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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Sandals

April 15, 2011


All the family members agreed amongst themselves that I needed Chappals. The valedictory function for primary school was looming at large.

My entire childhood until then was spent running in thorns, nails, mud, water, grass, stones, creatures and insects. Nobody around me- my relatives or friends – really cared for the look of my body parts called feet.  When alone, or when the classes were boring, our favorite pastime used to be picking out from feet those foreign objects or the scales that looked like a second rhino skin. Winters used to be horrible. Although I was forced to dip the feet in lukewarm Sol (Amsul/Goa butter), the next day the feet would be full of scale again and full of blood oozing out of the cracks. But I did not care. Footwear was an expensive luxury. Not that I did not try at Grandpa’s pump shoes, but they must have been a size twelve, difficult to even carry for single step.

Along with the fourth standard exam we had appeared for a surprise scholarship exam. Grandpa Anna and Granny Tai were a touch too confident that I would bag the scholarship. They had also hatched a plan to buy a rubber slipper for me, which was a novelty and fashion those days, so that I look presentable at the function. I had overheard their open door conference, wherein the tempo was being built around the possible prize I might secure.

On a sunny Sunday, I set out with Anna, holding his walking stick, in search of suitable footwear. We stopped innumerable times. Whoever met us came to know that I was going to have new footwear. Most of them pleaded to Anna that it was really not necessary. My heart bits skipped during every such discussion, because it revolved around the result of scholarship exams. I inquired as to why we could not postpone the purchase until the results were out. But he wanted me to look good at any cost. We scavenged through a number of road side leather shops. Nobody had a tailor made kids’ footwear. All the artisans promised that if we order, they can deliver a made-to-order one. But the price was prohibitive. Finally we arrived at a lane of Sindhi shops that had come up recently where the rubber slippers were hanging from the ropes everywhere.  Thankfully, these slippers also were above size seven, one and a half times oversized. We ended up buying potatoes and came back home with a sack on my shoulders hung over Anna’s walking stick.

Next day, Anna took me to my Parent’s town where a fare was on. Anna requested my father to urgently find footwear for me…. Repeat of the same story. I accompany my father, he tells everybody why I needed footwear, I skip beats, we do not find anything and finally return home with a sack of onions on my shoulder.

My mother viewed the proceedings for a day and then requested my father to let go the purchase, since I was getting nervous. My father then said that I should not worry about the cost and announced that he had already placed an order for a chappal with a vendor and I should go and give measurements. So, I went.

Looking at me, the vendor said,

“Chappal is no good. I shall sew a belt at the back so that the chappals do not slip when you walk”

I shrugged and said, “Uncle, you are free to do whatever you think is fine for me.”

He looked quizzically at me, took measurement on a paper and said,

“Lighten up, this is your first chappal, right? I am going to use the best quality leather. What color do you want your chappals? Sandals?”

I did not lighten up, but said, “Red should be fine.”

“Men’s sandals do not look good in red. I don’t have red leather.”

“But I need red.”

“As you please.” He closed the topic.

He had not committed a date for delivery. I was on vacation, had no other business; therefore I visited this leather shop every day. When there was no progress for a few days, first my father and then Grandfather accompanied me to the shop. As if by magic, the next day, he showed me the rough cut. But that was all. Anna had to visit a few more times and tell the sandal-smith the urgency involved before the final trial piece was ready. It was around size Seven, one and a half times oversized.  When I complained, the vendor said,

“That is not for you to decide. Your father has ordered this size, so that you can wear it for a year more… And there is this belt at the back. What difference it makes?”

It was red, but inked red on black. Funny red! But it was my choice and I could not protest. For added value, it had horse shoe on its heel and another steel piece at the toe.

“This will stretch its life further.” He said.

I tried it. Neither I could walk straight, nor could I walk in one plane. The Sandals were biting the feet at several places and the leather was extremely stiff. They were terribly noisy because of the horse shoes. The heavy duty horse shoe nails had pierced the sole right through and were worse than thorns. In all, my feet, gait and walk appeared funnier with the sandals than they actually were.

“You want them or no?”

“Definitely not,” I said and ran home.

But in the evening, my father paid the dues, collected them and brought home the packet while returning from duty. He promptly informed Anna that his responsibility was over.

“Try it,” he said, “And what is this stupid color you have selected? We will have to paint them black ones the function is over.”

“I have tried and they are fine,” I had to say, bowing to him and to the fate.

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The function was in Hindi school. This was the first time I was visiting this building. The auditorium was quite oppressive with all the students filled to the brim. I was glad that the function was on a working day and none of my family members could attend it. I was escorted by Anna’s friend.

“What is that you are holding on to your chest?” He asked.

“My sandals,” I said.

“Sandals? Let me have a look.”

I had to wear those and parade in front of him.

“What a fine craftsmanship and antique design…Not from our town, definitely…. How I have longed for such footwear.”

He introduced me to his son Kanti, who was in the same boat as I was. He was from Hindi school, same fourth standard as I was. We established an instant rapport when we both insisted to his father that we sit at the very back. Here was a huge gathering from all schools, ours the Marathi, the Urdu and the Hindi; also the co-ed schools and the girls’ school.

