Monday, September 11, 2006

Goppo... (Story)

The theatre hall was old, hallowed. Many a famous performance had been staged here. Today was another play. Of course, theatre was no longer the most favored art form and Tantu had reluctantly agreed to buy tickets for this event. He knew a few members of the cast, so he felt obliged to watch the show. Hmm...obligation...it never lay easy on the chest, did it? He made his way to the back rooms of the building, where the performing artistes were getting ready to stage a famous Tagore dance drama. He hadn't been to a play in a long while, so strangely, coming didn't feel like a complete waste of time. A re-acquaintance with a dying art form, so to speak, even if Tagore appreciation did not come naturally to him. The smell of the semi-lit corridor that winded up towards the green rooms hit his nostrils, and he smiled...Dettol. A few steps on and the corridor opened into a hall which had three doors. He knocked gently on the first before calling out, 'Babai da?' His peering eyes were met with stares from four men dressed up in bright green and golden kurtas. The room itself was littered with plastic swords, make up kits, trinkets and bright cloth. A box of black mustachios lay open in front of the large mirror that saddled the wall in front of them. A fifth man was was attempting to paste a rather large curly mustache onto the upper lip of one of brightly dressed men. On Tantu's entry the man standing immediately to his left, smiled and waved. "Tantu! You came!!" Tantu, smiled in return and waved back "Aah, Babai da, of course, I made it a point to come! I wouldn't miss this for the world!". This was of course only partially true. Tantu, in his head, winced.
Babai da, meanwhile, proceeded to introduce the others in the room. "This is Bhai, that one there is Buro, this is Babushona and the distinguished gentleman who is fixing Babushona's whiskers is Tito babu." Tantu folded his hands in the traditional Indian 'Namaste' and smiled. Babai da and the others had to be on stage for a sound check before the show, hence excused themselves and made their way out, leaving Tito Babu alone with him.
"Sit down, they will take a while", he said.
Tantu sat down on one of the wooden chairs, one on which Babushona had just been sitting. The seat felt warm and that was always a good thing.
"So you are a student?", Tito Babu asked.
"Not anymore, I was till a year ago, now I make short films, you know, like documentaries."
"Films...you are an artiste then, like all these people.", he carried on.
"Films yes, artiste I don't know. Just finished filming a documentary on wolves. Its not great money, but I like what I do." Tantu quipped.
"Money isn't everything. You need to do something that you enjoy. Something that marries passion and profession, you know?" Tito Babu was old, probably in his sixties. His faced was wrinkled and weather beaten. He looked sad. Maybe he couldn't marry passion and profession and wound up doing something he despised. Maybe not. Tantu chided himself for thinking too much. An awkward silence followed.
Suddenly, "Jana Gana Mana..." blared from the sound system, just outside the green room. The Indian national anthem was not a part of this Tagore dance drama, as far as Tantu knew, so he let a frown escape his brows. Tito Babu smiled and hummed the tune. Just then the song stopped as abruptly as it had started. Tito Babu stopped humming a second or two later. He seemed disappointed at its sudden end.
He looked at Tantu and asked, " You're a film wallah, correct?" Tell me, which popular Sachin Dev Burman tune is inspired from the Indian national anthem?"
(SD Burman was one of the great music directors of Hindi films. Though he passed away in the 70s, after three decades of great music composition, his tunes remain popular to this day.)
Tantu was taken by surprise. He wasn't expecting a quiz at a theatre performance. Besides, he was a young man, brought up on techno-pop, electronica and heavy metal. SD Burman was something his grandfather and father listened to, on those vinyl records and obscenely large gramophones.
"Not sure really. Which one?" Tantu wasn't really bothered. His brows arched into a frown for the second time, only this one feigned interest. In his head he winced again.
Tito Babu smiled and carried on, and hummed "Punjab Sindhu Gujarata Maratha, Dravida Utkala Banga...", and then hummed again "Humne to jab kaliya mangi, kaaton ka haar milaaa...".
He stopped, smiled and said, "laste pench diye ghuriye diyeche...see? kaliyan maangi...SD Burman er churi gulon dhora khub mushkil!" (It is extremely difficult to catch SD Burman's tune lifts!)
Tantu smiled. There could be truth in the old man's words, but he wasn't sure. "Aah..we learn something new everyday, don't we?" he said. "Thanks for the interesting titbit. I think I should be moving on, the show is about to start."
Tantu wanted didn't want another quiz from him. What if he asked him what the capital of Burkina Fasso was or which Indian music director lifted Procol Harum's 'Whiter shade of Pale'? It would be too much to handle. Besides the show really was going to start.
"Oh its time already? Sure, carry on, I wont keep you...you will need time to find your seat."
"Right, Mr. Tito, hope to meet you again."
Tantu winced in his head for the third time. He didn't want to meet this melancholic quiz master cum part time make up man ever again. He turned around and started his walk back into the corridor, only to turn around after a few moments.
The last thing he saw before he turned around again was the image of a sad old man, standing in the corner, back stage, watching the dance drama from the side line, behind the scenes, with a smile on his face, thoroughly enjoying the Tagore song and dance extravaganza. He was engrossed. His hands were folded behind his back and and his lips moved along with the stage singer's songs. He seemed happy, enjoying something he really liked. Maybe passion and profession had finally tied the knot.
Cheers!
Abhishek.

4 comments:

Gaurav said...

Sir, a brilliant short story! The narrative is ironic, taut and realistic.

BurmanDa bit was startling.

Keep sharing such creative upsurges.

Abhishek Chatterjee said...

gaurav - thank you for the kind words!

stuti said...

Hmmmmn......don't think i agree with Tito Babu's deduction of Jana Gana Mana being creatively used by Sri S D Burman. may be true, but i tried connecting the 2 quite a few times, but failed to find any similarity.

My apologies to Tito Babu for not being able to appreciate his comparison between the 2.

Abhishek Chatterjee said...

stuti - yea, tito babu's assertion is arguable for sure..