I have always had a deep connection with Tamil, right from my school days. Having had Tamil as my second language, and with the indelible presence of my father, who read(s) Tamil voraciously, the interest in Tamil blossomed within me quite casually.
In my fifth standard, I was cast in my first-ever role in a Tamil Drama, as a part of my school’s annual day celebrations. Preparations and rehearsals lasted for two long months prior to the big day. I found it extremely difficult to memorize my lines. They were tough and long. But my teachers were supportive and encouraging.
They clocked in extra hours to make sure that I had my lines and acting persona in sync with the script. And the beauty of those extra hours was that I never felt stressed. The entire process of getting and learning the lines to learning how to act them out panned out in a comfortable and seamless fashion.
I was the protagonist in the drama. I was Manunidhi Cholan, a Chola king torn between his ideals of Dharma, and the love for his only son. I had to be perfect. In the first act, I had to be the King, majestic and upright, leaving all awestruck and striking fear in the minds of the criminals. In the next act, I had to portray the character that resembled that of a common man, as the king was in a shambolic state, terrified as to what to do. He had to decide between upholding the law and the ideals that he believed in, and his love for his only son. I had to show that transition in the King’s demeanour. That was crucial to the drama. I really had to be perfect. And, my teachers worked hard to see me do my role justice.
I had to show that transition in the King’s demeanour. That was crucial to the drama. I really had to be perfect.
I would be rendering a grave injustice to my father if I did not talk about his contribution in my quest to perfect the role. While my teachers helped me practice during school hours, the task of polishing my dialogue rendition fell to my father. He did that with great enthusiasm, and most importantly, with a great deal of patience. He played a colossal part in my transformation to Manunidhi Cholan.
We had to perform the drama at 7pm that day, and we had all assembled in school as early as 1pm. We had no rehearsals that day. We were just hanging out. Quite truly, we were one big family: teachers, support staff, and students. And I had a great deal of fun playing with my Harry Potter cards with a classmate of mine. And for quite a while, we had a blast hogging on the lunch another friend had brought.
At around 4:30pm, we started dressing up. And by 5:30 pm, we were all ready. We were positioned backstage as early as half past six, and I could see the nervousness in the faces of my classmates. I felt excited. It was time, finally.
We performed the drama to a sold out crowd that gave us a standing ovation as we wrapped up. It is one of the better moments of my school life. My teachers hugged me when I descended into the space for the audience, and I could see that I had done my role justice; I could see that I had justified their trust in me. My parents were extremely proud of me, especially since many teachers and members of the audience had gone on to congratulate them for my performance. That drama has accentuated my deep passion for Tamil. Ever since, I have acted in many dramas in school, and have always been an avid reader of Tamil literature.
I remember looking in awe at the inspired performances of my classmates. I remember taking strength from their performances, and believing in myself.
I will never forget that evening, all the way back, 12 years ago. I remember the audience, watching every move and catching onto every syllable of ours. I remember looking in awe at the inspired performances of my classmates. I remember taking strength from their performances, and believing in myself. I remember how I felt when we got a standing ovation. I remember looking at my classmates with elation, seeing that they felt equally thrilled and proud.
I remember the look on my teachers’ faces when they greeted me backstage, after the drama had ended. (One of my teachers was in tears with my performance. She was the teacher who convinced me to continue with Tamil as my second language post primary school. She had a niche place in my heart. Heartbreaking, it truly was, when she passed away 8 years ago.) I remember how strangers came up to us and congratulated us. I remember how proud my parents felt. I remember how happy I was.
We truly were a family then, right from the time we started practicing for the drama, through the many rehearsals, and right through the entire duration of the performance. That family got disbanded since. Each individual has gone on to seek something different, in different directions. But whenever I recall these times, I get the emboldening belief that in some dimension, we still are that same family.