The results were announced. As expected, I did not receive any mention in the list. The scholarship went to a girl student from Girl’s school. Further she got a prize for bagging 100/100 in maths. In the end, we were called to receive a bouquet for we had topped the Marathi the Hindi school respectively. We went, collected the bouquets and were happy that something came our way.

The function over, we started walking back and then I remembered about my sandals. I had deposited them with Kanti’s father while I went to collect the bouquet. He did not remember any such a thing.

We went back and waited until every boy and girl left the premises and then took a thorough look at every nook and corner. Kanti’s father then went to the organizers and told them about my sandals. They said they will spread the news, it was a small town and nobody can hide a new sandal. Kanti’s father asked us to go home and said he would wait a little longer to see if somebody was honest and returned the sandals.

On our way back, I and Kanti were worriedly discussing the Girl who had scored more than us. We were sure that she will be in our class in the intermediate school, since there was only one school in town. We decided then and there that we will not allow her to top once she is in our school. Still, if she tops, then?….well, we had no answer.

Although they were obscene and therefore distinguishable, the thief did hide those Sandals well. They could not be traced. Although I prayed inwardly that the Sandals may never be found, I, Kanti and his father kept a strict vigil on each and every walking and parked footwear in the town for a year or so, but to no avail.

Anna was quite flustered when he knew about the lost sandals, not so much about my performance, but he took it well in the end, when Tai said that they were utterly unlucky for me and it was good riddance.

Anna did not force me to wear footwear afterwards. Later on, I myself requested for it when I was ready for high school. There was no problem having thick skin over delicate skin or some thorns embedded for spice; actually it was better than constantly worrying about the price of the Sandals.

Lizards are for ever

December 5, 2010


The mosquito nets arrived much later.

Before that, one had to get accustomed to the domestic lizards bungee jumping without cord straight in to your bed during wee hour of night, straight from the 30 feet high tiled roof. They would lie flat on the blanket or on their (and/or your) stomach with amused eyes as if nothing special had happened. While you watched with bated breath if it was dead or faking death, slowly they would start crawling to where your face was. If you were smart, you had already covered your face with the blanket. If you were not, you would shake the blanket like a Shakespearean actor throwing his robe. If you were aunts, you would bring the house down with your petrified cries. If you were grandma, you would just shoo the lizard off.

These were really annoying creatures with impeccable ability to surprise you consistently, real horror movie stuff. If you were in a mood to use study table, one of them would suddenly materialize to inspect if you were really serious about your studies- more often, there would be two of them chasing each other for your fun. If you were happy that they had gone to sleep; they would start crawling on your bare feet and continue upward journey; making you wonder what was their destination. And that cold, pin-ny, soapy feel…best not experienced.

If I was serious about my home work, I would sit away from all the walls, in the middle of the hall, not under the wooden trusses, not very near the lantern and not without a stick in hand. Near the lantern would flock the insects, and to catch them, the lizards. Even then, you would hear Grandma saying, ‘So, what is today’s game? Home-work or lizard chase?’

Curtsey Google Images

During the first rains, the entire house would be full of the newly born flying insects with disproportionate wings and a horde of lizards savoring them with mechanically opening and closing mouths. An entire inch by inch moth would disappear in a matter of seconds in those perennially hungry tiny jaws. If the menace became too much, and usually it did, Nana uncle before  dinner would take all the lanterns in the verandah, keep them side by side, let all the insects and lizards gather there and then methodically slaughter them one by one. This was yearly ritual. And it had to be done. If not, snakes would be the next, chasing after the lizards and… dhup…. in your bed.

There was a saying those days that if one killed a cat or a lizard, you had to pay back a cat or lizard made of gold to a deity in Benares. Nana uncle usually said that he will have to gather his weight in gold if he were to repay all those killings in Gold.

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There was demise in the family. Visitors were served the porridge on the 10th day ritual. The hosts thought that the guests will disperse the next day. They did not. Most of them stayed back for the 14th day ritual. To cope up with the situation, the woman of the house kept on stove the other day’s leftover porridge for warming. A lizard was seen swimming in it. She did not care. She just fished (or lizarded) out the lizard and served the porridge to guests. Most of them went sick for two days, since there was no medical help in our small town. They blamed the stale porridge, not the woman. After a period, out of guilt, the Lady of the house confessed about the lizard business and invited silent wrath of the clan. But she did not forget to add that the guests should not have overstayed in the first place. The lizards and the anecdote gained a cult status in our family because of this incident.

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When I graduated from engineering school, I had to register my name in ‘Employment Exchange’ so that I could get job offers from government establishments. The employment office then was a rickety old unkempt building. On my first day at the exchange, I had the standard questionnaire in my hand. At a particular query I stumbled and looked up to think about the answer. Surprise!! I saw a massive-massive congregation of lizards; on the walls, under the tiled roof, in the corners. There must have been close to five or six hundred of them, climbing over each other. The office staff was working right under them oblivious to their presence. It was no wonder there was not a single woman officer in the building.

