ct Day 96. When a birthday girl makes a request, you gotta keep it. Even if a little late. Just like wishes are always heartfelt, however late. So is this birthday gift (if I may call it so) for my friend. Belated happy birthday Malini, yeh post aap ki farmaish pe…
Sometimes a sari becomes synonymous with a particular day, an occasion. This black Mangalgiri, a gift from Matu Dolon Sen, is for me synonymous with Naseeruddin Shah. Yes, THE Naseeruddin Shah. He had always been Ma Jhulan Bhattacharya ‘s favourite actor, just like Smita Patil was her favourite actress. I grew up hearing her rave about the two. The first, and perhaps only, time I saw a Naseeruddin Shah film on the big screen was when I was barely 10. Well, it would be a bit of an untruth to say I saw the film. My parents, aunts and uncles had planned to watch the film and took me and my cousin along because they couldn’t leave us alone. The two of us, of course, were not in the least interested in the slow and dark images appearing on the screen. We were most interested in running around on the landing in front of our seats (much to the annoyance of everyone, I can well imagine). As I grew up, I saw many more of his films, liked many of them, disliked a few. But my favourite to this day remains Masoom. And then I spent a year in Mumbai. I had heard of his plays, his charisma on stage, and waited for a chance to watch one. Right on our college campus was an auditorium and every Friday evening we would see elegantly dressed men and women streaming in. Tickets were expensive, given our means as students, but I did watch a play or two with my friends. Unfortunately, they were immensely forgettable. A short walk from my Matu’s place, where I went every weekend, was Prithvi Theatre. And I went there too many a time with her, sometimes for the Irish coffee or a nibble at the cafe or sometimes a play. But the man himself (and his plays) always eluded me. Then came my final few weeks in maximum city. I was staying with my Mami Madhumoni Dasgupta ‘s friend Lulu Auntie Suzanne Kurien, who had so generously and lovingly opened her home for me. She was the most gracious host and I fondly remember those warm evenings of sharing dinner in front of the TV. Sometimes it would be bowls of hot manchow soup that she had brought for us on the way home from work and sometimes it would be begun pora made by me that she loved. It is Lulu Auntie who gave me my most memorable theatre experience of Mumbai. The play I am not Bajirao starring a certain Boman Irani who few knew at that time. The show at NCPA was as memorable as the walk to the bus stand, when Lulu Auntie’s slipper snapped. After some running around we managed to hail a taxi, replaying in our minds the wonderful play we had just watched on the ride home. It was much much later, only last year in fact, that I finally had the opportunity to watch Naseeruddin Shah lord over the stage. The moment I knew the play was coming to town I checked the calendar and as luck would have it, it turned out to be my day off work. Tickets were arranged for, thanks to kind colleagues at work, and we were all set for Dday. It was a special play, a special occasion, so it deserved a special sari. Out came my new black Mangalgiri that I had received some time ago. The play itself, or the experience of watching Naseeruddin Shah, is indescribable. All I can say is that day my mother’s favourite actor became my favourite too. From the short introduction to Ismat Chughtai (there were actually three short plays, each based on a short story by Chughtai) to his sharp but witty rebuke when a mobile phone rang out in the middle of his performance to his effortless switching of persona from the apparently coy but wordly wise Lajjo to the sympathetic and later uncaring Mirza, every moment, every nuance left the audience mesmerised. When the cast took a bow, all one could do is stand up and applaud. As I draped the sari last evening, I could see myself settling down into my seat in the hall, adjusting the folds of the sari, waiting with bated breath for the curtain to rise and then being transported into the world of Chhui Mui, Mughal Bachha and, finally, Gharwali. As I evened out the pleats, I did a silent salute in my mind. Naseer Saab, gustakhi maaf, yeh aapke naam

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