23. Ten out of Ten

From memory, Subarata was not among the more zealous performers in our Christmas Trip plays, those dramatisations of Guru’s stories in our hotel function rooms where each evening, and in all those countries we visited, we would entertain. My appearances were even more infrequent, and usually prompted by Guru himself, who would sometimes walk past me in my aisle seat. Noticing my great effort at looking really inconspicuous he would ask, “Jogyata, you do not like performing in my plays?”

Smilingly, of course, because he had already noticed my attempts at invisibility and understood the reason. So, because you can’t say “no” to Guru’s question, you have to cast about for a play with as few lines and as few acting skills as possible – and for this reason I have played the part of a dead body twice, a mute monk, the rear end of a two-man elephant, a tree, and on one occasion, an onstage baby dressed in an endearingly frilly pink baby top with a plastic pacifier jammed into my mouth, and wedged into a tiny pram.

Even from this last role, painful memories linger. In the excitement of the ongoing play, my fellow thespians forgot to wheel me off and I was left on stage for about twenty minutes, trying desperately to remain “in character” in my pram, jaw aching from the pacifier, limbs aching from being compressed into the baby carriage, and feverishly trying to make eye contact with somebody to push me away. My plight was soon noticed by my “friends” in the audience and their mirth spread like a forest fire, with much finger-pointing and ill-concealed joy. Hard to remain dignified and composed under such circumstances!

Guru was once responsible for my performing in a larger and more demanding two-person play with lots of lines to learn. What made the play a personal triumph, though, was the fact that Subarata and several of her friends were seated front row, huge play-destroying grins on their faces, and I had to grapple desperately with the effect this had of luring me into laughter. Worse, when I glanced at Guru, searching for soulfulness and resolve, he was grinning hugely too, unabashedly in complicity with the girls and enjoying my plight and the unusual spectacle of me in a play with my meticulous fellow-actor.

Somehow grace descended, though, and we pulled it off. But I can still remember Guru's delighted and mischievous smile in this conspiracy of mirth which he and certain others shared. Though quite alone in my generous personal assessment, on this occasion I give myself ten out of ten for thespian fortitude.