I had to go there a several times to take calls (one at a time). Invariably I had to wait for my turn. I started using this spare time to sketch the lizards  with ball point pen– with open and closed jaws, resting, leaning, running, baiting, biting, heaping. Their colors varied between glistening pale green to muddy grey to striped to grossly ugly brown or black, textures transparent to opaque.  How they were living in harmony was truly awe-inspiring. May be during day time they discriminated their duties towards the staff and visitors and in the nights they showed their true character.

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Marriage brought to me my wife, in addition her fears about lizards and the horrified shrieks when you were least expecting these.

On a Sunday, I removed by bike from under the staircase, felt something on my back, but overlooked it because of the rush. I went to the laundry, my back was now having a good amount of exercise because there was something slithering inside the tucked in shirt. I requested the launderer to have a look. He did, jumped back but said there was nothing special and I should immediately go straight to home and change the clothes. I went home and requested my wife to have a look. Her shrieks confirmed my doubt. I hurriedly removed the shirt and there it was – a full-grown green one who had taken free ride on my back. Later on, the launderer told me that the lizard was peeping out all the time from the collar.

The other saying about lizards is that if they fell on the clothes you were wearing, you got new clothes to wear in near future. As expected, nobody gifted to me a shirt.

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Curtsey - Google Images

Recently, our permanent residence was closed for five years. When we returned, it was not our home but to a colony of lizards. They had even distributed rooms between themselves. We spared no efforts to throw them out; even pest controlled the entire house many a times. But they promptly returned to their respective rooms.  I had an all obsessive growing feeling that this was not our house any more. It was theirs and we were guests in it at their mercy. How best can you describe? You want to sleep and there is this couple resting above the head-board. You wished to write and the table would be already occupied by one of them. You wanted to wash utensils and there was one picking at us in the sink. The kitchen platform, couches, TV cabinet, nothing was beyond their reach. And that element of surprise! We spent sleepless nights just to make sure where their abode was today so that you were not surprised the next day if it came out of your coat hanger. But they always foxed you and appeared at different places every day, and night. One particular bedroom was their pet. So I plugged all the holes there, but to no result.

Painting done, when I was shifting a couch, 30 kgs held high on my head, wife spotted one roaming around the entire surface area of the couch. A big one. Imagine. I am holding the couch high and the lizard making an F1 circuit over it. I am worried that it will come down my arms. Wife is screaming behind you in most horrified soprano….I just dropped the couch on the newly laid tiles and damaged a few… and the Lizard vanished as if nothing had happened, to reappear the next day promptly. My wife now was confidently telling every visitor that she is indeed more courageous and I was more afraid of the lizards than she was.

Come pest control guy, sprays the whole house with liquid of nasty odor that brings about bouts of wife’s asthma. He disappears. The painter has painted the house with plastic luster paint.  The lizards are not killed but temporarily paralyzed behind the furniture. They come out and cannot climb the walls because the walls are too smooth for their nightly activities. Frustrated, they start racing all over the house on floor tiles. With them my wife, and because of her sound effects, I. Days pass, lizards take their rightful places, we name them by looks and beauty and we keep watch throughout the night with their horoscopes in hand wondering where they will probably rise the next morning.

I had to kill a few. The tools? The floor duster, grossly inadequate. They would just bear the blow and start moving ones again. Then we tried the domestic insect killer spray. The lizards would faint but start moving ones we were sure that they were dead. Wife would ask to throw them as soon as they fainted. As soon as I went to collect, it would start moving and before that would start her shrieks behind my back making it an impossible task. Finally, she said that I am coward and if  I killed one – means really killed one – she would herself throw it out. One did die. However she waited until the house-maid arrived the next day and asked her to dispose it off. When the house-maid went to collect it, it started to move. But our housemaid was braver. She eventually caught and disposed it off.

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The battle has not stopped. We listen to advises and read articles about how best the lizards control pests and insects, how they are afraid of us and we should not be of them, but do wish in the end that they do not surprise us at least.

National Geographic channel these days showcased a person who fed the wild lizards rice from his palms. He even had a whistle language to announce to them the lunch time. One of my “Friends of Snakes” nephew routinely caught lizards with bare hands to feed his snakes; so was a tiny girl who was not afraid of befriending and taking them outside her house in her palm. My salutes to such brave-hearts/hands. But caution! Once you get married, you can be made to lose your courage.

After all, when I was a kid, the lizards used to be called the Laxmi of the house, the deity that brings in prosperity and not the deity that brings in bravado.

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The leftover tablets in the gaping color box were enticing me. I had to find a way to use them. Some had been consumed during my tryst with sculpting clay idols of Lord Ganesh (https://rajeevne.wordpress.com/2010/08/27/molding-clay/). But the black, the turquoise, the yellow ochre tablets had remained untouched. I tried using them, but I got tired of peacocks and tigers. How many can you paint? The drawing book was already full of these. Yellow ochre could not be mixed with blue or red to produce a new color, because like the ochre itself, the resulting mixes would seem equally muddy. I had started wondering about why this color was included in the box in the first place.

