Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Our Story

Finally Finally...the story is ready. After a monumental effort and agonising wait, here is the fruit of our labour. For those who think that this story just dropped from the stork's basket, here's a quick link which would let you see the story behind the story.
For others, here it goes...............

The road was empty at this time of the day but not the same with the clouds above, which were slowly gathering strength. She was staggering towards the bus stop, cursing for not carrying an umbrella. Was she trembling? Or was it just a drab dampness on her face, cast by the fading sky?

It was a cold night, the streets are icy and snow covered. He felt abandoned as so often, but this time it was different. This night shall be the greatest night of their lives; the night they fall in LOVE. But seven seas apart, little did anyone knew that their fates were joined; not even them.

She hated the word love, love was for the weak who had to amuse themselves with petty illusions she often said to herself. She got on to the next bus and settled down for a long journey back home. A journey which turned her life upside down, a journey that would haunt her for years to come. Just then she noticed a book lying on the seat next to hers. It was thickly bound, red in colour and had T.J engraved in golden letters. She looked around to see who left the book and saw that there were just three other people on the bus: a middle aged man two rows ahead of her and an elderly couple on the last row. She opened the book after all her co-passengers denied the ownership of the book, and the first page had it written in slanting bold letters...... To the Love of my life.... Happy Birthday!

That sentence took her memories ten years down the lane, back to the college days; to the first time she saw the very same words 'to the love of my life'. Sighing, she closed the book, not wanting to think about what she left behind, more aware of the numbness that clad her heart. She was invisible that's how anyone would describe her in college days and she preferred being so. And the few lots who noticed her found her slouch pitiable and her eyes, rammed into the ground. She never cared for them or anything. The new black poster on the department wall announcing some new theatre piece, she never saw. The cheery bonhomie of the campus lads hollering over some cricketer's new records, she never saw. And she never saw the pale guy with droopy eyes reading but the book in the library hall. She never saw...him. Everything was just the same until, in the afternoon of a gray day, she got an envelope, addressed 'To the love of my life', written in neat slanting letters. She didn’t open the envelope for a week, afraid it might be a trick. Finally when she had the courage to open the envelope, it was too late. It was not love letters as she feared but few sonnets, musical notations and biblical references.

He knew he was running late for the meeting and the thought that she hated it whenever he was late brought those old memories back to the front. He took the next train, even though it was to follow the longer route, fearing that the snow might pull a stop on all the trains. He settled in an empty wagon and his thoughts again started lingering to her. The first time he faced her, was with a red face, apologizing and requesting to return the envelope which was wrongly delivered to her. It was meant for his granny, which by the devilish deeds of his friends landed at her door step. But once face to face with her, he was mesmerized. The very next day he got another envelope to her, titled “For you, whose name I not know”. By his own standards, he thought had shown exemplary courage to give the envelope to her, but again she never looked like the snobbish kind.

She had opened the envelope to find that this time it was a book, “Love Story”, by Erich Segal. Little did she knew that with each page and with each passing day their relationship grew to become the most important part of their life. There were never enough hours to be spent together; the days were always short and the nights were not enough. Anything and everything was to be done together, to the extent that they even decided to a move into living together. But the conservative milieu around prevented them from doing it. The last of the passengers in the bus, the old couple, had got down at the last stop, but she had only covered half of her journey. She rested back and thought about how by the end of their college days things fell apart. It was neither acrimonious nor heartbreaking, as simple as they had met, they departed, to concentrate on their careers. Though the void was there for long but none that a nine to nine job can’t fill.

That was four years ago and now, after multiple failed relations and a career spanning the length of the country, he was going to meet her again. It was one of his friends who had dropped her name in a casual conversation and he picked up the trails from there to find out that she was in the next state, just a train ride away. He had dropped her a mail, asking about her and they followed it up with a catch-up of the life gone by. With trepidation he had asked her to meet him and she felt hers abate when he did eventually. And today was the day they were to meet, and he was hoping to make it on time, this time. When the next station came he got down and started walking towards the bus station. The weather was not at its best today but he hoped that things should not take a turn for the worst.

