(Reading Time: 10 minutes)

There was a steel plate lying upside down on the floor. The reflection of the ceiling fan on the bottom side of the plate was constantly stared at by a pair of eyes. Rice was spluttered around the room, sulkily, like a torn necklace of pearls abandoned by the hassled actress at the third bell. The smell of sambar which was obediently flowing in a straight line, was overtaking everything else, reminiscing the acute hunger hanging out in the room. Concentrate!  Those eyes were trying to hold the flowing sambar in that straight line by staring at it. At the same time, the fan also needed to be taken care of. That bloody fan, turning too fast in anxiety, was losing control. The problem was that when her eyes turned towards the sambar the wings of the fan would collide with each other, or sometimes get dissolved into each other. How unruly!  But those ruthless eyes don’t give up easily.

There was a knock on the door. Another meal probably. But no! Nothing can distract the eyes now. The sambar and the fan. Don’t let them go! But her eyes hurt. They are filled with water because of all the staring and trying not to flutter the eyelashes. But no! Hold them! The fan is gradually trickling down the plate and getting mixed with the sambar, while the sambar is also solidifying slowly, turning round and round. Meanwhile, the pace is getting slower and slower. Now everything is a blur.

Occasionally, it has been the case that things go out of control on stage for good reasons. The show is over. A loud applause of thousands in the audience could be heard. There was another knock on the door. Constant multiple knocks. The obstinate knocks were becoming one in that loud applause of the cheering audience! What more can one ask for! Auditorium lights are on. One can see the house-full auditorium. More knocks. Nobody’s face can be seen as the stage lights are too bright to see the audience clearly. Now there is a smile in the room. In the lull after a successful show, the dialogues keep repeating in the head, going round and round like a fan. Tears flow disobediently like the sambar in the room. You can’t help it. So you let them. More knocks on the door accompanied by shouts. But the dialogues running in the head couldn’t be stopped, and of course, the show must go on.

What if the show is taking place in one’s head.

Yes, I have a lot to say. For so many years, I haven’t said a word. Chances came and chances went. Storms raged one after another about my throat. And there was a wail like death in my heart. But each time I shut my lips tight. I thought, no one will understand. No one can understand! When great waves of words came and beat against my lips, how stupid everyone around me, how childish, how silly they all seemed. Even the man I call my own. I thought I should just laugh and laugh till I burst. At all of them, that’s all – just laugh and laugh! And I used to cry my guts out. I used to wish my heart would break! My life was a burden to me[1]

They had finally managed to open the door somehow. They were inside now, obstructing her dialogues. She was extremely vexed but seeing how Ma was crying, she softened. But why is Ma crying? Her therapist, who is a family friend, was also inside the room. “Oh! Why doesn’t this man let me go on like this”, she thought.

“I can handle it, you see. Everyone has to handle their own shit”. She really didn’t want to bother anybody. Since childhood, she hated being a burden on anyone, not even on her parents. Parents! The title itself was a burden imposed by her mere existence.

She was an extra, like the person who hangs out with theatre repertoires without any particular work but doing many small jobs, just for meagre salary and meals, more importantly, for the love of being associated with those performances. The person who loves the little make up left near the earlobe the next morning, or the smell of used costumes, tired but proud curtains, snoring stage light, as much as she loves those bright, enthralling performances in the evenings. Yes, she was that person by birth. She was just there without being an important part of anything – at home, at school, in the playground, at the market, and everywhere else. Her being there didn’t matter to anybody. To be frank, she was an extra, but was showered with kindness by being allowed to stay there. Nonetheless, she was amused by everything around her.

As a kid she was left alone at home with a radio which kept talking and singing to her. The Kannada news reader in the radio would gently tell her, Aakashavani Dharavada egasariyagi 1 gante 5 nimisha.[2] She knew it was time for her to go to kitchen to eat whatever is kept on the table. Then there would be songs to put her to sleep. She would wake up to imitate the news reader’s voice. The news reader must have had a smile on her face hearing this little girl imitating her. She was a great company indeed. She tried to imagine the news reader. Standing in front of a mirror, she would engage in a conversation with her news reader while the radio went on in the background. They both were very similar. They both were locked inside, she inside the house and the news reader inside the radio, but both longed to talk. They both made faces at each other and laughed so hard that their stomachs ached. But alas, this beautiful secret friendship ended when she failed to hear her Ma come in while they both were laughing, making fun of each other. She never understood why Ma was horrified. The result was worse than she had imagined – she was admitted to a school. Soon enough in school she found the most enjoyable occupation, i.e. to secretly watch senior students practice plays. It was easy for her as nobody took notice of her. One day she sneaked inside the green room, put on a costume and tried to say dialogues she had learnt by watching the rehearsals, in front of a mirror. From that time, the news reader in the mirror had vanished. It was just the character whose dialogue she was saying. Again, she was caught doing this but this time by the drama teacher. He had a discussion with the principal about taking her into the school theatre team because she was still in the lower primary. “There is something queer about the girl”, the old principal added after agreeing to the teacher’s suggestion. The first thing she did after going home was to look that word up in her dictionary.

