It was at the end of the market. A small room lying neglected for years. And zooooooooop went up the shutters! It opened up a 10/10 space that smelt of thick dust. Oh well, where to start from, Mridul wondered. Half a day gone in cleaning it up. A small shelf hanging lazily from the walls, a wooden desk and chair, cluster of wooden cabinets with a dusty layer of chipped dark brown paint, an old calendar lying idle in one corner. Well, that was all.
Mridul wanted to begin. Of course, once again. Right out of college, a young man, mind full of dreams, theatre being his passion, wanted to lead his life differently. What is this living life 'differently'? Well, its not the usual mundane chores that you live for! Stage, scripts, actors, an auditorium, ample space to think, research, execute and deliver. Mridul wanted to play his part on this enormous stage and remain there forever. Father passed away at 60. And yes, nothing to worry, it happens with many. Mridul wasn't perturbed, though taken aback. Mother got lonely, depressed and gradually diseased. Choices slimmed down for this wide-eyed wanderer. The initial plan was not to leave his passion behind. He tried. Tried many ways. Small jobs, running around, private tuitions. The only aim was to have the evenings free. Evenings when he can pursue what he is 'meant for'! How long but! Needs increased. Mother got restless. And he got lonelier in the battle. Of course he didn't want to give up! No one does.
The shop was an active member of the market even a few years back. Mridul's father Mrinmoy Babu used to sit at the counter with stationery stacked all around. Children would crowd and ask for things one after the other. The patient middle aged man would cater to each one with a smile. It was only recently that he was not keeping well and Mridul never thought of lifting the shutters up. Yes, he was always considered to be the son who was not responsible enough. But he had his dreams to pursue and certain compromises were acceptable. His parents were not much different. Perhaps they too were not much hopeful. But Mridul had nothing to prove. He had no statement to make. He simply wanted to live the way he chose to. Is that too much to ask for? Promila, Mridul's mother, failed to cope up with Mrinmoy's absence. Her nerves were not cooperating. And her only reason to live was Mridul. The son did not know how to make things the way it was in the past. And that old 10/10 space in the market was perhaps the only bridge to build a connect.
Mridul stacked the wall cabinets with colourful stationery and just started off! He could hear the buzz of fellow shopkeepers who were caught with relentless curiosity. All had so much to ask, but Mridul had that unknown charisma to resist. One whole week went by with no customers trickling in. People around quite naturally had the time to speculate; "it's not easy to start all over again"! Mridul's wait continued. He never seemed perturbed. He would sit for hours painting dreams in his mind. He wanted to be on the stage, addressing a hall packed with audience and he would perform! The afternoon went by. It was almost 5. Mridul wanted to have a cup of tea. "Uncle, would you be having Nataraj pencils?" Mridul could feel a pinch on his elbow. "Oh yes! How many do you want?" The boy's immediate remark hit him hard; "Is the old uncle angry with us?" Perhaps for the first time, Mridul missed his father. He could not bridge the gap. Perhaps he didn't want to.
Months went by and Mridul was doing all those mundane little things which never occupied his thoughts. He would sit at the counter, read books or write, doze off at times and tried hard to keep his dream alive. He refused to give his thoughts a break. He would dream day in and day out. Mridul feared, if he stopped dreaming, he would lose the battle. With a cigarette between the fingers, he was standing on the road at the end of a long, hectic day. The street was unaware of Mridul's monotony and was busy with the daily bustle. Mridul had a strange feeling; the usual busy street seemed like a stage with actors moving constantly up and down! He could see his dream centre stage, addressing a house full of captivating audience! Street theatre! This can live on!
The night went by rewriting, editing and giving the script a final look. Actors were easy to find. The surrounding shopkeepers, the children who frequent his shop, the crowd at a nearby tea stall, the sweeper, the hawkers and even the regular office-goers! The actors met every day but hardly knew each other. Bringing them all together was like building the Everest within! Mridul found a reason. A reason to open the neglected corner. The reason to come here everyday. The reason to retain his sweet little customers. The reason to talk to people. The reason to move on.
One complete year passed. The shop looked alive. Mridul looked sure. Sorted. Connected. Weekday evening, a small corner at the end of the busy road. The bright hoarding read, 'People's Theatre'. Every Friday, 7:30 to 9:00, performers would gather, surrounded by people, and the play would begin! The audience kept changing, but the performers were constant. Theatre became the great Unifier! The otherwise mundane street had so much to say! Efforts were meaningful. Every nook and corner had a share on the stage. Mridul was a survivor. And the dream was his strength.
...learn to dream and dream to survive!