SUNDAY 11th. NOVEMBER, 2018 – WODEHOUSE CORNER AT DORE’S
Like the leaves of autumn the days of October fell thick and fast pausing reverentially only on October 15th. when P.G.Wodehouse, the Prince of Humour, was born who, with his craftsmanship in prose, reduced many “alleged humourists” to mere footnotes on the pages of English literature. A member asked, in all seriousness, “Why is it that all famous men end up in stone?” Explain yourself, the others demanded. “There is a a memorial stone that will be set up for Wodehouse in Westminster Abbey. He will stand in the company of Shakespeare, Jane Austen amd T.S.Elliot. Wow! Here was an author who was needlessly hounded by British after the second World War and then conferred a knighthood on the eve of his death in 1975. Now he will be rewarded with a stone. Fame and stone go together, as it were.” Another member recalled the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns who lived and wrote in utter penury. The story goes that after his death his aged mother heard some sound outside her house and when she went out to enquire she was told that the people are setting up a statue in memory of Robert Burns. The mother exclaimed loudly, “O Robie !, you asked for bread and they are giving you a stone.”
These are festive times and Dassehra had just passed. It has been passing for centuries beyond centuries and the citizenry revel in it for weeks in preparation for diverse activities, one of them being the Ramleela celebrations in every town and village. A member gave a vivid description of the typical folk operatic theatric performance. Mythological scenes from Ramayana are enacted using scarce (even appalling) local talent and resources. Many are organised with a shoe string budget. Let’s say the small town is Rampur in the middle of nowhere (railway station 8 kms. away, women trudging 2 km. daily for drinking water, undependable lighting, you know the rest. But life and enthusiasm for the fun of life are vibrant, seeking revelry in evanescent moments now re-living the glory of the past, now enlivening the present with mirth aided by bawdy talk. Anyway, on the appointed day the revellers assembled, in as noisy a manner as possible, on the large ground in front of a vacant warehouse, squatting on hired bed sheets. Noisy old women with grandchildren occupied the front rows while the rows behind were filled up with much expectations for the show to start. A large number stood patiently at the periphery for this was their program. The entire community contributed in diverse ways plugging all loopholes to make is a three hour success.
A look inside the green room (actually there is no green room; only a thick curtain on the stage and a faded wall right back) showed all brands of bright petromax lights (the type used for marriage processions) and wicks with flares. An orchestra of lights, some jazzy and classy, others like poor relations standing apart having arrrived for the same purpose but divided by some sort of caste system. The real interesting part was the dramatis personae. The actors are traditionally selected from the street and the lane. The local carpenter, the oil monger, the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker, besides the tailor, a teacher and an ayurvedic quack. A drummer and a violinist who could play a long trumpet like instrument to herald the Lord.
Outside the crowd was impatient. Behind the curtain one could see some discordant scenes:
Ø Jaikumar (Hanuman) wearing bifocals, quarrelling with Shukla (the organiser, principal financier of the show, playing Ravan) complaining that his mace was heavy and how was he (Hanuman) expected to hold it up for the length of the entire show. To which Ravan gave no reply but stared angrily at Bharadwaj (Laxman) who has been imbibing liquor far beyond his medical advisor would permit.
Ø Last minute touch-up for Lord Rama who tried to look regal and resplendent, his costume pricking and poking him in diverse places like in-house mosquitoes.
Ø A fair, tall graceful reed like person, Mr.Ashwin (playing the role of Sita) sat on a wooden box smoking a beedi, a picture of one who is at peace with himself.
Huge applause followed the rise of the curtain amidst much action on stage and in the audience. Many elderly grannies stood and reverentially bowed before the deities compelling their little ones to do likewise. The audience participated lustily, in scene after scene, bellowing outrageous anger against Ravan and Surpanaka encouraging the titan Hanuman and the Lord himself in the eternal struggle for justice. There was chaos with uproaring laughter as wrong lines were spoken carelessly They enjoyed the improvised crude music in the background accepting the fact that if the Gods themselves were put to such trial and hardship, what then of mortals like us !!
Not all go to the NCPA or Prithvi as the nautanki is still favoured by “We the people” who decide the festivals, their dates, their celebrations and the levels of noise, no matter what the Supreme Court orders.
Members could not agree more.