“Hey! Interested to see a jatra?” Biswanath asked.
Jatra is a kind of theatre, where curtain is never drawn and one act moves seamlessly into another. Unlike in theatre, audience surround the stage from three sides. One side is kept open for entry and exit of actors. Jatra used to be very common in West Bengal. In rural Bengal troupes from city would come during festive seasons. Public could view their performance free of cost. One just have to show up. Jatra would start late in the evening and will go on till early hours. Audience will finish their daily duties. Have their evening meal and settle in for the performance.
Boarding school where he was studying, arranged for jatra as part of cultural program. None, however, was on the agenda in coming future. So he asked perplexed, “What are you talking about? There is no jatra going to be staged here.”
“Not here you idiot! Outside, in the haat ground.”In a rural Bengal village, community market place is known has haat.
“You must be joking! How are we going to go out? It is a week night. We have to be up by 4 am in the morning. You are the lead singer for morning prayers?” He fired back a volley of questions.
“Leave the details to me. You tell me are you coming or not?” Biswanath asked firmly.
“What if we are recognized? What if “buro” comes to know. He will cane us. He may even rusticate us.” He asked again, with a lot of apprehension. Students used to refer hostel warden as “buro” or old man among themselves.
“Nothing will happen. Nobody will know. I have done it before. We shall go out and come back in time to attend morning prayers.” Biswanath said confidendtly. “You decide if you want to come or not. Either way, do not go blabbering about to others”.
“What is the play?” he asked still not decided.
“It is Baar Bodhu, based on a novel by Kalkoot” answered Biswanath.
In a missionary boarding school, jatra played annually were mostly of historical or religious orientation. There used to be no female actor in the team. Males used to act out female roles. So the temptation and attraction of seeing a famous play based on social setting, that too free of cost, was enormous. Besides, professional male and females actors would assume characters in the novel. Though it involved great risk, it also gave a feeling of exhilaration. So with a mixture of trepidation and excitement, he agreed to join Biswanath.
Those days hostel was not surrounded by high wall with guards at the gates. People were simple and trusting. On the D-day, they covered themselves in wrapper, tip-toed out of their room, climbed down a rain water pipe, negotiated a shallow canal and hit the main highway en route to village haat. There was a strange sense of excitement in the pit of stomach. A mixed feeling where thrill of flouting regulations got entangled with fear of being rusticated, if caught. They sat in the midst of rural crowd totally covered in their wrapper. Still, the city boys stood apart and a few villagers even asked “you are not from around here, are you?”
He did not really enjoy the jatra. He was afraid of being recognized or being caught. When jatra ended around 2 AM in the morning, he was relieved to be heading back. Finally, he came back to his hostel room and fell asleep. A sleep of a relieved boy, exhausted from mental tension. Looking back, it appears that there was every chance of being caught. Some friends could have ratted, superintendent could have take a surprise round, some locals could have reported. Fortunately, nothing happened, and he thanked his fortune.
Tags: Adventure, Boarding School, Haat, Jatra, Warden