( Picture from the Internet)
Yesterday I met a lawyer friend from Calcutta. He brought along a gift and handed it to me rather ceremoniously, which surprised me. When I asked for the reason for the gift, he told me that he had been using some of my insights into people watching in the courtroom and it had been working well for him. I was extremely surprised and curious about how insights into human nature and peripheral observations could actually be used in court.
But it reminded me of something and we discussed it over coffee. A long time ago in a small town in Assam, I was watching the Ramleela that was being enacted as a part of the Dussehra festivals. A small group of actors play the Ramleela( which is the enactment of a very small part of the epic) there are no special lights or fancy stage decoration. The faces are full of makeup and garish but shabby costumes. They look at you intently, here they make love with the eyes. The most interesting part though is the improvisation on stage. While a couple of musicians play on the Tabla, Harmonium, etc, the characters suddenly break into a dance. To someone like me who had so long seen theater were no one broke away from their own roles or the lines dedicated to them, this was amazing.
During a particular scene, while Ram was busy saying his lines Lakshman sat hunched on the other end of the stage. He calls out to a man close to the stage who is having a Bidi( cigarette) and has a puff from him. The overhead mike, catches his request for a Bidi, but no one is really bothered as Ram is still narrating his lines. Ram suddenly appears to forget his lines, someone laughs and Ram is angry he goes near the audience and says, 'Chal tu hi bol dal' ( why don't you say it). the person keeps quiet and Ram gets back to thinking his lines, Hanuman pipes up and asks him to narrate other lines from later on in the play, Ram obliges and all is well.
I sneak backstage during a break, the stage is empty now only the musicians are playing, singing some songs. The props come and go, gorgeously decorated scenery of chariots, kings and queens, birds and trees on cheap Chinese silk. Behind a curtain at the back, Sita is already in her costume, she is cooking rice on a small pot. She gives me a disinterested look and puffs at her bidi. I'm a bit aghast, isn't Sita supposed to be the ideal Hindu nari( woman) and all that? I look closer, suddenly Sita is no longer Sita, it is Lakshmana in a sari. Everything is a Maya, an illusion. The only reality is the improvisation, what happens beyond the script. I smile and go back, the actors are everywhere.