Saturday, 9 May 2015

A Most Peculiar Midsummer's Night Dream

Professor Ram is a professor at the Chennai University in Madras. He has decided to stage "A Midsummer Night's Dream" with some changes. Here, we describe the changes in the words of the author:

So, instead of putting the Swan on as per usual in the soup and fish, this year he took a blue pencil to the Dream and put in his own plot and his own dialogue, and generally took such obscene liberties with Swan's intellectual property rights that Sundar and his friends wished with all their hearts to speak to the Swan's lawyer.

If Amandeep, Murugesh, Rufus and Sundar were scandalised to find that Ram had excised Hyppolyta, Helena and Hermia from A Midsummer Night's Dream, it was nothing to how scandalised they were when they found out how they themselves were cast in this play. They tried to resign from the cast, but were informed that they couldn't do such a thing. Ever since, they wore the look of those who were about to die as cattle, especially, when they thought how, after play night, they would be marked men, and how, in the university corridors, in the library, in the canteen, in the bus stop and in the toilets, it would follow them, the cry:


And here is the play and what took place there:

At 40 minutes past opening time, the audience was still waiting for the Chief Guest to arrive. The Chief Guest was the man who had cough up the Rs 25,000 that had made this play feasible, and the play could not start without him. This Chief Guest was Mr Seshadri, and he was late because he was fortifying himself at the Gymkhana Club with many full pegs of Johnny Walker. The notables were growing restless in the front rows. In the back rows and in the balcony, the thugs and hooligans from the university were working with vegetables, with the brochures they had collected at the door, and with a wisdom beyond their years about the principles of aerodynamics, to create missiles that accurately expressed their unrest at this delay. One conclave of oafs was unwrapping the packages on which the government advised couples like this: "We Two, Ours One." They were inflating the contents of these packages as much as they could without flattening the nipple at the end of that distinguished prophylactic from a mere balloon. Another section of the mob was polishing up the groans, howls and flatulence which it had developed especially for this occasion.

When the Chief Guest finally arrived, the glamorous socialite lady from the Chennai Cultural Club, made her welcome speech, causing the microphone to emit demented yips and squeals.

"We are happy to present to you two alternative plays this evening," she chirped. Her diamonds sparkled and flashed under the single spot that lit her, and her silk sari unravelled like toilet paper over one arm. "The first and foremost play." she cooed, "is directed by none other than a great doyen of the limelight who needs no introduction to the audiences of Madras. He has done yeoman service behind the footlights, for which the government has conferred many titles on him. Today, we will see him expanding his horizons, for he has taken pen in hand to improve upon the work of the great William Shakespeare himself. Ladies and Gentlemen, please bring your hands together and give a hearty welcome to: Pro-fe-ssor Ram! And helping him make this evening's play a grand success is our wonderful Child Prodigy, little Ranga, none other than the one and only grandson of Chennai University's own respected vice-chancellor Doc-tor Mohan!"

There were ripples of applause from the notables and heavy groans and howls from the dickey area of the theatre. Then the glamorous lady went off, and music began playing and a saffron light came on. Professor Ram had asked for such a light to symbolise the hidden Hindu message of the play, even though it made the actors look like a hepatitis epidemic. It was clear that the play was beginning at last. for Professor Ram's voice oozed out of the speakers like this:

"Over hill and dale, thorough bush, thorough brier..."

A long gibbering cry, not part of the script, issued from halfway between the balcony and the back benches downstairs.

"Sh-sh-shit, machaan," the voice wailed, "my rope is tut-tut-too short!"

This was the voice of Murugesh, who as Cobweb, was to astonish the audience by bungee-jumping from the balcony railings like Lord Greystroke travelling among the apes. Murugesh was sobbing thus because the ungodly had taken his jungle trapeze and looped it around the chairs, and now the end of it was too short to let him reach the downstairs aisle. Murugesh was corkscrewing (this-way -- that-way, this-way -- that-way, as he himself put it later), about eight feet above the spot where his presence was required before the curtain went up. Small pieces of Madras's colonial heritage, chafed by the rope, crumbled slowly and fell like dandruff upon the citizens below.

"Look, machaan, Murugesh is doing a circus up on the balcony!"

"Jump, da, jump!" the ungodly chortled heartlessly. "We will inform your family!" They pelted him with paper rockets and the odd tomato. Some helpful parties leapt up to catch him, but as they caught his tights instead, they merely left him a more embarrassing plight than before.

"Sundar! Get me d-down, machaan!"

Sundar, in the character of Mustard Seed, was tripping along the downstairs aisle, while Ram resumed the voice-over: "O'er park o'er pale, thorough flood thorough fire, I do wander everywhere." Shakespeare did not mention it, but Sundar was also wandering thorough the audience, and this was what caused his troubles.

"Look machaan, it's Sundar! Oi! Catch him! Sit down with us, Sundar!"

"Ey, I'm telling you, let me go. I have to get on the stage, man. Ey, you cheap wankers, come on, man, please."

