Horse and Plays

September 5, 2011


My mother was a classical singer and all her talent was wasted in the small town she was living in, except for the musical plays that were performed every year during Sharada Fest. Dramas with women dressed as women and women dressed as men! That year I was vacationing at my parent’s place, was allowed to sit next to her and watch her sing playback for the main character in the play Kulavadhu, a take on Ibsen’s Doll’s House.  While she was singing, I kept watching the character lip-sync-ing with great effort and requesting my mother from the stage not to deliver difficult or extempore movements.  I was chatting with her in between when there was prose on stage, and she suddenly asked me if I would like to recite a poem on stage the next day. With the enthusiasm gained out of watching the full fledged play in action, I said, why not?

The next day, she took me to a make-shift auditorium created for the purpose. A few children performed; some grown-ups too. Without notice, she and her friends took me to the stage, the curtains were raised and I was told to recite the poem. I could not start… although I was putting in all the effort in to my vocal chords. A minute, two, five….the curtain came down and I started in a loud voice….the curtain was raised…..the voice again left me….curtain down….and I started the recital confidently.

‘Enough, enough” somebody said and took me away from the stage to my mother.

‘Next year perhaps?’ She inquired in a voice that understood.

‘But I was doing my job’ I said.

‘I know. When the lights come on and curtain is raised, you lose your voice. That is why I sing playback. I too am afraid of stage and lights.’

My father did not like this stage fright story. In a stern voice, he asked her not to encourage me ever.

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I came back from vacations, firmly concluding that the stage was quite exciting provided you worked at the back. During the next Ganesha festival, I decided that Drama it will be – but from backstage. We friends discussed this in detail.

‘Where will we find a script? And what play will it be?’

‘Let us try Robin,’ That was our favorite character.

‘Making bows and arrows should not be difficult.’

‘I have a felt hat. All we have to find is a feather.’

‘I have two swords’ I said, leaving everybody drenched in excitement. These I had found in our Delivery Room Boxes. ( https://rajeevne.wordpress.com/2010/09/13/theatre-of-my-own/ )

So, Rob-in-Hood it was. We created a stage in our verandah, the arms were collected and we went straight to the final rehearsals. We started collective scripting in our heads from the story we had heard here and there and were narrating the actions as they came to our mind. By the end of the day every other character was finalized, except for Rob’s fiancé and wife. After discussion, we decided to delete her part altogether when somebody said,

‘Who needs women in battles anyway?’

Nobody was ready to play Rob either.

‘Rob would need to ride a horse, and nobody knows how to’

‘And who will spare a horse for the play? And how many horses are there in our village? There is only one Tonga!’

‘Why not tell Robin’s story instead, without any acting? That will save us from the horse’

All except me decided that Robin was no piece of horse. My unwritten script fizzled in a day. Notwithstanding, I tried my best with the one and only horse-cart owner to spare us the horse for the play. All he did was laugh uncontrollably.

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Our fifth standard class was shifted to the old(est) school building without any fan fare. This was rusty, leaky, aged building. Next to my bench near the window, the paint had peeled and I could count at least twenty five coats of paint, white over blue over green and repeat. Outside, there were hedges and a nondescript playground. Laborers were removing overgrowth and erecting a stage.  Watching them was interesting pastime in between the lessons. The rain showers had stopped pouring a few days ago and the festive season was in the vogue. The stage completed, the laborers started creating a stadium like structure out of the bamboos they had brought in cartloads.

“Drama, Drama” Somebody yelled in the class, “Our Teachers’ Drama.”

As if on cue, all of us went to supervise the structures erected. Some climbed onto the stage and started acting. Some became mock-spectators. I remembered my first day on stage and quickly went back stage only to find many of our teachers gathered there and having a heated discussion between their biddies and cigarettes. They hooted me out as soon as they saw me. Teachers smoking, yelling at each other with choice abuses! What a play can corrupt a man into!

Interested as I was, I kept listening to them, albeit from a safe distance. The main area of their concern was the drapery of characters called Hiroji and Shivaji. It had not arrived.

Shivaji? They will also need horses! They did not discuss horses, though, but other trivia like head gear, the decorative robes, swords and all that.

Next day I asked our class teacher as to what they had decided about the horses? He did not understand a thing, and said, ‘What horses’. This was not well taken by us. Shivaji and his army without horsees was impossible to enact, same as Robin. We then pleaded with the Teacher playing the character. He also dismissed us summarily. What a letdown!

Then I offered my swords and they leapt at them. These were indeed used by Shivaji and Hiroji…or may be others. In bargain, the swords were polished smooth.

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The play ‘Kareen Tee Poorva” was staged thrice. Once – for Men only – late hours, Once – for Women only – afternoon and lastly on Saturday afternoon, for us school going children.

All we did was waited for a horse hoping that at least one of our teachers had a brain to listen to us. But none had. Slowly we got absorbed in the play, not that we had much to absorb but for two comedian soldiers, the heroin who spoke like men do and the hero who spoke in a feminine voice. Shivaji came on stage without horse and our small community demanded in loud voice for a horse. This was promptly noticed by the Head Master who came walking to us and inquired if we knew the difference between a play and reality.

He left only when we promised that we will not ask for a horse.

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