31 December 2009

Until the sky falls down on me…

‘Heck, I’m late, I’m late, I’m late! She’s going to kill me!’

‘Your fault really! Spent all your time writing when you could’ve easily gotten ready and left on time!’

‘Damn Shakespeare! Never going to write on him again! Oooh, I’m so horribly late!’

‘You might be late Anubhav Pradhan, but if you don’t do as I say, I will definitely kill you…’

‘Unhn? Oh! Er, right…is it…as in…’


‘This is weird…weirdest thing ever…’

‘Just do it!’

‘Oh, alright!’


I’ll be your dream, I’ll be your wish, I’ll be your fantasy…

‘I’m not going to come for the farewell.’

I looked up from my disembowelled breastbone. ‘Why?’

‘I’m not. There’s nothing left to come back to. What’ll I do there?’

‘Well, I’m sure people will miss your presence…I mean, what would the English Department farewell be without you, the star attraction, the Queen?’

‘Hai na? Ha-ha!’ and a beaming smile lit her face.

‘Aur kya! Arre, I’m sure they’ll give you that Ms. Farewell thing or something- if they do continue it that is…’

‘Hunha! No, but seriously, I don’t think I’ll come…’

‘But why?’

‘I told you na! There’s nothing left…I mean, what do you remember on your Farewell, hunh?’

‘Um, I don’t know really…this’ll be my first-and hopefully last-college Farewell so I really have no idea…’

‘Arre, I mean, you know…’

‘Yeah, okay, so what was I remembering on my school Farewell…I don’t quite remember remembering anything particular…’

‘Anubhav, see, what I mean is that you remember all the good days, all your friends, the time you spent with them…but I, I have lost all my friends…’

‘Have you?’

‘Yeah, I have…’

‘Doesn’t seem like it…what about, say, J- ?’

‘Well yes, I have her, but, you know, when you think of friends you think of those you had in the beginning…I’ve lost all of them…’

‘Hmm…perhaps…but not all! You have, well, you still have KP for instance!’

‘Haha! Yeah, I have him…but he’d talk with a corpse as well.’


‘No, I really mean it when I say it! Look at S! We were such good friends! She used to say I’m her best friend! And now…’

‘Er, and now?’

‘Well, now, she thinks I bitch about her! Me, of all people, bitch about her! It’s so unfair!’

‘Um, you don’t?’

‘Of course I don’t! I mean, I’ve said things about my not liking her going into politics but then I’ve never ever bitched about her!’

‘Well, but still, you do have B!’

‘Oh, B, yes, but she and I came close later…in second year that is.’

‘Second or not, she’s still a friend!’

‘Yeah, she is, but with her I don’t have the sort of petty quarrels I have with S…she’s more like…’

‘What you’d call mature?’

‘Yeah! She is! But C…’

‘What about her?’

‘Well, she’s dumb in a way. You know, doesn’t know when and where to say what. She just starts blabbering with anybody without realising the consequences!’

‘Ah yes, a common human flaw…I too know one who suffers from this…’

‘Hai na? I mean, one day she’ll bitterly complain about you to other people and then come back the next day having happily forgotten yesterday!’

‘Very irresponsible…yet, I can’t help pointing out that not all is lost- you still have R!’

‘Oh yes, of course, C! He’s such a darling! He was even ready to marry me!’

‘Oh, I’m sure lots of people are…’

‘Haan, haan…’

‘M, I’m sure, wouldn’t mind at all…’

‘Hunh! He’s so hypocritical! He sends private messages to people on Facebook but publicly he behaves as if nothing’s happened!’

‘Good heavens! You can’t expect the poor boy to be moping around! People like him don’t readily betray their emotions in public!’

‘Yeah, yeah, whatever! At least H says whatever he has to directly! The kind of things he says and jokes about…brr! He just doesn’t know where to draw the line! You know what he messaged me the other day? Something like I’m imagining you in the dark…my Amazonian!’