“You are fond of peacocks and tigers?” The new drawing teacher clad in stark white pajama and bush shirt asked.

“Not really; just trying to finish my ochre and turquoise.” I replied.

“You have a good feel of the form” he said, leafing through the entire book. So what?

He must have told Grandpa about it, because I was cajoled to stay back every day after the school to attend his special drawing class. The new teacher was turning out to be a headache.

“What is your aim in life?” The drawing teacher asked the special class of five. Two of us five were asleep after the day’s hard work and three were clapping at the cricket match that was in progress outside. Our teacher tried to get the answer, but nobody really cared about life.

“If you wish to become a Drawing Teacher when you grow up, you must pass the two basic drawing exams; Elementary and Intermediate… We will be preparing for the Elementary, this year.”

“This year?”

“Yes, the class will run for a year.”

I stopped going to the class the very next day.

However, upon his arrival on the weekend, Grandpa intervened and told me to try out the drawing class for a few days. I did not agree.

“What is your aim in life?” Grandpa inquired.

“What aim in life? I have none.” I said.

Hearing my answer, he became a bit serious, and I was more than sure that my evenings were going to be spoilt by the drawing class. I complained to Grandma. She, instead of supporting me, spread the gossip everywhere that I was appearing for the drawing exam.

“How is the new teacher?” Our neighbor Nilootai asked. She was a school dropout, waiting to get married, was excellent at embroidery and had a number of wall-pieces, pillow covers and blouses to her credit. “I hear he is Muslim.”

I was surprised. There were no Muslim teachers in our school as yet.

“I don’t know, but I will find out…he has no beard though..”

“Find out. And ask if outsiders also can attend his class.” She said.

I found out. His name was Rustom Pathan, and he had cleared the Drawing Teachers’ diploma along with Intermediate exam recently.

Nilootai then visited the class, said she had an ‘aim in life’ to become a Drawing Teacher, and if Rustom Guruji would help her. He said he had no problem. It looked like Nilootai had developed an instant fascination with the Teacher’s art. She came to our house a few times, discussed with Grandma, gathered courage and started attending the class. We were six now. To my disgust, Nilootai remained by my side full-time. I could not understand if she was keeping a watch on me or was taking shelter from Rustom Guruji.

We practiced symmetrical figures for a month. Rustom Guruji would give us the left half and we had to complete the other. He said if you are Righty, drawing the right side is difficult than left. This was true for others. For me, even the left side was a nightmare. For Nilootai, both brains seemed to work seamlessly. She came out to be extra-ordinarily gifted and became Rustom Guruji’s pet student in no time.

Out of six, three were driven out by the teacher the next month on the pretext of the sticky fingers and their asymmetric brains. Now we were three. Walmik was the third. He was from the nearby village, had come from his village only to attend the class and was even better than Nilootai. Rustom Guruji started paying less and less attention to me. Whatever flair with form I had, started to lose form. On the other hand I was becoming overjoyed with the thought that I may also be dropped in a few days. But I had an added value as Nilootai’s escort and I remained.

The progress reports started reaching the Grandparents via Nilootai. Grandma said,

“Once you finish your charcoal and erasers, you can drop out…No need to venture into colors…Who will spend for those?”

“I joined the class to learn coloring, not sketching funny shapes.”

“See what happens and we can decide later.” Grandpa said.

The lessons started coming at brisk pace since Nilootai and Walmik would learn the skill instantly. We started the nature drawing. These were not the usual landscapes of sun, the hills, a path, a hut, a lotus and swan, but the painting of a twig – a Custard Apple or Oleander twig.

The coloring part finally arrived. To Grandma’s annoyance, I was asked to buy a box of tubes. The old tablet box was useless for Elementary Grade coloring, according to Rustom Guruji. And who used those tubes in our town? And for that matter who in the town painted or appeared for exams or wanted to become Drawing Teacher? None! Rustom Guruji therefore imported three boxes, one for each of us. The lessons in primary colors, contrasts and mixing started. Rustom Guruji’s skill was such that he did not need to sketch anything. Lines, curves, leaves, stem and the eyelets on the twig would just flow from his hands. My interest in the class started flowering at last. However, the teacher had given us strict instructions not to attempt flowers in exam.

Guruji used to paint with such thick and opaque water-color layers that his painting would appear just like oils, albeit replica of life. In contradiction, Walmik would paint very transparent. Guruji was not very happy with this, but did not stop him, because Walmik’s paintings sometimes turned out appealing than the Teacher’s. Further Walmik started painting the backgrounds which was not the requirement, as per Guruji. Walmik also had discovered a trick. He used to polish his painting with a conch shell after coloring. This polish would give a terrific glaze to his paintings.

All of a sudden, we were sent for exams at the district place. Nilootai accompanied me in Hapton bus (https://rajeevne.wordpress.com/2010/05/30/half-ton-to-st/) . All the three of us had our relatives there and we camped at our respective ones. Further Nilootai convinced me that it was my responsibility to take her to the exam venue. I had to oblige.

