When Rama was rushed to the ICU!

When Rama was rushed to the ICU!

The doors of the flat remained open because kids of all ages walked in and out at all hours. There was a permanent stack of clean stainless steel dishes with their lids, piled on a shelf by the dining table. Veena’s mother had long ago stopped trying to keep track of who had brought what food, and in which dish. Those who brought special food to share, dropped by a day or two later, to collect their dishes.

So naturally, all the festivals celebrated here were a hybrid –  a sort of ‘national integration’ in real life. Since the Ganguly family on the 2nd floor were from Calcutta, Veena’s mother’s Bomma Kolu included at least one image of Durga on each shelf of her Navratri display.

Since two families on the 3rd floor were from Gujarat, they got the kids to practise the steps for the dandiya. Since the Guptas, Mehras and Sharmas could rarely go to Delhi for Dusshera, Flat No 101 became the ‘stage’ where the kids put up home-made skits and sang songs about the Ramayana, day after day.

One year, Saif and his parents returned from their holiday in Orissa with souvenirs that included beautiful leather puppets of characters from the Ramayana. Ever since then, Munira Aunty dusted them off every September, so that the Garden Apartment kids could put up a shadow puppet play for Dasara.

Stage fright

Veena’s mother didn’t think it was a good idea, because the puppets were beautiful, and ought to have remained safe in Munira’s showcase, rather in the grubby hands of careless children. One year, what she feared the most, happened.

On the 9th day of Navratri, it was Veena and Probir’s chance to handle the puppets behind the sheet. All morning Veena had been grumbling about Probir getting too excited with his Ravana, and attacking her Rama too fiercely. “He gets so carried away, Ma…”
That evening when the shadow puppetry began in the 101 sitting room with the grown-ups seated on the carpet, Saif, who was the narrator, realised that his voice was getting drowned by the ‘puppeteers’ behind the curtain. So he spoke louder to block out Veena’s angry stage whisper, “Don’t push so hard, silly!” and Probir’s equally fierce “Bah! You’re such a sissy!”

Soon poor Saif was saying his lines louder and louder. And since he was reading from a script, he didn’t get to watch the audience. First the parents exchanged looks as the noises behind the bed sheet began to sound very ‘un-Ramayana-like’. Then they stopped watching the shadows of Rama and Ravana in battle, but began to follow the fainter shadows of another battle being fought in the background.

How was Veena to know that when she leaned across to pinch Probir, nice and haaaarrrrd, the light behind her projected her actions in 75mm onto the bed sheet facing the audience? Or when Probir pulled her hair, that action too appeared fainter but much, much bigger that Rama and Ravana’s shadows.

Soon the parents were rocking away in silent laughter. The aunties wiped tears from their eyes, and held their dupattas to their mouths to muffle their loud laughter.
At the climax, when Rama was supposed to ‘vanquish’ Ravana, Probir decided he didn’t want to be ‘the loser’. He shoved Veena so hard, she fell back, breaking not her own, but Rama’s leather arm, one half of which got detached from Rama and hug sadly on Ravana’s shadow!

Saif knew that he could no longer read from the script. He swiftly stepped back,  switched off the powerful back-light, and from behind the sheet, intoned in a deep voice, “Ladies and gentlemen, this episode of the Ramayana is to be continued tomorrow!”

The kids, who were expecting an immediate lecture from the adults, instead got a round of loud applause. It was only Veena’s mother who kept shaking her head sadly and saying, “I’m disappointed in you children…such lovely puppets, now ruined.”

But by the next day, 101’s sitting room was packed! None of the adults wanted to miss this sequel. The kids had got their act together. Veena and Probir, now the best of friends, had sat with Saif and changed the script. They made a cut-out of an ambulance, that rushes Rama to an ‘ICU’, where his hand gets re-attached! And only then does he return to defeat Ravana.

Everybody thought it a jolly good idea. Which is how the Garden Apartment version of the Ramlila always includes an ambulance, with a cut-out of Hanuman in the driver’s seat!