I’d promised the girls that when they got up on stage and sang and danced, I’d clap long and loud and shout “that’s my girl!”
And I did! Loud enough to have a hoarse voice afterwards.
I think I was about as excited about the show as the kids were – or maybe a little more – when I went to their daycare to pick them up. Their daycare aunties were, of course, doing careful job of getting them dressed, busy with needle and thread as they tucked in bits of the rented costume. The costume was white sleeveless Chinese collar shirts with silvery spangles on them, and a dark blue plastic skirt. Why plastic? I have no idea. At least the clothes were not intolerably uncomfortable. Mrini did complain that her Chinese collar was itching her, but a few bars of her favourite Double Double Fun Fun soon distracted her.
We were supposed to reach the venue, Chowdaiah, at 4 p.m. We reached at 4.10, which was pretty good going. As we reached the registration tables set up near the entrance, the girls grabbed my hands tightly and wouldn’t let go. Their summer camp aunties were waiting to escort them backstage, but they behaved like they were being kidnapped by aliens. The rule was that no parents were allowed backstage, so I tried to persuade them to let go, but they were quite resistant to the idea. Luckily, their summer camp aunties didn’t insist and a few minutes later, as other kids from their batch turned up, they grew brave enough to go along with them, albeit with many an anxious look cast in my direction.
From about 4.20 till about 5.30, I hung around outdoors, watching other parents arriving with sleepy, grumpy kids. Then I realized that there were enough parents still with their kids that it should be ok for me to go and take a look at the girls. So I entered the building from one of the side doors and went towards the green room. I expected at every step to be stopped and turned away, but strangely enough, I wasn’t. I’m normally a very rule-abiding person who is very hesitant to go into areas that are declared to be out of bounds, so it was quite out of character for me to just walk all the way around backstage without blinking.
I looked into the two green rooms, but, though both were filled with kids, my girls were nowhere to be seen. I exited the backstage area from the door at the other end, and then I found them, sitting on the steps just outside the stage door. With them was summer camp Aunty1, a huge quivering mass of indignation and irritation. I’d never met her, as the summer camp took place in the middle of the morning and was seamlessly integrated into their daycare schedule. But I took to her at once.
All around us was chaos. Children from various centres thronged children from other centres. Parents hung around hunting desperately for children, aunties, or the holy grail. Aunty1 tried to keep her brood of 15-odd kids confined to a few designated steps, but had to keep darting off one side or another to grab someone who wanted to escape. There was one young chap and one young woman assigned to Aunty1 when I reached the scene. Within minutes, the young chap was sent off to take one of the boys to the bathroom. By the looks of the young chap’s expression at this task, it was not something he was used to doing. I’m guessing it’s not a particularly fun task to have to take somebody else’s young boy to the bathroom, particularly when it’s somebody you’ve never met before and the more so if it’s not something you’ve ever done before. He was gone a long, long time. In fact, I don’t think I ever saw him again after that.
The young girl was called away elsewhere, so it was just me and Aunty1. I was holding Tara, who was fretful and threatened to be tearful, while observing with interest the volume of steam emanating from Aunty1’s ears. It didn’t require much prodding for her to tell me all. The older kids, Eldies, had been given a ridiculously easy number to do, and the tiny kids, Tinies, had been given a complex number. This allocation was done by the Choreographer. Aunty1 had decided long ago to swap the numbers. The choreographer, for reasons unknown to me, had not swapped the sequence of the music. So, instead of the Tinies going on first, as had been planned, now the Eldies would go on first, then there would be several other numbers from kids from other centres, and only after that would our Tinies be allowed on stage. As if that weren’t bad enough, Aunty1 was infuriated that the Tinies had been made to come at 4 p.m. a whole two-and-a-half hours before showtime. The Eldies had been asked to report a whole hour later, at 5. Where’s the sense in that!?
It took only the slightest encouragement from me for Aunty1 to go dashing off to confront the choreographer. Which left me in charge of an unspecified number of kids, some of whom were beginning to wail. I did my best to restore order by scolding some rowdy boys, separating a girl who was having her hair pulled from another who was doing the pulling, letting Tara sit in my lap, and hugging another girl who was crying. I glimpsed Aunty1 rushing past a few times at something close to the speed of light like and infuriated and unidentified flying object. At last she returned, momentarily, still intent on having words with the Choreographer. She did a quick headcount, realized that only one head was missing (apart from the boy who’d gone to the toilet and still not returned; and the other boy who’d been sent back to his parents in a flood of tears), realized which particular head it was, and departed in frantic search of that head. While she was gone, the missing head was escorted back to our group by some unidentified assistants who were entirely unsure about which group the boy belonged to. A three-year-old in these chaotic circumstances can answer a few questions, but, “Which centre do you belong to?” is not one of them. I asked Mrini and Tara if this boy was their friend, but they said no. I tried out the name I’d heard Aunty1 mutter on the boy and he tearfully nodded, so I let him sit down on our steps, while I waited for Aunty1 to come whizzing around again. She did, and almost collapsed with relief. “I saw his parents and he was not with them,” she said. “How can I ask them if them know where he is? What will they think? I just turned around and ran from there,” she said.
