| Badal Sircar at his home. Picture by Aranya Sen
In the 1970s his group Shatabdi and Third Theatre made the theatre community sit up. Today, too, his brilliant but simple plays continue to move urban and rural crowds. But known for his disregard for publicity, Badal Sircar the man remains something of an enigma.
Now for the first time the legendary director and actor has allowed Bengali readers a peek into his past with the first volume of his autobiography Purano Kashundi (old issues, but the Bengali phrase literally means old mustard sauce, which should not be stirred). The title suggests not only a sense of the inconsequentiality of his life is his eyes, but also the possibility of raking up old controversies. And why not' The two instalments that make up the first part have the pungency of a sauce matured through myriad experiences.
Here we have the octogenarian unplugged. He recounts his growing years through school and college, the Bengal famine, riots and Independence. Nicknamed Laloo for his Leftist leanings, the student hurtles towards a shattering political disillusionment. We learn of his first break as engineer and town-planner, his first encounters with theatre and his first original play.
Purano Kashundi begins with the sound of a train, which would lull him to sleep in one of the rooms of the Scottish Church College Hostel on Amherst Street. The train, carrying the city’s refuse, was going no farther than Dhapa. Yet the sound would merge with other train sounds from childhood. Train rides to his Christian grandparents’ home in Dehradun, trips to Lucknow and Darjeeling.
Badal was a name he had earned from an uncle angered by the incessant rain on the day he was born. His name on the school and professional register was Sudhindra Sircar, son of Mahendra Lal Sircar, history professor of Scottish Church College.
The narrative moves back and forth as one laughs at his pranks or falls in step with his mad treks. Sircar’s strongest memory of the famine is the stench of sacks of rice rotting in heaps under tarpaulin sheets in the Botanical Gardens next door to the BE college hostel where he lived. The brightest moment during the riots occurred when hockey sticks, stones and iron rods gave way to a biryani feast between the students of Eaton House and BE College.
Kashundi also talks about the real life sources of his characters, scenes like the open field flooded with moonlight in Bhoma, random amateur productions with colleagues at the Damodar Valley Corporation and writing Solution X.
The first volume, to be brought out by Lekhani, ends with Sircar reaching London where he would join London University’s town planning faculty and more important, be introduced to the London stage. For his experiences in France, Nigeria and his growth as a dramatist, one has to wait for the next phial.
“I want to write new plays but I find I have run out of ideas. I have also been very ill. But I haven’t stopped writing. I am writing other things now. A travelogue Bishyoykar Shyamdesh and a play Naditey have been published recently,” smiled Sircar between forbidden puffs at his cigarette. “I am compiling some of my old letters in the form of a narrative, proof-checking Ebong Indrajit (a textbook now) and writing the third instalment of Kashundi,” he added.
“Third Theatre is still on, though not everyone is willing to acknowledge it. In the cities the few who come to see our plays like it, in the villages we get a more warm response. The last play I saw at the Academy was so bad I lost interest in what goes on,” said Sircar.