Image: The Parcel illustration by Raffi Anderian

We Go By Many Names

Created by Anosh Irani

We Go By Many Names is the story of Madhu, a forty-year-old transgender person living within Bombay’s hijra community, who longs to be united with her biological family. In doing so, she is betraying herself because she is longing for the very people who rejected her; this is her secret desire, and it goes against the tenets of her community. However, in this journey, she comes to love herself – all the while challenging the audience’s perception of what it is to be a trans person, a sex worker, a human being on the margins, who might be comfortable with being on the margins, and comes to think of it as a strength – not a weakness.” – Anosh Irani

Dramaturgy and process

Nightswimming commissioned Anosh to create a new work based on his acclaimed novel The Parcel in 2021, collaborating with him to find the theatrical voice of this story and bring the central character of Madhu to the stage through text and choreographed movement.

Anosh Irani has spent much of the past decade building a very successful career as a novelist, but I always think of him first and foremost as a playwright. I first worked with Anosh on his first play, The Matka King, when I was Company Dramaturg at Factory Theatre twenty years ago. The script introduced Anosh’s unique playwriting voice, one that combines drama with hilarity, all in the context of social and political analysis that places marginalized characters on stage at the heart of his dramas.

Anosh and Brian explored their love for the ways dance can convey as much or more on stage than text, which led to a series of conversations about an idea that Anosh was developing: a story about a blind man who falls in love with a woman through the sound of her feet as she dances.

Nightswimming commissioned Anosh to write that play, Bombay Black, and our collaboration throughout the writing, workshop, rehearsal and production process was deeply satisfying. Bombay Black was a great success, with the Cahoots Theatre production receiving the Dora Award for Outstanding New Play.

Anosh approached Nightswimming about creating an adaptation of The Parcel that would once again focus on dance and physical movement to tell key elements of the story, draw on what we experienced creating Bombay Black, and ask us to venture into the unknown. It is imagined as a large scale production, with movement at its heart, with only enough text to ensure that plot and character are accessible and moving, and it tackles challenging ideas in a challenging milieu…the hijra community in Bombay’s red light district.

More about the process:

Audience response to my novel has been my inspiration to find a new way to share the story of Madhu’s journey and bring it to audiences that might not otherwise experience her world. I see Madhu like an ancient Indian storyteller, clapping her hands the way the hijras do even today, gathering the audience around her, to tell her tale. She speaks with her body, her gestures, and then uses dance as a medium of expression – all the while being in cahoots, and in conflict, with the audience. If my book inspired people and changed minds, a theatrical version will be magical and even more immediate in its impact. – Anosh Irani

Nightswimming’s commission has enabled Anosh to spend time with us dissecting his novel, identifying which elements to bring into the stage version, while uncovering new images and ideas that don’t appear in his novel and will be unique to this theatrical telling of Madhu’s life. Sessions in September 2022 developed a first outline of the new piece, now called We Go By Many Names. This phase of the process has been exciting on many levels and continues in 2023….


Brian Quirt (dramaturg), Gloria Mok, Nathaniel Hanula-James. Davinder Malhi.