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The Night is Short

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The Shigmo festival comes to our village

bringing with it

thronging crowds.

Drums beat

men dance

bodies smeared with coloured powders.

But best of all are the plays.

There, by the temple of Bhavakadevi,

is the matov with the stage

where they enact the plays.

One year, three plays.

Different plays.

Social. Historical. Mythological.

Full of colour. Music.

First play

has ten roles

the second

fifteen.

And there are twenty characters in the third.

Roles multiply

but the actors remain the same.

One man plays two roles,

two men play three

and three men, between them, tackle five roles.

The parts are auctioned.

One role five rupees

five roles twenty five.

Ten rupees for the soldier

for the courtier, fifteen,

the temple functionary and the foreman

are worth twenty each.

The village headman, twenty five.

The Queen goes for thirty rupees

to play King you must pay fifty.

Duryodhana

Bald Phatu, Rama the lame,

Sonu, Shanu,

Giri with his buck teeth

all of them bid for the roles.

‘Take the money. Give me that part.’

There’s much activity in the hall by the temple

the school master supervises the rehearsals.

Patu and Thitu sing with gusto

the Master plays the harmonium

and the students, poor things, listen.

Sonu plays the part of Dharam

Ranu is ‘Harjun’

Patu and Shanu are courtiers.

Each man attends the rehearsals

and screams at the top of his voice

“Do not create unnecessary confusion …

do you understand?”

“Sambhaji khamosh! Stand there quietly”

“This is my vow….”

“Khabardaar!

No rest shall be mine

till you have been put to the sword …!”

The rehearsals are over, today is the big day.

The play starts at ten

but everyone comes by seven —

women … children… old crones …

some young …some lame …

even a few who are blind ….

The children create a ruckus.

One blares on a toy pipe, another wails

“I want one too.”

The women gossip.

“When did you come Vhani bai …?”

“How far gone is Ushnya now…?”

“Hasn’t Shali had a baby yet?”

From Sherkulya’s engagement

to Narbada’s morning sickness

from the state of the cat’s health

to the chicken’s welfare,

everything

is discussed in detail.

Then come the men on their bicycles,

having gorged on ambil,

puffing beedies or chewing paan.

Such a commotion outside the matov

someone sells roasted gram,

another sells savouries.

There are dice games and there’s gambling.

Three pice will get you four annas

if you win you’ll get ten annas

“put your money anywhere …you’re sure to win!”

Kyacchhh …… kaccchhh

Kyacchhh …kaccchhh

the soda vendor uncorks his bottles.

Through the chinks in the reed mat walls

inquisitive children peep at the actors back stage.

This one is Shivaji.

That one’s Tanaji.

And this fellow. He’s Balaji.

Who’s that woman?

That’s Jijai.

And this one?

Rajai.

Who’s that one, then?

That one is this one’s aai.

Khannn …khann …. Khanan …

Eleven’o’clock. The first bell.

Khannn….khan … khannannn …

Half past eleven. Second bell.

Finally, at a quarter to twelve the third bell rings

and the curtain begins to rise.

Marto, the bell metal vendor, comes on stage

as the sutradhar.

To get this honour he’s had to pay seventy five rupees,

five,

he borrowed from a neighbour.

“Marto looks so nice, doesn’t he, Ushnya?”

a common sort of voice.

“Yes” a soft voice echoes assent.

“Just let us listen to the play” a raucous voice barges in.

“Why do these people come here at all …?” another voice,

bored.

The sutradhar calls out to the heroine

“Oh my beloved! Where art thou?”

In an instant his beloved,

(cheeks covered with stubble

having shaved early that morning)

floats into view

“Did’st thou call, my Lord?”

The sutradhar opens his mouth to reply

when suddenly

a child wails

bored with the happenings on stage.

He stands there

and stares.

The heroine pulls out a handkerchief

and mops a stubble covered cheek.

Meanwhile (in the matov)

“Shut up, you wretched creature!”

A threat.

Another shriek.

Then a resounding smack

and (on stage) the prompter’s frenzied whisper

“… go on with the next lines …forgotten or what?”

And that’s the end of the sutradhar’s role.

Minutes tick past.

The heroine is changing into a courtier’s garb.

Then, the thick forest

with Radha and Krishna seated on the swing

slowly curls up

and disappears (the curtain rises, you see,)

and there, on stage, is Duryodhan’s palace.

