Sunday, June 26, 2011

Me As A Student

I am an okay student. I would give myself an eight-out-of-ten on the good student scale, but the two points I cut for myself basically make the difference between a good engineering college and an average engineering college. It sounds harsh and is unfair in a lot of ways, but it is true.

Sometimes I can't make much sense out of my own student life. I seem to be doing better than most people, but I'm never at the top of the class. I like Science, but I am not particularly inclines to it. I just took it because that's what most good students did. I hate the hard work I have to put in as well as the cut-throat competition which seems to be lurking all around me.

But at the same time, I can't imagine my life without all this.

I start my day at 4:30 a.m. After freshening up, I start studying. My school is a long way from my house and traveling takes a lot of time, so I have to make up for the lost study time by compromising a bit on sleep. By the time I get back home, I am exhausted but never has anyone been able to guess how tired I am. On days I have to attend coaching classes, my day starts at dawn and ends at about nine at night, which means I have to give about seventeen hours to studies and related matters (I should tell you that the 'related matters' take up a lot of time).  It is taxing and I am not happy with it, but I can't imagine my life without the hard work. It's almost as if I were given an easier life, I wouldn't want to live it. Less burden is like a place I would like to go on vacation, but would definitely not want to live there.

I am just confused why it is so. Maybe it's like having kids- they are the biggest headaches possible but you love them and can't live without them. Or maybe its just me- I'm just genetically wired to keep working and hate every minute of it. But whatever it is, I think it's the only thing which propels me to compete further, study more and try to do better as a student. Nobody ever told me to aspire for a ten on the student scale, it's just something which comes from inside me.

To be quite honest, my only fear is that one day I'll wake up and realize that despite all the hard work I did, I didn't really do anything. It's not the fear of becoming common, it's just the fact that I can't stand the thought of not having had a moment to just look back and ask myself, "What is it that I really want?" But then again, maybe that day will never come. I'm sure everybody looks back on their life and things of the un-memorable times and wonder is they could have done more, but mostly, they are satisfied. They may have done the commonest of things, but they know how much of work those things took.

The only good thing that has come out of all the thought I put into all this is that now I know what kind of a student I really am- I am a student who is learning about life. Life goes on and that may be why I can't imagine not working.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

