The East End of the Fort of Mongheer

Dear Departed

Recently, remembering the play I acted when I was in Class X back in 1984, I am reminded of so many lovely memories. As I was studying in Bihar for the first time, I had only one special qualification in our class of 40 students with just 3 girls (rather ladies now). It was that I could speak English better than most of the other students. In the English class, I was a sort of hero as Mr Mahto had a habit of starting the class by asking the meaning of an unusual word and then asking each student. Almost everyday, none could give the right answer except me. As I used to sit in the last row, by the time my turn would come, everyone would be standing in his or her seats. Then after I gave the answer, Mr Mahto would go to every student and hit his or her knuckles with his scale. It was turning out to be an embarrassment for me and I felt I would get isolated if this continued. So, one day, when the same drill was in progress, I gave the wrong answer. For some reason, Mr Mahto asked all of us to sit down and no one got the scale.

In our class, most of us were from ordinary families. The more intelligent students included Saumyabrata Mukherjee whose father worked in the Indian Railways as an officer; Shambhu Khandelia whose father was a very big lawyer; and Ms. Savneet Cheema whose father was an Indian Army officer. I was among the better off students as my father was a manager in Indian Tobacco Company Limited. Shambhu was a very sober person and much more mature than his age. He was also the most brilliant. Saumyabrata among us was the most ambitious. He was very brilliant and very enthusiastic. Savneet was like a film star for us as she was beautiful and tall and came from a rich family. I was the usual idiot as I was more interested in playing cricket and bunking classes as I did not find much interest in studies. I was always happy to scrape through.

Then, there was Mrs. Pereira, another English Teacher. At the time of the annual function, Mrs. Pereira was to stage an English skit. She had selected “Dear Departed”. Savneet was the obvious choice for the heroine role. Then, there were a few more characters put together whom I do not remember. Now, they needed a person to play the role of the dumb husband opposite Savneet. One day, I got called by Mrs. Pereira and was told that I would act as the dumb husband. After this meeting, I found Saumya very upset, as he wanted the role. I consulted Shambhu as I had the habit of being confused from my childhood. Shambhu told me that as my spoken English was better, I was considered for the role. After about 2 days, I found Saumya chirpy as usual. He told me that he had the lead role in the Hindi skit. So, the matter was settled.

We started rehearsals. Everyone knew his or her parts very well and I was the only struggler. However, Mrs. Periera found this useful as I was fitting into the dumb part perfectly. I did not have too many dialogues as Savneet was to say most of everything and I was to only give consent. During one of the rehearsals, we were practicing the part where Savneet was to make up and get ready for the settlement discussion. She did her part and turned around and asked me “How do I look?” (This was her dialogue). Out of reflex action, I winked at her and said “very nice” whereas I was supposed to say something quite different. Everyone burst out laughing and I was totally embarrassed. Anyway, they did not drop me from the play, as the final day was quite close.

On the day of the annual function, I was called into the dressing room. The make up man cried out in horror looking at me. I was to play the part of a British gentleman and I was very dark-complexioned. Anyway, he got down to his job and painted my face with as much make up material he had with him. Shambhu burst out laughing when he saw me. This made me more nervous. Our turn came and we started the play. Everything seemed to go okay when we came to the scene where we had to do something with the bureau. In my discomfort and nervousness, I totally messed up the scene. The audience had a good laugh and a serious play was turned to a comedy. The team was very upset. The situation was even worse after the Hindi play that was a huge hit and Saumya was very happy.

I had done something similar when I was in Upper KG (I did not study in Lower KG). I recited the poem “Cobbler, Cobbler, mend my shoes” and then in the end when I had to pay, the coin would not come out of the pocket and I would not end the recitation till I could give the coin to the cobbler.

Shambhu collected me and we headed to Munger from Jamalpur. We rode the trekker and reached Munger at about 10PM. Shambhu advised me to stay in his house as I was in no condition to travel alone with my entire make up. I slept to wake up next day and wash and go home riding my BSA SLR.

The Jamalpur Gymkhana as one enters the gates....
The Jamalpur Gymkhana as one enters the gates. This is the view as one drives down Gymkhana avenue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Play “Dear Departed”

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