The Symmetry question paper was alright. In nature drawing, I tried to polish the painting of my Oleander twig with a Conch Shell forgetting to check if the painting was dry. The paint was wet, spread everywhere, I had to throw away the completed drawing and hurriedly paint a second one, just before the time ran out.

The Still Life paper was also fine and I could complete the shapes and shading of the deliberately disarranged cones, cylinders and a jug to my satisfaction and in time.

The fourth paper was a bolt from the blue. Just before the paper started, Rustom Guruji apologized that there was a new exam format and a paper on human figures and groups had been introduced. He said he was sorry he did not teach us the complete syllabus. It was now up to us to use our memory and imagination. That was the title of the paper any way – Memory Drawing. I selected ‘Market Place’ as my subject and drew whatever vegetables I could with a lone vendor’s human-like figure. I had no practice in anatomy and the vegetables and the human figure were indistinguishable from each other. In disgust, I handed over my paper when there was a good one hour left for submission. I glanced at my mates. Walmik had drawn a colorful market place and Nilootai a marriage ceremony complete with fireworks, brass band and all.

I bundled my clothes, did not inform my relative of my departure and came back to our town alone. There was mayhem because of my disappearance. Grandpa had to go to the post office and wire to our relative that I had reached home safely.

Nilootai and Rustom Guruji arrived in the bus the next day. Walmik went straight to his village. I totally shelved my drawings, color tubes, the box and my painting abilities as soon as the exams were over and concentrated on field games. Although she tried on several occasions, I stopped talking to Nilootai altogether. She was an accomplished painter by birth. What business a novice like me can have with her?

The results came straight to our Head Master. He came to our class room and announced that the only student that appeared from our school has cleared the Elementary Grade exam in first attempt, albeit in C, the lowest grade. I had no emotion. I knew what I had drawn and wondered why somebody was so lenient as to pass a pitiable painter like me.

Rustom Guruji came to my Grandfather and told him the news, saying triumphantly, “Indeed the boy can become a Drawing Teacher if he wishes to.” Grandpa smiled and brought sweets.

Nilootai was married off immediately by her parents, without much fanfare. The news of her travelling on bus in company of our drawing teacher was getting undue attention. Nobody paid heed to the news that she had scored A Grade, neither to her request to let her complete the second exam. Before she left for good, she came and told me not to dislike art, because I had scored C grade. She also said that she felt so happy painting, she felt so good and safe in my company, cherished the last year, and finally, there were reasons for which she will one day become a Drawing Teacher, come what may. Her husband had no employment.

Walmik came to our school the next year. He had scored a B. He said, “It was wrong on my part to color all my drawings, The Symmetry, The Still Life, The Nature and Memory, everything. I should have painted only the Nature, as the examiners would have expected. Rest should have been in Charcoal. It was fun, anyway, to paint and fool the examiners.”

We both were experienced campaigners now. The next year, we had freedom from the Guruji and all we did was draw whatever we liked and paint whatever we drew. We painted hoardings for the school, decorated the school notice boards and also beautified the blackboards. For still life, we used the buckets, mugs, cups and saucers in the house. The majority of the drawings we did were of Zinnia and Periwinkle twigs and flowers which was the subject matter for the Nature Drawing. And yes, we bought us each a new box of tubes. We did not attend the class, although it had now a sizeable population and popularity. We inquired with Rustom Guruji what the subjects and lessons were, took his summary guidelines and went straight to exams. Walmik this year stuck to the basics of the exam, did not color everything and scored a high A. I scored a moderate B, because the Memory drawing ditched me once more. Nobody, including myself or my Grandparents had any concerns with my B score. I guess they were happy and relieved that they did not have to supervise me twenty-four hours and I spent most of the spare time of those two years in solitude with the colors.

Rustom Guruji never tired of asking whether I had any aim in life and I kept saying ‘no, I don’t’. He must have expected to hear from me at least once that I would like to become a Drawing Teacher. In retrospect, I feel I should have said so. Guruji also used to say that it was a pleasure he had his first students like us, especially Nilootai, because he himself had to appear for the Intermediate Exam a couple of times to get a respectable grade. But that must not be true. He was simply great as a teacher and a class apart, just like Nilootai and Walmik were.

Theatre of my own

September 13, 2010


Watching the movies was considered sin those days. But nobody could supervise us friends enough from loitering around the theatre bins to see if we can scrounge posters or waste film strips. We friends had cultivated this pastime after we started accompanying Bhiku on theatre rounds. Bhiku was slightly senior to us in school. We helped him collect these first for fun and slowly started having our own collection if he did not want the duplicate films.

One fine Sunday he came to my house in the early morning and announced that he has his own movie theatre and he would be showing a movie that afternoon. I dismissed him. However, he was a talk of the town the next day and most of my friends had gone crazy with what he had shown to them. I could not keep a lid on my curiosity for long and visited his house in earnest.

Everything was normal in his house, his mother milking the sheep, father was about to bark at me, and his brother was stacking firewood in the lean-to shed next to his house. There was no trace of a movie theatre. I was convinced that it was some sort of prank, but the friends were all praise throughout the week speaking about his theatre.

