“There is nothing much to think about this.” said Sudhakaran Nair, the local committee member.
“Exactly”, my neighbor cum best friend Kunjali second Nair’s opinion by tightening the brown floral print lungi once more.
“Ego is a big issue”, Nair continued, “and if you keep holding to it by adhering to your century old principles, then think about Vishalam and kids. Then, it is not a sin or a mistake. So many people, even your friends, do so.“
The blue bucket, kept next to the front door, was filled with rainwater. Though the water was slightly muddy, it reflected Vishalam’s face. The expression on her face is very familiar. Regret filled expression; regret for marrying me. She stood there silently and she has been protesting the struggles and poverty with her silence. When her best friends are happy in their lives and have many reasons to be happy in life, Vishalam’s protest is her freedom of expression.
“So where did we stop?” Nair spat to the courtyard. The murukaan* together his saliva flowed sailed on the rain water towards the jack fruit tree.
“Yes, so receive this amount as an advance amount. There is Rs.5000 in the packet. Kunjali, give the packet to him”, Nair ordered. Kunjali opened his faded black ‘broker‘ bag and took out a packet covered with the national daily Malayala Manorama.
I looked at Vishalam and she went inside the house murmuring. Kunjali looked at me and reassured me by tightly closing his eyes and squeezing my wrists.
Kunjali and the local committee people dispersed as they had better works to do before the sun sets. House flies flew from one tea glass to the other licking the left over drops of tea. I went inside the house and Vishalam appeared from nowhere. My hands automatically stretched towards her and she grabbed the packet from me. Her eyes tinkled with relief and she locked the money in the wooden cupboard. Though I wanted to tell her that such things make me sad and hurt, I didn’t tell her a word.
Couple of months back when such an offer came,she forced me to accept it. The offer was from a gang of tourists. Nair came running to my house that day and danced in joy. He showed two thousand rupee notes and explained everything that had happened at the Mallika tea shop an hour ago. The gang wants to watch Kathakali live.”Put on the costume and be ready by 9PM”, Nair told me before leaving the house after stuffing those two thousand rupee notes in my shirt’s pocket.
Kunjappu rushed inside the house with a big excited and smiling face.”Aashane**, let’s do this solo performance every time we get an opportunity. I will get the makeup colors and costumes.”He hurriedly went out of the room and then returned in the same speed and said, “Everybody is doing this nowadays. There is no shame in it. Please don’t think too much. You take bath; I will be back in some time.”Thus I performed in front of a crowd which consisted of ten curious tourists and twenty-five yawning and half asleep local fellows. It became a routine to perform in front of non enthusiastic crowds. Later it become worse that people don’t want to watch the performance as it is boring and long. So, I went to become a hay-man dressed in the Kathakali costume and strangers stood next to me and clicked pictures. One day evening, while coming back from the temple, I heard people sitting at the tea shop commenting about me-“All he needs to do is to dress up and stand in front of the house, and he gets money. At least, the hard work he had put in for learning the art didn’t go waste. Easiest of all the jobs.”, and they laughed at me. My skin rotted out of embarrassment and the reality struck me like a lightening. Years of effort and learning invested in the art wasn’t to be embarrassed this way and I decided not to continue this business.Vishalam bursted like a volcano when I told her my decision but I wasn’t ready to give up on my decision.
The current offer is to perform in a movie and everybody is so excited about it. The van came around 10 next morning and a group of local crowd was inside it. Kunjappu help me to get inside the van and I sat on the stool kept aside exclusively for me. We reached the shooting spot and met the production controller. He told us to wait and we waited for so long that the group started dispersing slowly. Kunjali asked me whether I want him to stay back but I said no.
The dance master came to me and introduced himself and the assistant director informed me that the shot is ready.
”You just have to stand there next to Kuthuvilikakku and do some mudras”, said the director.
”Mudras?”, I asked him in confusion.
”Yes, you can do couple of mudras; we have the hero and heroine dancing and we want you to dance in the background. The arrangements are done to look like a Kathakali performance is happening while the hero and heroine romance and dance.”
I said nothing and even before I moved my hands, the dance master told the director, “How about he dancing for the same steps which the couple are dancing? It will be a variety element.”
And I ended up dancing few folk steps in a Kathakali costume. After the shot, the production controller gave me a couple of five hundred rupee notes and thanked me.
It was dark and there was no way to know what time it was but I didn’t stop walking. When I turned back, I saw the production controller running towards me.
“I forgot to tell you. There is a scene where the hero tries out the Kathakali costume. It is a small comedy scene. If you can rent us your costume, please let Nair know.”
I stood silently.
“Don’t worry, we will pay you a big amount.”, he said winking at me.
I turned back and walked and the remixed version of Santhana Gopalam was playing in full volume behind me.
*Pan Masala,** Teacher