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At times Akshay wondered as to why his mom continued to stay with the demon that his father was. But, he could never muster the courage to ask her.
“Mai Samay Hu” (I am the Time); the husky baritone reverberated through the cream coloured walls of Akshay’s cramped apartment. His eyes were glued to the television screen and he was hooked. Watching B.R. Chopra’s larger than life rendition of the epic had become Akshay’s favourite pass time these days. He was all of eighteen and he had till now never bothered to delve into the mystical lanes of Hindu mythology.
Then, some days ago, as he was loitering through the towering but decrepit corridors of his college, his eyes inadvertently fell on the notice board. There in big bold letters was written – “A stage depiction of Mahabharata will be done during the college annual fest. Auditions for the various parts begin from tomorrow.”
Akshay peered at the notice board already yearning to audition for a part. He had never acted before and he was an introvert of sorts who was happier merging in the crowds rather than standing out with all eyes steering through him. But, since the time he entered college, he came across myriads of people, who were uninhibited, confident and unapologetic about their true selves. This made Akshay retrospect and he felt he should come out of the shell that he had built around himself. The play looked like a godsend opportunity to him to push his boundaries.
On the day of the audition, he was so nervous that he shivered even though the auditorium was as hot as embers and the one AC that worked did not seem to do its job quite right. Akshay had read up a bit about Mahabharata before the audition and he hoped to get the part of either Arjuna or Yudhishtira as both were strong male characters as well as the most celebrated ones.
But, Akshay was gob smacked when he was handed over a script which read ‘Draupadi’ in big bold letters. He looked at the paper for a few minutes questioningly and the College Cultural Committee head figured out what puzzled him. He then told Akshay that since theirs was an all boys’ college, female parts were to be enacted by the boys. They did not have much choice.
Here was Akshay dreaming about playing a muscular and feisty Royal and now he had to play a demure queen. He had almost little knowledge of the character of ‘Draupadi’. He just knew she was the one with five husbands.
Still, he read her lines, trying to sound as feminine as possible. As he was good at mimicking people, he could easily speak like a woman. His short stature and slim frame too acted as a catalyst as he could pass off as a woman convincingly.
He was surprised when he got the part and he got all excited and charged up. What if he was going to portray a female character, what was important was that this was the first time he would be on the stage, facing a crowd.
Since then Akshay became fixated on Mahabharata and Draupadi became his muse. As he read about Draupadi, he was intrigued by the layers in her character and he realized she was a pivotal character in the most celebrated Hindu epic. She was more than just the woman who had five husbands.
Akshay had not yet mentioned about his selection in the college play to his parents. He did not feel the need to tell anything to his father. His father had always been the black spot in his life. As far as he could remember, he had seen his father drunk and unemployed, forever tormenting his mother and creating havoc in their lives. Akshay could not stand the sight of alcohol. He had accompanied his friends many a times to weekend getaways wherein everyone drank away to glory and made merry. But, Akshay would not touch alcohol. He somehow deemed it to be the root cause of his dysfunctional family.
His mother Krishna was a quiet victim who had grown accustomed to the agonies wrought by his father. She worked as a receptionist in a posh hotel. It paid her well and kept their lives going. She was a strong woman who had taken the challenges life had thrown in her stride and made sure that Akshay got the best education.
Akshay was very close to his mother. They had been there for each other through the most distressing moments. At times Akshay wondered as to why his mom continued to stay with the demon that his father was. But, he could never muster the courage to ask her. May be that was what our culture taught women, to carry the weight of their husbands on their shoulders even if it led them towards their own grave, he would wonder.
Meanwhile, the practice for the play had begun in full swing. Researching about his role became the focal point of Akshay’s life. He became obsessed with the character of Draupadi. Right from her birth through the sacrificial fire, to her matrimony to five Pandavas, to being put at stake in a bet and disrobed of her dignity, everything seemed intriguing about her. She was no ordinary woman and what amazed him was the fact that during those times when women had no voice of their own Draupadi came out as a fiery and opinionated woman constantly seeking justice for the wrongs done to her.
Akshay was no longer inhibited in playing this part. In fact, he felt alive whenever he played her. As soon as he got on stage, it was as if he was another person. His college mates too were spell bound by his performance during the practice sessions and he reveled in the adulations and looked forward to the D- day longingly.
