This quiet shy colleague of ours happened to share our table at lunch, and we get to know that during his 6 years in the US, he used to act in Yakshagaana plays as part of the Kannada Sangha, and has travelled to other cities to perform with the troupe! He had this interesting story to tell about the man who started the troupe, who was totally into this art form and directed all those performances, while holding a full-time job.
When he was a small boy growing up in Sringeri in South Kanara, he used to go sit with the workers who came to de-husk the areca nut (betel nut) seeds at their farm. Now de-husking is a very monotonous, repetitive job that can become quite tedious when done throughout the day, for days together. To not succumb to this boredom, the workers used to switch on the radio, and listen to Yakshagaana songs all day. Yakshagaana performances used to be the major form of entertainment for people in those areas those days, they really connected to the songs, they could visualize the plays and the elaborate costumes in their heads, and talk about it.
And so the grandiose tales from our epics were played out in the little boy’s head, every emotion layered out with care, dwelled upon, lived, enjoyed, and suffered to its deepest core – and so was born a life-long fascination for mythology, drama and music.
When he grew up he learned Yakshagaana and took it all the way to the US with him, and spread it far and wide along with his troupe - and now that he is back here, he puts up performances in the city.
This strange mix of areca nuts and abhinaya somehow totally appealed to me. :) I can so imagine the diffused sunlight coming in through the areca nut grove of thin parallel lines, the open space where the nuts are de-husked, the red-tiled house behind, the small black radio, the occasional sharing of comments within the circle, the enjoyment, the thread of the known running through them all, a bond like no other.
And it reminded me of Kathakali and all those epic mythological characters and the passage in Arundhati Roy's 'The God of Small Things' about "the Great Stories where you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t, and yet you want to know again…..."
Returning to the Great Stories, an earlier post.
*Photo from Google Images