‘Uhm, well, you know, his sense of humour is a bit out of the ordinary, but still, I feel he just does it to tease people.’

‘Bloody tease! You know what people call him? They say he’s a thirki!’

‘Well, I’ll be dashed! That’s just not right!’

‘Haan, haan, tum toh ussi ki side loge! In sab ki side loge mere siwa!’

‘Nahi bhai, aisi koi baat nahi hai!’

‘Aur kya? Uss A ke mamle mein bhi tumne meri side nahi li!’

‘Well, uski koi khas galti toh mujhe samajh…’

‘Fucking ...! Hunh! I know him inside out! I know he knows he’s at fault! With others I can still reconcile, but with him…with him there’s just too much negativism, too much bitterness now…it’s over with him.’

Over. The walk was over too. Too soon. Never realised it was so near. So near…so far. So very far. Going, going, farther off. There’s something about empty corridors and deserted lawns which chills you to the bone, inspires that sense of transition, opens your eyes to the illusion of permanence. There she was, popular, desired, yet walking down an empty road into a friendless hostel: hurt, her old ties broken, alone…

How lucky is it to not be alone! We come, we wait, we go, alone, but to have one on the way, that is to not be alone…

I’ll be your hope, I’ll be your love, be everything that you need…

‘So, this guy isn’t that sort; you know, the sort who would do gyming and exercise and sweat out…’

‘He’s sort of non-violent?’

‘Yeah, you can say that, but…yeah, you can…so, anyway, he’s not a violence person; but he’s still the sort who has lots of interaction with women, who interacts with women a lot…’

‘A ladies man?’

‘Yes, you can say that…you can, but…so, anyway, so after that other guy, who’s the beating sort, after he punches this guy and this guy gets up and says ‘below average moron’ and then this other guy is about to punch this guy again when the other guy, the my boy, comes and pulls this guy on the ground and saves this guy from that guy and they all get into that guy’s car and there’s that guy’s girl, who’s actually not that guy’s girl but my boy’s girl but that guy’s just thinking this girl to be my girl in that typical chauvinist way, she’s also in the car, and all three, this guy and my boy and my girl, they all drive away.’

‘Ah…how very interesting…so, what is it called?’

‘In the Land of Women.’

Women. Where is that woman when she’s really needed? Why can’t she be around? If only she could be, if only…

I’ll love you more with every breath truly, madly, deeply do…

‘No, we are not going on the roof!’

‘Chalo na!’

‘Listen, I’m not at all in the mood to walk across this parapet onto the blasted roof! No! Just sit here quietly!’

‘Chalo na please!’

‘Argh! How difficult is it to understand! I want peace; I’m not in the mood for adventure, certainly not for breaking my neck!’

‘Accha theek hai. Sorry. Mein disturb kar rahi hoon. Ab mein chup rahungi.’

‘Good! Hamesha chapar-chapar karne ki zaroorat nahi hoti hai! Shant rehna bhi sheekho!’


‘Oh well! Theek hai, sorry! Bol bhai, bol! Jo bolna hai bol!’

‘Chat pe kab chalenge phir?’

Phir kab chalenge? Kabhi nahi shayad. Jaane hi toh waale hain, jayenge kahan? Aur jaake toh bilkul nahi jaa payenge…chat pe, sabse upar; alag, akele, ek saath…

‘There’s something clawing my insides. I can’t bear the thought of you sad…I love you and I’m…I’m here darling…Always, with you…’

I wanna stand with you on a mountain,
I wanna bathe with you on the sea,
I wanna lay like this forever…
Until the sky falls down on me.

