Tuesday, February 07, 2012


Place: Priyadarshini Park, Mumbai.
Winter of 2010

It was a glorious winter morning in Mumbai. I was on my morning rounds, ambling along - with a stick for comfort. It had been a year since my knee replacement surgery and the stick was my support. I had argued with my sons, that I did not need company on my walks and had convinced them that the stick will take care of me. This was a routine I never missed. Every morning at 7, I would come to this park - right next to the majestic Arabian Sea, where the sound of the waves,the birds and the breeze made a masterful symphony - the one only He can conduct. I would walk a bit, sit down, chat up with some oldies as me, read the newspaper and go back. This walk filled my day with energy, which otherwise was not so eventful. 
         Towards one corner of the park, I saw a group of 6-7 youngsters in a circle speaking out their lines.
I smiled. This looked like a group rehearsing for a drama or a street play. I walked closer with more interest.
Yes, it was a street play. The guys had a copy of the script each and the theme of the play looked like Corruption. What a theme, fresh as always - I thought. In listening intently to the lines, I did not realize that my mind had already been transported some decades back.
          I was a sprightly young kid, and was the one of 6 children, born in Chandrapur, a district in the Eastern part of Maharashtra. My father was a junior forest officer who was responsible for the safety of the wild animals in the National park nearby. With him, I would roam the park which was famous for tigers. He wanted me to learn the ways and understand his job, so that I could take it up after him. I had 4 sisters who were not suitable for this role and my only brother - well- he was good in his studies and my father wanted him to appear for the civil services exam. However the jungle was not my true calling. I liked the animals, but then spending my entire life in the forest did not excite or motivate me. I loved performing arts, I loved to talk, to express, to enact, to sing. I used to take part in plays in my school and that is what made me the happiest. I would also take part in dramas in our locality during the festival season. People around me started to notice me and identified that I was someone else when on stage. There was a play where I was playing the part of a traffic policeman and I had observed the mamas in our city closely for more than a week to understand how they speak and react. I had won the best performer award and had been awarded a prize by the District Collector who was the Chief Guest, then. In my college- I started interacting with like-minded people who loved acting and singing. During one of the inter-collegiate events, we were to present a musical play which had song, dance, poetry, art and a wonderful script. Practicing for the play was a great way to get energized. I would speak my lines alone in the night under the stars and the moon. This would be so much better than a government job, it would not be a job - just an extension of what I like doing the best. I thought that it would be easy to convince my parents that this is my true calling.
           However it was not as I expected. My father had other plans. He had talked to his Senior forest officers and was working to get  me his job when he would retire in 3 years. Because of his goodwill, they were ready, in spite of knowing that it took me 5 years to clear the important 10th and 12th examinations. They knew that I would be sincere in the job and with youth on my side - I would be able to better manage the ways of the forest. My father also wanted me to stay around for the family - lest something happens to him. I tried reasoning with him that I also needed to be happy in what I do. It did not relate to him, He said that while working his way up to the current grade of a Junior Forest officer - he had learned to love the wild.Sensing the stalemate, I gave up talking about it - but not the thinking. A few weeks later, I saw an advertisement in the newspapers for some performers needed for a local play.Without wasting any time, I reached the place. There was a man in his fifties, Mr.Sahay - a short man with a big belly and extremely expressive eyes. He had moved from Udupi to Chandrapur and had been associated with theatre for a long time. He wanted to present a set of plays to some institutions in the district. And had thought of advertising to get to know people. After reading the lines for one of the plays, I got a small part in a play. Until now, for all the plays and dramas, there were no guides as such, or at least guides who knew a lot about theatre. But it was different with Mr. Sahay, there was a method to his work and there was a right way of doing everything.
I was now coming to grips with a whole lot of new instructions to act upon. He wanted my hands out of my pockets when delivering my lines - something which I found very difficult to unlearn. If I consciously looked at my hands, I would forget my lines. He also wanted me to feel each word when I speak. Happy should show Happiness and Fear should show on my face. With a lot to take care of, my performance looked very mediocore, and I was left really thinking hard - Is this what I want to do?
              On the day of the play, I was generally relaxed, but wanted to put up a good show. I was playing the role of a dentist and hammed away the lines. For each line - I was remembering multiple instructions and sounded like a desperate parrot. It was bad - to say the least. Mr. Sahay did not smile much after the play. That night - I slept outside my house, talking to myself, looking at the stars and wondering if I should go back to my father's job instead. The next morning was a brand new day - figuratively as well. I don't know if it was the sun in my eyes or the birds singing their morning song, but I got up determined not to give up.
I told my father that I was going to travel to Delhi to join the Sangeet Natak Academy. I told him to give me 3 years. If I was nothing and nowhere when he retired - I would come back and take his place in the Tiger reserve.He reluctantly agreed.
            My quest had begun. I travelled to the Academy with my collection of local certificates and awards and photographs. Mr. Sahay's words and guidance had really helped and I was beginning to learn the finer points of theatre. It was tough and nowhere near the free spirited dramatics of the past. It was an art and art had to be mastered. There were many teachers here who shaped me. My memory started improving, helping me enact long passages and soliloquies. I started understanding the different mediums of theatre and studied the works of famous playwrights from India and outside. The talks on theatre by the gurus had me spellbound. I would forget my food and sleep and just think about a play or the thoughts of a character.
I had begun to breathe theatre. As a part of the group I traveled to many places in India and we understood the culture of the place and the way  theatre had evolved in different parts of India. We would also write and enact short plays and to give social messages we performed street play on different topics - Need for primary health, Feudalism, Literacy, ways of self-employment and many others. Traveling across the country and meeting people gave us more food for thought for better theatre and helped us see each culture, each state in a different light. Three years later,  I had passed out of the school which later came to be known the prestigious National School of Drama. I had started earning money from 2-3 plays, one of which was a long running play and staged at 7 different cities. After seeing one of my plays - my father said he has glad I stuck to my thoughts and that he can give another family a chance to pick up his job. We both smiled.
In the years ahead - I also traveled overseas performing in Art and theatre festivals across the globe. It was at one such play in Sydney, Australia that I happened to meet my future wife. Theatre in more ways than one was all-fulfilling. I would have continued reliving the wonderful memories, but for a loud interjection from one of the members from the street play group. My trance, broken - I looked at the group who were earnestly practicing with a lot of emotion. One of the guys was speaking with his hands in his pocket. If he knew for sure what he wanted - he would find his Mr. Sahay and greener pastures waiting for him.

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