A tried and tested meal forms the backdrop for B. Jayashree's tales of theatre and adventure
Not only her chunky jewellery and handloom saris, but her large eyes and her naturally silver hair too pronounce B. Jayashree as a woman of taste and discernment, one who knows her mind and is capable of creating her space. Creating your space and holding your own are all a part of theatre, so for the veteran actor, it is nothing new. Besides, the café at Triveni Kala Sangam in Mandi House is a familiar space, for the Bangalore-based Jayashree, director, Spandana, and currently a Rajya Sabha MP, spent many memorable years wandering around Mandi House as a student of the National School of Drama.
As we hurry across the wide roads of Delhi's theatre district, Jayashree remembers standing at the roundabout observing people. There would be people practising yoga and those on a morning stroll. The celebrated Ebrahim Alkazi, then NSD's director, under whom Jayashree completed her training at the institute, would advise his acting students to take life as a teacher and never miss a moment to observe.
Delhi was different back then, says the granddaughter of Kannada theatre pioneer Gubbi Veeranna. But even if the city is different today to what it was when the young Jayashree — an “introvert” by her own description and neither at home in Hindi nor English — enrolled at NSD, what is no different is Triveni, where artists still find a quiet nook to contemplate their next project, and whose canteen continues to serve piping hot parathas.
Over a glass of lassi, as we wait for the parathas to leave the stove and come steaming over the heads of the lunchtime crowd to our tiny table, Jayashree describes her days at NSD. She refers to the institute as her “second guru,” her initial training having taken place in her grandfather's company, the Gubbi Shri Channa Basaveshwara Swami Nataka Mandali, where Jayashree debuted even before she learnt to read and write.
“Living here, I felt only aascharya (curiosity), not adbhuta (wonder),” says Jayashree, using the language of classical aesthetics. “Because of my grandfather I had already done the practical (aspects). This was only the theoretical part.”
In her opinion, her grandfather's company had “all the things you find in Broadway.” Theatre annals are studded with information on the company Veeranna joined as a child labourer, where, by dint of sheer talent, he rose up the ranks to become not only a talented actor and producer but also the chief of the company, which became renowned for spectacular shows, innovations in stagecraft and for producing well known actors. Veeranna is known as the mentor of the eminent B.V. Karanth, for example.
Idyllic as this artistic atmosphere was, for a child growing up in the 20th Century, it had its flip side. Jayashree did not go to regular school till she realised the need herself. “Once the whole company went to see a ship,” she relates. “The ship's captain said something to me in English. I didn't answer, and went and sat quietly with my mother. Then I saw my eight-year-old sister talking, talking with the captain in English. My sister said to me, how will you manage as an artiste if you don't even know how to talk to people.”
This rebuff to the 13-year-old Jayashree from her younger sibling (who was attending regular school) got her thinking, and, says Jayashree, she approached her grandfather to be allowed to study. He made a pact with the child artiste: she was to train someone in her place and the following year she would be allowed to go. Both sides kept their promise, and Jayashree came to Bangalore where after pursuing a bridge course, joined regular schooling, eventually completing her academic education before coming to the Capital.
The plot is a riveting one. It is the stuff of theatre, but life is what theatre feeds on. But besides stories and thoughts and dreams and desires, artistes need food of another sort too. Parathas and paneer and a simple bowl of spinach, along with a cooling raita accompany this tale of grit and adventure. Jayashree, on a short visit to the Capital, must rush back to her other commitments. The show, after all, must go on.