Love, Art, and Immortality

The Experience of Transcendence through Rasa in Tom Stoppard’s Indian Ink


  • Iswarya V Kristu Jayanti College, India


British playwright Tom Stoppard’s radio play In the Native State (1991) and its stage version Indian Ink (1995) attest to Stoppard’s fascination with the country in which he spent his childhood. The play originated with his idea of wanting to write about the circular situation of a poet who sits for a portrait, while writing about the painting. Set in both colonial India and contemporary Britain, the play deals with the themes of colonialism, love, and art. Even as critical discussions of the play invariably highlight the political and cultural tensions between the East and the West, the elaborate discussions of classical Indian aesthetic theory found in the play have not yet been analysed in depth. Specifically, the spiritual significance of the rasa theory and its implications for Stoppard’s later work on consciousness has seldom been studied. The present essay argues that the play Indian Ink marks the beginning of Stoppard’s continued engagement with the aesthetic and religious philosophy of ancient India. Here, in particular, may be seen the emergence of the idea of a Universal Consciousness that transcends space and time, which closely resembles the Vedantic conception of Brahman.

Author Biography

Iswarya V, Kristu Jayanti College, India

Iswarya V works as Assistant Professor at the Department of English, Kristu Jayanti College, Bengaluru, India. Her research interests include contemporary British drama, metatheatre, and consciousness studies. She was previously a UGC-Senior Research Fellow at Madras Christian College. Her doctoral research focussed on the representation of consciousness in Tom Stoppard’s drama. She has presented her work internationally and is the co-editor of the anthology The Cosmic and the Corporeal: Interdisciplinary Explorations of Time, Space and Body (Institute of Interdisciplinary Inquiry, New Zealand). She has also been involved in student theatre for many years. Apart from her academic interests, she has been active in running a social media campaign “Calling Out Stalking,” as part of which she has written on Tamil cinema for popular publications. She can be contacted at


Balasaraswati, T. 1984. “On Bharatanatyam.” Translated by S. Guhan. Sangeet Natak Akademi

–73 (Sep.-Apr.): 8–13.

Bhatia, Nandi. 2009. “Reinventing India through ‘A Quite Witty Pastiche’: Reading Tom

Stoppard’s Indian Ink.” Modern Drama 52 (2): 220–37. doi:10.3138/md.52.2.220.

Blavatsky, H. P. 1890. The Key to Theosophy. 2nd ed. London: Theosophical Publishing Society.

Chari, V. K. 1976. “Poetic Emotions and Poetic Semantics.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art

Criticism 34 (3): 287–99. doi:10.2307/430010.

Coomaraswamy, Ananda. 1918. The Dance of ?iva: Fourteen Indian Essays. New York: Sunwise


Coveney, Michael. 1993. “Head-Scratching in Stoppard’s Arcadia.” The Observer, April 18,

Dace, Wallace. 1963. “The Concept of ‘Rasa’ in Sanskrit Dramatic Theory.” Educational Theatre

Journal 15 (3): 249–54. doi:10.2307/3204783.

Delaney, Paul. 1994. Tom Stoppard in Conversation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Fleming, John. 2001. Stoppard’s Theatre: Finding Order amid Chaos. Austin: University of Texas



Goswamy, B. N. 1986. Essence of Indian Art. San Francisco: Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Hiriyanna, M. 1954. Art Experience. Mysore: Kavyalaya Publishers.

Honeywell, J. A. 1969. “The Poetic Theory of Vi?vanatha.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art

Criticism 28 (2): 165–76. doi:10.2307/428566.

Iswarya, V. 2022. “Is Stoppard the Last Man Standing Up for God? Religious and Spiritual

Undercurrents in the Plays of Tom Stoppard.” Eclectic Representations 1 (1): 50–57.

Iyer, Pico. 1999. “English in India: Still All the Raj.” In Indian Ink: Words on Plays, 27–29. San

Francisco: American Conservatory Theatre. http://www.act- on Plays/PDFs/Indian Ink Words on Plays (1999).pdf.

Kaplan, Laurie. 1998. “In the Native State/Indian Ink: Footnoting the Footnotes on Empire.”

Modern Drama 41 (3): 337–46. doi:10.3138/md.41.3.337.

Kinsley, David R. 1988. Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious

Tradition. University of California Press.

Lee, Hermione. 2020. Tom Stoppard: A Life. London: Faber and Faber.

Lee, Josephine. 2001. “In the Native State and Indian Ink.” In The Cambridge Companion to

Tom Stoppard, edited by Katherine E. Kelly, 38–52. Cambridge: Cambridge University

Meyer-Dinkgräfe, Daniel. 2006. “Cold Dark Soft Matter Research and Atmosphere in the

Theatre.” Body, Space & Technology 6 (1). doi:10.16995/bst.173.

Mukherjee, Tutun. 2017. “Sites of Desire: Chandrapore-Mayapore-Jummapur: Race, Sexuality

and Law in Colonial India.” Advances in Literary Study 05 (05): 123–42.


Olivelle, Patrick, trans. 1996. Upani?ads. New York: Oxford UP.

Perloff, Carey, and Tom Stoppard. 2015. “Indian Ink in a Different Key: A Dialogue between

Carey Perloff and Tom Stoppard.” Indian Ink: Words on Plays 21 (3): 8–12. on Plays/PDFs/Indian Ink Words on

Plays (1999).pdf.

Pollock, Sheldon, ed. 2016. A Rasa Reader: Classical Indian Aesthetics. New York: Columbia

University Press.

Purse, Nigel. 2017. Tom Stoppard’s Plays: Patterns of Plenitude and Parsimony. Leiden: Brill



Raghavan, V. 1958. “The Aesthetics of Ancient Indian Drama.” Indian Literature 1 (2): 67–74.

Russell, Richard Rankin. 2004. “‘It Will Make Us Friends’: Cultural Reconciliation in Tom

Stoppard’s Indian Ink.” Journal of Modern Literature 27 (3): 1–18.


Schwartz, Susan L. 2004. Rasa: Performing the Divine in India. New York: Columbia University


Stoppard, Tom. 1991. In the Native State. London: Faber and Faber.

———. 1995a. “‘I Retain a Nostalgia for the Heat and the Smells and the Sounds of India.’” In

Conversations with Stoppard, by Mel Gussow, 117–40. New York: Limelight Editions.

———. 1995b. Indian Ink. London: Faber and Faber.

———. (1995) 1999. Indian Ink. Plays Five. London: Faber.

———. 2001. “The Play’s the Thing.” Washingtonian Magazine 36 (7): 31–35..

Stoppard, Tom, and Sanjna Kapoor. 2018. “The Real Thing: Tom Stoppard in Conversation with

Sanjna Kapoor.” YouTube. Panel discussion presented at the ZEE Jaipur Literature

Festival, Diggi Palace, Jaipur, January 25.