Thespian Thoughts

Last Thursday I saw this play titled A Heap of Broken Images at the Ranga Shankara in J P Nagar, Bangalore. This play written by Girish Karnad & directed by the playwright himself along with K M Chaitanya is the English version of a Kannada play called Odakalu Bimba by Karnad. This is supposed to be the first play Karnad has directed in 30 years. Essentially a 60-minute monologue, this play had Arundhati Raja essaying the lead role of Manjula Nayak.

Manjula Nayak is a Kannada writer who publishes a book in English, titled "The river has no memories", which goes on to become a bestseller. She is married to Pramod Rao, a software professional (at the theatre, the stud & the stallion seemed to find this amusing & tried to prod the namesake who bore it all with uncharacteristic stoicism). Her sister Malini Nayak is a cripple - the lower part of her body, below her waist is paralysed. The play is set in a TV studio where Manjula is about to speak about her book & its Kannada screen adaptation. This is supposed to be followed by the telecast of the movie itself on Shree TV. During the course of her speech, she defends her choice of English as the medium of expression. She attributes the furious debate over her 'loyalty' to her mother tongue to jealous peers who are envious of the success of her book & the concomitant fame & monetary rewards. She also reveals that the inspiration for the book was her late sister.

After her speech Manjula prepares to leave & this is when the play enters the actual 'dramatic' phase with the appearance of her conscience as an image of herself on a TV screen by her side (as if her thought processes & the appurtenant brain waves had found a resonant channel of expression in Shree TV's frequency). From this point onwards, the fabric of this seemingly innocuous plot reveals a multi-coloured skein which is unravelled in layers or rather levels - as if one were being led down a staircase, down to the bottom of the affair, to the denouement, stopping at each landing for probing taunts by Manjula's conscientious 'onscreen' avatar and introspection & palpable denials on Manjula's part which end up transforming into resigned confessions.

The sets were minimal and Manjula actually notices this at the beginning & assumes that it is so because of the flavour of our times being technology-enabled miniaturization. The use of subtle lighting to focus on Manjula as she moves around trying to shield herself from the barbed comments shot by her conscience deserves a mention here - throughout the play it appears as if an understated spotlight is always directed at Manjula. The absent characters are brought alive during the course of Manjula's soliloquy. The tough task of synchronising with the video played on the TV was effortlessly handled by the veteran Arundhati Raja.

Ranga Shankara was built as a tribute to the late Shankar Nag (who died in 1990 at the age of 35 in an accident), as a realisation of his dream of having a theatre space with affordable rates for both staging & viewing purposes. The driving force behind the construction is Shankar Nag's wife Arundhati Nag. Apart from the auditorium, there is also a bookshop, an art gallery & a cafeteria on the premises of Ranga Shankara. Shankar Nag acted in several popular Kannada movies essaying a variety of roles, notable among them being those of SP Sangliana & an autorickshaw driver, Auto Raja. He is best remembered for his remarkable TV series Malgudi Days based on the book by the same name by R K Narayan. The TV series, supposed to be the first Hindi serial made in South India, was an incredibly faithful adaptation of the incidents in the book. The series had a host of Kannada film, television & theatre personalities playing various roles - G V Iyer, Ananth Nag, Master Manjunath (as Swami), Shankar Nag himself. Even the locations (Agumbe was one, I presume) reflected the quintessential rusticity of Malgudi.

In the end, a brilliant play & a superb auditorium made for an evening (and money) well-spent.