The message in the book had brought back some warm memories and soothed her nerves before meeting him. Hopefully there was still hope and maybe the book was trying to point towards something. As her bus stop came, she got up and signaled the bus driver to stop. As she approached the door, with the book held under her arms, she looked at the driver and they both smiled at each other. As she got down she saw him turning from around the block and walking towards her. She waved at him and he did so in return. As they got nearer they scrutinized each other’s face and finding what they were looking for, felt relieved. They hugged each other and started walking towards the other side of the road.

The bus driver watched them, walking hand in hand, talking softly as if they had secrets to hide from the world, until they were out of sight. He smiled and got up, took another book from his bag, the last one for today, and walked back towards the seats. He placed it on the last row and came back to the wheels, to continue to the next stop in his route, hoping that the weather remains peaceful for the rest of his journey.

Friday, March 26, 2010

From the director's seat

It feels like yesterday, when there were more than hundred eyes peering at the stage, more than fifty lights creating a milieu, multiple props adding to the ingenuity of the set, seven characters essaying singular roles and one person, in the front row, looking at all this with the eyes of a creator. That was yesterday; today there is no audience, no lights, no scenes and no voices but the applauses still echo in my ears. I sit in the same hall, with long rows of blue chairs, looking at the empty stage and converse with Shweta Kushal, the director and creator of the play ‘Black Comedy’ at IITM, trying to rake the mind of the lady from the front row.

Bhuji: Was it a management initiative to come up with the idea of screening a play or was it something which the students envisioned?

Shweta: It was something we came up with last year. By ‘we’ I mean students as a group, in the event of the golden jubilee celebrations of the institute. That is how ‘No-Mad Players’ was formed, along with its first production, an adaptation of Mousetrap - Three Blind Mice. And then this year, I thought I will continue the tradition, being the founder director and everything. The management did support the venture but the initiative was taken by the students.

B: Have you got any background in stage, plays or theatre, organizing or watching, other than the two plays that you have done in IIT?

S: I am a student of English literature so I don't have a choice but to have a background in theatre. As part of my subject matter, I have read a lot of theatre over the years. Also, I have watched many plays. However, as far as organising is concerned, I have only directed one play at the college level before these two and that was not even remotely of this scale.

B: What are the different aspects of arranging or organizing a play?

S: A play is like a family of ants with as many jobs to be done. It starts with the conception of the idea, of actually staging one and goes on till after the event is over. Choice of script, auditions, casting (a very important part, as inappropriate casting can spell doom), rehearsals, sets, costumes, makeup, props, sound, music, lights, finances (impossible for the play to take place without this), and so many other small things that I am sure I am missing something. All of it requires immense attention to detail, along with a capability to envisage how it will all look when on stage. It has to feel like a single unit else it is a huge waste and can be a failure.

B: How do you select the play?

S: I don't think I can talk about an accepted, sure-shot and time-tested method of script selection. Mousetrap was selected for its mass appeal and for its credentials. It being our first production, I wanted it to be noticeable and big, and it was. Black Comedy was selected because of its humour, its farce and the brilliant concept of light and human nature it works with. I did read a lot of scripts before making the selections but I am not sure I can outline as to why I selected these two and why not others. However, there is one thing that I try to avoid. I do not like profanities and abusive language, be it in life or on stage and I am reluctant to choose scripts with too many unnecessary expletives.

B: What are your criterions while auditioning candidates for the roles?

S: This is a tough question. Mostly when I go into the auditioning room, I have a general idea of the way I want my character to be on stage and I conduct the auditions accordingly. At the same time, casting is not done at the stage of the auditions. In both these plays, I have called more people after the auditions than required and have taken my time over casting, at the end of which some were turned away without suitable fitment. However, in the auditions, I look for clear diction, audibility, expressive face, stage presence, demeanour and deportment on stage and stage comfort.

B: Do the performers have a history of association with play or theatre during school/college or otherwise?

S: Not all of them, some do and some don't. Quite a few of them have ‘No-Mad Players' productions as their first appearance in a play.