My Fair Mrs. Pierce

Everyone saw what went up on stage but nobody saw what went into putting it up there. That’s the thought that comes to my mind whenever someone talks about my senior play.
I was chosen to play Mrs. Pierce in the ‘My Fair Lady’. Now, let me tell you that Mrs. Pierce is a very important character. She’s housekeeper to the male protagonist, Prof. Higgins. Considering what a fussy man Higgins is, you can understand how important Mrs. Pierce is in the play. Being in the play wasn’t just a school activity for me. My grandfather worked as an actor-director in many plays in his time and some of them went on to become hits in parts of Bengal. On the day of the play, he would be in Navi Mumbai. Being in the play was my opportunity to show him my acting skills just once.
For those of you who don't know what 'My Fair Lady' is all about, here's the plot: Eliza Doolittle is a flower girl who isn't exactly the quintessential definition of claass. A chance meeting with phonetics expert Henry Higgins opens new doors for her, as she now wishes to take lessons from him to improve her speech. Higgins,a full-of-himself British gentlemen, is quite sure that he can transform Eliza into a woman of society in a matter of weeks. What follows is a humorous journey full of speech training, some of them involving saying vowels day in and day out, speaking with a mouth full of marbles and repeating tongue-twisters. Then comes a point when Eliza is ready to leave emerge into society without Higgins by her side, but perhaps that's not exactly what she wants.
Even though the day we performed is clearly etched in my memory, what really affected me personally were the days of practice. For those of you who have never been in a play, I should tell you that it takes a lot of work on the part of actors, directors and coordinators. Starting from the day of casting, we all worked extremely hard to get every line right. We were trained as to how we should raise or lower our voice, how we should move, how our expressions should be- all to make our characters look more authentic. It made me believe that no matter how good actors are, they are nothing without the director, which in our case were the teachers-in-charge. It’s with the help of their vision that actors deliver a performance. Without them, the play is a blank slate full of improvisations with probably no coherence.
Costumes play a big part of any play. Through them, we turned from twenty-first century school student from Navi Mumbai to ladies and gentlemen of Georgian England. In flowed the coats, skirts and heels. We borrowed from our friends, went to costume stores, tried on dresses for size and left no stone unturned to make our clothes authentic. Everybody had their signature costume pieces. I had my pink gown and white apron (I had never imagined I would be wearing something like that one day). Eliza’s father, Doolittle, had his cap which he wore even during rehearsals and everybody fell in love with it. Higgins had his prim suits but his most remarkable outfit was the one in the first scene, a trench coat strikingly similar to the ones worn by actors in the movie and stage adaptations of ‘My Fair Lady’. I should tell you that the coat is actually meant for winters. While you saw a calm and composed Higgins on stage, the actor, who also happens to be our Head Boy, was sweating profusely. From day one, Eliza’s multiple costume changes were a concern. We managed to get a copy of the dress Audrey Hepburn wore in a scene in the movie and were worried she won’t be able to change out of it in time. She did, and she made it look easy. The thing that was hardest to get were Carpathy’s medals and they showed up only on the day of the performance.
A special mention must be made of the dances that were in the play. Without them, our play wouldn’t have been what it was- a musical. It was because of the dancers that the play became so entertaining. The ballroom dance sequence got a lot of attention from the day the rehearsals began. It stood up to expectations. The market dance, which was the opening act of the play, set up the world Eliza originally inhabited. The helper’s chorus showed the frustration of the people working at Mr. Higgins due to Eliza’s intense training session. Some of the songs were acted out by the main actors. I was in the song ‘I Could’ve Danced All Night’. It was my grandfather’s favorite moment in the play.
I admit- I do want to relive the curtain call, listen to the applause on more time, wave out to the audience again and just be on stage, but I know that won’t be what I will remember ten years from now. I will remember the stay backs and coming early to school. I will remember making plans to make everything look good on stage, getting props and watching the stage take its final form. I will remember the first and perhaps the only time I went to a recording studio. I will remember my pink dress which I’ll probably never wear again. I will think about Higgins, Carpathy, Doolittle and Pickering taking some time off rehearsals because the India-Pakistan match was on air and they needed to get score updates somehow and discuss the game. I’ll look back on the children who were in the helper’s chorus, whose sequence I helped choreograph. I will want to relive the final moment, but I’ll carry the journey that brought me and my friends  there forever.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Big Cities, Small Towns: Which is which?

For those of us who spent our whole life in the big cities, it's impossible for us to imagine walking down a street without hearing roaring engines, horns and the low, almost indistinguishable murmurs of bystanders and passer-by. Every big city essentially has the same feel, if not the same look. People around us are a constant presence, meant to be taken for granted as fixtures of the environment and not really noticed as real people. Even though the city is big, the lanes and by-lanes are congested and make you claustrophobic. Everything moves. Even if you take the same bus everyday, we don't notice people who travel with us. We never become their friends. Every minute is exciting but somewhat scary. Big cities have a bad reputation. You could have spent every moment of your existence in them, but you still can't make it through an empty tunnel or a dimly lit street without subconsciously quickening your steps and breathing a sigh of relief when you're through. Everything- even if it's dingy, dark and like a prison- is big in some way.

So why is it that life in the big city is so....small? Why did lingering feeling of being submerged in a crowd? Why this constant fear of being replaced, of not being indispensable? Why is it that we read so many exciting things in the paper, but nothing exciting ever really happens to us? The buildings are tall, but they look as if they may crumble on you any minute. You can't see the sky, if you're in Mumbai you can't see the stars. Somewhere in the largeness of the place, our own lives got diminished and we can't find any way to grow because there's no space to.

