I took the stage, I felt a stroke of nervousness. It stayed put, lodged firmly inside my heart. Or my stomach- upper stomach, I couldn’t really tell. All I could hear was my own heartbeats knocking inside my head. All I could feel were my moist, sweaty palms. My legs were suddenly dead as cast iron. There was a skit I helped write to be staged that night and the cast had not assembled. The raucous audience was unbecoming of the momentous occasion. I was told: “keep the audience occupied till we signal you”. They pushed me into the spotlight thinking I was just avoiding in politeness.

Each moment seemed eternity, even though audience wasn’t paying attention yet. Only few solitary people from here and there looked on in vague eyes without much interest, or expectation. The more I tried to think something to speak, the more I thought “why me”. “I shouldn’t have just loitered around the stage, passing off tasks, instructing already sweating friends, in folded arms. I could be in the crowd, monitoring them, helping them seat. But I laughed at it”. Worse, words that came to me, stuck to and itched my tongue like the pulp of raw jackfruit. I spitted out some, “Hello everybody”. The audience couldn’t care less. “Hello all”. No effect.

“When the light goes off”, I said, in a hesitantly louder voice and the lights turned off dramatically leaving me alone in the whole world. “I request you to switch off your phones, or keep it on vibration and enjoy”. I let go the last word slyly I suppose, or even playfully because of the assurance of warming up feet and cooling off palms.

Some girls in the middle row giggled. It seems in any case audience misses the first couple of words. If I knew that, I would have called names to my teachers in the front row, I could have said something about her, yes to her. Ah, there were so many things I had had to say that I didn’t want anyone to listen, not even her. I could see the girls too; four of them cusped in to talk or just to share the excitement, laughing. They looked like a lateral section of a flower with four petals. In an effort to justify my request, I said, “you know! so that the person next to you can watch and enjoy the evening too”. That’s when the hall imploded with laughter. I was caught in surprise and genuine umbrage before their cord of laughter touched me. Moments before the laughter subsided and allowed me to continue, I could see Mrs. Swamy whispering into her husband’s ear, while her adolescent boy laughed, trying to hide the secret arrival. I knew someone like Swaminayaran would take offence. I said, “I am sorry for the ladies who are with their children, I understand their predicament”. A fresh round of boisterous laughter. Swamy and his family joined in. I wondered if he needed the translation or the interpretation. It seemed the comic side of my sentences resonated in the audience but eluded me. I felt a little like being bullied in high school.

“What is your name?”



“What did you talk to her?”

“I didn’t”

“You did..Hahahaha”

I suspiciously looked back at my friends, thoroughly perplexed. Rita, the lead cast, jumped with enthusiasm and screamed in hushed voice, “Don’t stop, don’t stop”. Unfortunately, the microphone was strapped to her and was live already. It was the guys’ time to roll laughing. “Oh yeah” someone shouted. It met with some giggles and some murmurs, both measured. But Rita’s father silently walked out. I respected that man, for his liberal socialist thoughts that always caught me off-handed, his disapproving eyes behind glasses, reluctant nods. He was popular in our drama club. He hosted all of our brainstorming sessions, but silently sat there pretending lost in his books. Only occasionally racking up the resolved issues, resolving conflicts. For some unknown reason I wished he was dead. Then, I felt unrestrained freedom.

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