Bachpan se Pachpan tak
It was the festival night in town. The residents had congregated around its main square to celebrate the yearly ritual. Not just the people of the town, but others from nearby places poured in to witness the celebrations. People flocked around in groups, rejoiced, exchanged sweets, made new friends, met old ones, played games and rendered a resplendent flavour to the place. As the evening unfolded, like every year, all gathered at night to witness the act. The crowd had people across all ages – infants, children, youth, middle-aged ones and even the elderly. Each arranged themselves in respective positions as was followed traditionally.
This year, the man who came to perform the act dressed neutrally, centred himself on the stage and announced, “Tonight, I do not have a script or a performance. Whatever you command, these two intelligent creatures will do!” pointing at the two monkeys who were seated beside his leg.
The crowd cheered in jubilation.–After all they were not going to be a mere witness; they were to participate and dictate. As the crowd settled down with excitement, the performer spoke, “I will just recite a condition. You all need to collectively decide the scene, and they will enact!” Then pointing out towards an elderly man and woman from the crowd, he said, “Please come up. Whatever the crowd suggests, you will have the final word. You both shall be the spokesperson.” They gleefully agreed as they walked up, amidst thunderous claps in the background.
The performance commenced.
In the first condition, he dressed one of the intelligent creatures in a bottom clothing and the other in the top and bottom clothing and recited:
“She is fifteen and he is thirteen,
What is the day to day that is foreseen!”
The crowd rumbled and spoke in echoes, discussed in whispers as a loud voice broke through the crowd:
“She should be done with school and also learn household chores to get ready for marriage”, pointing distinctly at the creature wearing the top and bottom clothing.
The crowd almost agreed unanimously, as the old woman on stage nodded in confirmation and appreciation.
The intelligent creature stepped in front, walked across the stage gently, and then sat in one corner, focused and secluded, opened its palm and read it with utmost concentration. Then suddenly, at the call of the performer, left the reading, adjusted her top clothing, rushed and hid behind the performer.
Then it sieved, sifted, shuffled, settled and slowly appeared in front of the crowd with few cups in the hand to serve the crowd seated in the front row. The crowd was jubilant and remarked in appreciation, “So obedient.” A teenage girl jumped in excitement at the sight of the dutiful creature.
She is fifteen and he is thirteen,
What is the day to day that is foreseen!
Soon another voice broke out from the crowd, “He is grown up, he should behave matured and take responsibility” to which another voice immediately argued, “No, he is a child, just let him do things on his own!”
The entire crowd stood divided as to what should be instructed. The old man and woman seated on stage looked at each other and shrugged their shoulder.
The intelligent creature stood still, looked confused, waited for direction, scratched its bare upper body and stared at the other one who was being blessed and patted for serving cups to the crowd. So, he hopped across, climbed up the older woman and attempted to sit on her lap, only to be smacked by the old man sitting beside.
It jumped off, tightened its bottom clothing and ran aimlessly. It catapulted, jumped, rolled, dived, halted, strolled, laughed, lingered and finally banged his head on the stage floor and rested in a corner. Then sprung up to his feet and sprinted, disoriented.
The crowd witnessing the histrionics guffawed, clapped while a few just smirked and remarked of ignorance. The young boys perched on the top of the tree branch witnessing the act hooted!
The performer then called back the creatures. Draped one in a single clothing and made the other wear two individual garments, and said,
“She is twenty-five, and he is twenty-eight,
How should they operate?”
This time the prepared crowd spoke unanimously for both in the same breath,
“He should work and earn, and she should bear a child!”
The old man and woman, in no time, accepted the words of the crowd. The creature with the draped clothing, ran towards the elders, bulged the stomach and hid under the chair. The other creature walked in the opposite direction.
The creature strode briskly toward the pole at the other end of the stage. Climbed upon it fast. Balanced and hung across the tight rope. Came down from the other pole. Walked down towards the crowd, held out its palm. The crowd placed some coins. The old man and woman fiddled with the bulged stomach creature who has seated underneath.
