Taking to the stage

I used to be known as an introvert in my school days. The very thought of looking any teacher in the face would fill me with dread. Till Class 10, anonymity became my benchmark, literally, as I would quietly stay put in a back bench, away from the teacher’s gimlet eyes. But there were times when my luck ran out as the teacher sussed my intentions out. He would carpet bomb me with questions from a particular chapter which would catch me completely off guard. Reduced to a bundle of nerves, I would keep tripping and stumbling over words.

Like the fictional character, Walter Mitty, the perennial day dreamer, who imagined himself being a wartime pilot, or a dreaded killer, I would imagine myself being a successful actor. As I hovered between the real and the imaginary world, I could barely realise that to become an actor or a theatre artist, one had to shed one’s diffidence. In school, many opportunities came my way to act in a play, but I chickened out at the idea of acting in front of a crowd. Meanwhile, the actor in me was getting restless.

When I entered college life, my shyness followed me like a shadow. My parents, concerned about my escapist streak, would repeatedly encourage me to take part in theatre during the Durga Puja. As luck would have it, one fine morning, a friend of mine, who was directing a Bengali play for the Puja, came to my house. He told me that, since he was running short of one person, he wanted me to do that role. As was my wont, the offer gave me a convenient peg to hang my excuses on. He kept insisting that I could play this comic role better than anybody else. All I needed to do was to overcome my stage fright. Before I could say anything further, he asked me to reach his home for the rehearsals.

When I went to the rehearsals, I realised I had been chosen to play the main character. Nervous and at my wit’s end, I fluffed my lines halfway through, and went blank at some places when the rehearsals were full throttle. My friend hardly looked tense or angry. Rather, he advised me to clear the cobwebs from my head. Despite working hard on my role, there was always this worry in the back of my mind that I might louse up things on stage. After all, I was going to perform in front of a huge crowd at the pandal.

Finally, the much awaited day arrived. As the curtain went up, I entered the stage for the first time in my life. It was the “awful daring of a moment’s surrender.’’ In the next one hour, I carried the whole drama on my shoulders without a smidgen of trepidation or diffidence. The loud round of applause the entire team received from the crowd at the end of the play said it all. I was convinced that my stage appearance has changed the trajectory of my life. My shyness was now like a torn shirt which I would never wear.

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