Despite knowing all this, if someone asked me if I'd like to move to a quainter place, I wouldn't say 'yes'. I wouldn't even say 'no', but my answer could never, ever be in the affirmative. I guess no matter how much we hate the pressures and dangers of the big city, we can't move out of them. A lot of people say they'll go back to their hometown after retirement but many of them don't. Perhaps it's the fact that habit gets the better of us. Or maybe, going to a small town is like regressing. Truth be told, the world over, how successfully you moved out of your hometown is a measure for success. If you lived in a village, you should go to the town. If you live in a town, your destination should be a metropolitan (and cosmopolitan) city. And if the big, bad city has always been your home, you should catch a flight out of the city. Your actions have more at stake. Big city means fulfilling big dreams. And dreams are what we live for. Some will be shattered, some will come true. Some will be locked away and be the source of our dissatisfaction. But we will never be able to go to a smaller place.

All we can do, is sit in our tiny apartment in a world which is not so tiny and go over the things we need to do- be careful, be grateful and remember, Zara Hatke, Zara Bachke, Yeh Hai Sheher Meri Jaan.

Monday, June 6, 2011

To Ma'am With Love

I just found out my favorite teacher left school. I have no idea what caused her to and something tells I shouldn't try to find out. Needless to say, I'm sad. So, I decided to do this post.

When I was in ninth, I had a small....incident with the teacher in question. We had to do something called a radio show. We were divided in groups and had to record our voices in CDs. There was some conflict between me and her about the division of groups. My group had already decided on some things and she was about to reshuffle the groups. So, I (I admit I can be really stupid sometimes), said, "Ma'am, please don't mess up the composition of our group". I still curse myself for saying that because ma'am got angry. Ma'am if you're reading this, here's what I have to say about that day- I have nobody to blame but myself for this slip of tongue, I am really sorry and I swear I didn't know what 'mess up' really meant. You would be surprised with the last bit because you were one of the first people to say I have a 'flair for writing' (those were your words exactly) and you would expect me to know what'mess up' meant, but I really was confused about the, well, appropriateness of the term.

In the years that followed, I have had many more incidents with ma'am involving things like running in the corridor and other things. Usually, I don't like 'incidents'. Most of students end up not liking teachers who scold them for their mistakes. But ma'am, every incident with you has been positive. I have never taken it as a scolding, always as sane advice from somebody who would forgive me the very next day.

Ma'am, I admired you not only as a person but also as a teacher. When you taught 'The Tribute', I realized that you sent us into a trance somehow. We paid attention to you, we sat with or backs straight, our minds alert. At the same time, you never forgot that no matter how much we wanted we couldn't treat English as pour priority subject in XIIth. You saw us for what we were and saw our talents. You knew I liked to write and was good at it but also told me that I needed to be careful about the things I said sometimes.
I never told you this but when you told us the story about how a girl from Bangladesh sat on her shoes because she didn't want anyone to steal them (this is in reference to the chapter Lost Springs), I came back home and wrote an article about it (it is in the blog archives and is titled 'For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn'). That's how you are- we take the things you said very seriously. We laughed with you, but never laughed off the things you said.

We were trying to figure out how to give you a good farewell and most idea centred around a party (if you get a surprise party, don't tell anyone you already got a hint from me). But I am not good with parties. I have a blog which is read by people all over the world (with US, India and Scandinavian nations forming my main audience) and I wanted people everywhere to know how good my teacher is. A party could never achieve that, so I wrote this letter-cum-blog post. I hope I achieved what I wanted to.

I know you won't be joining this school again. My mom is a teacher and I know how such things work. She wanted to go back to Delhi and take her old job but she never really could. Honestly, I think you will end up getting attached to the student of your new school and it will feel unnatural for you to come back because it would be like taking a step backwards. But you should know that we loved you and we will miss you and we really hope no matter how impossible it may seem, you will come back to us.