She is twenty-five, and he is twenty-eight,
How should they operate?
Collecting the coins, the creature walked up to the stage, headed straight towards the other, placed the coins and head back out again. He strode again, climbed once more, balanced another time, collected one more time and returned to place the coins. The one underneath the chair just managed to look. As the cycle repeated, the stride dwindled, the climb became slower, the balance withered, the collection dragging and the return to the chair slumbered. The other creature still seated underneath, receiving timely fondling from the old man and woman just kept waiting. Waiting for the other to return. Waiting for the chance for it to head out, as it held the bars of the chair and screamed in silence.
The crowd followed the sequence in anticipation and with great attention as a section of women echoed “Oh!” While a section of men, whispered, “A little boring!” But the rest of the youth and the elders applauded in unison at the dedication and maturity of the performance and exclaimed “Beautiful!”. A man sitting in the middle of the crowd beside his wife took their child on his lap and clapped on his behalf.
As the lights dimmed down on this act, the performer went backstage, and came back instantly, this time without adorning the creatures with any clothing and voiced,
“She and he both are five,
How would they both thrive?"
This time the vociferous crowd that had settled the night sky, till then in jubilation commanding and orchestrating the performance, suddenly fell silent. Each looked at each other in dismay, confusion and at times with surprise. As if to indicate that the question itself was absurd. Not that they could not decide, but they did not want to decide.
The creatures, taking advantage of the silence, jumped off the shoulders of the performer, laughed loudly, held each other’s hands, walked towards the crowd, then peeled and shared a banana, circled around the old man and woman, imitated to scare them and just sat away from the crowd on top of the pole turning the other way, freely.
She and he both are five,
How would they both thrive?
The crowd for a while lost focus on the creatures and discussed the daily amongst themselves. The performer asked, “Does anyone has anything to say!” The crowd did not respond as the whispers amongst them grew louder. The performed asked again, “Anyone?”, and this time crowd roared together, “No!” as a few in the crowd smiled looking at them on top of the pole remarked, “They are sitting so happily!”
As the crowd passed the judgement, the elderly people on stage, witnessing the disoriented and disinterested crowd said, “Let us move on!”.
The performer this time passed a smirk and called the creatures down.
The performer announced, “The last act of the night” as he now brought the two creatures wearing a similar dress on stage, took two chairs and asked the creatures to sit on them and said,
“She is sixty- five and he is seventy,
What shall be their living identity?”
A young boy from the crowd stood up quickly and announced, “What is living? Now they should just wait to die!”
Everyone in the crowd - the young women, the middle-aged man, the young girls, the youth and almost the entire crowd cracked up and rolled in their seats in laughter and clapped their hands. A few ganged up and voiced, “Die, die, die!” A few of the elders positioned in the front turned back and managed to giggle.
The creatures sitting on the chair fell off and remained still on the ground. They enacted what was prescribed. The entire town cheered in great enthusiasm, stood up and clapped thunderously as the curtains started to draw on the show. The infants, children, youth, middle-aged ones and even the elderly everyone joined in, looked at each other and smiled.
She is sixty- five and he is seventy,
What shall be their living identity?
There were two other people who also stood up – the elderly man and the woman on stage, but they did not cheer. They just looked at the crowd astonished - in both dismay and disappointment. But when they looked at each other, the disappointment grew even larger. Both held hands and trudged towards the performer. One folded its hand apologetically and the other patted his shoulder as if to accept defeat. As they stood on stage, the crowd below grouped in ages, discussed and complimented the act that was performed.
The performer bowed down to the crowd as the monkeys laughed and screeched pointing at everyone in the crowd. The crowd imitating them, laughed back while showering yet another round of applause.
As the crowd gathered to head back concluding the festival night, a few people walked up to congratulate the performer, as one prudently slipped in an enquiry, “You must be thirty? Not married yet?”. The elderly man and woman still standing, dropped their head.
The performer smiled looking at the intelligent creatures and responded, “Next time, perform better!”
Illustrations: Inspired and adapted from Shadow puppetry