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Voicing Silence 7

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Sivaji, Jayalaitha And Us

I first noticed it when Sivaji Ganesan passed away. As someone born in the 70s, much of my growing years was marked by the rituals of Sunday evening Tamizh cinema and Friday night Oliyum Oliyum. And Sivaji Ganesan was a permanent fixture in them. Anyone who was melodramatic was a 'Sivaji' and rhymes like 'Sivaji vayile jilebi' were very much part of our book of nonsense rhymes.

So much so, I remember being fourteen and being part of the school drama team enacting a popular scene from Sivaji's Thiruvilayadal. It was a plum role that we all vied to play. Sivaji played Lord Shiva in the movie and in our minds, he might as well have been immortal. So years later, when news broke that he had died, I was in utter shock. Heck, I was not even a fan. Apart from Motor Sundaram Pillai and more recently, Thevar Magan, in every one of his movies, I felt Sivaji had outacted the entire cast. As if to tell the producers, you've paid me a lot, so let me give you your money's worth of acting. That said, I could not help feel a deep sense of loss that he was no more.

I wrote an email to the rest of the extended family (we were all still talking to each other then - long story) asking them to recount their favourite Sivaji moment. It was a way of sharing our collective grief. Each one came back with a story, a song, a tenuous link. We were mourning our own lives, our own youth and childhood which would never return. These people had been the bedrock of our growing up years. Towering flag poles upon which we festooned our own buntings and now they had been felled.

It happened again and again in the coming years. With M S Subbulakshmi, RK Narayan, Gemini Ganesan and more recently, with Jayalalitha. I find that we immediately scramble our brains to find an incident or an association with the deceased and write about it. Some of the pieces that I have read in the past couple of days have done it quite effectively. I have come across some very touching tributes and because it too soon for it, they all seem to omit some colossal pitfalls in the administration and chosen instead to write encomiums. And here's the thing about it, almost all of them are about the writer. Although it is ostensibly a eulogy, it is much more about their own lives that was enriched by association (however long-winded) rather than about the recently departed. As if to grieve the loss of years of their lives they will never again see.

About Jayalalitha, I cannot say I was a fan. Of her acting, I didn't think much and of her administration, I knew very little. I do remember feeling nauseated by the sight of vulgar display of wealth when her adopted son got married and rage when a few dozen were crushed to death in the security cordon when she visited Kumbakonam to take part in the Mahamagam festival to mark her birthday. That said, I did think she was formidable. And the sight of grown men falling at her feet was at once revolting and amusing. With so few women in leadership roles, the few that I got to see, however flawed, were inspiring.

As for my brief Jaya moment, here's a photo I took of her convoy the last time I was in Madras. Word was out that Amma's entourage was going to be passing through and the streets had been swept clean, hours ahead of her arrival.

Some six hours after the first notice, a wail of sirens from a series of vehicles was followed by a large white van with security personnel hanging from it.

And inside it sat a woman with her palms folded in 'Vanakkam'. I was chided by a waiting police woman for taking a photo without permission. I am British, I replied, I am not bound by your arbitrary rules and she looked at me as if to say, 'If you are British then I am the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu'.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Die Der Das

I lived in the same house for the first quarter of a century of my life. And I knew every crevice on the floor and every dent on the wall like the palm of my own hand. It was as if the house had gently shaped my own self, in much the same way as waves make their imprint on rocks, sanding down its edges to soften it over time. When my well-worn self then stepped out to live elsewhere, the angles of my shoulders and the curves of my feet didn't find their own groove for a long time. I would find my rhythm with a house and a few years later move again. My last move was eight years ago and this August I packed my bags and relocated again.

This time to a new country, to a place whose language is alien to my ears. And it is a struggle to find my bearings with it. The house is big and its belongings borrowed. I don't step off the stairs knowing for sure that I have landed. My feet are still surprised by hidden corners. My eyes are still getting accustomed to the lights and shadows of the house.

The hardest has been getting used to its sounds. It is not the easiest of languages to master and my tentative attempts to learn it more than two decades ago ended in an early abandonment. And now I am forced to resume and the vowels hang uneasy. Its vocabulary obtuse and its grammar bewildering, I am unable to grasp the contours of this language. My tongue and my mind are resolutely not in sync with its pauses and its enunciations. I drop the essential and emphasise the unnecessary, it is a sea of confusion in my throat and I just haven't got the taste for it.

Truth be told, some days I yearn for the familiar and the friendly. There where I would slot right back into a puzzle. Right now, I am still reading the instructions on how to assemble and it's proving tricky. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

What Would You Do?

This afternoon, I went to our local leisure centre to use their steam room and sauna. I had an hour to kill before it was time to collect my son and the leisure centre is across the road and I couldn't think of a better way to spend a tenner and so I went. No sooner had I settled into a corner of the steam room than I heard a voice ask me, 'are you from India?'. Yes, I nodded before it struck me that if I couldn't see the person clearly neither could he. Yes, I said. To this he (by now I could make out a dim outline of a man) volunteered in a very heavy accent 'My country Bangladesh' and then went on to ask me if I lived locally and if I was living with my family (yes and yes, I answered) and told me that he worked in a local Indian restaurant as a chef and that I should visit them if I hadn't already.

Having exhausted his arsenal of polite questions to ask a rank stranger, he fell silent. Shortly, I left the steam room to take a shower before dipping into the jacuzzi. But the man had beat me to it and settled himself in the bubble pool straight from the steam room (not paying heed to the suggestion that we shower before entering the pool). I was acutely aware that it was just the two of us in the area and I felt myself growing distinctly uncomfortable at the thought of sharing the space with him.

Part of me wanted to get into the jacuzzi. after all what could happen? But there was a larger voice screaming caution. Because every time I have gone swimming in India, I have had to contend with unwanted attention and stray hands that have 'accidentally' touched and grabbed me. So much so that what was perhaps an innocent attempt at making conversation set alarms bells ringing in my head. I decided to ignore the warnings and slid into the jacuzzi pool determined not to make eye contact with the said man. Mercifully, he seemed to have got the message too and no small talk was exchanged.

It was only on my drive back home that I wondered if I had judged the man too soon. And if my reaction would have been different if he'd had a different skin colour and if his accent had not been so pronounced. It is very likely that I would not have had the mental tussle if that had been the case. And that's the sad truth. What would your reaction have been?





Sunday, January 10, 2016

An Invitation

Last year, under the banner of Kali Theatre company, I attended a series of playwrighting workshops with established theatre directors and playwrights. I then submitted my own draft of a play. Following a brilliant feedback from two RADA trained performers, the play was selected for rehearsed reading in London this year. 

Since its selection, I have attended one half-a-day's workshop with actors and a director. I tweaked my script even further before submitting it one last time. I have a day's rehearsal this Wednesday and the reading is on Friday the 15th of January. Details on where and how to book tickets may be found on the side bar of this page

It is giddying creating people and making them say things you like and just as easily, kill them off. At the rehearsals, it was remarkable seeing characters that had lived disembodied in my head suddenly be transformed by actors who charged the words with emotions and gave their actions a motive. 

I approach it with a mix of trepidation and excitement. If you are at loose ends in Central London on the 15th of January, 2016 it would be great if you could come along. It would mean a lot to this aspiring playwright. Thank you!