Tom Alter as a cricket coash in 'Silence Please': True passion!
Many, many years ago – before internet, before std booths, before colour tv, before even Amitabh, my friend Larry King and I cycled from Delhi to Mathura to Agra to Fatehpur Sikri to Bharatpur and then back to Delhi – when we reached Faridabad on that early winter morning, we stopped at a rather modern restaurant to have breakfast – I remember we had corn flakes, which was quite a rarity then – corn flakes with cold milk -- I also remember Mathura Road being almost empty, and the morning air being crisp and comforting – many, many years ago –
Last Sunday evening, I was back in Faridabad – no, my friend Larry and I did not cycle there – and, needless to say, the Old Mathura Road, as it is now known as, was not all empty, and the air was not at all crisp and comforting – I drove down from Delhi to do a show of a play based on the life of Kundan Lal Saigal – a most remarkable play, written and produced and directed by Dr. M. Sayeed Alam – and in doing the play, I was almost able to forget and forgive the fly-overs and the traffic and the pollution and the monstrous buildings and the air of neglected development which is today’s Faridabad –
We performed for a nice audience of people who obviously loved and yearned for Saigal – and the performance that evening, with Yashraj Malik acting and singing as the legend, was full of emotion and empathy—as I sat at the edge of the stage and tried to fulfill my part as the ‘buzurgwar’ story-teller, I could feel all of us being transported to another time, another era, another universe – before even our cycle trip to Agra, before even Nehru, before even freedom – when Saigal was making a name for himself, singing Ghalib and acting as Devdas – and I felt us all uniting, letting all boundaries, even of freedom and democracy, fade away – and in one scene – when Saigal sings at the Senate Hall of Allahabad University – with Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, Ustad Fayyaaz Khan, D.V. Piloskar, Narayan Rao Vyas, Vinayak Rao Patwardhan and others in attendance – sometime around 1938 – we all, performers and audience alike, were lifted and uplifted beyond all words – Saigal is asked to sing the songs from Devdas, and the great Ustad Fayyaaz Khan urges him on – and we disappeared – and after the concert, when Saigal asks Ustad to make him his shaagird, Khan-sahib replies – “mujh mein behtareen ko behtar bahaane ka gun nahin hai –“ – “I do not have the ability within me to make the best into merely better –‘
And then, when the show ended, and we were savouring our final moments of transport and bliss, the true miracle happened – a tall, stately, white-haired gentleman – a Mr. Chatterjee, a former IAS officer, was called onto the stage as the chief guest – as he climbed the stairs to the stage, he looked at me and said, in a deep and emotional voice – “Are you the same Tom Alter who used to play cricket at the Academy Ground in Happy Valley in Mussoorie? Who used to bowl so fast that the entire Academy team (the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy in Mussoorie) would return injured after the match? Tom, you should have been the next Kapil Dev, not an actor!” –
And my entire being rejoiced, not only at his praise of my true passion, but at his josh and his humility and his grace and his being part of the seamless joy which is the true Hindustan.