18
Oct
10

Padhāro Mārè Dès

“Feudalism, serfdom, slavery, all tyrannical institutions, are merely the most vigorous kind to rule, springing out of, and necessarily to, a bad state of man. The progress from these is the same in all cases — less government.” – Herbert Spenser

The State of Rajasthan with its spectacular forts and palaces stands out as the only place I know of where, barring a few, the members of the once ruling families are generally insufferable.

The princely states and the titles that went along with them were all abolished years ago, and a free independent India’s constitution – on paper – does not recognize feudalism.

However, I have always mulled over – have we, as a nation, ever been united and/or independent?

*

Many-a-time I have wondered as to why some of my family gave their lives; others suffered and lost everything except their pride; lived in abject penury to liberate India. From what?

Have we really been able to unshackle ourselves from the clutches of benevolent dictatorships crossed with a rapacious feudal system that, even today, exists so blatantly?

We celebrate mediocrity and the only time we ever come together as one nation is during a cricketing event or when facing some threat, as-it-were, from ‘across the border’.

Let us try to be fair and honest. Are we really united? Is there a national identity? Or do we have a feudalistic and racist unity?

I think, what the British did was to compel all of us under one umbrella – united – so that we could overthrow their rule. But were we united before the arrival of the British? Have we been united after the said historical independence?

Ask an Indian the question – who are you?

Most will primarily identify them selves by the State they belong to and not as an Indian. No! They are first a Gujarati, Marathi, Keralite, Bengali, Tamilian, Kashmiri, Bihari, Rajasthani or Punjabi et al; then, a Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jain or Sikh et al; then a Brahman, Marwari, Rajput . . . . Somewhere down the fag-end of all these petty notifications will we then thrust ourselves forward and say that we are Indians.

We uphold a political, social, economical and cultural system that survives by feeding on its own people.

*

These days I am in a small principality of Rajasthan. Trying my best to complete a project at a school run by the erst-while royal family of this place. Heritage hotels and educational institutions named after an ancestor – same story all over. Still competing with the other ‘thikaans’ within the state. Still majestically surviving and maintaining a status quo on the blood, sweat, tears and desperate needs of a supplicating populace.

*

Anyway, here I am after a series of emails with the school principal; eventually, convincing her that a workshop process would be ideal for a script conceived and prepared by the children themselves. I had hoped that she would appreciate the fact that this would not only help the children in rejuvenating their creativity but also give an opportunity to a somewhat larger group of children to participate. There is no real learning in selecting some play with a restricted cast and making everybody memorize the dialogues and parading on stage in front of an audience.

So, the other day, I was merrily interacting with a group of young people. They had just submitted an essay on the ‘Story of their Life’, when one of the many ubiquitous baijis that work here, entered the room all-a-flutter and told me that Maharani Sahiba would like to meet me at once.

An invisible rapier seemed to have been thrust into the bodies of each and every student and attending teachers-in-charge. A hushed whisper of ‘Big Mam’ rippled across the room. They all straightened-up, checked their clothes, hair and assumed edgy sitting positions.

Any intrusion, that takes away the already limited and precious time given to me for my work, is bothersome.

“My regards to the lady”, I said to the baiji, “Would you be kind enough to let her know that I am in the middle of a very important session, but will be down in ten minutes, if not earlier.”

The room was still and everybody goggle-eyed!

The baiji stared at me with horror. Tremblingly she said that she would not be able to do so because my presence was required immediately.

Somewhere within my mid-riff, the concealed helix of rebellious fury stirred with immense pleasure.

Apologising to the children for leaving the class, I made my way down the staircase to the principal’s office. All exits and entries were being manned by staff. Another baiji, probably higher up in the hierarchy of baijis, came up to me and murmured that Maharani Sahiba wants me to wait.

“How long?” I asked.

“Till she finishes her meeting.” I was told.

A tentacle lifted its head with glee.

*

I hung around the central portico waiting for the Maharani Sahiba to finish her ongoing meeting. I kept trying to comprehend the reason behind calling me if she were busy? Why make me leave the class?

Silly question probably to be asked, and whilst I was waiting, I saw no one else go by nor heard a child’s voice or laughter.

The principal came out of her room and without acknowledging me entered what I deduced was the school’s darbar hall. Eventually the said meeting inside was over because a very meek and frightened woman came out and scurried away.

I waited to be announced.

Then a table bell tinkled. A baiji went in; came out; walked down a corridor and returned carrying a plastic chair; took it inside the darbar hall and came out again.

I looked at her enquiringly but she said nothing. So, I remained twiddling the proverbial thumbs and seething with discomfort till the bell tinkled yet again. Apparently, the lady was finally ready to meet me.

And so, without any further ado I was waved in!

*

The Maharani Sahiba sat behind a marble-topped desk, on a straight backed cushioned, faded, gold-gilded, ornate chair with its back rising high above the dark glasses balanced on the carefully coiffured hair. The impressive piece of fairy-tale furniture seemed to have wings sprouting out and highlighting the phantom power, arrogance and disdain of its occupant.

To her right, slightly back and on a reasonably smaller chair (ornate but no wings), sat the principal.

The most incongruous object in the entire room was the garish pink-grey moulded plastic chair that was kept in front of the desk. I hoped I was looking suitably gratified to have a chair because it was obvious that most people who met the lady had to stand!

