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Thadhiginathom: Part 3
- Zakir Hussain
English translation: Dushy Gnanapragasam

July 6, 2020

(Reproduced with permission)

An Illustrious Future
It was my second year in college. I was seated in the classroom of my department head pretending to pay attention while trying to fight off my heavy eyelids made heavier by the generous breakfast I had helped myself to at the hostel earlier. To my department head, I was an unnecessary being whose only purpose on earth was to occupy space. He regarded me with such abhorrence - an abhorrence such men usually reserved only for those who dragged them through the halls of Supreme Court over some unlawful claim. In local lingo, I was to him a 'waste fellow'. I was startled out of my slumber when the secretary of the arts department entered the classroom.

"Sir, may I come in?"
"What is it that you want?" inquired my department head though I suspect he already knew the answer to his question.
"Sir, can you excuse Zakir for a while? The Principal wants to speak to him."

My department head was petrified of the Principal. In a valiant effort not to betray that fact, he turned to look at me. Then with a smirk on his face - the smirk he usually wears every time he tells me, "I don't expect you to amount to anything, ever!" he shook his head giving me permission to leave. I bolted out of the classroom like a felon escaping jail. My entire class, numbering 12 as the Azhvars did, stared at me in jealousy.

"What's the matter, Sir?" I asked the secretary once I was out of the classroom.
"I have very good news. Do you know who is visiting us from SpicMacay this season?"
"Who, Sir?" my eyes conveyed my eagerness.
"Mrs. Chitra Visweswaranů"

My feet left the ground that very moment and I felt weightless. I had seen her dance many a time on Delhi Doordarshan and had read many reviews of her performances in Ananda Vikatan magazine. She was the dancer of my dreams.
"Really, Sir? We need to organize a grand event for her." That was me coming back to the reality of the task at hand.

"That's right, my dear fellow. And that's why the Principal sent for you."
When we both reached the Principal's office, the arts department secretaries of every college in Salem were already gathered there. As soon as we took our seats, the Principal addressed me.

"Zakir, Chitra Visweswaran has agreed to do a dance performance at our college. Do you know of her? What do we need to do to prepare?"
"She is an internationally recognized artiste, Sir. There will be a lot of people coming to see her dance. Our auditorium won't be big enough for the crowds."
"Alright then. Let's build a new auditorium."

The Principal looked around at those gathered in the room as if asking for their acknowledgement.
"There's only fifteen more days to the event, Sir."
"So what? Let's build it in ten days. You go ahead with planning all the other details. I will go survey the location."

The gathered dispersed as if in a daze.
The Principal held a Master's degree in architecture. He was known to do as he said. And he did. He, as well as his family, were fans of my dancing. I had been invited to his house on many occasions and he had helped me in numerous ways without my asking. I maintain my friendship with his family to this day. His name is Dheerajlal. His wife is Veena. They are very kind and generous Gujaratis.

I take this opportune moment to do a bit of shameless self-promotion. Eight years after my college built a new amphitheatre to host Chitra Visweswaran, it built another grand amphitheatre and inaugurated it with my dance performance!

Planning for the event meant I had a free license to roam. The college regulations stipulated that absenteeism due to college related matters shall not be used to penalize the student. I found every bit of excuse to exploit this rule and be absent from class - putting up posters, inspecting the stage construction, communicating with Chitra Visweswaran's student secretary Srikala Narasimhan about lodging arrangements, resolving issues with sound and light design, organizing the festival committee and welcoming committee, and so on. My department head was so furious with my new rise to prominence that I would not have been surprised if he had dispatched a local gang of goons to fetch me to the classroom. Yet his mood was understandable. His class of twelve had now been reduced to eleven with my absence. But I had no time to worry about my studies. I had too many important things to take care of to be distracted by such trivial worries.

I worked with such enthusiasm as if it was my own show that was being staged. I awaited that auspicious day like a soul awaiting redemption; like a lamp yearning for light. I only had one expectation and wish for that momentous day.
All I wanted was a PHOTO taken with her.
(June 26, 2020)

To be continued...

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