19th May being Vesak Day in Singapore got me into the mood of painting a reclining Buddha. I have just completed the 29in. x 21.5in. piece in water colour. It is a coincidence that I was engrossed in painting Buddha when I was supposed to write about the staging of ‘Chandalika’ !
Back to my journey….
A typical show put up by the family members was always great fun. There were regular rehearsals for a month or two, every weekend. For me, that meant playing with my cousins, watching the adults rehearse and enjoy typical Bengali cuisine. The first dance drama I can recollect was ‘ Chandalika’. Written by Tagore, it is the story of a young girl being humiliated by everyone around her, simply because she was born in a family of the 'untouchable'. It made a big impact on my mind. I remember bombarding my mother with questions. I have watched this dance drama many times and have also played the role of ‘prakriti’, the untouchable girl, and still fail to understand how people have hatred for their fellow beings.
The dance form was mainly a mixture of Manipuri and Kathakali with a bit of Javanese style. Javanese and Manipuri dance styles add to the elegance while the drama[abhinaya] and power or strength is expressed through Kathakali. It is a combination of movements, expressions and drama as well as rhythm.
The singers, accompanists and musicians were also family members and friends. They practiced together with the dancers. The stage was an improvised one with stage managers who pulled the curtains. My mother’s cousin who was our permanent electrician added a few powerful lights.
Dress and make-up was never an issue. Ranga mashi and my mother would do it for everyone including them. Female dancers wore bright coloured sarees, batik sashes,and hair done up in with buns, hanging locks and curls [ Ajanta style ] while men wore dhotis and short tops [photua] or kurta depending on the role. Ornaments were made with flowers and flower buds stitched on leaves.
After the rehearsal or performance, I would fall asleep on our way back when the car had to wait at the railway crossing for the train to pass and wake up next morning to get ready and go to school. I always looked forward to the next week-end at Jadavpur.