I was in fourth class when I acted in the play "Othello" as the princess "Desdimona". I was chosen, not for any ability to act but for my English. In my village, I was the only one who could successfully do the grammar from Wren and Martin. I did not know then the significance of acting or what my seniors were saying about me acting as a princess to their classmate. Many of them would have loved that role I think. But I was innocent (at that time) and I just did what I was told by the teachers, akkas and annas.
I was given around 10 sheets of paper with dialogue. Sarasawathi miss told me that I had to memorize them. She told me that if I had any doubts I could ask my grand dad!! [My grand dad had been headmaster in another town before my birth and everybody there knew his command over the language.] I sincerely told all at home that I was chosen to act in a play and needless to say, they were proud, like only people at home can be. We were asked to stay back after class and repeat the lines. After a couple of days, when everyone had byhearted the lines, it was time for practice. I did not like the character Othello. It seemed to me a very stupid thing to kill one’s wife just for the sake of a kerchief. I did not understand suspicion and betrayal in that age.
They made us practice for around 15 days for Othello. There was a crying scene (the part where she gets to know the prince suspects her of having an affair). First, I did not understand affair. All I was told was that the prince thinks I am bad. After a couple of days of trial, I did not get to cry. The teachers told me that they would ask someone to pinch me if I did not cry. (Ask them to say that to me now. Bah! I ll pinch ’em all.). And tears started flowing from my eyes. It was a great deal for me to be rebuked in front of so many people in fourth std. (I had lot of "soranai" then.) I also used to think that people at home would scold me if they come to know I did not do stuff that teachers asked me to do. I would cry every time I had to practice that scene thinking that they ll pinch me to death.
The worst was the death scene. I had to act like I was dead. And bear the soliloquy that Othello had to say. The soliloquy lasted a couple of minutes. It was difficult to lie down on a table until that guy finished babbling. No, I was not allowed to smile. My teachers took great pains to teach me that dead bodies dont smile. I wanted to tell them that I knew it but I was a little scared and I listened to them. Once he finished his soliloquy, he had to kneel and cry. That guy could cry well. Everyone around me would be laughing during practice but I could not.
I was asked to buy a pink frock which had lots of frills and some thing that would shine for my neck. My mother got them for me. I wore that dress on the dress rehearsal day and everyone said they liked it and they were asking my mother where she bought it. 🙂
Soon, it was time for performance. I was not scared because I did not know the significance of the stage. It was a perfect village and most people pronounced "super" as "soooperu"; it was tamil that they spoke and not English. How could anyone there understand a Shakespearean play? Nevertheless, the whole village turned up to watch. The milk lady "Thangam" turned up with her family. The temple priest had made it a point to be there. And then all the grandmas and granddads of the street were seated in the front row. Even the automan who took us to school every morning was there to watch us. After all, it was their grandchildren or kids, neighbour’s children and everyone they knew who was acting. It was the only school in the village. I was told that particular emphasis would be placed on me because I was one of the central characters, but I think they would have said this to everyone.
As far as my family was concerned, it was a grand occassion. All relatives were told that Meena (thats me) was acting as a princess. Not that they could come to watch but still thngs had to be told. I was told to get my grandparent’s blessings before I left to school. That I did and rushed.
I performed what I had practiced and did all scenes well. I cried and I did not laugh when I supposed to be acting dead. The only thing was the school stage had no curtains. Once Othello killed me with his knife, I had to keep pouring out the red ink and wince in pain until the table was placed on stage by two others. Then, I somehow had to fall on the table. It was short enough (it was one of the school benches) so I could manage a fall. As if this were not funny enough, after the show was over, I had to get up (awaken from the dead) and walk back stage. That caused great laughter from the crowds. I did not know then that was the reason for their laughter. I was told that I can leave and go see my family. I rushed to them and ofcourse they were happy. The school had arranged with the local photographer to take a few snaps of all of us "in action". We recieved those photos in a week. I had asked two photos and paid 12 rupees for it.
After that, I never really had such an experience, partly because I grew up and lost my innocence and partly because reading and writing attracted me more than acting on stage. Probably because of this experience, I have never been scared to take the stage when the occassion demanded it. I left the village, moved to city and went abroad. But whenever I go to visit my grandparents in the village and I walk the streets, I remember the feelings that I had then. It feels wonderful.
I realized very recently that it was a nice bond and I felt the need to revive it. I gave my theatrical interest a fresh lease of life when I joined "Rebelz". It is a group formed by amateurs who want to escape mundaneness. I have stayed back extra hours in office to write dialogues. I have written part of the play thats going to be staged on June 23 and 24. Feels nice!