24 December 2009

Before Shakespeare: The forgotten playwrights of Elizabethan England

Think of Elizabethan England and immediately Shakespeare comes to the mind. Nay, think as much as of English Literature and Shakespeare looms large, an interminable specter of bardic grandiloquence. To the lay man Shakespeare is synonymous with English Literature, with all its ancient and sublime grandeur, with that very essence of Englishness which makes it a class apart, in a niche well above the others. Five centuries after his death Shakespeare continues to inspire and provoke alike, all in a manner which is typically him, typically Shakespeare. The Bard lives on…

To the perdition, however, of others. For with all our emphasis on Shakespeare we forget to take into account his contemporaries, more so his predecessors who laid the foundations of Elizabethan theatre and made it possible for a genius like him to make all the world his stage. The general impression, even amongst Literature students, seems to be of a bearded Shakespeare standing aloft a high pedestal with a fallen Marlowe on one side, a foxy Jonson on the other and a philosophic Bacon somewhere in the controversial background. This is all that is commonly taken as the range and expanse of Elizabethan theatre so that probing the average DU Literature student for more would yield disappointing results.

Students are not to blame in this though. The syllabus is constructed in such a fashion as to reinforce this overwhelming centrality of Shakespeare. At the undergraduate level the English Renaissance is only a part of a much larger structure covering some two hundred years of English Literature from Chaucer onwards. It is meant essentially to impart generals, to give learners a very broad idea of the evolution of the English tongue and the socio-political circumstances which made Elizabethan theatre possible. One hears vaguely, for instance, of Gorboduc, of the ingenious Burbage, of the Master of Revels and Court diktats but that is all: everything else remains shrouded in that characteristic bogginess which so typifies general attitude to Shakespeare- a beacon of brilliance out of impenetrable darkness…

Current classroom pedagogy only reinforces this misconception. It is forced, of course, to follow constrains dictated by exigencies of syllabus and examinations but then, perhaps by way of habit, it also naturalises these into general truths. The impression which comes across thus further entrenches Shakespeare as the only Elizabethan dramatist of count.

One may argue that at this level students are supposed to engage with texts on their own, to explore conscientiously the various strands of background handed unto them by professors. Indeed, one may do so, for the pivotal aspect of higher education is self-study- but then while arguing so one must also take into consideration the lamentable infrastructure available to students in this University. Libraries are mostly tailor made to aid tutoring and address concerns issuing out of prescribed texts; the bigger ones usually broaden their range without including exhaustive matter on this so-called background. The Ramjas College Library, for instance, has a shelf and a half of Shakespeare and related criticism but only three books dealing with his contemporaries. Of these, only one has entire full length plays, and those too of mostly his Jacobean successors- the other two are histories of drama wherein are dedicated compact chapters to the early pioneers of Elizabethan theatre. Faced with this inadequacy, one cannot but be disappointed.

Of course, one may expect this disappointment to be ameliorated at the postgraduate level but alas, by all indications there seems only further disappointment in store. Once again, the syllabus is structured to assert Shakespeare’s centrality: a compulsory paper covers four of his plays while Jonson, Middleton and the like are clubbed together under the broad rubric of an optional course. After imparting generals and introducing students to the genres at the undergraduate level, the University of Delhi persists in delaying specialisation by extending the same logic to post-graduation as well.

This is in no way to deny Shakespeare’s significance: no, instead it is to call for change, for a reworking of the syllabus which would holistically take in account the tradition which leads up to-and in some ways culminates with-Shakespeare. That there are no holy cows is by now well established: we need therefore, not as much as to de-sanctify Shakespeare as to move beyond that stage, to broaden our outlook-and thus to change the processes by which it’s generated-by bringing greater flexibility and choice in the way Elizabethan drama-and by extension Literature in English-is taught and thought of. And even though we need not necessarily go the way Poona University has and make Shakespeare optional, we need to acknowledge that our current zeal for Shakespeare makes us gloss over those who made him possible.

It’s a classic case of marginalisation within the mainstream, by the mainstream, of the mainstream. We need to go beyond and look back. To make available infrastructure and provide options. To see what came before.

Before Shakespeare.