My Crocodile Tears – My Childhood Nostalgia Series – Chapter:14
Updated on November 12, 2014
Ah! Mukundan indeed acted so superbly in the school drama. Our elementary school celebrated its Silver Jubilee and as part of the celebrations, our school got a new building inaugurated. (Incidentally, it was with the broken scissors from my home that the local VIP cut the ribbon and inaugurated the building; that wasanother funny childhood nostalgia story available for you) we had quite some entertainment programs associated with the celebration and the drama was the highlight of all. As usual, Rangu Sir, the Headmaster was in the forefront of staging the drama, as he was more interested in cultural activities than academics most of the times, by nature.
Mukundan had good acting ability.
He was smart enough to identify the histrionic abilities of Mukundan and handpicked him for the Hero’s role. Mukundan was about 11 years old, studying in the 5th standard. I was in 4th standard then. Mukundan was not a friend to me; no – not a boy in my ‘childhood enemies’ list either. he was just not friendly with me, that’s all.
The story of the drama, as I very vaguely remember, was built around a young boy who had to face lots of calamities and struggles in his boyhood and manage to successfully face them and come out brilliantly in life. Rangu Sir roped in two of his old students — Kalian and Velu (both in mid twenties) who were local villagers for his assistance. Kalian was engaged in some plumbing and electrical repair jobs while Velu owned his own petty pawn shop; both had lots of idle time and were too curious to be assistants to Rangu Sir in his ‘cultural’ activities.
Both Kalian and Velu were very fond of acting and if I remember right, Rangu Sir used their services in assisting in teaching acting to the selected students. They were jack of all trades. Velu took the responsibility of putting makeup to the children who acted in the drama. Kalian took charge of lighting up the dais and also brought contractors to do the stage decoration, mike sets, backdrops and curtains and also to provide colorful focus lighting to bring the characteristic ‘drama effect’ .
All actors looked alike after makeup!
Since I was a pet of Rangu Sir, he gave me a small role in the drama. It involved speaking just four sentences with animated gestures. I was really gripped with stage fear those days and I was particularly devoid of any histrionic abilities what so ever.
It was the first time that our school was arranging anything big and this drama was one. The dais was raised in the open ground in front of the school , temporary pandal was erected and hired chairs were brought from the town to seat the onlookers. Villages turned up in large numbers to witness the drama. Loudspeakers started blaring contemporary film music right from the evening. Though the drama was to begin only at 7 PM in the evening, preparations started right from 3 PM. What attracted most of the actors was the makeup!
Velu had brought all facial makeup materials from somewhere; he was facing lots of difficulty in bringing some order in the queue for applying makeup, as all children vied with each other to get their face done up first.
And when the job was finished it was rather funny. Almost all the boys (having variations in their natural skin color from wheatish brown to black) had their faces looking alike — with a very thick rose powder applied all over the faces, with dark red lipstick adoring their mouth and black eyeliners drawn around the eyes! In fact, it became really difficult for us to know who’s who for a while!
The drama started at 7:30 PM and Mukundan was at the best of his confidence. He was regularly getting applause from the audience. When my scene was about to come, my legs were shaking in stage fear. I was sweating profusely and my makeup started fading. Somehow, as if in a trance, I went to the dais, blurted out the four sentences that I had mugged up, showed the taught gestures as a robot and returned to the green room greatly relieved.
The drama was a grand success. Mukundan became a hero. Everyone in the village was talking about how Mukundan acted so masterly in the heavy role that had plenty of dialogs, without even a single slip.
10 days of after the drama, Mukundan died.
He died at the age of 11, a very sudden, untimely death. He was bedridden for just 3 days and succumbed to some unknown decease even before anyone could find an urge to take him to a Government hospital. He virtually died as a’ hero’.
Mukundan’s family lived in a dilapidated old house, just in the opposite row of houses some 4 houses away from mine. He was the sixth son (out of seven children) of a poor Hindi Pundit. His family must have been grief stricken, though heartlessly speaking, his death would have only saved the Pundit from one-seventh of his financial burden of bringing up children. I am a person designed woefully short of woeful emotions and it was virtually so even in my childhood too; Mukundan’s sudden death did not create any sense of grief in me even at that tender age.
Surprisingly, even after passage of 50 years, if I close my eyes and visualize, I could still vividly see Mukundan in my mind’s eye: short, a little stout, darkish wheat in color, a rectangular face, a thin reddish mark (‘srichurnam’) adoring his forehead, very narrow eyes with bulged eyelids that carried a callous look and a very neatly combed hair with a characteristic frontal puff.
Why am I still able to remember Mukundan but not care about his death? I don’t know. Was it because he was egoistic and unfriendly? I don’t know. Was I envious of Mukundan? Was I envious of his sudden popularity as a hero? No. Not at all.
News about Mukundan’s death came at about 8 PM. There was a sense of shock on all my sisters’ and brother’s face. My mother cried, as it was her wont.
Now let me digress to Sukumari, the girl of my childhood crush!
Sukumari joined our school just that year at the 5th standard. She was a Telugu girl, but must have been born and brought up in Tamil Nadu. She must have been a town-bread girl earlier; she had some element of sophistication in her looks that our local village girls didn’t have and that could be one of the reasons why I got attracted to her. She was one standard senior to me; at least two inches taller than me; she had a long face, flat cheeks, sandalwood skin, pony tail and a loud mouth. She laughed aloud for nothing.
For reasons unknown to me, she had a crush on me, which I was sure of. If I go to her class on an errand, she would say to her friends, “Ai! V…..rajan, di” mouthing my full name aloud and giggle, keenly looking at my face. At times, due to the leave of absence of 4th standard teacher, Rangu Sir would conduct combined classes for 4th and 5th standard. Sukumari would be sitting next to me in the girls row and she would frequently eye at me and smile. I would feel thrilled at her looks. She would try to initiate some dialogs with me, though I was extremely shy to talk to her. She would say, “Ai! V…..rajan feels shy to talk to me, di” to her friends and all would giggle together!
Sukumari did not reside in our street. Her house was at the main road about half a kilometer away from our street. She was on leave and out of station when Mukundan died. Our school was closed for the next day. The day after, the school opened as usual and Sukumari had come back. 4th standard teacher was on leave that day and as usual, Rangu Sir combined both the classes. Sukumari came and took her seat on the floor adjacent to me on the girls’ row.
Before the usual prayer began, Rangu Sir rose up solemnly and said “Let us all stand up in silence for two minutes praying for the peace of the departed soul of our beloved Mukundan”.
There was a look of shock in Sukumari’s face. She asked aloud, “Why, what happened to Mukundan?”
“Oh! You don’t know the news? Our beloved Mukundan passed away day before yesterday” said Rangu Sir.
“Oh! Is that so? How can it happen? Oh! I can’t bear it….” Sukumari started sobbing and then crying aloud, shedding tears profusely.
Practically all the girls — friends of Sukumari who were seated around her started crying with her.
Without thinking for a second, just in order to impress Sukumari, I too started crying!
Till today, I feel ashamed of what I did that day, an act of utter falsehood and artificiality that I hardly ever practiced in my life.