The next show was planned for the coming Sunday. I ran to Bhiku’s place just after I got up, ignoring Grandma who had guessed that something was cooking and was trying to persuade me to have at least milk before vanishing.

Bhiku’s place was normal as always. I scurried past his father and brother. Bhiku was still in bed and I caught up with him there.

“No show today,” he said in a hushed voice, “No show if my father is in town”.

That was an acceptable explanation. I told him to tell me when there would be a show.

“This time everybody has to bring two brand new marbles. I have decided to collect ticket fees. Last Sunday, there was unmanageable rush.”

Hearing this, my excitement had no bounds. Theatre must be a good business.

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The Sunday arrived when Bhiku’s father went out of town. Bhiku sent his mother to my Grandma in the afternoon to gossip, with a message for me to come as quickly as possible ‘to play’. I understood the code word and ran to his house. A few friends had already gathered there ahead of me. Bhiku was collecting marbles from them. I had not carried any. As such he said I had to help him in setting up the theatre.

We agreed. The lean-to shed was evacuated of fire wood. Bhiku brought a black blanket from the house, which had a hole. This was tied to the only opening. He then brought a mirror, set it up on a chair quite far away from the lean-to and adjusted the reflected beam such that it pierced the hole in the blanket. Another friend who had not brought marbles was stationed there permanently to make sure that the beam remained in its place. Bhiku now brought a box from his house, on one side of which was a lens and on the other a slot to take a single cut piece of film.

The set up was now ready, Bhiku became door keeper, spectators were seated, the room was already dark, Bhiku became operator, adjusted focus by moving the box here and there and started showing piece by piece, the ‘movie’. First frame was a woman, next one again the same woman, third the same woman and so on.

The frames had indeed come alive on the wall, although there was no motion-picture.

“Is it the same in theatres?” Somebody questioned towards the end of the five-minute show.

“No, duffer, the pictures move. My father has told me. Just like this. ” One who answered danced in the air.

“Then why two marbles?” Taking charge of Bhiku’s box the first one started jostling.

Others pacified him, and the quarrel ended when Bhiku returned one marble to him.

“There are no advertisements either in Bhiku’s movie.” Another complained. Bhiku returned his marble as well.

“Your screen is a foot wide. In theatre it is this much” Third one said showing the expanse with his outstretched hands and dislodging the blanket at the same time. His marble was also promptly returned.

The show ended on a mixed note. We were discussing the movie with Bhiku when suddenly Bhiku’s not-very-friendly elder brother came home. He got angry as soon as he saw the fire wood lying outside the shed and warned us of grave consequences if the fire wood was not rearranged in next ten minutes. Others ran away, but I and Bhiku carried and arranged the wood for the next half an hour.

Bhiku’s mother complained to his father about his mischief of sending her to my Grandma. His brother joined in and informed his father of Bhiku’s extra-curricular activities when he was away. Not surprisingly, Bhiku’s theatre was closed down the same day with violent means. Where one’s hard work will take him; you cannot predict.

Before I left, he handed over his marble collection and the cine-box to me for safe keeping and said he will meet me on Saturday.

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Bhiku came on Saturday. We discussed the fate of Bhiku’s theatre. He said it had no future. None the less, he was ready to partner with me if I provided the real estate and he the technical know-how. I applied to Grandpa through proper channel and Grandpa said he had no problem if we used the “Women’s Delivery Room” at the back for whatever I wanted to do. In return, I had to clean it thoroughly and keep up the rank in the class.

It was fine because this room had only one window, the room was very dark and no family members ever ventured that side. I readily agreed for the later part of the arrangement, because there was one more reason. I wanted to take stock of this room anyway. It was stuffed with heavy wooden boxes, a permanently locked cupboard and so many sundries.

What I had not thought out was how to bring the sunbeam in. The room was purposely set in the middle of the house. With a single mirror, it was impossible to bring the sun in. In the end, I had to resort to two mirrors, a big one in the backyard and a small one in verandah to have the beam entering our theatre at the proper place.

Then I discussed with Bhiku the shortcomings of his theatre.

One – People wanted advertisements. With thought, we collected cut pieces of glass, blackened them with soot and carved out the ads of the barber shop, the sugar cane juice stall, the circus then in town and such others. We tried them and they worked fine, only problem being that you had to remember to hold it upside down, just like the cut films. You also had to take care your fingers did not blacken while inadvertently smothering the soot.

Another of my ideas was also implemented. Brown papers pierced with burning incense sticks! The holes made lines, dots and therefore characters and pictures in the ads.

Two – People wanted big screen. The room was big and Grandma had white Sarees. This problem could be solved.

Three – People wanted moving pictures. There was no chance to have those. This will have to be bartered with something else. We decided that we can allow two shows in one ticket.

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The theatre opened without a bang. Although I knew that Grandpa and Grandma never watched a movie, our first show was only for them and compulsory.

They said the room is not clean enough and Grandma’s white saree screen had become dirty. As such, all the further shows were cancelled by them until the room was clean enough to their liking.

That done, I called my fast friend to attend the promo. He came, he saw and he said that the intensity of the beam is not enough to illuminate the films and ads properly. We tried a few adjustments, but it did not work out. He said our theatre would not be successful.

