A candid telephonic interview with Umesh P N, author of 'The Boy and the Drum', published by Pratham Books brings out the man minus his other avatars, namely of an engineer, author and a theatre person. A simple 'I-am-no-different-from-anybody-else' kind of a person throws light on working in theatre and with children.
Shruthi HS : You have completed your Bachelors Degree in Engineering with a distinction. Yet, here you are in the field of theatre. Why the switch?
Umesh : By the time I finished my engineering course I had already done a year of theatre. Though I was placed during the campus recruitment, after I finished college theatre came to me naturally as the road to be taken.
S : Do you employ your engineering skills/knowledge in your life in the theatre?
U : Most definitely. I do a lot of sound engineering and designing.
(Umesh took care of the sound aspect for an all-night play that was staged four times in a week for two months in National School of Drama, Bengaluru.)
S : What made you write this book?U : Back in 2003, the theatre group that I was working with received regular requests from All India Radio to stage plays on air. One such project delivered a very rough script of The Boy and the Drum which was to be made into a 17 minutes musical. I rewrote this Odissi folktale to suit a AIR's requirements.
S : When you looked at the physical copy of the book, what did you think?
U : This is a story that I did quite a while ago and it was filed away in the recess of my head. I never entertained the thought of seeing a print copy of the book. So it was a very pleasant surprise to me! And Rajiv being a great illustrator added to the charm of the story.
S : Do you have a favorite part in the story? Any particular illustration that you liked over the others?
U : That's a hard question... But the best part of the story for me was that the boy did not feel a sense of disappointment right from the start when his mother could not by him a drum. He took it in stride.
And my favorite illustration would be the all-women band. I think it is a deliberate move the Rajiv has made. “It's an amazing thing, an all-women band!” Rajiv had said.
(Ahem... Dear Readers, had you noticed that?)
S : Are we going to have more such stories?
U : Yes, there are more plays in the pipeline, some already written and staged even. Currently there aren't many plays for children and the ones that are there are mostly preachy and didactic in nature. We're trying to break away from this and introduce children to the transactions of daily life. The sooner children are introduced to this grey area, the stronger will they be ethically and morally.
Right now I am working on the translation of 'Punyakoti', (the folk song) from Kannada to English, retaining the folk format. The aim is to keep the translation simple and sing-able.
S: You have been associated with theatre and children for fourteen years. How has your experience with them been?
U : I was very fortunate to have had spent a great deal of time working with kids. It was a fascinating experience. Most times we would work on having a story and getting the kids to tell us what the story conveyed to them instead of giving them the message the story was supposed to carry. What they could see that we couldn't was really amazing.
S : You have said that you are interested in theatre as a method in understanding the self. Please shed some light on this.
U : Theatre allows you to understand how experiences are constructed. You can positively construct one's experience to enhance their learning of things. It lets you build your power of self-analysis; you understand who you are. When you encounter a situation in daily life, the distancing in theatre enables you to distance yourself from the situation and view it from all angles, Thereby lending rationality to your arguments. It lets you understand that there are other viewpoints that are equally valid.
S : Tell me about me Umesh, the person.
U : Well there's nothing to say. (After much prompting and cajoling) Currently in our society there's this whole thing of individualism which manifests itself in many ways. A 'Do you know who I am?', 'Do you know how much I've achieved in life?' weight is what most of us carry with us. The effort is to see that this is exactly what it is – a weight and not an advantage.
(He has a very interesting take on himself and here the difference lies in the sameness.)
I'm just like anybody else. I don't want to stand out. I don't care.
S: What do you have lined up for the event on Saturday at Rangasthala on the occasion of International Literacy Day?
U : Well, I'll go with the moment. See what we have there and work on it. The plan is to have no plan. :)
Thus spoke Umesh, a very enthusiastic and outgoing person.
Thank you for agreeing to be (in your own words) 'interrogated', Umesh! :)