He had been living the character of Draupadi since last ten days. He had never kept any secrets from his mom, in fact she was his confidant and the dark menacing shadow of his father and her husband had brought them together in a way only the two of them could understand.
But somehow he had restrained from telling her about the part. May be he was apprehensive as to how she would react to him playing a woman. He waited with bated breath as to how his mom would take this information. But, her reaction took him by surprise.
“Wow, Akshay, this is great news. Congratulations! When were you going tell your mom? And Draupadi’s character is one of my favourite characters from Mahabharata. I also used to act in various plays during my college days. But, I did not know my shy little child is fond of the stage too”.
Akshay was pleasantly surprised at his mom’s enthusiasm. He could see her lost in a reverie of sorts. He at once knew she must be reminiscing the good old days of her life when she was not the wife of an alcoholic and abusive husband and when life was beautiful.
“Mom, I have kept the invitation card on the table. I want you to be there to watch me perform”, Akshay said excitedly.
Before Krishna could respond, there was a loud thud on the front door. Both of them ran towards the door hurriedly. Kamlesh, his father stood there with two other men and all three of them appeared disheveled and disoriented.
His father grabbed his mom by her hand and pushed her towards the wall. The two men who had accompanied him looked at his mom lecherously from top to bottom as her sari slid in the scuffle.
Akshay felt nauseated. He moved forward clenching his fist. But, Krishna, his mom held his hand and looked at him pleadingly. He was rendered helpless. He helped his mom stand up and shot a glaring look at his father and the two men who were still eyeing his mother lustfully.
“He has started bringing promiscuous men to our house now. I cannot stand this mom. Why do you stop me always? I would have thrashed those bastards”, Akshay cried vehemently while his mom looked at him with a faraway look in her eyes.
The next few days were emotionally tumultuous for Akshay. He couldn’t sleep properly and when he did he saw images that were vivid and strange. He saw the image of Draupadi being disrobed and then all of a sudden, instead of Draupadi he saw his mother’s face. Then both the images conjoined. Draupadi became his mother Krishna who stood amidst the crowd being disrobed of her dignity. He even saw his father standing at a corner laughing uproariously. He woke up with a start and beads of sweat trickled down his forehead. What was happening to him?
Finally, the D-day arrived. Akshay struggled to keep his sanity intact so as to do justice to the role.
The stage was set. Everyone wished each other. “Break a leg Akshay”, his friends chanted. There was already a buzz in the college as to how well he played the part and so there was a lot of anticipation.
The play began. Everything went on smoothly. The crowd cheered on. The costumes were magnificent and the sets were grand. Finally, it was time for the most important scene of the play. It was the scene that Akshay found the most challenging. It was the famous ‘Cheer Haran’ or ‘disrobing’ scene of Draupadi.
As Akshay stood centre stage he suddenly caught a glimpse of his mother. She beamed at him but even from a distance it was difficult to miss the bruise near her lip. Akshay felt something in his stomach. It was as if a knot had been formed in the pit of his stomach making him dizzy.
As a fellow actor marched forward to undertake the act of disrobing Draupadi, Akshay held of his hand and stopped him.
“I refuse to be at the receiving end of your abuses. I refuse to be bereft of my dignity. I do not need the help of any God to come to my rescue and save me from the wrath of this patriarchal society. I am Draupadi but I am also Krishna and I can be any woman whose soul is trampled and is forever put on a pedestal. I am expected to be selfless but I cannot be the sacrificial lamb while you are drunk on arrogance. I cannot be bogged down by the dogmas laid down by this hypocritical society. Henceforth, I will become my own saviour”.
An eerie silence pervaded through the auditorium. Akshay stood still. He knew he had messed up. But, he feels relived. It was as if those words stumbled out on their own through the labyrinths of his heart.
Just then, someone claps. Akshay glances towards the crowd and he is overwhelmed with emotions when he sees that it is his mother who is standing with her head held high clapping away, oblivious to her surroundings. Soon a thunderous applause follows. Akshay is stunned. Instantly he knows, deep down, that he has done justice to the role and unwittingly he became the voice of not just Draupadi but the voice of his mother and of every woman who has within her the power to be her own saviour.
Image source: YouTube
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