He went home and opened his own theatre with all the changes we had done to Bhiku’s invention; that too, ahead of us.

We had no takers when we were commercially ready to open ours. On the day of the opening, and thereafter also, I and Bhiku were the only spectators for the shows. Business had gone fut. Bhiku left me alone.

In my own theatre, I had to bring the sunbeam in, work as an operator and as the only spectator.

My friends apologized for their not visiting. They had heard from my fast friend that our theatre was not up to the mark and also because my elders always kept a watch over proceedings.

After a few days of fuming and fretting, I handed over all my raw material to my fast friend for use in his theatre. He had done a good job. He had pasted posters, set up a tent in the open air, made up of two cots covered with all the blankets in the house he could lay his hands on. There were so many family members in his home; nobody really cared what the others did. As such, his theatre ran alright for some time. I had a free pass. Bhiku would not go there. He turned to cricket and had the same treatment from his family as when he was in theatre.

Grandma was ecstatic with my theatre business since she had achieved her purpose.

Movies Movies

August 19, 2010


One:

When all of my family members got fed up of my requests, tantrums and finally my silent non-cooperation movement, the maun-vrat, Grandpa agreed that I was old enough to watch a movie. Further he told Grandma that this freak needs to be silenced! The whole household discussed for a couple of days as to which was the movie that would most uncorrupt me. I was informed on a Saturday about the grand program that I would be taken to the movie theatre in the evening.

I publicized among all my friends that I would be watching a movie that day. Six PM Sharp.

Our town had but one theatre. It had a single row at the back, hidden behind a four feet parapet, which was called the ‘Box’. One third of the remaining theatre was for ‘Second class – Women’s’, another third for ‘Second class – Men’s’ and the last third was “Pit” where you sat on the floor and if you liked a song, a God or a goddess or a fight sequence, you would throw a coin at the screen.

I was seated in the “Second Class – Women’s” along with my Aunt. I noticed that the theater that day was reserved completely for ladyships. Most in the Second class knew me and petted me. I also had a doubt that I saw faces very similar to my schoolmates here and there and started repenting about that ‘six PM sharp’ timing. 

I looked at my Aunt. She said just wait until he movie starts.

Eventually, the theatre grew dark, the projector started, the screen was awash with pure white. But, instead of showing a movie, two live girls came on stage, in front of the screen and started dancing to the tune of “Nain se nain nahee milao, Dekhat surat aawat laaj….Saiyyan….”

I looked at my Aunt. She was busy watching the live dance routine and kept telling me to ‘watch what happens next’. The projector was shut down after the Dance routine, and normal floods lit the stage and were not estinguished until the very last. There were speeches, a prize distribution ceremony and further dances. This continued for an hour, by which time I was very sure that I was foxed.

We came home.

Only saving grace was that I had actually visited a theatre. However, the opportunity to boast in the school was wasted, since I was sure many in my class had attended that ‘movie’. Many an aunt, mothers and sisters had apparently celebrated a ‘fool’s-day’ with my friends, similar to me.

My non-cooperation movement continued when I had time for that.

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Two:

With the advent of summer vacation, I went to my Parents’ town. When my mother inquired as to why I had grown dumb and mute this year, I had to tell her the movie story. She said she will see if she can arrange something.

The town fair was on. Every year there would be a number of Touring Talkies camping in the fair. The choice between incorruptible movies that were being screened was splendid.

One warm evening, I was told that I would be visiting the movie theatre today. I went along to the fair with an escort and two-three of my cousins. The escort took us to the Talky. The movie was “Jimbo”, a Tarzan clone. Our escort, instead of buying tickets, started talking to the doorkeeper. We were getting impatient as the theatre had already grown dark inside. After a few minutes, the doorkeeper allowed us to stand inside the door curtain, while he was talking to our escort. Just before I got accustomed to the dark interiors and Jimbo’s Chimp on the screen, all the children were brutally shoved out by the doorkeeper, saying “enough for one day”.

The escort was very wrestler-like and had a flowing double moustache that reached his double chin. As such, I kept mum.

“Movies? No!..Ice-creams are better!” He bellowed, and took us to an ice-cream parlor.

The rose cream was really good. I had no complaints about it. But Jimbo?

We came home. Mother thanked the escort. I told her the story of Jimbo and the Ice-cream. She said, ‘that person always messes things up’.

In the night when I was about to go to sleep, I could hear mother and father discussing this and laughing.

My efforts had to be continued further. Become dumber and muter!

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Three:

Then that golden day arrived. Mother told me that I would definitely; definitely watch a movie with her. Full length. And it also had a Chimp.

I accompanied her.

Some of these Touring Talkies used to have the screen set in the middle. On one side would sit men and on the other side, women. The Projection Cabin would be on men’s side. All the seating would be in the dust. As such, you had to carry your own carpets with you. Fine! Labour of love!!

