In senior high school, I was a part of this theater group that consisted of highly idealistic individuals who had lofty plans of creating a world of art that was free of corruption in any form. The group once held a workshop and hired a renowned theater artist as our teacher. Our teacher, one of the most principled man that I have ever met, was a hard task master who always took the moral high ground on every issue and expected all of us to follow his footsteps without a murmur. And we did. He taught us wonderful things about the history of theater, made us appreciate the effort that went into making of a good theater artist, and creating a good drama. He drilled in us the value of integrity, hard work and dedication. He abhorred any kind of flirtation in the ‘camp’ and even a whiff of such an inclination would set him off after the ‘perpetrator’ like a mad bull after a matador holding a red flag.
He also made us work like slaves. Work as in practice various form of exercises to improve our physical strength, stamina, and most importantly, vocal quality. We would translate parts of plays by different authors in very short periods. We would all sit in a circle with the lights switched off and a candle burning in the middle, and we would have to focus on it till it burned to the ground. We would have to pitch out our voice through hollow barrels to figure out how to modulate voices around the mikes. And sing. Sing, sing and sing our lungs out.
A very difficult exercise that he gave to us, to increase our lung capacity, was to hold our breath, and then release it slowly. The problem was, we could not release it until we were asked to, which was anywhere between 20 seconds to a minute. One day, I was tired from a long day at school, and a bit sleepy too. I was standing by a window, and doing the holding breath exercise. I was doing fine for the first few seconds, when I felt myself reel. Then I saw a truck coming towards me, and I tried to roll out of its way, but its tires crushed my chest. I could not breathe, and it felt like everything would explode. Then it started raining.
Things came back into focus. Enormous, terrified eyes peered out of white faces that were suspended directly over me. Someone was splashing water at my face, drenching me, and wetting my hair in the process, which made me very unhappy (notice the odd times one can think of inconsequential things?). As I came around, I realized I had fainted. Someone helpfully told me that I had suddenly reeled backwards and hit my head on the window frame (which I guess explained the truck part).
Our teacher was most concerned. He had someone call my Mom, and offered to give me a day off, which I refused as we had a performance coming up in less than a week. Later on, he joked that had something happened to me, the newspapers would say ‘Director kills actress by breath holding method’. But I could sense the terror behind the poor guy’s words.
I still laugh about it at times, and I am always thankful for the things I learned in that teacher’s workshop. Still, the truck looked real, and that being the only fainting spell in my entire life, I wonder if other people see odds things when they faint as well. I would love to know, just that it’s awkward to ask ‘ Hey, what do you see when you faint?’
‘Badam Sheera’ is a traditional sweet Indian dessert. ‘Badam’ in Hindi is Almonds. This almond pudding, though fattening, is considered to quite healthy in the traditional Indian kitchen, and served as a strengthening food. It quick to make, and delicious to eat. So if you were to faint quite often, and a typical North Indian grandma was around, you could find yourself eating this quite frequently.
- Almond power - 1 cup
- Clarified butter 2 tbsp
- Sugar - ½ cup
- Milk - 2 cups
- Mixed dry fruits - raisins, cashews, almond slivers - 2 tbsp
- Two drops of Kewra essence (optional)
- a few strands of saffron
- Heat ghee in a pan, a roast the almond powder, about 1 minute, till it's golden brown.
- Add the dried fruits & nuts and stir for 30 seconds.
- Add milk and bring it to boil.
- Simmer and cook for 5 minutes.
- Stir in sugar.
- Sprinkle saffron strands.
- Garnish with almonds.
- Serve hot or cold.