Tags : Blogger Days, Thespian Thoughts

Posted by Rajat @ 7:00 PM   |  Comments

Déjà Vu

The Karnataka Quiz Association celebrated its 22nd Anniversary last Sunday (June 19) with its annual quiz festival called ASKQANCE at Guru Nanak Bhavan, Bangalore. As part of the fest, a general, open quiz - Sesame! The Open Quiz was conducted by Arul Mani. Out of the 44 questions in the written prelims, we (Mukund, Ganesh, Prithwi & myself) got 33 right which turned out to be the second highest score (the first being 36). In the finals however, we ended up in the 4th place, missing out on the 3rd by a mere 10 points. The Quiz Foundation of India team with Samanth, Swami & two others won the quiz by a huge margin, scoring 226 points, with the nearest team having scored 101. For having reached the finals, we got book coupons from Premier Bookshop worth Rs.250 each. In addition to that, we also bagged the Best College Team prize - coupons entitling us to books worth Rs.150 each. Good ROI considering that we managed to avoid paying the entry fee altogether by registering as an outstation team, which we technically were since we were representing our college.

For last year's edition of the quiz, Ganesh had not been there. So we went with some other fellow called Rohit. We came second in the prelims & were 4th in the finals with Anustup Datta's team being seated next to us (as usual). Talk about déjà  vu!

Yesterday I went to Premier which is situated on Museum Road to redeem the prize coupons. After an hour of browsing through their collection, I settled on Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald and Peter Pan by J M Barrie.

The problem with Premier is that most of the books there are arranged in stacks with almost no space between adjacent stacks. This makes the task of browsing through the books quite difficult & irritating at times (for me, at least). This seemingly precarious arrangement also means that you have to be very careful while pulling out a book - a hasty withdrawal might cause considerable embarrassment (pun unintended), not to mention the inconvenience. Decidedly, the place is great if you are hunting for a particular title - delegate the job to the efficient attendants & they will lay their hands on the exact stack which hides your quarry, provided it is available. The outermost stacks generally contain the newer books & bestsellers while the interior stacks contain older books, classics & the rarely bought ones. But sadly, searching the same isn't exactly easy & this, I feel, translates to lost business for the proprietor (Mr.T S Shanbhag). Nevertheless, the bookshop seems quite popular, especially among the old-timers.

Tags : A Bookworm's Diet, Blogger Days, Quizzing

Posted by Rajat @ 11:39 PM   |  Comments

The Last Burden

The Cover of The Last Burden
The Cover of The Last Burden

I finished reading The Last Burden by Upamanyu Chatterjee. With this, I have read all of Chatterjee's novels :-).

Upamanyu Chatterjee
Upamanyu Chatterjee

Upamanyu Chatterjee was born in 1959 at Patna, Bihar. After studying English literature at Delhi University, he joined the Indian Administrative Services(IAS) in 1983. His first novel was English, August - a wickedly delightful account of the experiences of Agastya Sen, August to his friends - a city slicker, an IAS officer posted to the very rural Madna. The book was nothing short of a masterpiece. Ummm. He followed this up with 2 novels - The Last Burden (1993) and The Mammaries of the Welfare State (2000), a sequel to his first one and a very good one at that. might well be used for an hors d'oeuvre, a phrase which its customers will not fathom unless pronounced as 'whores dee overs', like Punjabi streetwalkers at cricket.

The book is a brilliant depiction of life in an Indian middle-class family at the end of the 20th century. The central character here is Jamun, a bachelor, the son of Urmila & Shyamanand. His elder brother is Burfi who is married to a Christian, Joyce. Burfi has two children Pista & Doom aged 10 & 4 respectively. Kasturi, Jamun's girlfriend who is now married to a certain Agastya (who is nowhere as colourful as the "English, August" one) and pregnant too, Satyavan Hegiste, a Marathi fellow and Kuki - Jamun's friends, Kasibai - Jamun's maid and her son Vaman, Shyamanand's niece Chhana, Urmila's cardiologist Haldia are a few of the other characters in the book. The story begins with Jamun being intimated of his mother's illness. He returns home and sees that both his parents are fading away. So he decides to stay on till one of them expires. What transpires during the rest of his stay and the manner in which he bears his 'last burden' is for you to find out.

