.
We can’t have any one of us falling sick.
Nalin: (sheepishly) That’s true. (comes down the staircase) Olga: Here you are. Put on the gloves now.
Nalin: (puts on the gloves) Thanks, Olga.
Olga: And now my cap. Nalin: That’s a girl’s cap. Bright yellow.
Olga: It’s much warmer than the one you have. It’s probably snowing outside. Why should you care about such small things at this time? Give me a moment. Olga starts to scrimmage in a bag nearby
Nalin: What are you doing? Olga: Give me a moment. (pulls out a scarf) Wear this scarf too!
Nalin: All right. (smiles) Mom is going to love you when she meets you. Akash: So caring. Just like an Indian girl, na?
Nalin: (laughs) Yeah! Alright. Now, I’m warm enough. (climbs up the stairs again, turns to face Olga and Akash) See you in a few minutes. Just bolt the door from inside, will you?
Olga: (to Akash) It’s really cold outside. (bolts the door)
Akash: And windy too. Did you feel that rush of cool air?
Olga: (comes down the stairs, falls to her knees and says a short prayer) I just hope he returns safe.
Akash: He will.
Olga: (stands up) Let me do the dishes from last night.
Akash: I can help. Olga: No need. Thanks, Akash. (smiles) There is not such a lot. Olga starts to wash dishes. A few minutes pass, and then there is the sound of artillery bombardment in the vicinity.
Olga: My God! Akash: (voice shaking) That was somewhere really close.
Olga: Nalin! Oh my God! Nalin! Akash: It sounded like it was happening just outside.
Olga: (tearful) I just pray Nalin will be fine.
Akash: (anxious) His parents will be calling in twenty minutes. What will I tell them?
Olga: He has to be safe. Olga kneels down, starts to pray once again. Akash looks visibly shaken. Just then there is the sound of banging on the door.
Olga: I hope and pray that is Nalin.
Akash: Let’s open the door More banging. Akash unbolts the door and pushes it open. A gust of wind blows in together with a few snowflakes. Enter Nalin in a visibly distraught condition. He comes down the stairs and falls to the floor. He starts to weep.
Olga: Nalin! Nalin! Are you alright? What’s the matter?
Akash: Did you get hurt? Nalin: No, I’m fine. (sobbing) I’m perfectly fine. It’s Naveen! Poor Naveen!! (sobbing)
Olga: (rubs his shoulder, and back) Calm down, Nalin. Thank God you are okay. Tell us, what happened?
Akash: What don’t you sit down? (pushes a chair towards him) And drink some water. (offers him a glass of water)
Nalin: (sips the water gratefully) Thanks, Akash. (regaining his composure) After I had walked a little ahead, I spotted Naveen hardly two hundred yards away. He was at the corner shop already standing in the queue. You were right, Olga, there was a queue. And it is snowing outside. Naveen saw me too and waved. I would have run across, but there is snow everywhere, and the road itself is slushy and slippery. So I just kept walking slowly. And then…. (hands go to this forehead)
Olga: The bombardment?
Nalin: Yes, a massive bombardment. I think the shells hit the ground hardly a few feet from where Naveen was standing. I was at a fair distance but still I was pushed back by the blast wave caused by exploding artillery shells. When I stood up, I could see smoke everywhere. As I stood and waited, it slowly disappeared, and then I could see wreckage all around, things burning, and bodies….
Olga: Bodies…. Nalin: Yes, even from a distance you could see dead bodies. A few survivors screaming. You could hear their screams even as the ambulances wailed. The white snow was spattered with blood everywhere. Oh my God! Just too ghastly for words.
Akash: And Naveen?
Nalin: No way he could have survived. When the shelling stopped, I did think of going ahead, but then I remembered you guys and thought you would be worried. Also, I remembered my father was about to call. Olga is also tearful and hugs Nalin.
Nalin: You know Olga, if you hadn’t insisted that I come down and put on the gloves and the cap, and then the scarf, I would have been closer to the shop and would also have caught up in the shelling. It was just a matter of a few minutes.
Olga: (hugs him again) Thank God!
Nalin: But what do I tell my parents about Naveen now? Poor Naveen! Their family’s house is hardly a ten-minute walk from my own. How devastated is that family going to be! (starts to sob)
Just then, as if on cue, the phone starts to ring.
(Extracted with permission from Rajesh Talwar’s How to Kill everyone on the Planet: Ukraine and other recipes for a Nuclear Matricide)