Anyway, royalty indicated that I be seated.

Gingerly, I perched my peasants’ common posterior on the chair and looked straight at the face of feudal India.

*

“What do you think of the children?” was the opening salvo.

I so desperately wanted to give a celestial answer to this rather broad and everyday question, considering I had been in the school for only a week and was still getting to know the students.

“They are fine,” I deflected.

“Yes, yes! You must encourage them more, no?” And, the principal nodded in agreement, “So, what is the play about?”

“We are working on a script.”

“You don’t have a script?

“No,” I pointed out, “I am still going through the selection process. Once this is over, we will start working on the script concept”.

A frown of disapproval emerged and the principal dutifully readjusted her countenance too.

This is not going well, I thought wryly. It also became evident that the principal had probably not been able to make the Maharani Sahiba understand anything about what I had really hoped to achieve here. And, I doubted that even if this had been elucidated to the lady – would she have appreciated?

The heavy set face looked at me as if I was bilge oozing from an open drain.

“So, what is this play about?” was the baleful query.

I read out the highlights from my preparatory notes; the vision and concept I had in my mind and the eventual presentation.

“How many students are participating?”

“I have a group of 36 students,” I said, checking the list given by the school, “And I could probably include another 4, but that’s about it, because any……”

“No, no! This won’t do,” She cut in abruptly, “We need to have more students. You must have at least 60 to 70 children.”

“60! 70!” My voice rose in agitation, “What am I going to do with such a large number? Where will I fit them?

“Why?” She scoffed, convinced that I was the worst possible kind of ooze, “They can all be standing at the back, part of the scenery and holding props.”

The absurdity of the situation was really getting to me now and I was trying to find a balance between keeping the helix under control and being civil.

“Except for masks there won’t be any props and even the masks are restricted.” I said, without blinking.

“How is that possible?” She continued, “Good and respectable educational institutions in Rajasthan and other places too have a tradition to maintain. I mean, what do we say to the parents when they ask why their children have not been selected for the play? No, no! There have to be more than 40.”

The principal nodded in agreement.

Heh! Heh! Heh!

“I am sorry, madam,” I held my ground, “But I will not be able to take more than 40 students.”

“Why?” Said she, giving me the beady eye.

I had a sudden feeling that she was going to tinkle the bell and ask for my chair to be taken away so that I could stand whilst she decided my fate.

“Because with the limited time that has been given to me along with the inadequate space for rehearsals I will find it very difficult to handle the choreography if there are more than 40 students.” I said patiently.

“Mayo puts up plays and they have six hundred children on stage! Why can’t you do it?” She asked accusingly.

The insides of my mid-riff were now on orchestral mode and it also seemed futile to inform her that Mayo was a residential school; more time was given for rehearsals; ample space was provided along with other applicable factors.

“Are you familiar with the kind of productions Mayo, Daly and other big public schools put up for their annual day?” She snapped.

Have they read my CV or visited the website?

“Well, as a matter-of-fact, madam, yes”, I told her; “I have directed the Hundredth Prize Giving play for Daly College. I also happened to handle Mayo College’s Hundredth Prize Giving celebration plus seven other Annual Day productions for them. Each has been a milestone.”

“I don’t know,” She quipped, “I have been attending Mayo’s prize-giving for thirteen years without a break and I haven’t seen any of your work!”

I was seething by now. The chorus of chuckles was getting ready for its fanfare and all through this I was wondering – what should I tell them? How to explain to this lady, that thirteen years meant 1997, and I began with Mayo in the early Eighties and stopped going there because of the damn rajwada mind-set by 1995! So obviously she wouldn’t have been able to watch any of my productions.

The Master-of-Ceremonies of the helix looked at me eagerly and extended the Conductor’s baton. The coils trembled and slithered and fluttered with anxiety and expectation, and I questioned myself as to what was I doing here; why did I have to come here; why am going through this nonsense? And a voice gently sighed in my ears, “It’s because you need the money, honey.”

Hating myself but with my most earnest facial expression I smiled through stiff lips and chanted, “I assure you madam, this production will be better than what you have seen at Mayo. It will be unique and your school will be remembered for a production like this. Believe me, the newspapers will talk about it and the parents will be very happy and other educational institutions and gharanas will look up for support and inspiration.”

The principal beamed with delight and nodded her head looking at me for the first time during this ridiculous scenario.

The benign feudal India gazed at me with mercy, tapped polished finger nails on the marble desk and dismissed me with the tinkling of the bell.

Thus far and no further!

There goes my hope of ever having a look at the private collection of original miniature paintings of the region.

Maybe if I genuflected low enough, they will condescend to my crawling up to where ever the paintings are kept. Who knows?

*

Dragging my vassal’s feet I left the darbar. Recovery is getting slower.

Bright sunlight outside but I felt as if I was shrouded in darkness. Little by little, I made my way up the staircase, back to the classroom. Gazing into the eyes of the children I tried not to notice the demise of their budding aspirations in India’s feudal realities.

Jai ho!

 

 


1 Response to “Padhāro Mārè Dès”


  1. 1 Samira
    October 19, 2010 at 4:36 am

    Just reading this stirred my tentacled helix from slumber. I crooned it back to sleep. For now.


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