"Ssshhhhh!" said a big noise in the front row, trying to glare the offenders down. But as anyone could have told you, this was very hard to do in a darkened theatre.

"Okay Sundar, if you're in the play, you should be on the stage, no? So what are you doing here, man?"

"See, machaan," Sundar said, "we are using alternative space and destroying the conventions of the fourth wall."

This explanation was greeted with catcalls and whistles.

"Which wall is it, man? Oi! Oi! Thro-ow him over the fourth wall!"

Now the hoi polloi stopped sitting on Sundar. They hoisted him up in the air and began to swing him about.

"Sssh, sit down, you mayiru, I can't see anything!"

"Let me go da, bastards, the curtains are opening! I'm supposed to be on stage!"

As the curtains opened, Moth and Pease Blossom were discovered stage left on either side of the Tree of Life looking like a brace of bright pink popsicles melting in the footlights. They were aware that they had to break into choreographed moves with the two other fairies. The other two fairies had not shown up, and Moth and Pease Blossom were in a state of radical indecision. Should they come out of their freeze or not? Now and then one of them thought the other was starting to move and twitched spasmodically.

Behind the curtains, Professor Ram sensed that something had gone wrong among the fairies. His fruity voice wobbled as he set off again.

"And I serve the Fairy Queen,
Dew her orbs upon the green..."

Now his voice stopped altogether. Then it floated up into the hall in a tense whisper.

"Fairies? Fairies? Please get set! Fairies? FAI-RIES?"

The rabble in the rump area, who never paid much attention to the dialogue, were all along under the impression that Murugesh, Sundar and the other riffraff were just stage properties of one sort or another, or some low-grade comic turn. Now they were suddenly filled with wild surmise. "Fairies?" they sang out in several different keys, "Fairi-fairi-fairi-ries! Fa-a-a-a-iries!" they ululated. "Dai, FAIRIES!"

They got up and began to dance in the aisle, making up a song to the tune of Ennuyir Thozhiyay which was a great hit of the moment. "Ennuyir Fairy-yay!" they yodelled, flatter than a tyre outside a vulcanising shop.

Under normal circumstances, Professor Ram would have saved his own person for an electrifying entry some minutes into the play. But this was an emergency. He felt that nothing would quell this anarchy but a personal appearance.

"I must go on now!" he said to Mr Kannan, who was still fixing his accoutrements. "Oo-argh!"

Professor Ram exclaimed like this because Mr Kannan, who was trying to snap the clasp of his saffron cloak, had just skewered his jowls for the sixth time. The professor was a small-sized but portly man with a face like a star of the silver screen. Like all these stars after their expiry date, he had run plentifully to jowl, and Mr Kannan was having trouble locating the crease of his neck.

"Maybe you should leave the cloak, sar!" Mr Kannan said desperately, groping among his dewlaps.

"No -- arghurgh!" Professor Ram hissed. "I must have it, for it symbolises the traditional Hindu order!"

You probably want to know how the Hindu order came into The Midsummer Night's Dream.The brochure that went with Professor Ram's version explained it like this: it seems Oberon (Professor Ram) quarrelled with his wife Titania (played by Kalpana Kamath, Always Already to you and me) over a changeling (the Prodigy) that Titania had imported from India. Oberon did not specify why he wished it for the same reasons the author of I Believe in Fairies wished to explicate the ways of Peter the Pixie to little boys. The quarrel resulted in a terrible disintegration of public facilities all over the universe, including the facilities that kept the lower orders in their place, and as a result, Titania fell in love with a working-class bozo, called Bottom, who was hanging around the forest. I have read the Bard's version of the play, and I can say that from here onwards, the Ram interpolations came thickly, one upon the back of another, especially when Oberon began to say acid things about the role of woman in Hindu society.

Back on the stage at the Pantheon Theatre, Bottom asked for a side order of dried pease. As Amandeep bumbled into the wings to fetch it, he stepped on the end of Professor Ram's cloak. Professor Ram heard the dull roar of tearing fabric.

"Adda-da-da!" Mr Kannan sobbed. "The cloak! It is completely broken!"

"Mend it!" Professor Ram snapped. "Quick!"

It took Mr Kannan less than a second to fix the cloak up with Sellotape. Professor Ram came forth from the wings like a politician greeting his constituency, arms up, palms outwards, at once demanding peace and conferring a blessing.

Well, you know how it is with Sellotape. About 10 minutes after his entrance, as Professor Ram strode about saying nasty things about the role of woman and swinging his cloak, the Sellotape that had mended the rip at its end found itself irresistibly attracted to the Sellotape that had healed the hole in the backdrop. There was a moment of adhesion. Suddenly, with a dismal ripping, the backdrop gaped open. At last the actors could account fore the funny smell all around the stage. Mr Kannan's two chokra nephews were revealed just behind the curtain, wreathed in clouds of cannabis.

Professor Ram soldiered on. About four yards of Sellotape, along with one or two cut-outs of Elvira the Elf, were now trailing form the end of his saffron cloak.

