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THE SEASON OF SOUL

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” A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March ” !

Gupta claps involuntarily almost, his eyes transfixed on the student up there in the make-shift stage, uttering the lines of Brutus. Sanjay takes in the compliments with a wide green, ” Thank you Sir! ” 

Gupta puts his glasses back on. His face is trying to have a control of the joy he felt inside, watching these young folks giving their everything to make Shakespeare’s ‘ Julius Caesar ‘ come to life. He looks up to the stage, ” Good job people, but we keep going. From the top. Bodhisatya, let’s begin with Caesar’s lines. “

All of this is happening. Or happened, in what seems like a different lifetime. Their rehearsal for the Shakespeare adaptation, Sanjay playing a brilliant Brutus, Prof. Gupta’s excited direction of the drama – as he sits here, Bodhisatya can almost see all of it playing in front of his eyes. The summer afternoon has a sombre silence which is at times being teared apart by a crow nearby. The sun is soft now, the rays touching his face and moving on – like life always does. As he sits there looking at the huge ground where the make-shift stage was made, Bodhisatya keeps thinking how much life has changed from one summer to another. 

Gupta’s a young man, very close to the age of the students he was teaching here. Coming for their Master’s course, these folks have a hunger inside them. Hunger of doing something new, creating something. Like a summer morning, these people are bright and beaming, like there’s always something new to tell, like a world which can be changed right about now. This is why he loved teaching literature. Gupta met Bodhisatya the first day of his student’s M. A. life.

Sitting in this college all these years later, looking at the empty area where the stage was made, Bodhisatya could remember clearly his first day here, in this incredible place he lovingly calls his Hogwarts. It was an April morning, when his Uber was speeding through the Kolkata roads. Bodhisatya was looking through the window, his headphone whispering a Coldplay song. The city has woken up slowly and was casually walking into the summer morning. He loved summer. Everything looked so bright to him – like a Van Gogh painting come to life, dripping in colours and nostalgia. The trees standing tall over this highrise city know a thing or two about tale-tell hearts. The bustling roads, the full bloom of flowers he could see from inside the car… Summer reminded him about hope. Of new beginnings. His days at this college began with sunshine, and it stayed so always. That day, that first day, he had his first ever class here with Prof. Gupta. Gupta mesmerized him. 

Teaching ‘Othelo’ with a swashbuckling bravado, Gupta made the Elizabethan Era come alive in the class. Bodhisatya could see the haunting Iago or the iconic Desdemona just there, in front of his eyes. Gupta breathed in Shakespeare. Over the years, he became one of their favourites. That was the thing about Gupta, he was approachable. A philosopher who was equally a friend. There formed a little group around him, of a few students who’d meet him after the classes was over, talking about everything in and beyond the syllabus. Conversations would go off to every direction. Bodhisatya, Sanjay and a few others were in this group.

Bodhisatya sighs looking at the empty area. They were there when the stage was being set. Summer festivities were a common yearly thing here. Every summer, the campus was lit up with stunning seasonal decorations. The stage would be built in the centre of this enormous place. Students and teachers would stage plays, poetry performances, dance-dramas. Shakespeare was the theme, last year. Gupta had a tremendous passion for theatre, he even acted in a number of plays in professional theatre before. The day-to-day lived reality of busy schedule have led him away from that passion. When Sanjay, Bodhisatya and the others asked him whether he’d be up for directing a play of The Bard, it felt to him a surprising sunshine after numerous cloudy days.

And so began the rehearsals. Gupta chose ‘ Julius Caesar ‘ to stage. It’s a play close to his heart. He told the students how the play – written 400 years ago – still seems contemporary in its portrayal of human follies, of the multidimensional sides of socio-political realities. Bodhisatya was taken in by the play. They all were. This summer has brought them an opportunity to fall in love with Shakespeare all over again.

Gupta was thrilled. He looked at these people and their energy was infectious. This is what he missed for a long time. Gupta told Bodhisatya during a conversation one day in-between the rehearsals – how theatre has a life-force of its own. Something that gives him motivation in life. And that was missing for a while now, till they’ve come up to him with a proposal to stage a play. Bodhisatya nodded. Prof. Gupta was not only a great teacher to them, but was like a big brother to them also. Bodhisatya smiled and said, ” It’s summer, Sir! Everything’s magic in this season. ” 

And that summer was magic. The huge auditorium would be filled up with props and costumes. Bodhisatya and others read their lines as Gupta stood tall, watching over these young minds trying to create something new from something eternal. The summer breeze will mingle with their laughter and dialogue reading. Gupta would take care of these youngsters, taking painstaking measures to make them understand the depth lying beneath the lines they were uttering. He’d love when they would act out a scene brilliantly, and would get angry when they’d fail to capture a scene’s essence after the hundredth time of going over it. The make-shift stage was built up, and they were allowed to rehearse onstage one day. Sanjay was brilliant as Brutus, and Gupta found himself clapping almost involuntarily. The rehearsals would go on with full energy, with Gupta buying lichis and mangoes for Bodhisatya and the others every day. “There’s no essence of summer without these fruits”, Gupta would laugh, ” and as Bodhisatya said, it’s the season of magic. I’m trying to capture the complete magic of it.”

The Kolkata summer always knows a thing or two about storms. A Sunlit day suddenly turned upside down by roaring thunder. It was one of these storms that had locked the rehearsing group and Gupta in the campus one day. There’s no way they could leave till the nature calms down. Gupta sat there, silent. It’s been three students now, who have walked away from the play. They didn’t really want to, but one way or another some responsibilities came up managing which and the rehearsal both was not possible. Each farewell was tough for the students, and for Gupta. He could see in their eyes the pain this young people felt walking away from a dream they shared. Gupta knew this feeling all to well. This is how he felt himself walking away from his theatre days, leaving behind a passion. 

The rain hit the pavements with tremendous force, Gupta could hear it. Sanjay broke the silence among them, ” Well, Sir? Can’t we manage something? I mean, am a hundred percent in. Maybe not a full-scale adaptation, but a single act maybe. We can enact the play partially if we don’t have enough actors now…”

Gupta looked up and smiled, ” I like the passion in you, kiddo. Believe me, I am with you. I want to stage the play, even in parts. But – “

Gupta looked at Bodhisatya, who sighed and completed Gupta’s sentence – ” But we don’t have enough people. And the festival is so close, it’s impossible to prepare new actors now…”

The room fell silent. The raindrops are all over the glass windows. Gupta looked at Bodhisatya and sighed, ” Why does it feel like we’re mourning something which isn’t even dead?”

All this happened a year ago. Bodhisatya looked on at the empty area and sighed. They withdrew their names from the festivities last year. Life has moved on. Another summer has lit up the city. Bodhisatya has passed out of the college, completing his Master’s. Gupta got a transfer and has shifted to Bandra. Bodhisatya has lost touch with most of the other people who were involved in the play. Coming to the college today to meet the proffessors led him down the memory lane. 

Bodhisatya sighed. Preparations would start soon here to build a stage for this year’s festivities…

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