I woke up at 8 that day since it was a Saturday and a school holiday. As was my habit, I headed straight for the balcony, ignoring my Mum’s pleas to first brush my teeth and finish my morning ablutions. There was a huge truck parked underneath and the workers were removing wooden planks and big bamboo poles from it. My eyes rounded and I shrieked in excitement “so at last it is time for the stage to be built”. I ran to my Mum, my words spilling out, making me incoherent. But Mum understood, smiled and calmed me down, asking me to finish my milk and breakfast so I could go out to see the whole process of the stage being erected.
From time to time we invite readers to contribute. This article is by Havovi Govadia.
Every year before the summer set in, our club organized a concert in March. It was a joint effort by many people both young and not so young, and fun for all who were organizing, participating as well as watching! Those were the days when TV had not made inroads into our lives and neither was there an onslaught of internet and ‘smart’ appliances. Circus, stage shows, play performances, movies were the popular forms of entertainment. The annual concert was the focal point of our club and we put up a variety entertainment program comprising of plays, dances, songs, and gymnastics.
The planning as such would be done throughout the year with the elders keeping in mind some new songs they heard on the radio or keeping a track of dance steps which had become a vogue abroad and which could be used for our concert. Homi uncle would take up a topical subject and start writing a play, changing, rewriting, adding, and chopping till he was completely satisfied. Many were glad to be involved in it, either writing, directing or choreographing or simply taking part in whatever they fancied. The children too were very enthusiastic to be a part of the dances, gymnastics or little kiddy skits.
This was popularly known as MN concert since a stage was set up between our two buildings Blocks M and N. The truck that I had spied in the morning was the one bringing raw material that was used to set it up. Under the guidance of Mr. Rusi Daruwala, carpenters, masons and other sundry workmen would get busy sawing, hammering and getting the stage up from scratch, in time for the concert. It would take about 3 to 4 days to get the stage ready with curtains, side screens, and different props for the plays etc. The electricians would then get busy putting up mikes and special lights for the stage.
This was exciting for the children since the “under construction” and unfinished stage was the perfect setting to play games like ‘catch catch’ and
‘hide and seek’. In spite of warnings from grown ups to be careful we would all run around, going up and down the stage, rolling on the dirty
wooden floor, taking somersaults or doing frog leaps. My Mum said we looked like little leaping monkeys from our house on the second floor. The dark space under the stage was both scary and thrilling, where we would hide from parents calling us home for dinner or crawl and play imaginary games of goblins and fairies and super beings. Since we were warned not to show off our dances or skits before the concert day, we would do the dance from last year’s concert, remembering the steps perfectly. Our parents had a tough time getting us back home for dinner since we did not seem to have enough of playing there. This lasted till the stage was fully ready for the D-day. Then after the concert was over we would all be back to our monkey tricks till the whole stage was dismantled. We felt sad when everything was cleared and the truck hauled away the planks and bamboos.
The concert was held on the 20th. March. The practices for the dances and plays would start a month in advance. Rehearsals were fun too as the dances, plays and other items would start taking shape slowly but surely. Besides, this was a time when we could get away from our school home work early. There was a lot of activity and energy with various practices going on at the same time. Bursts of laughter could be heard ever so often and the whole atmosphere was full of bonhomie and happiness.
The concert was free and all were welcome. But there were loyal sponsors and donors who would give generously year after year, so that youngsters were encouraged to perform and the show would be enjoyed by all. Rows and rows of chairs and benches would be arranged in front of the stage in the morning. Spectators would come not only from our Colony but from all over Bombay. People would start pouring in from 6.30 so as to reserve good seats in the front. As was the practice the first 3 to 4 rows were reserved for VIPs, the chief guest and other office bearers, sponsors and well wishers. People who had their homes in M and N blocks would watch from the comforts of their homes, sitting on their balconies with ‘marghi na farcha and Parsi pegs’ for company. Relatives and friends were invited to witness and enjoy the show and there was an air of festivity all around, since this was an unofficial celebration of the ‘Spring Equinox’ or ‘Jamshedi Nowroz’.
Behind the scene, activities were no less frenetic. The air was charged up with excitement and nervous energy. The make up and change of costumes
were done in the 2 ground floor flats of block ‘M’. One flat was reserved for the women and one for men. Lists of the programs in their order of performance were stuck in both the houses so the participants would know when their turn would come to be on the stage.
