Aaloo- Let it stay buried.

This is one vegetable which I have started to hate. Not because it tastes bad or it gives me a bad stomach or an allergy, but I hate it simply because it is so ever-presently boring.

God is Omni-present but he does not make his presence so obvious. But this is not the case with the meddlesome Aaloo (Hindi for POTATO). Breakfast, lunch or dinner, this veggie is present in some form or the other. Aaloo-this or Aaloo-that, or just simply Aaloo. There are so many other kinds like long, short, green, leafy etc. wholesome and nutritional options but somehow this Aaloo beats all of them on its way to the dining table. Even in the bazaar, the largest pile and the largest crowd is around this confounded Aaloo.

My earliest “tryst with Aaloo” was with this Hindi song –
Re mama re mama ree,
Hum to gaye bazaar mein lene ko Aaloo,
Aloo-waloo kuchh na mila,
Peechhe padaa bhaloo

(I went to the bazaar to buy Potato. I did not get potato (Aaloo) but a bear (Bhaloo) started following me.)

Whosoever he was, but he did a great job of rhyming Aaloo with Bhaloo. Our Hindi songs are so intuitive and futuristic like the “Avatar”. I ardently wish, people buying Aaloo should indeed be chased away by a Bhaloo.

Aaloo as veggie is actually alien to Indian cuisine. Our culinary science frowned upon Tubers or vegies growing below the ground. Recommended were those vegies which grew above the ground. The further away the better.

But somehow we have succumbed to this obnoxious tuber and sullied our reputation with mud. History tells that Aaloo made its appearance in Indian cuisine sometimes in the 18th century. Its lineage could be traced back to South America. But the way we have our Aaloo, it all seems so indigenous. We also seem to revere it. Probably in the near future, we would even end up worshipping it and presenting it to our Gods.

Take for instance our protests. If we don’t like someone or if we want to humiliate him, we throw Anda (Egg) or Tammatar (Tomato). Both are wholesome and nutritional. But did we ever hear or see any one throwing Aaloo. They would rather throw shoes than Aaloo. If we intend (yes, intend) to change for the good, we should switch our preferences. We should eat more Anda and Tammatar and throw Aaloo. I bet, if the Aaloo hits, it would leave its mark on the unfortunate. It would be more painful and impactful than the Anda, Tammatar or Chappal/Joota (Slippers/ Shoes)

Go to any Indian restaurant or dhaaba, and the menu card will have the longest list of “A”.  Ask a waiter and he will delightfully rattle off the menu. The only common and oft repeated sound will be “Aaloo” . Aaloo methi, Aaloo matar, Aaloo saag etc. etc. and my ever hateful Aloo-Dum. Aaloo-Dum will feature in “A’ or will definitely make its appearance in “D” as Dum-Aaloo. The Aaloo does not spare you. It seems to cling like a disease and infects other vegies too. A to Z, the Aaloo will be found either as a suffix or a prefix.

The eating of Aaloo has also made many look like one. For example, see Lallu Yadav. He looks like a cross between an Aaloo and a Bhaloo. These days even I look like an Aaloo. If you see movies in theatres, just before the movie starts, there come this man – Vijay Mukhi- in copconnect.com.  He cannot help but remind me of Aaloo. The audience do not mind, as they are themselves huddled with Aaloo Chips or with someone looking like an Aaloo. I believe, Shah Rukh does not eat Aaloo. But he looks like a Bhaloo, which is good. That’s why he is so successful. We should all learn from him.

It’s an emergency. Some major steps should be taken to get rid of this malady. Probably, the Prime Minister should call an All Party Meet. Or the AFSPA should be applied on Aaloo. Or, we need to schedule a batch file to rename Aaloo star dot star to anything else star dot star. Or somebody should throw some magic and turn all Aaloo into moon-stones which they actually look like. Or best, there should be a Mad-Aaloo disease or Aaloo Flu breaking up round the corner. Or else, I am going to make my own Aaloo-Qaeda……..

A Play – Khatijabai Of Karmali Terrace

Khatijabai, the women, is the main character and Karmali Terrace is the place where she lives.

The play’s timeline starts from 1930 when Karmali Terrace was built (somewhere near Colaba, Bombay) to 1950 when she, Khatijabai, came to the house as a young bride and finally, the play, ends or merges with the present times.

The stage setup depicts Karmali Terrace as an Upper Class Bungalow with huge windows covered with expensive curtains.  There is a party in the house and she invites everyone on phone. From the standpoint of India in the 1950’s, this speaks a lot about her status and her community. Also, it could be deduced by the names in the play, that unseen characters are mainly Gujarati speaking Muslims and Parsis.

The storyline starts with how she, Khatijabai, arrives in the house, after marrying a rich man twice her age and twice married earlier. Herself abandoned by her mother and raised by an uncaring relative, she strives hard to make herself valuable and likeable by energetically taking care of a large family, then producing her own large family. Her care,attention and dedication towards her family shows her as someone who tries to complete what she did not receive herself. Finally, with time, the family breaks up one by one as the individuals either die or grow up and move away from the house.

This is a one act play, enacted by gutsy and healthy looking, Jayati Bhatia who successfully portrays all the characteristics of a rich khoja muslim family. She brings an upper class feel by showing Khatijabai as a prim and proper women throwing good parties and networking with the “who-is-who” in her community who are also prominent in Bombay society. She is also gritty as she is shown to bounce back after the suicide of her son and extra marital affair of her husband.  