We were on women’s side. The movie started. ‘Insaniyat’ is the name, Mother said. The movie was fine so was the hero Dilip Kumar. Yes. It had a chimp, but all the characters were left-handed, even the hero and the villain. Every man wielded his sword, fought fight, caressed horses and every woman pinned her clothes or hair-do, lighted lamps, presented helmet, armor or sword to her husband or whoever was in front of her with Left hand. Even the chimp ate banana with its Left hand. Strange world of movies!

But I had done it at last!!

Four:

We went to our maternal uncle’s town – Burhanpur – during this vacation. I had one full length movie to my credit and I would not tire of narrating my interpretation of humanity or the ‘Insaniyat’ to my maternal uncle several times a day, every time changing the story a bit to my convenience. He listened patiently for a few days and then said, ‘We are also human, Insan, please spare us sometimes.This is too much for my ears; I need to take you to another movie’.

We went to a proper theatre this time. The theatre manager greeted us and we spent a few minutes with him in his cabin.

I was about to view a real, three-hour movie now, in a theatre which actually had ‘Electric Fans’. The lights faded and the velvet curtains rolled up. The happiness was enveloping me so much that I fell asleep within first ten minutes; before the titles stopped scrolling.

‘Which was the movie?’ I asked my uncle on our way back to home. A name or two is useful! He cursed me left and right; shaking his head every now and then shouting that he will have to face the ‘Insaniyat’ ordeal once again tomorrow.

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I started posting on this blog on 1st April 2010. Two months have elapsed since.

I used Blog Stats, discovered the WordPress  features and have been fiddling with Facebook and Google links. The FeedJit link for live feed I could not establish, do not know what was the reason. May be WordPress does not support it.

The ‘ Stats’ and my two month journey was quite interesting.

1. Fact: Maximum hits are scored on Tuesday and Friday.

Most of my readers seem to be serious office goers that are subject to ‘Monday blues’ and ‘Start of Weekend mood’ (assuming my blog relaxes them). What do they do on Mon, Wed, Thur, Sat and Sun is anybody’s guess.

Learning:

Fact is a fact is a fact. Why tire yourself on the other days? Upload the new post on Sunday or Thursday.

2. Fact: Traffic is the same for both the months. The daily average was maintained.

 Learning:

Do not visit blog stats page unnecessarily. You are not going to find a bouquet or a bomb there everyday. Do not worry about the Daily and Weekly Stats. There are other important things in life than Blog Stats.

3. Fact: Spams make life hell.

WordPress Akismet module blocks all the spams. I had 6 spams until now. All were blocked by Akismet. But the 5th one has taught me a lesson. It was a smooth mail praising the blog. I was foxed. I opened it, read it and deleted it. Meanwhile it ate away my Vista Home. I could retrieve all the data, but had to freshly install Windows and now trying hard to get accustomed to 7. I suffered a 5 day black out.

Learning:

If Akismet terms it to be a spam, it is a spam. Just delete it. Don’t even read it. If you get praise from unknown quarters, do not believe in it.

4. Fact: There are a lot of ups and downs in hits

I had expected a trend suggesting steady rise or steady fall, whenever it occurred. Readers do have mood swings and periods – of inaction.

Learning:

Dont live in a virtual world! Accept that the sudden peaks and dips cannot be explained – except for Tuesday and Friday.

5. Fact: Number of hits has no relation to the quality of the post.

Learning:

Readers will make you fall flat on your face. They have an in built ability to surprise you.

6. Fact: Readers in general do not like to ratify posts, or comment on or discuss your post (barring a few respected exceptions).

I expected many a comments on some of my posts. I thought readers are very enthusiastic.

Learning:

Wrong!!! Nobody wants to type or click. Either all the readers are very finger-tired lot or Stephen Hawking is the only reader that you have.

7.  Fact: People do not like serious content.

I do not wish to believe in the above statement, but the stats say so. The hits just go down after such posts. Earlier on, I remained with bated breath in quandary whether the traffic on my next post also will be affected.

Learning:

What you think ‘Serious’ is ‘Not Funny’ for the readers. Do not expect that readers will read serious posts or discuss its relevance. They are as free as sharks and will do whatever they want to a caged writer.

8. Fact: The effect of automatic messages pasted by WordPress on Facebook, Google et al. remains for one day only.

 On the day your post is advertised, you get a spurt in activity. After that, the advertisement loses its charm. A day old post is “Really Old” or “Dead” butterfly.

Learning:

Understand this reality.

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Overall, the two months have been enjoyable.

There were many a personal comments on the first few posts. May be readers thought that I am writing an autobiography. I am Not.

Any and All critique is good. So, please reply and rate posts.

Nikhil and Ranjeet commented on almost all of my posts and kept me going in this initial period. An unknown admirer is sending feeds for my ‘Qawwali’ and therefore other posts from Twitter. Thank you.

I visited a number of hitherto unknown blogs which appeared automatically on my posts. One I have added to my blogroll so that it gets more exposure.

While reading other blogs, I am now considerate, give them respect, and make sure I write a word or two in discussion forums about them. That is what all the bloggers like I think.

Somebody should coin a term “Blego Surfing” or “Stego Surfing” like they have done for “Ego Surfing” – for people who spend half of their internet time on Blog Stats.