B: Do you alter the original script as you go along or do you follow it without any modifications whatsoever?

S: That tends to happen depending upon the dynamics of the group one is working with and the way in which each individual interprets their character. Also, both these plays are English plays and we did make a few changes to make them intelligible and associable for an Indian audience. Sometimes, as in the case of Black Comedy, the availability or lack of certain props also leads to alterations.

B: Both your plays ‘Three Blind Mice’ and ‘Black Comedy’ are more than four decades old. Do you think the contemporary plays are not appealing to the masses?

S: No, I am not elitist enough to think like that. I have already stated my reasons for choosing these plays and that has nothing to do with the time period of the plays. It was not a conscious choice to select something from four decades ago. These two just happen to belong to that era. If you look at the two scripts and the two settings, you will realise that there are no two plays that can be more unlike each other than these two.

B: Do your plays carry a message?

S: First of all, they are not my plays. I am directing them and they have been written by other people. Secondly, I believe that theatre in itself offers personal messages and take aways for audience whether they carry an explicit message or not. That is the beauty of art, and more so of a performing art like theatre. I am not against theatre with a message and in fact feel that it is a very important part of an engaging art form like theatre, but at the same time I beg to differ from those who believe that it should be used only as a didactic tool.

B: What is the most difficult part of preparing for the play?

S: To be able to actually stage a successful venture is a task in itself. But if I were to isolate one specific aspect of it then I would say casting. If this goes wrong, then everything can end up in a mess. In proportion to the time spent on a play, it is a minuscule aspect of it but god forbid if one gets this wrong, as it is really important to identify the right people for the right roles. Also, it is difficult for me personally as it involves a certain value judgement, something I usually avoid engaging in.

B: What is more important: good script or good performers?

S: This is a very difficult choice and at the risk of sounding diplomatic, I would like to say both. However, I think performers are more important as it is they who make the script come alive. If you have a brilliant script but terrible or even average performers, the chances of things going wrong are higher than when it is the other way around. So, I guess I would place my money on the performers.

B: Do you think being a woman gives you an advantage in a creative field or are there shortcomings because of the same?

S: I have never actively engaged with this idea of being a woman director but now when I think about it, I find it hard to understand the difference between a male and female director. Being a woman might result in a little deference or a different kind of respect that one gains from the male fraternity one works with but beyond that, I don't think creativity or vision have a gender. I might be more sensitive to the way in which one portrays delicate scenes of love on stage (just an off-hand example) both for the male and female actors but that again may not be a fall out of gender. As a director, I feel as long as you have the vision, the expanse of view, the larger picture in mind, the ability to see things as they should be rather than as they are and a keen eye for detail, whether you are a man or woman is immaterial - you have the potential to be a good director.

B: What kind of promotional activities do you do before the play?

S: They mostly include posters, e-invites to people, creating events on Facebook and Orkut, people posting the event on their blogs, telephone invites, messages, announcements through the student community, word of mouth (I think Teena can respond to this better than me)
B: What is the one thing that you fear most during the screening of the play?

S: If something goes wrong the actors will freeze and will not be able to improvise. At that stage there is nothing I can do to better the situation and it all depends on them. Their presence of mind plays a huge role in this. And if they get nervous, we might as well call it a day.

B: What are your personal ‘take home’ experiences from these plays?

S: People have very different and eye-opening ways of looking at situations, interpreting characters and coping with crisis. Human nature is truly diverse and fascinating; there is no end to what we can learn from each other as individuals, as communities, as groups, as countries and as a world on the whole.

B: How has been the support from the management towards this initiative?

S: Our faculty advisor is like a pillar of strength and support and I think I am eternally grateful to him for oiling the wheels of the bureaucratic machinery. At the same time, I wish that the paper work was easier. On the whole, the department has been very encouraging of this venture. There are always differences between the creative and practical sides of society but these have not hindered us in any way.

B: What have been the audience reactions towards the plays so far?

