Writer's Blog

Transient Thoughts

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Rangashankara refresher

(A long post: it might be ok to skip a paragraph here and there.) 

At a loose end, since the wife and kid are out of town, I decided to go to Rangashankara. The play playing was Anabhigna Shakuntala, seemed interesting enough - though I didn't know what it meant, still don't, and would have preferred if it was the original Abhignana Shanakuntala.

Caught the bus for a change. A company part-sponsored Volvo pass has made the bus an attractive option. Especially if the destination is a few minutes off the ring road. Though I did wonder on the bus if I would get there on time. That's when past memories of Rangashankara came rushing back: the one or two shows missed by minutes thanks to traffic and bad planning; the one show just made on time, when someone was waiting and I had the tickets; stalking potential ticket sellers the few times when I landed up and found the show sold-out; first time hearing the shrill bell calling time as the lights dimmed; of celebrity spotting; and of course all of the times driving an hour or so, at least, through soul crunching, foot numbing traffic, short-cuts, detours and all.

As it happened, I got there well in time. As I turned the corner I realized once more that this was the only place in Bangalore I could call a favourite haunt. There seems to be a halo around the place. Entered, bought ticket, a Kannada play with no big shots, tickets were easy. Though I was glad to see from the posters that this was a full fledged production, a big cast, and full costumes, not one of your minimalistic productions, not that I have anything against the latter, except that I have found that full productions very rarely go wrong (except the one time I went to see Romeo and Juliet in Kannada, and found not a young pair, but an ugly Romeo and a paunchy Juliet) whereas the minimalistic stuff? 50-50 at best.

Got a tea. Took a look around. A great collage on the wall with wood and thermocol, showing the state of the nation: a hungry serpent devouring the aam admi, a bunch of people playing musical "chair", a crow with a Gandhi cap next to a pot, with Ruppee coins next to him, three large armless men, with black strips across the eyes, our impotent institutions? Some posters of workshops for kids. Rangashankara flourishes. 

In the corner, photographs of action from the Globe Theatre in London - the only must see place for me, from the balcony seat ofcourse, if I ever get to visit the UK. Reproductions of ads from the late 19th century for Shakespeare festivals. Rangashankara recently had a Shakespeare festival, which I unfortunately missed. Quotes from Shakespeare put up everywhere. 


I was lost in a Shakespeare reverie, what plays to read, and how best to get to London, when the play began, and I realized, hey, wait, this is about our own master playright, Kalidasa. I was reminded of arguments against calling Kalidasa the Shakespeare of India, saying ofcourse, Kalidasa lived earlier. But that was a wrong argument I thought. For wasn't Shakespeare much more prolific, and isn't his legacy to the living language much larger?

At that moment, the Nati entered, and in the true Kalidasa tradition, a simple invocation to Lord Shiva began, thrilling me from head to toe, even though I only partly understood it, jerking me out of all reveries quite into the play. This was the invocation (googled from a few remembered words, it seems a popular one):

Aangikam Bhuvanam Yasya,
Vachikam Sarvavangmayam,
Aaharyam Chandra Taraadi. 
Tam Namaha Satvikam Shivam

(He, Whose limbs are the world,
He, Whose songs and poetry are the essence of all language,
He, Whose costume is the moon and the stars,
We bow to Him, the Pure, Shivam)

The sense of oneness with nature, and all creation, indeed the whole universe, a humble acknowledgement of the divine hand working through him, the spirituality that pervades Kalidasa's work, is not to be found in Shakespeare's, and perhaps distinguishes the former from the latter.

Here's my favourite invocation from Kalidasa, from Raghuvamsam:

May the Parents of the Universe,
Parvati and the Supreme Lord,
Eternally conjoined as Word and Meaning,
Grant Fittest Utterance to my Thoughts.


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