It was my first visit home after my parents had passed away. It felt strange to be there. As if all my previous connections had been snapped. It no longer felt like my house any more.
“Why don’t you have a look at Mummy’s cupboard and see if you want any of her sarees,” said my brother. He knew I loved sarees. My mother had a great collection of Kanjeevarams. I opened her almirah and looked at her sarees. As I rummaged through the pile, a silk saree in coffee-brown, cream and black checks tumbled out. And with it tumbled out a string of memories. I shut the cupboard.
That was the only saree I needed. Even though I knew I could not wear it again. It was too fragile and would probably tear if I merely tugged it. I had last worn it in 1979. When I was in second grade. For an Annual Day function at school. Marathi group dance.
It was an Annual Day I remember distinctly. For the first time, we were to perform, not on the small stage in school, but in the largest auditorium in Pondicherry. The nervousness among teachers was palpable. The rehearsals were rigorous that November. And school work had almost come to a standstill with the preparations taking the forefront. Each morning we gathered in the large room for rehearsals, and waited for our turn to practice.
I was to participate in the Marathi group dance. We had already performed the dance on Republic Day in front of the Governor. It had been appreciated. So the teachers decided that we would repeat the same dance in the Annual Day as the finale number. But there was no excitement in doing that. We knew the steps. We had practiced umpteen times before. There wasn’t anything new in that. All the excitement was in the play that was to be staged.
I would sit in the hall and observe the play curiously every day. It was well-written keeping in mind our age. I remember each little detail. Mrs Hawkins, our English teacher, was behind all that creativity. It was the story of a little boy, Sumeet, who was celebrating his birthday party. One of the gifts he receives is a book of nursery rhymes. As he reads the book, he falls asleep. And in his dreams he reaches Nursery Land, where he meets a fairy. The fairy introduces Sumeet to each character in Nursery Land. Simple Simon, Humpty Dumpty, Little Bo Peep, the man who sold hot cross buns, the little teapot, Little Miss Muffet, Georgie Porgie — they all came alive.
For me it was magical. I would imbibe each instruction given to the actors as they rehearsed. I yearned to be part of this skit. But the school rules said that each child could participate in only one item, so that more kids could have an opportunity to participate.
Two days before the Annual Day, disaster struck. The little girl who was to play the fairy fell ill. Probably an attack of chicken pox or measles. Since the play was the main attraction of the Annual Day, worry lined the brows of our teachers. I still remember the moment, when Mrs Hawkins looked at me, and said, “Will you play the part of the fairy?” I had so desperately wanted to act in that play that I had imagined myself in that place forever. I knew the dialogues already and it didn’t need much practice to fit in.
The rest happened very quickly. My teachers fashioned a white saree into a gown. Had it been now, it would have been so easy to buy a white gown. Then it wasn’t so easy. Someone stitched two cardboard wings wrapped in silver foil on my shoulders, and gave me a stick shaped like a silver wand. Everything went according to plan. The play was a super-duper hit. All I remember I someone dragging me off stage and pulling off my white saree, trying to hurriedly get me dressed in Mummy’s checked saree for the Marathi dance next. And in the process, the white saree which had been borrowed from someone got ripped.
The next memory is playing near my mother in the front row after the Marathi dance. And suddenly hearing my name announced on stage for the best actress of the evening. Sometimes I feel the fairy from Nursery Land just waved her magic wand, and made my wish come true that day. Life is sometimes magical.