There was a girl. She liked to play with boys more than girls. And only boy’s games. She never felt shy or embarrassed if the boys handled her roughly as they played together. The elders in the family got angry with her but the girl didn’t care. When she came of age, rather early, they got worried. They became very strict. […] then they fenced her in. She found it very difficult to live in that world of enclosed fens, but she did.[3]

Another performance, another character’s dialogue was running in her head when she was picked up by Ma from the floor. Interruption again. This really upset her. Ma was asking her if she wanted to talk to the therapist. Of course not! But she knew that it wasn’t a question, so the answer was not required. She was made to sit on the sofa. Her room was being cleaned by Ma and the maid. Father had become seemingly busier since the day she had returned home, 4 months back from now. She remembered that Ma was happy when she was flying to Singapore to work as an actress in a theatre company. It was a great opportunity for her, but she felt that Ma’s happiness was not really pertaining to that. Was her kind Ma trying to get rid of her? She wondered. Poor Ma! How much would she go through? Ma knew her last boyfriend. She quite liked him. When things didn’t work out between them, Ma was very supportive. Little did she know that her daughter was going to explore something that she was too scared to imagine.  Ma found out that love between two women has a name to it! But she never uttered it even by mistake. Of course, Ma was very happy to send her girl away from everybody before it came out. However, for the daughter, it made her feel neither free nor dejected. It was how everything had been all the time.

“My head hurts. I think I would like to go back to sleep” she said to the therapist sitting across the room cross legged.  Anyway, the counselling continued. Ma and Father were not ready to listen to her or were too scared to be doing so, and hence the therapist.

“It would have been so easy if I could tell them everything”, she thought.

The memories of childhood attacked her again. Her parents who constantly reminded her of being the reason of that ugly sounding designation imposed on them, used to come late in the evening and brought her goodies. She didn’t like them one bit, especially the frocks. She remembers being mocked for wearing ill fitted clothes as she was too sickly and thin. She didn’t tell that to her parents. She didn’t tell them many things or perhaps anything. Never told them that she came first in class, or that her lunch box was too small for her appetite, or that there was a reason why she just couldn’t oblige – sit properly rules, or good girls’ guidelines. She rather felt sad for Ma. She wanted to be nice to her worn out Ma, but she just couldn’t. Never.

She cannot say that she hasn’t tried. Once when Ma was in a jovial mood she told her a funny incident at her school. She was in third grade.  On the school annual day, a teacher, who was trying to help her fix tumbling moustache in a hurry, just before she was going on a stage to play the role of Ravana, told her, “Do you know why you look like a boy with your poky hair and big nose?” she nodded. “Because you always do the roles of demons, witches and men with big moustaches and big paunches”. The girls and the boys standing behind her giggled. She giggled with them, and ran to the stage flaunting her moustache. She was very sure that it was a compliment. To her utter surprise, hearing this Ma’s face fell. That day her favourite comfy boyish clothes were handed to the Maid’s son. She had sobbed the whole night inside her blanket. She felt that nobody understood her and she couldn’t understand anybody.

Lately, after all these years, she had been wanting to pour out her heart to Ma. She just wanted her parents to understand her need to get back to acting. She was ready to give up all her “bad habits” as father called it, to be able to join her job again. She was alright. Acting was an obsession now. The ecstasy of being someone was addictive. But her parents thought that it was very dangerous for her condition. They didn’t even want her to stay in her room locked up where she delved in recalling the roles she played, making weird noises and faces in front of the mirror, the favourite habit which accompanied her from childhood. The more they tried to make her “normal”, the more she became adamant about running away. To live her independent life, to act on stage, and to be with her beloved, whose soft touch she missed dearly. She had been feeling recognised, loved, and wanted. She was not an extra but the main artist in the theatre company she worked for and also in her new found life. Parents wouldn’t understand. She really wanted to be left out. She was trying hard to get the therapist to see her point. She had earned a name in. She was a person. The therapist was being told that same line again and again.

The session was over. They came out of the room. Father had just arrived. Ma served coffee to everybody. ‘I am a person’, she said to herself. Father didn’t even acknowledge her presence and started talking to his friend, the therapist. She waited. ‘I am a person’, the line was repeating in her head. She waited for these two men and Ma to look at her. I am a person! She stared at them with vengeance. They were talking about her but seemed to have completely forgotten her existence in the room. She stared without blinking to get their attention. She pleaded silently. She was a person. Her eyes were filled with water. Perhaps because of her staring at them. I am a person, the line kept turning in her head like a fan. She waited, stared, and waited.

I am a person.

Her hands involuntarily threw the coffee mug at them. She couldn’t hear or see anything properly. After sometime she was in her room.

No! No! Don’t leave me alone! I’m scared of them![4]

***

References

[1] Vijay Tendulkar, ‘Silence the Court is in Session’, in Collected Plays in Translation ( New Delhi: Oxford University Press,  2003), 116

[2] Radio Dharvada. It’s five past one.

[3] Vijay Tendulkar, ‘A Friend’s Story, in Collected Plays in Translation( New Delhi: Oxford University Press,  2003), 431.

[4] Vijay Tendulkar, ‘Silence the Court is in Session’, in Collected Plays in Translation ( New Delhi: Oxford University Press,  2003), 116

 

 

Showing 6 comments
  • K V Patil
    Reply

    Its a well woven story. Felt happy to read.Felt iinspired

    • Sheetala
      Reply

      Thank you very much. Glad you like it 🙂

  • Anubhav Srivastava
    Reply

    This was such a beautiful read!

    • Sheetala
      Reply

      Thanks Anubhav! 🙂

  • Anchal
    Reply

    This left me with awe-stricken and bewildered thoughts. You nailed it Sheetala….

    • Sheetala
      Reply

      Thank you, Anchal. 😀

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