S: The audience has been overjoyed with the quality of the plays that we have produced. Before our productions, I have been told, people in the IIT campus had not witnessed the level of professionalism that is possible in theatre. In fact, after Black Comedy, one of the members of the audience actually said that it was surprising to see such clean comedy that was outright hilarious (she meant without sexual innuendo and cheap jokes). I guess our productions have been the much required breath of fresh air for campus theatre, not to mention a dose of culture.

B: With two successful plays you have built a good foundation. What next?

S: Yes, we have built a good foundation and for now, I am hopeful that this tradition will continue even when I am not around on IIT campus anymore. There is a lot of untapped talent here and I am sure that this will be an impetus for the effort to continue. I also hope that in future we will be able to take our productions out of campus to gain recognition and applause for the group, as this is the most rewarding thing for a performer. If theatre becomes a part of the culture of education as a whole in our department, with workshops and interactions, then I think we would have come a long way from that maiden production.

B: Do you ever feel the pull to go in front of the stage?

S: Yes, it happens occasionally. However, the thrill of seeing something that one has toiled over for many months in front of your eyes, surpasses that pull completely. Also, I thoroughly enjoy directing and I feel that I have a few gifts that may not be common (yes I believe I am unique, like all the rest of us), which can be put to better use as a director.

B: From a personal experience, which one do you think was better: ‘Three Blind Mice’ or ‘Black Comedy’?

S: This is an unfair question as it is like asking a mother to choose between her two children. I think you will understand that parallel and excuse me if I refrain from answering this.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Animals are beautiful people

My knight in shining armour - Sigmu christened as Sigmund. Born in 2007, resides at Sarayu hostel, IIT Madras. Very affectionate towards ladies. Freedom fighter and often gets injured in quarrels with insti monkeys. My baby boy :)
Will miss you for 3 months.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

And then it so happened

And then it so happened” is not the opening lines of an action packed, on the edge Dan Brown kind of storytelling. Neither does it belong to any of the verses from the Holy Bible. So it would neither shift the ground beneath your feet nor it is going to preach anything into you. Then what the heck is it all about? All of us have opinions about people, places and processes (didn’t wanted to use a technical term here but could not resist the temptation to make it three Ps) around us and often these thoughts linger on for some time and then just fade away. It’s an effort on my part to navigate those mangroves of thoughts and share with you guys the under currents which nurture them.

So very similar to the origin of the line “And then it so happened”. No, not the birth of this statement in English vocabulary but how it came to be part of my own lexicon and ended up being the title of this blog. Long time ago, before the age of keyboards and touch screens, the humble pen used to rule the roost in the corridors of schools and colleges. It is of those times when the pen was mightier than the mouse (it suddenly occurs to me now that if pens used to have been fixed to a notebook as a mouse is to a computer then I would not have lost so many pens through my academic sojourn). Not that their numbers would create any impact in the Guinness Books but just that it was always a matter of grave discussion at home. And then I, both sad (may be got thrashed by the dark forces- parents) and happy (ah! who doesn’t like a new pen), would set out to buy my next pen. The selection process would then begin by writing a few bits with all the pens that the shopkeeper had at his disposal. Usually people try writing their names to check the flow, texture and colour of the pen. Some of us would put down our signature and see how it looks.

A few others would just draw lines, circles and what not. But that’s where I discovered “and then it so happened”. I felt that I needed to write something more, more than just names and signatures to make sure the pen really fits the bill. I didn’t knew about “a quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” (Pangrams: a sentence which contains all the letters in the English alphabet) then so I settled for the modest “And then it so happened”. Don’t remember how it came to being (and I don’t want to put undue pressure on the nerve ending in the grey matter) but it has stuck with me for sure. And now every time a pen needs a closer inspection I always write “and then it so happened”.

Now it feels so apt that I title this blog with the same words which were just as mundane as tap water but really very important when you needed it most. It’s my attempt to payback to those humble words which have stood the test of time and to make sure they become a part of the transition to newer means of communication, just as I have been (from pen to keyboard, keyboard to touch screen, touch screen to motion sensors and also mail to e-mail, e-mail to blogs, maybe who knows, blogs to emotion sensors).