Sonu, Marto, Mashno, Phondo,

bearded and be-whiskered

sit there, as Kings.

They sit like those men in the photographs.

‘Harjun’ delivers his speech

Shakuni admires his clothes.

Duryodhan twirls his moustache

as he casts a benevolent eye

over everything that has fallen to his lot.

Each man is delighted

what he had never hoped for even in his wildest dreams

all that is his, on stage, today.

Duryodhan rants and raves

the others reply

words Crash and Bounce,

Rumble and Resound

when in comes Gandhari, blindfolded,

her words slurring against each other

(poor thing, must have been shaken out of a deep sleep).

 “Isn’t that Dulgya’s husband, now?” someone asks

“Don’t think so” another replies.

Meanwhile

up on stage

Duryodhan bursts into song

as though he were fighting with someone.

The song ends

and Kali ambles on stage as Narada

“Narayan …Narayan” he goes.

and down in the matov

an old woman prostrates before him

convinced that God has appeared.

The first act ends.

In the matov there’s a ruckus all over again

children scream, men gossip, women fight.

“Can’t you sit straight?”

“Mother … she’s kicking me …”

“Are you blind or something?”

“Yes. What will you do?”

The same women, the same voices.

Outside

there’s a commotion yet again

soda bottles pop, the dice rattles

opinions are expressed.

“Marto was wonderful!”

“Shanu was terrific!’

“Ranu was no good at all.”

Three men. Three opinions.

Ten men. Fifteen opinions.

Khann …khan ….khannnnnnnn

The second act begins.

The children are asleep and dreaming by now,

half the women have begun to nod.

“Phulu, you must tell me the story tomorrow.”

“I will. You go to sleep.”

Up on stage

the actor who’s playing the heroine’s part

dissolves in tears

“I’m not married yet”  he sobs.

Down in the matov

a woman

with a daughter of marriageable age,

dabs at her eyes nodding in sympathy.

At that moment

a girl nudges her mother and says

“Doesn’t he look like Gulabi mavshi’s daughter?”

and the mother,

half asleep, says “Yes.”

An actor, clad in kingly robes,

garlands the heroine.

“Is she a real actress?”

a man in the audience, cap on head,

springs to his feet.

“Hey you, you with the cap! Sit down!”

a voice calls out.

“Quite excited he’s getting! That old man!”

an irreverent youngster comments.

The second act ends

so do the third, and the fourth ….

and now the fifth act begins …..

The soda vendors make their way home,

their pockets bulging.

The men around the gambling tables

slink away, empty handed.

“What is there to see in these plays?

We know what they’ll do”

one of those who has lost heavily at dice, grumbles.

“Do you think these fellows can act?”

another chimes in.

All the women in the matov are stepping

into the realm of Sleep

the children are well into Sleep’s second phase.

Bheem and Duryodhan trade blows

as turbaned old men

and callow youngsters

egg them on.

“Harder … more force!”

“Hit him …!”

“Bheema ….let fly your bow!”

“Duryodhana ….will you be humbled by this man?”

And somehow, by mistake,

Duryodhan lets fly a stinging blow

(perhaps Marto takes revenge

because Sonu hasn’t repaid a loan)

and Bheem is sprawled on the ground

with Duryodhan sitting on his stomach.

The play draws to a close

they begin to sing Vande Mataram on stage …

The men in the matov nod,

the women snore

the children

almost out of the third phase of sleep

are ready to awaken soon.

Some children shake their mothers awake

“Come on Avai, let’s go home.”

“Wait a bit. Let the play get over first …” she mumbles.

Elsewhere, some mothers shake their children awake

“Now get up Shobhana. The play is over.”

“Pick me up. Carry me home.”

“Wretched creature!”

The strains of Vande Mataram on the stage die down

the first cock begins to crow.

People trudge homewards

drowsily

cursing the actors

in the glimmering half light

as the scent of the night queen fills the air …

Translation of Konkani poem ‘Raat Thodi Savonga Chod’ by Aravind (Ana) Mambro.

All Images: Google 

Vidya Pai has translated 8 Konkani novels and many short stories for leading publishers like the Oxford University Press, Harper Perennial, Sahitya Akademi, National Book Trust, Katha, Konkani Language and Cultural Foundation, Mangalore, etc.

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