Saturday, September 20, 2008

Taasher Desh

the kids at rehearsal in Shishutirtho
Ishitadi runs an orphanage near Shantiniketan. its called Shishutirtho. not many people know about it. having retired from her job in Calcutta, Ishitadi now devotes all her time , along with her elder brother, to the upbringing and education of saontaali orphans. the children are taught painting, craft, pottery, singing and dancing apart from regular school lessons and whatever trades they have to learn. their resources are limited. neither Ishitadi nor Supriyobabu have much funds at theri disposal. their lives' earnings have gone into the making of Shishutirtho. but love, patience and single minded devotion make up for a lot. and today Ishitadi's children pulled off the most stupendous performance ever.

they enacted Taasher Desh, arguably Tagore's most famous musical, with a few of the most popular Rabindrasangeet of all times. and what a performance it was. the cast ranged from a toddler to a 40 something matronly lady,(who looks after the kids at Shishutirtho). the protagonist as Raajputro was superb. he sang and danced and delivered lengthy soliloquies, never missing a step or a line, never skipping a beat, never once faltering. everything was spot on, the dialogues, the expressions, the pronounciations. this last was a bit of a stumbling block for many. for the bastard dialect of bangla these children speak has about as much similarity to Tagore's language as gobbledygoo. but what does it matter if Ekkani slips up and says "taasser dess" a couple of time, when she is singing like an angel? the boy playing Horotoni's lover is one of the best Rabindrasangeet singers i have heard in a long long time.

our school productions of Taasher Desh were also good, but there was quite a bit of playback singing involved. but this one was a true musical. every single kid sang his/her own songs, while dancing, never running out of breath or veering off key. its a bloody difficult thing to accomplish. even the toddler danced perfectly in sync, till the very last group dance where he got a bit jostled by bigger kids and started doing his own thing!! the music was very good, and they had only a harmonium and a couple of tablas for accompaniment. considering the paucity of funds the quality of production (costumes, sets etc) was incredible. at the end, the packed audience broke out in sincere, heartfelt applause, punctuated by cries of " shaadhu! shaadhu!!" (for no Shantiniketani worth his/her salt ever claps).

it was a strangely humbling experience. an experience that in a curious manner purged me of cynicism, at least for the time being. to see the weeks of hardwork and saintly patience that went into it, and to think such talented kids would in a few years probably end up as mechanics in some factory, or clerks in some government office, or run small time their stable but humdrum lives Bnaadh bhenge daao would be a distant dream-like memory, and perhaps tonight's thunderous applause would seem almost unreal...maybe...but it could have been worse right?

i am so inexpressibly proud to know someone like Ishitadi, someone who in her own silent, modest way is actually making this world a better place. not just holding meetings and publishing articles or organising marches, but by actively taking responsibility. i am so fortunate to have been her student.

PS: fleetingly, i was reminded of the last time i came to Gyan Manch, it was a play staged by the leading english literature department of the country, directed by a renowned theatre expert and performed by grown ups who have been to the most elite schools in the city and have had (mostly) previous acting experience. incidentally, that play, too, was a musical. they had sophisticated instruments at their disposal too, not just a rundown harmonium. i am sad to say this fleeting comparison proved to be rather disadvantageous for the latter play. frankly, it couldn't hold a candle to these children's performance, and not just because of the fact that poor Beaumont and Fletcher are no Rabindranath Tagore.