Having ensured that the rest of her charges were present and correct, she left me to it and disappeared again. At last she returned with news of success: Ours would be the very first act. “Don’t we need to get these kids ready then?” I asked, waving at several kids who were not in costume yet. We shepherded the Tinies into the backstage area. Separated from the Eldies (who were left in charge of someone else; but they were more interested in fighting with each other and less interested in wailing for their parents) there were only about 7 kids. One was sobbing inconsolably and had to be sent of with his parents. Another was sobbing inconsolably, but was ok as long as his father was around. The other 5 were ok. We spent a few minutes tying bits and pieces of stuff onto their costumes, then I got them to work with Ringa Ringa Roses. That kept them busy for a precious 5 minutes and it was a sight that was heartwarming beyond words – these six little things, all anxious and strung up, all dressed up in ridiculous stuff, sweetly going around in a circle, falling down, giggling, then getting up and going around again.
Sometime around this stage, one of the organizers, for the first and last time, tried to evict me from backstage. It was the only time someone even realized I was a “parent” and not an “organizer”. In fact, so many people had assumed I was part of the organizers and had asked me so many arbitrary things, that I was even beginning to feel a bit like one of the organizers. At least I knew three of the kids in my charge, which was more than you could say of many organizers. So when this woman tried to shoo me off, I refused to be shooed off. “There are no teachers,” I said. She pointed to various other organizers who were rushing around. “But none of them know these kids,” I said. Then she asked where their teacher was and I had the answer to that too. “She’s gone to the registration desk to check if any of the other kids have turned up yet.” Then I hurried off to disentangle Tara from the boom machinery that she was exploring much too closely.
And so they let me stay.
As the minutes dragged by and the kids got fidgety again, I decided to give them some down time. I gathered the six of them around me and started to tell a story. I had, of course, absolutely no idea what story to tell, nor what language to tell it in. But who cares. I sat them down, and Mrini and Tara, always eager for one of my stories, were instrumental in getting the others to fall in line. And as softly and slowly as possible, I launched on what might well have turned into the story of Peter and the Wolf… but long before the wolf appeared on the scene, they were called into the wings. So I exited backstage left and entered the audience. I found my way to where Amit and S&S were, and five minutes later, after a couple of really short speeches and one solo number by some dancer guy, our girls were on!
The music, unfortunately, was BLASTING! It was loud enough to put a pub to shame. I think somebody forgot to tell some technician fellow that this was a show by little kids, none older than about 6. Naturally, when the kids got on stage, they were a little startled by the whole experience. But they were playing their song – Itsy Bitsy Spider – and their summer camp aunties were there below the stage with their backs to the audience, doing the steps. Three of the kids, including Mrini, followed along beautifully. They were so, so sweet – innocently doing their thing. Then there was Tara – she got on stage, covered both her ears with her hands, and stood there looking worried. The boy next to her looked at her, wondered whether he should be worried too, decided he should, and covered his ears with his hands too. After a moment, he realized that the other kids were dancing, so he took his hands down and began dancing. And Tara stood there, stock still, hands over her ears. It was the cutest thing ever! Towards the very end of their act, she became a little brave and tried to follow along – but before she could really get into it, it was all over.
I rushed backstage to take charge of the kids. They were photographed and then they were allowed to change into their own clothes and return the costumes to Aunty1. Once that was done, we all headed back to the audience to watch the rest of the show. Around 7.30, after the Eldies had done their act (without a hitch) we started to leave. The girls were hungry and thirsty and once I’d given them bananas and water, they wanted to use the toilet, so what with everything it was close to 8 by the time we left and just after 9 by the time we got home. We ordered in Chinese, gave the girls their milk which they demanded vociferously and downed without pausing to pull up their chairs and tables, and then put them to bed without pausing for a bath. It was with great difficulty that we got them to brush their teeth. They were in bed by 9.15, only half an hour or 45 minutes later than usual, but they were really tired. This morning they refused to get out of bed until an hour later than usual.
All in all, it was one hell of an evening. Almost all fun, but thank goodness that I went backstage when I did, or our kids would have wound up wailing like so many others – and maybe some of the other kids would have, too.
On our drive home, I remembered that 30-odd years ago, when my mother used to teach Tinies in a school in Chandigarh, we used to accompany her to Tagore theatre for their Annual Day. I must have been 7-8 years old. I don’t remember the details, and I think their acts were more complicated with scenery and stuff, but I do remember being there. I think there used to be a similar level of chaos. Maybe that explains how I knew where to go, what to expect and what to do. I certainly did have a completely unexpected comfort-level in the situation – one might even say that I quite enjoyed it. Apparently, so did the kids. Today when I went to daycare to pick up Mrini and Tara in the evening, the girl whom I hugged while she was crying yesterday gave me a shy smile. That was really nice.
We did manage, with some difficulty, to track down the fellow who took orders for the delivery of photographs. By the time we did this, just before we left, the fellow had packed up his bag and seated himself in the audience. It was only because the organizers had seen me around all evening that they did everything they could to help us track him down. So hopefully we will be getting a CD of photos and videos of the show some day. Until then, you’ll just have to make do with two-and-a-half thousand words.
So that’s one adventure out of the way. Tomorrow we leave for Devbagh. Overnight bus. Boat. Island. Sea. Houseboat. Plenty more adventures coming up!