Monday, February 23, 2009

Mental Preparation

I think I will do this before I go to teach next Monday. At least that will keep my blood pressure under control.

(Image copyright

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Fantasticks (Musical)

During my days in the industry, I undertook a marketing training where I learnt what "top-of-the-mind" awareness was. The usefulness of the concept was demonstrated beautifully by a small lady in a parka last evening.

We were standing in queue for Broadway Musical tickets at the "tkts" counter at Times Square. There was a strangely dressed man giving out pamphlets for "Chicago". There were glowing billboards and animated displays advertising "Lion King", "Shrek - the Musical", "Mama Mia", "Little Mermaid", "Mary Poppins" and "Phantom of the Opera". And there was this beaming friendly lady, standing beside the queue and offering help in a totally homely manner. With the manner of an over-enthusiastic helpful tourist, she told us about "The Fantasticks", the longest running musical in history. She told us that the story was kind of "Romeo and Juliet" but without anybody dying in the end, and she sang a song to tell us the tune, and said that there were only a few seats in the theatre with everybody getting equal view. As a result, when we found out that the usual favourites were either full or out of reach, we named the one that was at the top of our minds, thanks to the clever "homely" marketing.

And a homely affair it was. At first sight the Jerry Orbach theatre doesn't look much bigger than a large drawing room (although it is). The seats end right where the stage begins... it is not even a raised stage. It is as if a small area has been cleared at the centre of a large room for some performance. The ceiling was hardly nine feet high and full of visible spotlights and other equipment. To speak frankly, I was a little disappointed - especially since I had seen The Lion King before this.

But once the musical started, nothing else mattered. Each one of the eight actors was wonderful and so were the two musicians. The story is pretty simple: two neighbouring gentlemen trick their children to fall in love with each other by creating an imaginary feud and building a wall between their houses. Their idea was, since the children always disobey their parents, they would surely fall in love if they were forbidden to do so. The story goes on smoothly, with very few twists. There are minor obstacles in the way of a happy ending, of course, but they are cleared up very predictably. But the strength of this musical lies in its simplicity. If The Lion King is an example of how anything can be shown on stage with technology, The Fantasticks is the diametrically opposite example of how everything can be created in the viewers' minds without even a proper stage.

All of the actors were very powerful in their own way. However, Betsy Morgan as Louisa gave the most memorable performance. Her facial expressions matched every line of dialogue she spoke and her singing was flawless. Michael Nostrand as Mortimer was also amazing. Everyone worked in perfect synchronization, and occasionally even interacted with the first row of the audience. Sometimes the actors themselves also came out of the stage into the audience area.

The songs were good, especially "Try to remember" which has the kind of tune that keeps going round and round in your head. The narrator and the "mute" also gave very powerful performances to take the story forward.

The minuses: the story drags a bit towards the end of the play. I felt it does not have enough material for a two hour long performance. However, if it has run for 46 years then people must have been liking it. Also, the air conditioner in the theatre makes a lot of noise. This is a distraction which mars the viewing pleasure.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable musical - two hours well spent. And the best part is I came to know about this simple yet lovely play which can be enacted at a small school function or even by a family group. The only thing needed is acting talent.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Am I glad!

Oh boy! Am I glad that I didn't sue Lux Cozi owner Ashok Todi for stealing my photo and using it for his advertisement! The way things are unfolding, it would probably have been very injurious to my health if I did.

First Rizwanur Rehman, the man marrying his daughter Priyanka committed "suicide". Then the top police officers all over the state bent over backwards to rubbish any theory of murder. The judge who issued the arrest warrant for Mr. Todi  received a threatening letter. Mr. Todi and the other accused were released on bail, obviously. And now, the railway police officer investigating Rizwanur's death has committed "suicide" in an identical manner. All this is very natural, of course. Nothing to be suspicious about. Divine justice, I call it.

I find the area near the Dum Dum railway station a bit unnerving since the day I saw half a man lying on the railway tracks there. Now had I sued Mr. Todi (who is an honourable man) for using my photo as a hoarding, I might have to go near the Dum Dum railway station. I wouldn't have liked that at all - Dum Dum may have its good points, but Newark is the airport city I prefer.