But we're all feeble, he assents to himself, and heedless, glutted with vanity, and languish only after trumpery; and in a flash there remains no time to articulate one's love to those whom one owes love.

The usual hallmarks of Chatterjee's writing are all there - large doses of humour, heavy usage of obscure words especially those used in literary & formal situations, creative sentence construction, characters with various hues of grey, the kinky situations, even the minutiae associated with India and its people. Moreover a strong undercurrent of depression can be observed in the book's flow, though this is offset to a large extent by the wryness of Chatterjee's humour.

...all the commonplaces that describe death are so befitting, aren't they? That a light, or a spark, or a glow within, that was most naked at the eyes, is now stubbed out. That what survives is a shell, an untenanted house, the desiccated flesh of the fruit from which the sap's been siphoned off...

The first chapter is titled "August", but here the allusion is to the month, not to the protagonist of "English, August". Compared to "English, August", this book is quite sombre and commercially too, was not as successful, the reason for the same being attributed to the seriousness of the book. The numerous squabbles in the family, the abjectness of some of the characters, their decadence, Jamun's recollections and various other situations all serve to heighten the book's poignancy.

All in all, a recommended read, at least for Chatterjee's fans.

Tags : A Bookworm's Diet, Blogger Days

Posted by Rajat @ 6:52 PM   |  Comments

Sartorial Musings

After much coaxing & cajoling by my mother, I finally decided to clean up my wardrobe. During the process, I unearthed several woven treasures (more or less forgotten) collected during my stay at NITK. Quiz Club members of NITK will remember the club gown which we obtained last year. Well, this is not actually a gown (for me, it is one, definitely) - this is a T-shirt with a collar. Now, that seems to remind me of something. Hmmmm. Ah! Got it. Statements adhering to the format - "This is not [something]...this is [qualified 'something', which is actually 'something' itself but described more accurately!]" - are actually idiomatic expressions popular among the members of this clique called EBGF, short for Eighth Block Ground Floor. Membership is strictly on the basis of the location of one's room - the lucky ones being obviously the residents of the ground floor of the 8th hostel block. It all started with their T-shirt whose front read "This is not a shirt...", with the back saying "...this is a T-shirt" along with a Microsoft Word Clip Art cartoon of some character getting a brainwave - the one with the bulb lighting up. I suppose the originator chanced upon the idea in a moment of epiphany - "Omigod! This is not a shirt - this, this, this is a T-shirt!!! Of course, why didn't I think of this before? Eureka! Eureka!". One Lifetime Achievement Award here, please. Now where was I? Yeah, the Quiz Club T-shirt - too big, way too big (must be something like XXXXXXL).

I also found the Incident 2002 T-shirt - this one has become unwearable after just 2 to 3 washes - it looks as if it has been used in a 4-way tug of war between unequally matched parties. Now don't take that as a testimony of my washing skills which I have honed to a nicety over the years. The front is pretty decent with a nice photo of the college. But the fundae at the back reduce its wearability drastically. I wonder why they put the 'KRECian philosophy' & the rest of the stuff on a T-shirt which was also supposed to be sold to people from other colleges. The 2003 & 2005 Incident T-shirts are pretty decent, except for their black colour which makes them quite unfit for the hot-n-humid Mangalore weather. I think the Incident 2004 shirt was the worst of the lot. I am grateful to the erstwhile comps CR (Swaroop Joshi) who managed to get refunds of the T-shirt money for the whole class.

Thankfully, I never bought any of the Crrescendo(sic) T-shirts whose designs have been nothing short of atrocious - glaring yellow on dark blue (or was it black?), this year's comical one with the PG biker almost racing the Final Year one and the other years' bikers lagging behind the PG fellow (who are they kidding?) - all this in various gross shades of colours available in the visible spectrum.

The ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) T-shirt I got in the International Collegiate Programming Contest at Kanpur was supposed to be of size XL. On wearing it, I found out that it accentuates my biceps very well - need I say more?

