The Common Man...
'Whatever I make must be affordable to the common man'. These were the words of Chinni Krishnan who is acknowledged as the father of the sachet revolution in India.
But who is the common man?
Is he the fictitious character which R.K.Laxman, created that has decorated the Times of India's front page even before I was born. A man in his puckered dhoti and a checked shirt, ever silent yet always representative of the hopes, aspirations, troubles, achievements, strengths, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies of an average India.
Is he is part of the crowd that is today most sought after by the various engines of India's burgeoning economy. A 'Nano' car for the common man, 'Nokia' mobiles for the common man, 'Simputer', the computer for the common man, 'Air Deccan', the common man's airline, etc.
Is he the one who is today fading in the shadows of anonymity? Someone lost in this world of consumerism and inflation, hunted down by the agents of power and prestige, someone who puts his sweat for his daily bread, but whose voice is on the fringe of decision making circles.
Replies to this simple question: 'Who is the common man?' was the theme of an interactive play, 'The Common Man' by the Yours Truly team, that I attended a couple of days back at Rangashankara in Bangalore.
Before we proceed, let me tell you, why this was tagged as 'interactive' play. The plot of the story would flow for a while and then it stops abruptly in the midway. Then the audience is asked to weave its viewpoints to end the chronicle. Opinions are then stitched to end the story, after which the actors complete the ending as given to them by the audience.
The story begins with the birth of a common man who like you and me attends school, becomes ardent follower of rote learning, graduates from an average college, gets married, has a regular job and runs his family. All these stages are 'ordinary' and 'common' and is very much a part of the social fabric that surrounds us.
In this portrayal of daily life and its interconnected parts, the artists on stage covered a kaleidoscope of events. To cite a few are, the regular neighborhood scuffle, the incursion of mobiles into each and every aspect of our lives, traffic jams, etc. The common man works in an office among some smart IIT-IIM educated graduates, believes hard work and honesty as priceless tenets only to realize one day that the 'Best Employee' award is feted to someone always kowtowing to his boss. The common man witnesses tinges of city life and wants to be a part of that lifestyle, but his meagre pay cheque throttles his inclinations. The dark irrational blocks of thought acting like a corrosive fluid had destroyed the way he looked at life. As time passes by his only child grows, is educated and is married to a girl who prefers to be a part of the apartment culture, rather than stay with the in-laws. In short, the plot swinging between modernity and bumpkinly, clouds the common man in state of confusion.
For someone, part of a herd known for slow cooking and eating leisurely, adjusting to a microwave cookware generation is not easy. The common man finds himself in such a situation.
Life goes on and everything moves on the regular way.
One day while returning from work, something unusual and not so ordinary thing happens. Out of the blues, the common man is selected to appear on a TV interview.
Stop stop stop, the story comes to a sudden halt here.
Will the common man come on TV interview? If yes, why? Will he speak and if he does, what will he speak? This opened a train a questions, the answers to which was provided by a potpourri of views by the audience. An air of camaraderie engulfed the auditorium as comments bounced back and forth among the viewers before tailoring the final plot. It took about twenty minutes to complete this exercise.
The performers were sitting on the stage and listening as the plot was knit. They were back again on action without any rehearsal once the final plot was decided.
The common man attends the TV interview and for the first time in the play, he opens his mouth and speaks out. He becomes a small time celebrity, an unheralded change from his previous image of a common man. Few in the society look upto him with awe, offer him regards and perfunctory politeness. The common man is still the same person as he was, before metamorphosis to his new stature to his family members and a handful of his relatives. Some things change for good, some remain as it was before, but the inner soul of the common man is still in turmoil, in civil war. One fine day, he breaks free from the monotony of life and ventures into a secluded place where he can find peace. Shaky but much better perched, the common man starts writing his autobiography highlighting the traumas, the annoyances, the triumphs, the frictions, etc. A dozen different scenarios all fleshed out in considerable detail.
Then there is a brief silence. The common man cries like a child and says, 'time goes fast and yet it is so dull here and all he wants is to be the same common man and lead his life the common way'.
The play ends.
All these scenes were played on stage with the effective usage of light and gestures, without any props. The only accessories that were used were a few colored dupattas and a bunch of umbrellas. The performers on stage made good use of tingling umbrellas which when used in a bunch symbolized the vexations that crossed the common man’s mind.
The sudden appearance of the common man in a TV interview was a symbolic representation of reality programming that has put the viewers at the heart of a transformation. A transformation that is allowing a few to attain the 'megastar' status, leaving rest others as small time celebrities who are tickled for a short while to be left on their own to struggle later. This was my interpretation.
The team was definitely enjoying while performing on stage as the audience could feel the flow of energy and enthusiasm in a palpable wave. The play was written by Nandini Rao and was directed by Nandini Rao and Ranji. The young cast consisted of Amit Agarwal, Amrutha Varshini, Gaurav Gupta, Karan Shah, Nandini Rao, Pramod Nair, Radhika Mehra, and Sumit Acharya. There was no elaborate settings for music too. The background music was through a keyboard played by Vasanth Mohanraj and few songs that garnished the play were by Gaurav Hombali.
All in all a good performance that all the more made an otherwise ordinary evening stuck in traffic, more pleasant.
The play got over by 9PM and I went out for dinner with Ni at a restaurant. Once we were done with the dinner, it suddenly started raining cats and dogs. Ni left for home and I was all alone on a lonely road, rain pouring down with ferocity. I was walking with a meek umbrella above my head, which couldn't bear the pitter-patter of the rain drops as they danced violently over the thin membrane. An unappeasable wonder which believes that there is a speck of a general truth in every thing, suddenly traversed my mind. I guess it was right, as like the common man with an umbrella, I was another common man, with my umbrella fighting with low visibility to reach home soon.
There was a comment that temporal, an editor at Desicritics had left. I liked the fluidity of his expression.
i do not know when i became a 'man'
yes i was young once and watched
other boys playing cricket in the street
i was naked and had runny nose
and other boys would not include me
but i did clap and leapt with joy
whenever someone hit a six
sometime later the other boys would
hit on my sister, but me? no such luck
i was scraping the floor at iron smith's
and while helping the old geezer
i would still applaud when the boys
returned from school and played cricket
occasionally my boss would curse and
twist my ears red for applauding a six
in some years they became babus
and i learned to mold iron in clay
and got married and had my own kids
one after another with runny noses
and bloated stomachs and they also
applauded from sidelines wistfully
i am forty now and look sixty plus
and i still do not know
when i became a 'man'
this is my common story
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