An Unusual Love Story
‘Tomar Ami’ is the Bengali adaptation of Slovak play ‘Take Me In Your Hands’
Evald Flaser is a popular Sovak litterateur who writes novels, plays, short stories, and essays. Many of his plays have not only been translated in many languages, but have also been performed across the globe. Many of his short stories and plays have been translated into 32 languages including Bengali, Hindi, English, Malay, Nepali, Indonesian, and Turkish.
What makes him popular is that his subjects have a universal appeal and are timeless in their impact and execution. His subjects cut across language, culture, status and age.
One of his plays, ‘Take Me In Your Hands’, was performed in Bengali on the Kolkata stage recently by noted theatre group Ganakrishti. Titled ‘Tomar Ami’ (I, of You) it was adapted from the original into Bengali and directed by Amitava Dutta. Flaser’s play takes us back into the world of books through an ancient-looking bookshop selling dust-covered, rare books many readers have forgotten.
The protagonist in the play is this ancient book store which has seen better days, and the books do not sell at all. The owner, a weary man with a heavy bearing, named Ajit (Debshankar Haldar), clings to this shop founded by his grandfather.
It was run by his father and then hom, as if his life depended on the books gathered on the floor of the shop, on the shelves against the walls, in the backdrop, just everywhere. The shop has not seen a coat of painting or any repair work for years together.
Ajit is probably in his 60s, living alone as his wife is not in his life anymore, and has not been able to pay the rent on the shop for longer than he can remember. He is painfully considering selling his entire lot of books at dirt cheap rates, as there are no buyers and he has no money to run the shop beyond a few months.
Just around this time, he hires a young assistant Maya (Soma Dutta), to help organise the shop and also, selling off the rare books collection.
Maya comes from a shanty area and desperately needs a job. She jumps at Ajit’s offer, though the salary is an apology of a pay, only because she loves books. Despite her poor background, Maya is quite smart, confident and loves dusting the layers of dust off the shelves and organising the books in proper order much to the chagrin of Ajit Babu.
He loves the mess his shop has become, the smell of old books keep him captive in the shop, and Maya too often forgets to go home. Her language is often dotted with slang which shocks the boss, but she sticks her tongue out and says “sorry.” She also drinks and smokes and invites Ajit Babu to share in the simple joy of letting go.
Slowly, their common love for books pulls them to each other. One fine day, Maya shocks Ajit by confessing that she has fallen in love with him, a man old enough to be her father. The straight-talking, slightly hesitant Ajit is first dismayed, then stunned, and then surprised to realise that he too, reciprocates her feelings.
But while Ajit wants to dispose of all his old books and clear the shop before handing it over to the landlord, Maya keeps on pushing him to add other goods for sale such as flower vases and dry flower arrangements, along with cups of tea, so that the buying population increases enough to save the sale. She has fallen in love with the shop and its owner.
Maya begins to sleep in the shop to be able to read as many books as she can. Instead of asking for a pay-hike for working overtime, she asks for access to read as many books as she possibly can and though Ajit is surprised, he says okay.
There is a surprise twist in the climax but the prediction is clear, the shop will not be sold after all. Maya and Ajit rename the shop as ‘Tomar Ami’ where “tomar’ meaning “you” refers to books, while “ami” refers to book lovers.
This is a single set play (Tapas Mill) with the bookshop covering the entire expanse of the stage with books.Dusty books lie all over the place in a ramshackle room where the community tap just at entry point (outside the stage) has a ceaseless leak, where Ajit often slips badly, and book buyers prefer to stay away.
The lighting, (Jayanta Mukhopadhyay) keeps on flitting and floating according to the changing moods of the characters and the ambience. Goutam Ghosh’s music is subdued, and loud as and when called for.
But the play would not have been so brilliant minus the creative inputs and performances by the two lead actors, Debshankar Haldar and Soma Dutta who bore the responsibility of presenting the play well with their scintillating performances. It is quite challenging to hold the audience's attention with just two characters. But they have done it and some more.
However, the intellectual references spouted by the extremely well-read Ajit might go over the heads of a majority of the audience. not all of us are as well-read as he is.
The set represents a small, closeted bookworld with just two members in it. One is the old owner Ajit who is as decrepit as his shop, and the other is Maya, modern, trying to remain as sophisticated as her limited means allow.
‘Tomar Ami’ takes us back to the world of books, in Kolkata’s College Street or London’s Oxford Street where just the smell would be addictive enough to go there again and again. Alas! That world is about to exit from the radar of old-age reading of printed and published books and get settled in the digital world forever. ‘Tomar Ami’ is a good play, it is moving enough for you to carry it out of the theatre with you.