For some time, I did toy with the idea of getting rid of some of these garments. But I have this marked disinclination towards disposal of objects having some sentimental value. So, in spite of my carping, they get to stay, as memorabilia, in a corner of my wardrobe at the very bottom of the pile - my emotional baggage in a state of perpetual desuetude.

Tags : Blogger Days, Humour, Life

Posted by Rajat @ 10:17 PM   |  Comments

The Second R

All these years, my attempts at writing have been pretty sporadic. Except for the biannual essay writing during the exams (my favourite topic in any language being environmental pollution), I rarely used to write anything just for the sake of it.

I remember my first writing attempt, at the age of 9 or thereabouts. The details of the story I had written are pretty hazy now, but it was about a man who buys some food & a milk shake (of all potable liquids, he had to buy a milk shake?!) for lunch, but decides to give it away to a beggar in the end. Quite touching and quixotic, I must say.

The second time was when the class had been asked to write anything, anything at all to fill a page. I wrote this piece about a boy who is feeling pretty bored and lonely in his holidays & his busy parents can't take time off from work to be with him. It ended happily though, with the parents deciding to take the protagonist on a trip to Montana. Montana's spectacular scenery was not the reason why it was chosen (by me, of course) as the destination. White Water Terror, one of Nancy's adventures (from her case files, actually) was set in Montana. Nancy who? Nancy Drew, who else? (How many adventure-seeking girls called Nancy did you know at the age of 12?) Those were the times when I used to lap up all the Drew books I could lay my hands on. At last count I had read around 60 of them and the last one I read was "The Wedding Day Mystery", which I read, believe it or not, 3 years ago. It lasted for an hour and left me wondering how I could have been crazy about those books (My roommate mistook the book to be one of the must-reads I had been raving about & eagerly read through it. Needless to say, he was left with serious doubts about my literary tastes). Well, my composition was pretty decent & the teacher appreciated it. The following year we were asked to do a similar exercise & I submitted the same thing. This time the teacher (a different one, though) ridiculed me saying that I had been asked to write a story, not narrate an incident (Yes, ma'am. What was I supposed to do? Retell the moral stories about the crow & the pitcher or the hare & the tortoise (reminds me of "Godel, Escher and Bach" which I am currently reading - more about this some other time), like I was some 13-year old Aesop? (that is, if Aesop was as precocious as that) ).

Last year I made my third attempt. On a hot Surathkal afternoon, our portly(?) Engineering Economics lecturer (who has the potent blessings of Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep) was droning on in our stuffy classroom. Mass hypnosis was already in progress. I suppose it was Venu who was checking out one of Barron's word lists (which incidentally had words beginning with 'M'). In a valiant attempt to avoid being lured into the realm of Morpheus (the Greek god of dreams and the son of Hypnos), I used all the words (15 of them) present in the exercise associated with the list to write a small piece which is more or less reproduced below :-

The adventurer struggled against the miasma rising from the swamp. The death of his companion had been a mischance - an encounter with the ectoplasmic misanthropes of the marshes & the resulting melee - it must have been painful, very painful. But this was no time for mawkish feelings over his dead fellow adventurer. He rowed ahead faster and as he did so, strains of mellifluous music fell upon his ears. Mesmerised by the notes emanating from the trees ahead, he rowed harder. What he did not know was that the music was an auditory mirage created by the evil imps of the swamp. These militants mentored in the dark arts by the Satan himself, were by no means mediocre & were reputed to be extremely meticulous when it came to flaying their opponents. Earlier the adventurer had branded them 'the menial minions of the Devil'. This was no misdemeanour & he would pay dearly for it.

Quite good, considering that my eyelids were in the process of turning leaden.

And that, was a constituent of my extended fourth attempt.

P.S. Hope to keep this going on for as long as I can. Amen.

Tags : Blogger Days, Humour, Writing

Posted by Rajat @ 10:28 PM   |  Comments