P.S: So what do you guys normally scribble with a pen, the very first time? Comment and share it with me.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Animals are beautiful people

Of all the places one could imagine, I found this sight at Utroda beach, Goa. I felt envious at the satisfaction, pride and comfort of the buffalo. I had always imagined buffaloes to be happy in murky waters or swamps but this salty water was no different to them. I was amazed at how happy even the boy rearing him was, watching his buffalo take a dip in the ocean. Animals are beautiful people. They make the best of what they have around.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Million Little Pieces

I am often attracted by the title of a book: obscure, satirical, witty, philosophical are my usual choices. Even though it’s not the final word on it, I know somewhere I am hooked by it. This one too had a good title and beyond that I found there were a million little things going wrong for this book. This being an autobiography there are limitations on how exciting one can make it, not that the author has not tried but more on that later. James Frey, 23 years old, an alcoholic, drug addict and criminal, details about his stint at Hazeldon rehabilitation clinic in the state of Minnesota and intermittently flashbacks on the kind of life he had lead outside.

Now when I look back, it’s hard for me to not draw an analogy of the storyline with an elephant. Yes, even I am surprised how close it comes to be that. Let’s start with the trunk, the most existing part, if I may say so, for no other animal has it, often intriguing, sometimes violent. The story too begins captivatingly; James is missing his front teeth, has a hole in his cheek, a broken nose, swollen eyes and can barely stand. He’s on a plane to the oldest Residential Drug and Alcohol Treatment Facility in the world. You feel the story kind of gripping you there. But once at the clinic it’s all about vomit, urine, bile and blood. Every day the same routine and it continues until you reach the middle of the book. It keeps coming and coming and coming, the vomits. Somewhere through those pages you yourself feel nauseated and your stomach revolting. But still I continue with the pages.

The reader then leaves the trunk and moves towards the head and the big flapping ears. James has kind of settled in and explores the world around him. He does not like following the rules; and being a rehab facility there are lots of it. The story then revolves around the daily routine: cleaning job, breakfast, lecture, lunch, lecture, dinner and some other things thrown in between. You rush through the pages and nothing exciting comes up; not that anything happens in a rehab clinic otherwise. But yes there is a root canal procedure which James goes through, without any anesthetic, which kind of flaps your ears but again it is very ghastly portrayed. Then there is the ‘not getting along’ scenes with the authorities and with the inmates, the usual stuff which happens when you are a new to a confinement unit, full of not very nice people and all trying to get out. Fortunately for him, James makes more friends than enemies.

The big body of the story is about how James ridicules and shuns the clinic’s Alcohol Anonymous program called the Twelve Steps because of the programs dependence and belief in the higher power. Not sure if it’s the right kind of message he wants to send out to his kind of people, going through the same grind to get well. The daily routine of lunch and lectures continue, but there are also details pouring in about his friends from facility and their stories. James then starts to like a girl, Lily, from the women’s unit, who herself has a history of drug and prostitution, and there seems to develop a spark between them. His parents also join the clinic under a family counseling program, much against James’s wishes. He then goes into extensive flashbacks on how, as a twelve year kid, he starts his stint with drugs and alcohol, and anything and everything that can cause a high. This part is where you want your kids to close the book because there are so many graphic descriptions of these episodes that the young guns might want to give it a try. He also describes his run-ins with the law and that he is wanted in an assault case against a police officer. Even though being friendly with girls in the unit is against the rules James falls in love with Lily and starts to think of life beyond and after Hazeldon. There are other bits and pieces that happen in between but that only adds to the pages and nothing to the reader’s experience.

And then when we think things will pick up, we are shown the tail, an insignificant appendage. James has miraculously got the criminal charges against him reduced to felony and misdemeanors and just has to face three months of jail. He gets to being comfortable with his parents and goes ahead to do his jail term. In the last page of the book James describes the state of affairs of his buddies from his rehab time and how Lily commits suicide the day he gets released from jail because her grandmother passes away because of cancer.

