Before I went near the ticket counter and pushed my ‘first day of school’ like words out of my mouth to ask for the ticket, there were fishes and other creatures humanity had not discovered flowing up and down the conveyor belt of my body.
I take a deep breath, find a place to sit near Rangasthala which was not sunbathed, sit down to collect my thoughts and plan my next move. The play would start in 15 minutes and I calculated the distance between my sitting spot and the entrance of this place I’d never been to. If I read my book to spend the 15 minutes, that would cut down my walk time to the entrance, thus making me late and getting lesser time to survey the sitting area to find a good seat. So I sat next to the two ladies whispering words into the air expecting them to find their way into each other’s ears, making sure my walk to the entrance time is not missed like a bus stop.
The walk time is good enough and I enter yet another unfamiliar performance place. There was a curtain covering the entrance to the seats which made me wonder why were we being led into the backstage, because of course, I thought only backstages in theatres are supposed to be hidden, like mom’s struggles shrouded behind our clean house. I managed to find a good watching spot. As I sat down, I thought, why didn’t I ask Sagnik to take a picture of the place for me. It would have been so much easier to decide the walk time to entrance and good spot decisions could be made, hence saving my precious 15 minute reading time. But it hit me again that this thought had never hit me now or before. Somehow, it was like I craved the feeling of my lungs getting rationed breaths of air, waiting eagerly at the entrance because I did not know what new change of sitting designs awaited me inside, the millisecond long good-seat hunt. Till then, I’d forgotten the panic-joy of discovering art spaces.
Being a loner and obeying your body’s commands when it turns up the gravity knob of your bed is probably the worst combination evolution could give a mediocre person like me. So whenever my dad went to Rangashankara for plays, NLSIU for conferences, to Chowdaiah Memorial Hall for Sitar Concerts, I would pull my already pulled up bedsheet over my head. I found excuses, like I had not bathed yet, what good manners is it to go out like a galeej hudgi (dirty girl), mom would say. Dad would go on his own, disappointed that his only daughter was not interested in the same things he was. He felt the loss his father felt when he decided to drop his atheism bomb in the god heirloom house.
So when I was 19 and less stupid than before (much less stupid), I saw my first play at Atta Galata. It was probably not the rite passage my dad would have wished for me, but he did not complain. The play was Ladies Compartment. I entered the Atta Galata’s upstairs room that did not feel like a punch in the gut of disapproval by my head for not spending my Sunday in bed. Being the person I was, I sat down in the corner seat in the last but one row, sceptical about the warm, cosy place that it was. Welcoming spaces are so rare that, like Anjali who thinks that Rahul wanted to “dukaan hadap” (occupy her shop), I allowed the experience to seep in bit by bit, drops of white liquid falling from a pipette and turning happy pink in my test tube heart. The play was over and my sooraj hua maddham moment had arrived.
Atta Galata became the place I went to frequently because of the silence I enjoyed with the books there and because of their really nice chai options. Once I even performed there and although it is not something that will feature in my great novel as an important moment, the yellow warmth of its walls and having book audience along with human audience made the process less anxious than usual.
(End of Part 1)