Sunday, April 3, 2011

Traditions That Have Never Changed


Shakespeare: In the conduct of a drama or an opera from an ancient text it is hard to track down operating tradition. A role will be played in a certain way for generations. Yet there is frequently no apparent reason for this and it clings stubbornly to the past.

A singer [tenor] in the role of Othello in a musical opera of Shakespeare’s “Othello” learned that it was a tradition to walk to the back stage for a few minutes before beginning the big duet with Iago in the second act of the drama. Curious to know why it was necessary, he asked his teacher. The teacher did not know. He simply said that his teacher had learnt it from his teacher who was told by his teacher that it was the tradition. As this explanation did not satisfy the tenor, the singer traced back the origin to the famous Italian singer Tomagno, the first Othello. He sought out the great singer Tomagno who was by then aged and leading a retired life in Sicily. He requested the great singer as to how the practice had started. Tomagno said that he had no idea.
“But someone saw you go backstage just before the beginning”
“Yes, I now remember I had to go backstage just to spit”

Salim Ali, The famous Bird Watcher: The famous bird watcher from Bombay, Salim Ali, has sneaking respect for phenomena that reason cannot explain. In his eminently readable autobiography ‘The Fall of a Sparrow’, he narrates an episode:

In 1935 one Kshirasagar, a school teacher in Satara wrote to Salim Ali’s elder brother, Hamid Ali, who had been the collector of Satara, asking help to pay for his son’s journey by sea to U.S.A. Hamid Ali, and then living in retirement in Mussorie sent him a bank draft for Rs.1, 000, a big sum in those days. Fifty years later Kshirasagar died. His son who had by then retired from the post of Registrar, Gujarat University, had his father’s obsequies performed. As custom required, he offered cooked rice [Pinda] to crows. A flock collected but no crow would touch the offering. An elder of the family ascribed the strange behavior of the cows to some debt incurred by the deceased father, remaining undischarged. Kshirasagar Junior recalled the money lent to his father by Hamid Ali and he vowed before the assembly of relations to repay the debt soon after the ceremony was over. On his taking the oath,, the crows fell on the rice balls and devoured them. Soon after the ceremony, Kshirasagar Junior went to Bombay, located Salim Ali who, on his brother’s death, had been named executor of his will, repaid the money lent his father half a century ago and told him of the ways the crows behaved.

Sir Asutosh Mukherji: Sir Asutosh Mukherji, India’s greatest educationist, was the Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University at the beginning of the 20th Century for 5 consecutive periods, breaking all records in University education.

Lord Curzon who was the Viceroy and Governor General of India during 1899-1905 extended an invitation to Asutosh to attend the Coronation Ceremony of King Edward V11 in London in the year 1903. Asutosh told the Viceroy that before he accepted the invitation he would like to have his mother’s permission. Asutosh’s mother
was a highly religious lady. He was against her son leaving the motherland and going s to a foreign country crossing the seas, as the then prevailing tradition did not permit Samudrayana [Travel by sea]. When Asutosh brought this to the notice of the Viceroy, regretting his inability to attend the Coronation and the reason for the same, Lord Curzon said “Tell your mother that the Viceroy and Governor General of India commands her son to go to England. Pat came Asutosh’s reply “Then I will tell the Viceroy and Governor General that Asutosh Mukherji refuses to be commanded by any person except by his mother, be he the Viceroy or be somebody higher than him”

Nagamandala of A.K.Ramanujan: The Guthrie Theatre Company in U.S.A. is known for its commitment to stage only classics, dedicating itself to fulfilling the dream of its founder Sir Tyrone Guthrie , a theatre known for its artistic excellence. The drama Nagamandala written by Girish Karnad and based on a folk story by A.K.Ramanujan was premiered on July 16th 1993 as a part of Guthrie’s Anniversary Festival.

The theatre normally selects plays of playwrights who are no more like Ibsen, Shakespeare etc. When he learnt about this tradition of Guthrie, Girish Karnad whose play ‘Nagamandala’ was chosen joked “I am ready to cooperate with this venture with Guthrie but I do not know how far I can go”.

On the day the play was to be staged, July 16th, A.K.Ramanujan died in Chicago while watching the rehearsal. Now, Girish’s play is based on a folk story by A.K.Ramunujan and he can be called the original author of ‘Nagamandala’. Since Ramanujan is no more, the Guthrie tradition of enacting plays of authors who are no more, sadly, continues unbroken.

Abdus Salam, Nobel Prize Winner for Physics in 1980: Abdus Salam heard the news of getting the Nobel Prize when he was traveling in a car. He suddenly asked the driver to divert the car to a nearby mosque in keeping with the tradition of Islam where he first praised the Lord and then when out on his business. On being interviewed by a journalist, he said: “I think one should realize that prizes are not something which you can merit for
unless Divine Grace is there. My first reaction was therefore to thank and pray God”

Military Tradition: The retired colonel from the army had brought a country house and wanted a good horse. He could not afford to spend very much but the horse dealer brought a respectable-looking animal and re-assured him “This animal has been bred in the best military tradition”

A few days later, the colonel found that the horse was extremely weak and could not even walk properly. One day he stamped angrily into the horse-dealer’s office and shouted “By God! You said that the horse you sold me was bred in the best military traditions”
“Yes, Sir” the dealer maintained “That horse would rather die than run”


ARTICLE No.516---Traditions and Customs
Created: Tuesday, August 18, 2009 8:07 PM


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