Meeting the Maestro
We set out for our trip to Stratford on a rainy Saturday. We had to take three trains, to get there from Birmingham, because few direct routes were being renovated. Stratford, in the Warwickshire County was a drowsy tiny town, much smaller than what I expected and it took two hours from the Midlands area (where I stay) to reach there. Stratford upon Avon, as the town is called, is a little but well kept train station; no sooner did we reach there than showers started pouring outside. Town seemed like a shaky portrait with a hue of light colours in the back ground, almost empty streets and limited traffic. It filled a nervous breath of chilly breeze in the air; December for no reason is a good choice to voyage in Britain, length of day time is awfully less with recurring mist and uneasy snow fall.
It did not take much time for us to locate the ancestor house of the bard; it was quite close to the town centre. A 16th century wooden house which recreates the family life of the times of the poet was a small two storeyed cottage. It had a painting gallery near the portico. The solid yet serene pathway from the gallery took us through the garden to the un-usually large wooden door at the entrance of the house. I was happy to spot a Tagore statue inside the compound. It was an utterly different world for me when the old lady, apparently the guide there, invited us inside and led to the interiors. Semi polished stones paved the floor, its air and ambiance was nothing but perfect for a sheep trader’s home (as it was in my mind) and a flood of memories engulfed me.
My high school class, now I’m sitting in one of the middle rows and Krishnan Nair (the Principal of our school) narrating the legend of Julius Caesar; panicking Brutus, their patriotism, friendship and tribute to each other and the grace of all other Shakespearean characters. The whole class is silent and now, I listen to Mark Antony’s speech, Krishnan Master shouting at the peak of his pitch:
”Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him; The evil that men do lives after them, The good is oft interred with their bones, So let it be with Caesar … The noble Brutus Hath told you Caesar was ambitious: If it were so, it was a grievous fault.”*
It was appearing in front of me, my eyes following the artistic moves of Krishnan Master, his imposing acting skills flaunted, and I’m marveled to glimpse the celebrated characters right in front. Our respected teacher, a famed ‘Kathakali’ artist and a strict disciplinarian, is an English scholar and a Shakespeare enthusiast. He used to memorise major plots from Shakespeare’s plays and perform them for us during the class. In those ‘one-act’ plays we gleefully watched Macbeth and King Lear, Viola and Orsino and all the major figures from Shakespeare.
Krishnan Nair was a blessed actor. In the class room, he was able to shower on us the essence of those plays, the very essence which was fresh and alive within me when I stood inside poet’s birth place. Yes, only a hand’s breadth from me is the birth bed of my teacher’s dearest poet. The old guide there, dressed in the traditional British robes of olden times, in her charming voice, explained to us the history of bard’s family, in the most interesting tone. I deeply wished my passionate master (now an octogenarian) were with me. We roamed around the house for few great hours, captured the scent and scene of that historic home with few stills. Later in the afternoon set out in search of other major Shakespeare attractions in the town.
Stratford was hazily snowing by our side.
We walked down the town to the Holy Trinity cathedral where the poet was buried. England’s most visited parish church, under that roof the wizard of Stratford called William Shakespeare was baptised and there he does his final sleep. Dimly lit candles from the side stands were quiet as if they were frozen in time. An incense like fragrance was blended there and it seemed like a deep smell from the past that filled the air. Very few visitors braved the chilly December day to the church, in fact they were less than twenty. We sat there on the carved wooden seats of the big altar and few empty minutes withered by. On the cathedral’s top glass window there was a giant triptych which portrayed Jesus’ resurrection. Fine threads of silken sun rays oozing out from them coloured the dark shades inside the chapel.
Again, under one of those shades, I could sense Krishnan Master there. I felt like watching him, without myself being watched – this time he was speaking as Othello (and Desdemona as a far back ground voice). His eyes were sparking wild.
“Yet she must die, else she’ll betray more men.
Put out the light, and then put out the light:”
”Who’s there, Othello?”
“Will you come to bed, my lord?”
“Have you pray’d to-night, Desdemona?”
“Ay, my lord.”
“If you bethink yourself of any crime”
“Unreconcil’d as yet to heaven and grace,
Solicit for it straight.”
“Alack, my lord, what may you mean by that?”
“Well, do it, and be brief; I will walk by.
I would not kill thy unprepared spirit;
No, — heaven forfend! — I would not kill thy soul.”
“Talk you of killing?”
“Ay, I do.” **
Love, passion, revenge and obsession, every thing was there in his eyes. Suddenly, it was all there in my eyes too. Few minutes later, I was awakened by the whispering call of my friend.
Just outside the cathedral, river Avon was flowing; as it would have always been, silent and steady.
** Final conversation between Othello and Desdemona from ‘Othello’
(In the photo: Krishnan Master)