But as a whole when you look at the elephant of this book, you feel that’s not all it is. You search around and realize that there is a lot of hue and cry in the literary circles about the authenticity of the events that James has mentioned in his book. People are debating about his criminal cases being conjured and not being as serious as been depicted. The root canal treatment, without anesthetics, is being questioned by the same very clinic where it happened. And so on and so forth. James, giving into these allegations, has agreed that a lot of it in the book are embellishments to make the story richer and to drive a point to help addicts and alcoholics. So much was the discontent around that the author has added a ‘note to the reader’, in the starting of the book, suggesting that all is not true in the book. Another grouse, mine though, is the utter lack of punctuations and quotation marks throughout the book. He might have been snorting crack during his grammar classes too, but the publishers should have had a steady head. The book even made it into Oprah Winfrey’s ‘Book Club’ and in one of her shows she described it as ‘like nothing you’ve ever read before’. Hope she fired the chap who shortlisted this one for her.

Similar to the attraction towards titles, I have a certain dislike for prefaces and prologues. I am sure if I had read the note by the author I would have stayed away from this one.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Animal are beautiful people

King cobra discovered by 'Who' and friends during trekking. It was dead though :P

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Two cups of tea with Cherichikutty

Cherichi, that’s how everybody called her. She never knew what it meant, though baptised Mary which she was rarely referred to as. Like all girls of twelve years she liked playing hopscotch, carrying her younger brother on her hips, she played with the neighbourhood kids, taking pride in being the eldest of the lot.

One fine day as she was hopping around she saw visitors coming to her home, oblivious of it having any connection to her she continued playing. The visitors being elderly men startled her. She was summoned by her mother. The men smirked watching her. Her father was a man of small built and her brother was only three years old, they being the only men she had ever seen up close. But these men were tall and hefty and their moustache frightened her.

“You are going to be married”, her mother told her. She did not understand much about it except for the fact that she was no longer to wear her long skirts and petticoats. She would now wear the funny outfit her mother wore and if lucky she could wear a silk one for her wedding. She went for her confession, not realising it was a matrimonial confession. She confessed the same petty fights and stealing of pickles.

She stood at the altar all decked and excited to notice a six ft tall man next to her. Her husband was crestfallen after a rejected proposal and wanted to be married immediately, though the bride to be was still a minor. “Let the girl be at your place till she matures, we just want him married”, said her prospective father in law then. So she was married. She felt no difference as she came back to her own home and took care of her pregnant mother and younger brother. But all the playing stopped suddenly. She was asked to talk in hushed tones and not to venture too far away from the house.

She was often invited to fetes, being newlywed, and there she again met the six ft intimidating man. He tried being soft to her and once asked if she needed soap or any fancy item. She ran away frightened at his baritone. He left all attempts to rekindle affection thereafter.
On an unfortunate day she found herself bleeding profusely. She thought she was going to die but people around her seemed to beam with joy. She was invited to a fete again where a granny asked her husband to take her back with him.

She was not even left home to take her stuff and she was told this was her new life . And from that place she came as a guest she returned to her husband’s place She slept early to escape the intimidating man only to wake up and see him next to her in the same bed. She ran away frightened, but she had no women except an old granny to run to, who laughed at her plight.
She soon discovered her belly swelling and knew it meant pregnancy, remembering her mother, but still had no clue to the mysteries of her body. It took her four childbirths to associate the process of impregnation with menstruation. She understood when one stopped the other began. She was weary as she made these simple correlations. She trembled each time she missed a period out of fear of another nine months and the pain thereafter.

He was not intimidating to her .anymore, not that they ever spoke of love. She was comfortable with his huge frame and with age he looked more helpless. She got used to child bearing, rearing and being a submissive wife, though she often wished she knew things earlier.

She missed her long skirts and hopscotch which she traded with her daughters. She hated the elder women for not explaining the mysteries of married life to her. To a family who had no women for three generation she gave eight daughters. She prayed they all be freed from darkness, ignorance and servitude. She saw to it that they were all employed and informed about ways of life.

And years later narrating this to her granddaughter, who was getting ready to face the altar, she said, “They are all intimidating in the beginning, but they are more vulnerable than us “. I just smiled looking at her.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Animals are beautiful people

German shepherd puppies new born.