– My Childhood nostalgia series – Chapter:5
Updated on November 5, 2014
The three bhagavatars! (Cartoon courtesy: movie ‘Inime Nangathaan’)
Almost one year after the Kathakalakshepam program was ‘successfully’ conducted on the Teacher’s Day celebrations at the town municipal secondary school (please read the hub “Whither the born drummer” for details), Rangu Sir became enthusiastic again as the next teacher’s day approached.
He wanted to stage the same kathakalakshepam on the life of Dr Radhakrishnan (that he had painfully penned, tuned and directed earlier) this year also. The problem was that there were no smart girls available this year in the firth standard to memorize the whole story and songs and deliver a neat performance.
Then it stuck to him that I was one boy who had been fully present (as a mridangam player) during the entire preparation, practice and performance period last year. He called me to his room one day. “Hey, CV! Do you remember the Kathakalakshepam on Dr Radhakrishnan that we staged last year?”
“Yes Sir; very much”
“What do you mean by very much?”
“Sir, I have heard the narration so many times last year that I have virtually memorized it unknowingly”
“That’s fantastic! Come on, narrate something of it!”
I felt shy. I felt danger bells ringing in my ears. I felt bewildered. I always had stage fear. I can probably recite the story verbatim, alright, but performing on stage? Oh, No! Moreover, I can’t sing decently, though I had some good taste for music.
I stood there fumbling and squirming, knowing how to go further. Rangu Sir started cajoling me: “Come on, boy! Don’t be afraid. You can do it; you have the talents, believe me!”
I started off after some hesitation:
“Dhimikita dhimikita, Vaadhya mridhangam, Brahmananda Hare, Gajanana, thandava nriya Hare….” (Song starting with the vocally reproduced sound of mridhangam, invoking the blessings of lord Ganesha and other Gods…)
“Aho varum, thaalaivar AvargaLe, irupaal Asiriyap perumakkaLe, enatharumai maanava sahodhara sahodhari hale..” (Oh respected Chief guest, Great Ladies-and- gents teachers, my dear student brothers and sisters…)
As I went on, my memory failed here and there. I fumbled in singing now and then. But with Rangu Sir’s face brightening up and with his constant encouragement and prompting, I felt confident enough sooner. He gave me a copy of the script and asked me to memorize the areas where I was failing. He included my classmates Abraham and Yegappan to be my co-singers and started training them up in singing the songs straight away.
I am sure if I were to be a spectator of our singing today, I would definitely rate it as sub-standard, but Rangu Sir was too enthusiastic to go ahead with it and our quality of singing did not matter much to him! His emphasis was on the right rendering of the story, diction, voice modulation and he constantly corrected and coached me on these areas. Singing was one area where he could not do much to improve us beyond a point.
The practice sessions were repeated day after day so as to hone my rendering skills to perfection, but the boredom of repetition was rather becoming painful to me over a period of time.
It so happened that the Therukkoothu came to our village for the first time (see Chapter 6, 7 and 8 of my Childhood nostalgia series) during this period. As we used to sleep heavily during day time to compensate the loss of night sleep during this time, I conveniently skipped attending the rehearsals for a couple of days. But Rangu Sir won’t leave me in peace. He sent a strong word to my parents to send me to school for rehearsals.
I still remember vividly how I was forcefully woken up at 3:30 PM on one after noon from my deep slumber caused by watching Therukkoothu on the previous night. As I walked like a zombie with eyes still half-closed in semi-sleep, my mother dragged me to the backyard, washed my face with chill water, dressed me up and sent me to school. I still remember walking to school in a dream-like state, rendering the kathakalakshepam for the nth time in the rehearsals involuntarily off the spinal chord and returning home late in the evening, still not clearly knowing whether it was all real or dream!
The D-day arrived. The Teachers day function was at the town high school this time; some VIP was to be the chief guest and grace occasion. The function was scheduled to start at about 3:30 PM and our performance was scheduled to be second or third, to happen at about 4:15PM or so.
We were taken to the high school at 2:00 PM itself. Everything looked deserted there at the dais. High school students were still attending the classes. Make-up man arrived at about 3 PM and did a gaudy make up at our faces (thick facial rose powder, lipstick(!?), bright vibhoothi pattai (streak of holy ash across our foreheads) and wound panchakchcham (dhoti worn at the traditional style of Brahmins) around our waists. We were ready and waiting. Surprisingly, I did not feel stage fear this time.
Students started assembling in the ground for the function by 3:30 PM. It was unusually hot and the sun was still blazing mercilessly. As typical to Indian culture, nothing started at the scheduled time; the chief guest did not arrive at all even at 4:30 PM. We ‘bhagavathars’ got thoroughly bored. The make up was such an irritation at that hot climate.
4:45 PM. Students were idly sitting there all along and their boredom and restlessness was visible and obvious. There were lots of noise and skirmishes and teachers found a tough time to keep the students in control. They won’t allow anyone to leave and go too.
Then, in order to give some entertainment to the students, someone at the top rungs of the organization suggested that the Kathakalakshepam could be staged right away, irrespective of the arrival of the chief guest. Rangu Sir was highly disappointed. He was particular to stage his show in front of the VIP only but no one listened to his objections.
So, we were ushered onto the stage and signaled to start our performance.
With my heart beating fast, I started “Dhimikita dhimikita, Vaadhya mridhangam, Brahmananda Hare, Gajanana, thandava nriya Hare….”
Once started, I felt more ease in my rendition. With umpteen rehearsals behind me, everything was so deeply etched in my memory that it did not require any effort of my brain to perform. It was more of a neat recitation.
With a relaxed mind, I could now look around to gauge how my performance was being received by the audience. A few of the senior students who were studying in the high school were from my own street in the village. One Shekar was there in the crowd, who was not particularly too friendly to me in the streets. When I noticed him, he immediately jumped up and started making very awkward and funny facial gestures, made some ugly dance movements with the sole intention of annoying and irritating me so as to make me lose my balance and fumble in my performance! Somehow I could grasp his intentions and I started looking elsewhere. Whenever my eye sight returned to his direction, he did the same thing again and again!
I could notice that after the initial enthusiasm and keenness to watch the performance for a while waned, the students lost interest in the Kathakalakshepam and they started loudly chitchatting with their friends again. If I remember right, perhaps not even 10 to 15% of the gathering was keen to watch the performance.
Rangu Sir was as usual sitting at the front row; but his exuberance was missing this time, as I vividly remembered how jubilant he was when the same program was staged last year at the municipal higher secondary school. Naturally, he was upset with the absence of the VIP and the uncontrolled noise that the students were making, virtually drowning our narration and singing.
I too was naturally getting more and more disillusioned as I watched around while performing like a trained parrot. Subconsciously, a decision got framed deep at my heart at that very stage. I should not waste my efforts on any stage oriented performance hereafter– be it singing, dancing or acting. There is utter boredom behind the rehearsals. Unless what I offer to the crowd is of extraordinary caliber that could sustain the interest of a vast majority of the onlookers, there is simply no point in stage performances. The ego satisfaction derived as a ‘performer’ is worthless, if you can’t reach out to the audience.
As I think of all these happenings now, I am really glad that a right amount of wisdom that dawned into me right at the tender age of 11, has indeed helped me spiritually all through these years.
The only thrilling aspect of the performance was the presence of a photographer who took a flash at us! Later I came to know that he was arranged by Rangu Sir and I was given a black and white photo of our group performance the next week! It was was the only ‘consolation prize’ that we received for our flop show!