One would think people would fear death the most, ghosts perhaps, but hey public speaking!!! Oh yes, that's the one people apparently fear the most. My journey has been long and memorable with the stage and the microphone. It has been an interesting one and when I look back, I do smile. That's not so bad, is it?
The earliest memory ever of being on stage, all on my own, curled up my innards. I bit my tongue, my toes clenched as much as my fist behind me, nails digging into the palm, sweaty and terrifying images of being laughed at. I had a clear six by six vision then. I was all of eleven and took the stage to sing a Hindi song. We were having a cultural show I think and to avoid the stage and any kind of performance, I had opted for the English Language club. Well, my smartness apparently didn't work in my favour and the group was asked to perform a group dance and an individual item. Darn!!!
So there I stood, on stage, in front of hundreds of kids I was in school with, frozen right up to my throat. At least I froze for a start. Running away would have done no good. After a nervous clearing of the vocal chords I sang, without music, forgetting the lyrics. it was good I picked an absoloutely old number...nobody really knew the song, leave aside the entire lyrics and I made it up as I sang. For all my efforts I did end up with a prize...but heck, there wasn't a way I was going to get up on stage alone to do that for a packet of sweets. Only at a naive eleven does a packet of sweets in a boarding school sound like a treasure.
Of course, through school, the occasions to sing (off key) were numerous and I managed to stay away from dramatics, dance and song mostly. I was happy managing the stage arrangements, running around. My biggest scariest ever time came at the Naval Academy. The Dramatics Competition came along and I was summoned (oh yea, it felt that way) to (without a choice) take over the role of Anna, the governess in the play Anna and the King. Every possible excuse was used up in trying to wriggle, squirm, complain, plead, beg...but I was in it. You learn, in the Academy, that there is never a 'no' when the squadron's name is at stake. I got picked because I had an overseas (for want of a better word) accent and it was what was needed.
I mugged my lines, Satya worked on my acting skills. I think all of the guys got a little bald during the rehearsals. I could never remember my lines. I'd see the Divisional Officers sitting and watching and I'd forget. I'd get taken up by the ease with which Satya acted and I'd forget. I'd forget my lines for every damn reason. I kept telling Satya, see, I cant do this. Get someone else. Adamant people never gave up on me. I smile when I remember that. At the final rehearsal I recall the number of threats I got because it was barely twenty-four hours left to D Day and I was still fumbling. I hate acting. That is all ran in my head. I am going to fuck up and then I am going to be handed out another set of restrictions.
Everything has a solution and mine came with a very practical Eureka moment, but of course, with a price. I used to wear glasses then. When I went on stage live for the performance, I got rid of them. Miraculously, the stage was all I saw, the audience had disappeared and I was Anna. I remembered every damned line, I remembered lines of others, I covered up for Indira, slapped her too (aww...sorry but it was necessary then), smashed my knee onto the edge of a bench in full speed (I was limping for two weeks thereafter) and the play was over! Phew! I loved it.
That was probably an experience that broke the ice for me and the stage no longer scares me if I am holding a mike and talking.
It still makes me nervous and there is a part of me that asks that questions - what if I screw up? Then, I ask myself....what if I don't?