One would see women in colorful attire, depending on the dances that were to be done. Some years they were fisher folk, or in Maharashtrian 9 yard saris if they were doing lavni, or in ghaghra choli if they were doing garbas or dandias or in North Indian style draped saris if they were doing dances from North East of India or Punjabi lungis if bhangras were to be performed. Some were in Western gowns or gypsy skirts. Men were also in ethnic outfits looking funny and alien to us. There were 3 to 4 makeup men who were busy putting stage make up for all the participants. False hairs were used for making buns and flowers put in the hair. For us the highlight of the evening was putting on make up. We kept on looking at ourselves in the big mirrors put up temporarily for the evening. We would all keep our lips in a perpetual ‘O’ and talk without getting our lips together for fear of fudging the lipstick. There were volunteers helping all the participants with wearing the costumes, doing up the hair and other sundry little tasks.
One corner of the stage was reserved for musicians. They would start tuning their tabla, harmonium, guitars and other musical instruments. The children were herded and kept together so that no one would go missing.
When at last on the dot of 8, the curtain went up, there were whistles and catcalls. The show every year would start with a welcome song and end with the National Anthem. The whole evening turned magical as the stage came alive with various dances not only from all over India but even the world. Most Parsis living in Bombay, who had never ventured beyond Surat in Gujarat, got to see the culture of different States of India or something from across the seven seas. Dances would be performed by groups of men and women, the dancers leaping and swirling in perfect rhythm, the colorful costumes lending an air of drama and exoticism. Sometimes a solo performance by an especially talented dancer would keep the spectators
spellbound. Performances by children were given extra ovation to encourage them to perform better and better. When an encore was called, the performers would go back on stage and perform the item again much to
the delight of the audience.
There were plays and skits with typical Parsi droll humor. The main play was especially long with dramatic dialogues, many songs sung by the actors themselves and funny outlandish situations which kept everyone in splits. When the stage was being prepared for some item, there were little gags and jokes in front of the curtain. Talented singers were given a platform to show their God given gift.
Another routine item which was very popular and looked forward to by all was the performance of ‘Pyramids’. Pyramids were done together by men, women and children, who were smartly attired in tight long black pants and white banyans or shirts. Different formations were done with women and children climbing on top of men in the bottom row and over each other to form pyramids. The pyramids took various shapes. There were horses pulling a chariot, or blooming flowers or flying birds, all done by the gymnasts. When especially a difficult formation was done there would be a collective gasp and spontaneous applause from the audience.
There was a short interval to give a break to the spectators and participants. Back stage there was tea, Dukes cold drinks and snacks for the participants. We would all gorge on the samosas and bhajias and have cold drinks to our heart’s content. This was also the time when women with cooking talents and hard work got to sell typical Parsi snacks, tea or coffee and cold drinks to the audience, and make a little pocket money in the bargain.
Three hours of fun and frolic would at last come to an end. Well wishers and admirers would come and congratulate us for putting up such a good show. The appreciation made us proud and gave us an impetus to do better and better every year. In fact Daulat and Bomi Dotiwalla from our Club earned a name for themselves on the Parsi Natak Stage. For years they were an integral part of Adi Marzban’s plays, entertaining people year after year with their sterling performances and flawless acting. In recent years, Bomi also started acting in famous Bollywood movies.
Till I married and moved to another city, I participated in our annual concerts every year. The concerts slowly shifted to posh air-conditioned theatres. The month of March was replaced by May which was the summer vacation for students, since the children were too preoccupied with their ever growing burden of studies and impending exams in March, to participate.
Participation in the annual MN concert from a very young age instilled in me a love for theatre, a sense of discipline, stage presence and team work from a very young age. I have known first hand the hard work and sweat that goes in to put up any show.
Havovi Govadia is a 65 years old grandmother of 3. She was born and brought up in Mumbai and shifted to Nagpur after marriage. Was working in Empress Mills (first Tata enterprise) till it shut shop in 1987. Working now as an independent financial adivsor.
Havovi wrote scripts, directed and staged plays and various tableaux on Zarthushtra, Parsi fashions through the ages etc. mostly to acquaint the younger generation of their rich heritage from 1980 till about 2000 for the Nagpur Parsi Gymkhana.
Havovi started writing these little anecdotal stories at the insistence of her niece who is now 10 years old and living in USA and who was keen to know about her grand parents whom she would never meet and those days when “you and my Dad were little”.