In the scorching heat of Delhi, "Big-B" came as more than a welcome breeze.Ever heard of the "definition of curd" as "milk sleeping at night, morning tight?" But there are plenty who, in their effort to speak the Queen's English, mangle the language beyond recognition. Not that this is a contemporary phenomenon. It existed even in the 1930s, that too in the Indian villages. It was against this background that Munshi Premchand wrote "Bade Bhai Sahab". It is a hilarious account of how two brothers Kamta Prasad, a ninth standard student, and Samta Prasad, a class six student, forced by the English education system, learn to speak in English and study all subjects in English medium.This story, adapted as an English play "Big-B" by Sayeed Alam, founder of Delhi's Pierrot's Troupe, is a hit with audiences whenever presented. This past week the production went on the boards again at the Shri Ram Centre.A laugh riot, the play, which has seen 46 shows across India not only condemns our education system subtly but also comments on emperors such as Akbar and Shahjahan for their life styles.In the original version it is the story of the brothers living in a hostel. The elder brother, always busy cramming his lessons, keeps rebuking the younger one to study and not play `gilli danda', his favourite game. Alam adds another character, Samta Prasad as an 80-year-old man, who is the narrator. How both fall for `Rekha', their maths teacher's daughter, how bhai sahab fails despite being "studio-s" (studious) and Samta tops his class, how he teases bhai sahab on his failure, but realises his folly after bhai sahab lectures him on the virtues of experience and age, form the play.
"Eating circles"Sample these rib-tickling examples. Kamta Prasad tells Samta, "Study of English is not a laughing game. Blood is to be sweat, then come English" (English aana mazak nahi, khoon paseene ki tarah bahana padta hai). Kamta asks Samta the tense of `He walks'. Samta replies, "Sentense"! Kamta scolds him, "If you speak English like this, you will never pass away. My head is eating circles." (mera sar chakkar kha raha hai), and so on. But when he fails and Samta teases him with "Now I am well, but you are in well," the upset bhai sahab shouts, "You are flying my jokes?" (tum mera mazak uda rahe ho?). Bhai sahab says he failed because he was asked to write four pages on `Samay Ka Sadupayog' (Making Good Use of Time), and he wrote one line saying, samay ke sadupayong par char pages likhna samay ka ghor durupayog hai (Writing four pages on making good use of time is a terrible waste of time)! He also questions why the British didn't name all the Henrys properly and forced the students to remember them as Henry the first, second, third, fourth and so on.
Marvellous actorsIn this play scripted by Alam and directed by Niti Saeed, Alam plays Kamta while Harish Dinkar plays Samta and Abhijit Sen Gupta is 80-year-old Samta. Despite playing young boys, Alam and Dinkar were marvellous in their portrayal. With this play Alam has become the first one to translate a Hindi story into an English play. "When I decided to do this play, people said you can't convert a five page story into two hours play. I proved them wrong. Habib Tanveer sahab said a play on Begum Akhtar and Saigal couldn't happen. I did extremely successful shows on them. Without romance there can be no play, many told me. But I did Maulana Azad, which is monologue of two-and-a-half hour done by Tom Alter. I have already done its 100 shows," says Alam.That lack of humour in people's life is one reason why humorous plays are not written, feels Alam. "Most comedies, for lack of actual humour, either turn slapstick or become satirical. There is hardly `verbal comedy' left among people. There is some comedy in action, so we have `comical situations' rather than actual comedy itself," he asserts.