"Psst, Ram!" Mrs Ram hissed from the wings, "look behind you!"

The Four Vedas are covered with mud!" roared Professor Ram, swishing his cloak around the stage some more. His Sellotape tail gathered all sorts of odds and ends, here a few leaves from the Tree of Life, there a scarf that had fallen off one of the fairies, and here again an ear that had fallen off the so-called donkey mask. He was in high gear, declaiming about the sanctity of traditional marriage, and he did not hear Mrs Ram's sibilant warnings. The philistines in the balcony were bouncing off their chairs and rolling down the aisles. As the tail became more conspicuous, the mirth of the mob infected the stern front rows.

At last Professor Ram realised that he had unintentionally become a comet. Since the Hindu-order-cloak was a cloak that Ram did not wish to desecrate in any way, and since he wanted the show to go on without further interruptions, he tried to get the Sellotape off with many sly jerks and twitches.

"Ram!" hollered a wit from the balcony section. "Ei Rambo! Okay, man, you can scrape the dog-dung off your foot now. Everyone can see you stepped in it!"

But no matter what Professor Ram did, he could not dislodge the Sellotape. Not, that is, until he hit upon the idea of attaching it to a fellow thespian. He passed it adroitly to Bottom. Ten minutes later, Bottom pressed it emotionally against Always Already. Towards the end of the play, as Always Already clung defiantly to the changeling, she attached the tail to the Prodigy's elbow.

And now the Prodigy's big scene began. In the Swan's version, the changeling child went about minding his own juvenile business. In Ram's version, he was a very significant character, and I hope you don't think this had anything to do with the fact that he was played by the vice-chancellor's grandson. What Professor Ram called the dee-nooma of the play occurred when the Prodigy stood under the Tree of Life and lectured the quarrelsome fairy couple for a full 10 minutes about Maya, Dharma, Yoga, Karma, Right Living, Harmony and other cosmic matters. At the end of the speech, there was a tableau, for all the characters, including the four fairies seemed to be irresistibly drawn towards the Prodigy. They gathered around to hear him pontificate. The Prodigy, lifting his right arm in blessing, spoke thus:

As and when I do perceive perversion
Of the Natural Order of Dharma
And a proliferation of egregious Adharma,
To offer protection to the righteous
And to eliminate the unrighteous
From time to time I descend myself...

When the Prodigy finished speaking the lines, the notables in the first 10 rows rose to their feet and roared their approval realising that the child stood revealed as Lord Krishna himself, no less, and they were pleased with themselves for recognising this. It was a very powerful and moving moment. Many people in the audience were weeping buckets, even those who came to scoff. Some people said it was because they laughed themselves into stitches when the Sellotape from the Prodigy's outflung arm gripped the Sellotape that held the Tree of Life together, and this caused the Tree to fall apart neatly as if cloven by lightning.

But those people were not to be trusted because most of them were busy releasing large flotillas of inflated condoms that had been saved for the end of the play. As these objects writhed downwards with high-pitched howls, the theatre reverberated with the thunder of prolonged and insane flatulence. All the actors stood hand-in-hand just behind the debris of The Tree of Life and bowed unevenly. Professor Ram went to the microphone and offered abject thanks to this and that dignitary and, of course, to Mr Seshadri. Then he said that he could not have achieved anything without his better half. This was the moment Mrs Ram had been waiting for since the curtain came down on last year's play. She joined the cast and looked around complacently, daring anyone in the audience to take her glory away from her.

Then Professor Ram invited the Chief Guest to say a few words. Mr Seshadri wove up onto the stage. He had tears in his eyes, or at least in the one eye which he devoted to the present moment -- for if there was one thing that marred Mr Seshadri's beauty, it was the fact that his eyes did not look in the same direction, one of them being fixed at all times on the main chance. He rocked gently from side to side as he hiccupped:

"I am sohic. Mooved byhic this evening's message! I wish -- I wish to ---" here he lost his place in the sweaty piece of paper typed by Mr Rami Reddy, which he had palmed all evening. He searched for it with his forehead creased, the prongs of his Brahmin caste-mark rippling with concentration. "To prevent -- to present the revhic -- reveeeered Professor Ram with this humble hicgrain of rice. On which an artist has enhic -- engraved Chaper Six Vershes. Fourhic and five of this Bhada - Bhava - Habhagad Vita."

Mr Seshadri put his hand into his pocket and whipped out the enamelled box in which the grain rested. He held it out and Professor Ram took it, but instead of letting it go, Mr Seshadri leaned on Professor Ram slightly and carried on talking.

"Profeshor Ram openedhic my eyes to religion!" he said, "Glories of hic-hic-Hinduism! Relijush men like myself --hic-- should participate in Legislative Ashembly elections!"

Professor Ram looked very silly indeed, hanging on to the box. After a very long time Mr Seshadri let go of it, released Professor Ram, and tumbled down the steps. He took with him, on his shoe, six yards of Sellotape, several pictures of Elvira the Elf, a loincloth, some scraps of backdrop and half the Tree of Life.

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