Monday, December 04, 2006

Bea's Novel (2)

On Thursday, by mid-afternoon, Sara braced herself for Kameladevi’s broadcast. Oh, why did she arrange to have a friend on the air? She knew it was bad form, frowned upon. Was it self-destructive? She was proud of Kameladevi, proud to know the Congress Party leader, proud of her contacts with the Indian community in New York. She was all for the Indian struggle for independence from Britain, as much as she knew about it. But now, with Kameladevi about to go on the air, Sara knew she had no idea at all how Kameladevi would behave.

In going over the script, Sara had asked her to change one line. It wasn’t really censorship, just a shift of emphasis so Sara would not feel called upon, morally required, to submit the script to legal staff for clearance. While straightening out the matter, Kameladevi had left for Washington and matters had to be handled over the phone. Anyone who had taken part in the Salt March to the sea with Gandhi, spent five years in a British prison, a former actress at that, couldn’t be easily restrained, Sara had discovered.

She listened, at 3:40 p.m., a copy of the revised script in hand. The throaty voice of the Hindu freedom-fighter came over smoothly from Washington, but when Kameladevi reached the revision, she stopped speaking! What was the matter? Seconds ticked by. No sound. Was there something wrong with the controls? No, because the sound wouldn’t go dead exactly at the point where the deletion had been made. Lost her place? Dropped the script? No, it was silent protest. Then, after the consuming silence registered to that important handful of fellow Indians who had tuned in, the deliberate voice took up where it had left and read calmly to the end.

The whole incident reminded Sara of the last time, several months earlier, when she had, as it were, run afoul of the British Government. Claire Boothe Luce was taking part in a forum series that had been cooked up by Wendell Willkie’s widow and a former opera singer, both rich and limelight-starved. Nobody else wanted this horrible series of three Saturday afternoon discussions. So, it landed in Sara’s lap and she could not refuse. Scripts were due days in advance, but Mrs. Luce sent hers in 14 minutes before airtime. A glance showed it was a very strong plea for the United States to join the Allies, stressing the fact that we were already morally committed. Sara had been instructed not to let anything controversial air without recourse to lawyers. She couldn’t reach one on the phone until she was already in the Control Booth. She read the troublesome lines to the lawyer at his home in Scarsdale. “Let it go,” he said. With a sigh, she did.

As soon as Mrs. Luce had done her stint, the drenchingly beautiful, topaz-bedecked charmer grabbed Sara by the wrist in a tense, cold grip and explained she had to catch a plane.

When Sara returned to her desk, the phone was ringing.

“What happened this afternoon?” her boss asked. “Bill Paley just called. He said Claire Luce just made a stage entrance at his Long Island house party with the words: Bill Paley, your network tried to censor me this afternoon. “Forty minutes after she had left the studio!”…

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