All the world’s a stage
My Brush with the Stage
“All the world’s a stage, and all men and women merely players”
– William Shakespeare
I vividly recall that after the end of each inter house debate, declamation, quiz and such other competitions held in the Assembly Hall, there would be a few minutes of impromptu entertainment in the School. Demands for few songs by Rajkhowa and his band or a parody by Biswaraj sir or songs by accomplished boys would be made in unison. Rajkhowa sir (bless his soul) supported by I K Sinha sir, Utpal Sharma sir, Ashok Barua and others would render the latest English numbers like “Lemon tree” or “Strawberries, cherries” or “House with a bamboo door”. Mere appearance of Biswaraj sir was enough to make us laugh our guts out. He was outstanding as a standup comedian. Too bad, he did not take up a career in the entertainment industry. Amongst the hidden talent, I recollect the school captain SK Tripathy rendering a song from the Sunil Dutt and Nutan starred “Milan” and our school vice captain P K Nanda ( think it was “Tumne mujhe dekha, ho kar meherbaan).
I was launched on to the stage of SainBhu by Biswaraj sir and RR Mishra sir (hope my recollection is right) for a play written, directed and produced by the duo. It was about a few pre-adolescent boys who played together and got into fights, ultimately to come together (sounds familiar-OBA?). I was in the lead role and the play was titled “Hum Panchi Ek Daal Ke”, inspired by the title of a film of that generation.
The next opportunity was given by GC Rath (now retd Colonel), Bhabani Patnayak and Abhina Mohanty sirs in Krishna house. It was a murder mystery written, produced and directed by the trio. I was the villain in the lead role. The play was staged in dormitory number three. There were no slide projectors or overhead projectors then and some innovation had to be resorted to. A white screen was hung at the back of the stage and behind the screen, credits were flashed with the help of slides written on glass panes and shone through a powerful torch. In the climax of the play, I made a silly mistake. I was to trap the police detective and warn him that “his life was in my hand”, but instead told him that “my life was in his hand”. Any how, in the dramatic atmosphere prevailing not many in the audience noticed it.
When Krishna House was dissolved in 1969, I was assigned Mahanadi House. At Mahanadi House, we performed the “Merchant of Venice”, an English play, directed by Maj RL Gupta, the Head Master. My closest buddy, late Col BC Mohanta (he was later appointed as Captain of Mahanadi House) was in the lead role of Antonio, with Capt (Mariner) SS Mahapatra as Shyloc, self as Antonio’s friend Bassanio and DD Jena (brightest spark of 1973 batch) as Portia (Antonio’s sweetheart). The play was staged at the Assembly Hall for the entire school. Despite the old English dialogues of “Thee”, we received a lot of applause. Incidentally, all four of us of 1972 batch of Mahanadi House (self, B C Mohanta, Nikunja Mishra (Bada) and S S Mahapatra) were selected to join NDA, though S S Mahapatra joined T S Rajendra and made a name for himself as a Mariner.
Having tested early success, I joined the Music Club to try my hands at the musical instruments. It was a miserable failure. I realised soon that I did not have an iota of musical talent in me. But, being in the club gave me another chance to play the lead in a lyrical play titled “The Thirsty Crow” on the Annual Day function. The play was a huge success. But there was another fallback. I landed with a nickname from my batch mates, that has stuck with me till date.
By this time, a music teacher had been hired and the next year, he took charge of the entertainment programme on the Annual Day function. Self and few friends were part of the chorus for a song “Himadri Tunga Sringa Se”. We had practiced for many days and put up a good show. Till date I can recollect the first stanza of the song.
In later years, fresh talents had emerged. In the next Annual Day, Shri B B Acharya, our Oriya teacher wrote and directed a play on the Hindu-Muslim riots during pre -partition days. Friends Bidhan Sahoo and Nikunja Mishra (Chota) were the lead players. My role was limited to a bearded Muslim man, victim of the riot, entering the stage and speaking a few lines and collapsing on the stage. Both Bidhan and Nikunja acted well. Incidentally, Shri B B Acharya was a popular teacher who also played volley ball with the students during the games period. His pet question to a student who was found inattentive in class was “Bihari maal piyichuki?.
If you wanted to skip ragging, the NDA Dramatic Club was the right place to join. Not being briefed by school seniors about this, I totally avoided it and my acting talent lay dormant till we were passing out of IMA. On the day of the pipping ceremony, self and few friends staged a humorous play about academy life. It was about a student fooling his father to part with the money on pretext of having been married off in the academy by his course officer. Of course, his ruse was discovered in the end. It wasn’t an original script. The play was well received by the audience.
After commissioning, we were carrying out training at the Heavy Bridging Training Camp at Marvel, Mumbai. On the day of the camp fire, our Course Officer asked that an entertainment programme should be conducted for the benefit of the Faculty Commander. With in a short time, we managed to put up a good show. The highlight of the programme was a fashion show in battle fatigues (overalls or dungarees). It was riotous.
Much later in life, once during a social function in the regiment I was commanding, there was a request for me to sing a song. I obliged the audience with the song “Lakhon hai Nigahon mein” from the Hindi film “Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hun” starring the late Joy Mukherjee and Asha Parekh. After the song, my wife called me aside and advised me to have mercy on the public and restrict my singing to the confines of the bathroom only. In any case, having had firsthand experience of my singing talent, my troops never ever asked me for another song. What a disappointment!!
N P Padhi