In the end, the old Khatijabai is left alone in Karmali Terrace. The parties are over. The family split also leads to the breakup and deterioration of Karmali Terrace. But the ebullient old Khatijabai makes new relationships and life carries on.

Karmali terrace has a distinct old Bombay feel as the places associated with the story revolve around Colaba and Byculla. Worli is referred once as a far of place from Colaba, which it probably was in the 50’s. It’s a play which describes the flow of life from the eyes and life of a woman. You can give it a try.

Our Nation – My Take

India has never been one country, administratively speaking. History tells that we have had many periods of integration and disintegration from BC through AD. We had Maharajahs, Rajahs, and Rajwadas (Rajahs of few villages or a city). The only thing which joins this continent as India is an Invisible Boundary etched in our minds through convention.

An argument is, Hinduism in its various forms and aspects has been the sole integrator in this confusingly and multi layered society. I say, then in that case, India and Nepal should be one country. Hinduism does provides a common identity but does not make a common nation. Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam – we have always lapsed into a divided pocket of administrative zones.

But what makes India as one nation. It is strong leadership which erupted from time to time as our rulers. They were successful leaders, who understood our social fragmentation on top and were perceptive enough to see the underlying unity. They were capable as they capitalized on our culture to attain power and also enriched it.

The earliest of all Indian History tells us about the rule of the Mauryas. More so, the period is defined by the Great Ashoka. But more than Ashoka, it was Chanak who first realised the scope for integration of this sub-continent. He encapsulated all areas which could be militarily defended. Chanak was the documented first who demonstrated that for all developments which advances the quality of life (Finance, Economics, Religious, Cultural, Educational, Sexual) needs a strong and long surviving leadership. The Mauryan’s were the pioneers in defining the boundary which we call India.

After the Mauryan’s and through pockets of dark ages, the prominent rulers of India were the Guptas’, Lodhis’, Khiljis’ and finally the Mughals, the British and then we. Besides us, there is one defining characteristics in all of them. Whosoever sat on the throne, his first act was to bring the maximum India as a single administrative entity. And they achieved this through war or diplomacy.

Cut to the present scenario. The present Indian dynamics tends towards fragmentation. Do we need to be a traveller to understand this? Is it not enough to know which parts of India we cannot go without some fear? Is it not the present political thrusts indicate our future. What are the safeguards to reign in those breaking-forces and stop its proliferation to still nascent areas and create noise?

A strong leadership is needed to quell this noise. When the leadership becomes weak, there will be people who will turn opportunist. Strength of leadership can be imagined as a great ball of Energy. If the top cannot harness it, the energy will flow away and someone else will harness it. And everybody is not a visionary.

Finally, the great doubt is – Can our Democracy provide strong leadership? Will we ever elect an empowered leader and not a nice or populist leader.

A Play – Equus

I saw a play “Equus” in Prithvi Theatre. I will not summarize the play. Since this is my fifth English play which I saw, I have something to say on English Plays staged by Indian actors for Indian audience.

Accent is important

Three of the five plays which I saw, it seemed to me, that the actors were recruited from Call Centres. They spoke English in foreign accent and many words were left unclear to me. I could also sense the audience disconnect. I am sure; a foreigner will feel the same.

When the accent is artificial to the tongue it fails to create the emotions which the play desires. I strongly believe, the Indian actors should speak English without assuming an accent. If the words come out naturally, the audience will reciprocate.

This does not imply that the actors can speak English laden with Indian regional tones, like South Indian or Bengali etc. There is a proper English tone for an Indian. The problem happens when actors assume a British or an American tone.

Some key Words and Sentences needs to be stressed

I have observed, actors can’t help skidding over words. In a play, words are important. It creates the environment and walks the audience through the plot. Words which are missed will make a paragraph meaningless and subsequently affect the scene. The audience will have to fall back on guess-work.

The problem of understanding becomes more acute when there is music in the background. The actor rambles on, his voice audible only in between the cusp of the music. Finally the music stops and he stops, with no audience the wiser. The idea behind words and music was to create an atmosphere and draw the audience up to the oncoming scene. Sadly, the audience feel deprived.

Some Plays needs guidance

Some plays need a “Sutra Dhār” or a compare, to show up on stage from time to time and guide the audience. This is most required when the context of the play is complicated or alien to the audience.

People see plays for entertainment and few do any homework prior to the show. There are pamphlets available to be picked up, glanced at and then abandoned. The audience will act only in two dimensions. They will come to the theatre and buy the ticket. The onus is on the side of the creator to involve the audience or make it three dimensional, so to say.

Somebody had rightly said on “Audiences” – First you tell them what you are going to tell them, then you tell them, then you tell them what you told them.

Learn from Other Plays

If the actor loves his craft, he should see plays of his peers.  Even movies are good places to learn on basics of stage craft. As an audience myself, I am no expert. But I can distinguish between good and bad plays and know where to put the money. Nevertheless, just like any workplaces, the bad exists with the good.

I have seen three plays directed by Naseeruddin Shah, one of them English – The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial. After seeing this play, I could understand why Naseeruddin Shah’s name is synonymous with authenticity and credibility. All actors spoke in natural English, had good voice throw and the drama was captivating.

The other English Play which I saw is – The Disappearing Number. It is fabulous. If you haven’t tried out any plays and if you want to try one – Go for this. It’s an audio-visual delight.