I have always loved acting. It went beyond my radio plays in Akashvani. There was a time when we were staying in Malad and were members of a Bengali club called “Udayan”. In that particular year, it was decided by the club members to present a full-fledged Bangla play on stage. This was for the oncoming Durga Puja in Bajaj hall. Our director was a senior member of the club and assigned us our respective roles. I was given the role next to the heroine’s role, which was crucial to the story of the play.
Now, I had never acted in any Bengali play in my life and that too on stage. It was a challenge but I was game for it. This notwithstanding my busy daily routine. The problem was, in the evening there was no one to take care of the kids, as Gautam returned late from work. I did rehearsals every evening in the club premises, after returning from work at college, finishing cooking and other work in the house. Things went on well, till Gautam had to go out of station for a few days with office work.
One evening leaving the children to give each other company, I left for the club, a few kilometres away from our house. I got a rickshaw after a while and told him “Chincholi”, as I sat inside. Now there was some confusion, as he thought I meant “Chincholi Bandar” which is a road, leading straight to the seashore. On our journey as we went along, I asked him to take a right turn. He got angry at that and a skirmish ensued. He suddenly gave me a fearsome glance and took the road to the seashore without further preamble. Realising that I was being forcibly taken on that road, I was terrified.
“Roko roko!”, I screamed but to no avail. As the rickshaw went on, I shouted at cyclists, people on scooters, cars and pedestrians but they just looked away and did nothing to help me. I was frustrated and losing hope when I saw on my left, 4 young men, sitting on a boundary wall, apparently chatting.
One of them jumped down and stopped the rickshaw from the front. He peeped in and just confirmed “Madam, aap college se hai na?”. He turned out to be a student of our college where I taught. He had not only recognised me but also saw me screaming. I related to him what had occurred.
In 5 minutes a crowd of 50 people had gathered. The Bombay riots had happened sometime back then. The memories were fresh in people’s minds. To make matters worse, the rickshaw driver belonged to a specific community. “Ye log chaali ke upar se patthar phekte hai”, someone shouted from the crowd. People had all heard what had happened by then. Even our drama director, on his way to the club, had found me there. My student asked, “Aap boliye madam, isko peet peet kar theek kar dete hai”. The matter would take a communal color, if any such violent step was taken at this point, I realised.
I even did not go to the police station as our drama director advised me. I told my student not to hit the man and let him go, after I got down from the rickshaw. “Just tell him, I will not pay him a single paisa”, I said. The crowd dissolved and till today, I thank my student, whose timely interference saved me that evening. A chill runs down my spine to think what might have happened there, in the lonely, dark and deserted seashore, if the auto driver’s plan had succeeded. What a narrow escape I had that day!
For 3 months, the drama rehearsals went on and was staged during Durga Puja at Bajaj Hall. That year I got two prizes from the club. One was ‘The Best Supporting Actress’ prize. The other prize was for giving the highest cash collection in the form of subscriptions to the club that year.