So Mr. Todi, in case you are reading this, here is my unconditional apology for calling you a thief and a murderer. I have lots of photos on my FlickR album at your disposal, sir. Feel free to use them for your advertisements. Don't even consider paying for them, sir. The fact that I am able to stay alive in your kingdom is rewarding enough for me. Here's wishing you all the best; now that the nosey police officer has committed suicide, I hope you and your family can live in peace. All's well that ends well.

[Thanks to Loken Sir for bringing this news story to my notice.]

Sunday, February 08, 2009

A Sweet Discussion

When I was returning from New York City last evening via the PATH, two men and a woman boarded the train at 33rd Street. They were young and looked like Indians. The woman was dressed up like an american girl and there was nothing except her looks to suggest she was an Indian. Let's call her Ms. A. Let's call the men Mr. B and Mr. C.

A and B sat down opposite me and C sat down next to me on the train. The men started discussing the Australian Open and the girl put in a comment or two. I found A and B had American accents while C had an Indian accent. I was feeling drowsy, when I heard Mr. C say something like:

"Come to my apartment. I'll treat you to sundaes."

I was mildly surprised. The temperature had risen about ten degrees above zero during the day, but it was hardly a suitable weather for enjoying sundaes instead of hot coffee in the evening. However, A and B had heard C correctly. The conversation that followed was something like this:

B: "Sandesh? Oh, A loves sandesh."

A: "Yeah! I do."

B: "Did you bring them from home this time?"

C: "Yes. I brought them and kept in my fridge."

B: "Didn't you bring rosogollas? I like them sometimes."

C: "I like them too, but couldn't carry them in my luggage."

I was mildly amused and was smiling to myself looking in the other direction.

A: "Yeah, I like rosogollas, and also jilipis."

C: "Oh you do? Jilipis are very nice."

A: "And how do you say it... taal... taalmisri!"

C: "Yes yes!"

A: "Yeah. I love that a lot."

B: "You guys like a lot of mishti? I find they are too sweet for me usually."

C: "Well, not all sweets are that sweet. Have you heard the name kanchagolla?"

I felt like hitting him on the head and robbing his flat. What kind of decency was this, discussing all kinds of sweets in front of a hungry Bengali? 

A & B: "Yeah!"

C: "They are not that sweet."

As the train approached Newport, Mr. C got ready to leave. "Aren't any of you coming with me?" He sounded disappointed. The others declined. Ms. A was very hungry and needed to eat her dinner. Mr. B was with her I guess.

B: "We can go to Jackson Heights for lunch sometime. Maybe we can have some kachchi biryani."

A: "And paani puris."

C: "Sure!"

I wanted to say, "Will you take me to your apartment? I can eat all your sandesh if you want." However, I suspected he would not be willing to share his mishti with a total stranger. So I kept quiet.

C left at Newport and the other two at Exchange Place. I continued on my journey, hungrier than before. It was only six o'clock. There were still a few hours before dinner.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Saraswati Puja in New Jersey

I did not write a blog post on Durga Puja this year. Although I was very much a part of the Durga Puja celebrations in New Jersey with my cousins, I never felt that it was Durga Puja I was attending. A few nights of cultural programme perhaps, or a large social gathering of Bengalis resident in New Jersey. But not Durga Puja. With all due respect to the organizers of these Durga Pujas, I did not feel the familiar vibe that I always associated with Durga Puja. And this comes from a person who spent more pujas outside Bengal than inside. I did not want to write a blog post on the whole experience which was joyful to a certain extent, but not exactly up to my expectations.

Yesterday was Saraswati Puja for us Bengalis and I am surprised that my experience this time was really good. The feelings that I did not get from the big budget Durga Puja with big artists performing and sumptuous feasts everyday, I got them from the tiny home pujas this time, with the US-born Bengali children reciting the mantras giggling and the home prepared prasad of fruits and khichdi.

I do not approve of many things in the way the Bengali children here are growing up, despite the best efforts of their parents. However, when all of them lined up in neat little kurta-pajamas and performed the pushpanjali with torn fragments of yellow tulips, I actually remembered my childhood Saraswati Pujas and got that familiar feeling and enthusiasm which was so conspicuously absent in the Durga Puja.

I also enjoyed going from my cousin's house to the neighbour's house to attend another puja wearing only a kurta-pajama in the sub-zero temperature. Much of the feeling of Saraswati Puja (or Vasant Panchami as it is called in north India) is lost if one does not feel a little cold. Spending a day completely without studying felt good too, for a change. I only wish I could eat the cold gota-siddho the next day as well!