As we entered the school, we were quite apprehensive esp. for the girls, it being a सरकारी (govt)boys' school.
Thankfully, we were safely escorted to a computer lab, which was supposed to be a 'green room'. Anyways, on our way to the room, we were hooted and the girls catcalled by rowdy boys. And then we shut ourselves up in the room, while the teachers and the boy scouts readied the ground and children for our performance.
Since nukkad natak requires no green room, the lab looked more like a saftey bunker for us.It was a dark, dingy room with just fans and no lights working. It being evening, the sky outside was turning a bit dark and the eagerness to perform showed on all faces. Some were a bit shaken by their earlier encounter with the crowd. Others wanted to just perform and leave ASAP. The more daring ones desperately waited to perform in front of such a big and ahem...relatively unpolished crowd. Except Srishti Kumar, who lay in a corner as if she'd already performed, all of us were excited. No one had or has any idea why.
Adi, Adil, Vishal(with a new 3.2 mp phone) and I kept clicking photos with our flashes on.
There was a loud bang on the metal door. Some one answered. It was time to perform.
We went down a flight of stairs and looked at the eager two-three hundred-strong crowd. The students had already left a narrow path and a circle for us to perform on their cemented assembly ground, surrounded on three sides by the classroom buildings. Four of us went ahead of others to talk to the crowd and warm up a bit.
There were 43 of us performing that day. And it was quite a site as 43 white-kurta clad Anantians shouted 'aiye aiye, natak dekhiye' with dholak and dafli beats in the background. Then we all settled in a circle in the space reserved. The white kurtas blended well with the white shirts of the school boys, and yet the white of the kurtas stood out, radiating an altogether different aura. The emotive faces of the circle, our link with the audience, highlighting the mood of the scene within, seemed to be on a mid-plane. They were a part of the scene, and the crowd as well. Their expressions were the message and the messengers as well. Or maybe I'm just biased. (But it's less probable as I stood with a few others who were also not performing, on a raised platform watching all this.)
As the play went on, we realized, this was the type of audience encountered never before. Real audience. The crowd made a lot of noise, especially the elder students, who were locked away on the first floor. But then hundreds of students even breathing heavily would sound like chaos. Nevertheless, instinctively all the performers delivered dialogues, expressions and songs as loud as they could, and obviously it worked. None of us had been so loud while practicing. It was the magic of the stage and the audience after all.
Our real audience seemed to have enjoyed the play quite well. When VP(Vishnupriya) asked the audience for help, a no. of boys on the first floor were ready to jump to her rescue. Before that, the fight over propertybetween brothers Vishal and Siddhant, and the former's consequent death seemed to awe the audience. They simply loved the little dose of violence. Rajat, the dying father's interaction with his greedy offsprings, esp. the high-pitch voiced, melodramatic daughter Jayati tickled the school goers and teachers as well. In the first scene, Pawas as the talented but penniless Eklavya and the 'ooh-aah' ing girls were an instant hit. In the interaction between Ajay-Vijay and Maan, it was the cute little mother Indu's hilarious, well-timed 'छी' at virtue and morals stole the show. And towards the end, Saahil as the never-satisfied money-demanding wife of the future drew catcalls and whistles from the audience, esp. from the 'balcony' seats.
The audience's reaction was quite gratifying, but a bigger reward awaited as a discussion with the audience unfolded. The students put up such intelligent and thought-proving questions, which left even their teachers surprised, and most of us speechless, Yatin and Avinash included. We hadn't expected our play to leave such an impact, that we'd have to stop the flow of queries because of lack of time. During this whole QnA session, Debanshu served as the mic for the students who wanted to ask questions. Sure their minds were quite open, but their vocal chords weren't. (Yeah, yeah...all Anantians may pat their backs and swell their chests with pride)
And then it was time to leave. The sky was a deep blue-black by the time we rushed out of the school and reached the college park, behind canteen. Some hurried to their cozy nests. After all, all Anantians' parents aren't as accommodating, nor all Anantians argue well at home grounds. Anyways, the most of survivors danced like drunkards while Debu and then Chandrashekhar and Ashu played the Dholak. Others lay in the grass, equally drunk. We, then, proceeded to the good-old chaiwala to come back to senses; and laugh and cry and pat each others' backs and call each other names and hug each other like long-lost brothers. One could feel the common force that bonds us, and it was so visible at that time that acknowledging or saying it then would have been insulting. It was, it is and always will be :ANANT.
PS : That day for many of us it was a first step , and a new step for all of us.