Mohan walked out through the huge iron gates, hands in his jeans pockets. His gaze was directed at the ground, his look forlorn and his stride slow. This had been his thirty-fifth audition; A failure like its thirty four predecessors.He stayed in a rental room on the terrace of a house in Chennai’s Kodambakkam area. Unaware of the bus he boarded, and which way he walked he managed to reach home totally lost in his thoughts.
He climbed what was now left of the steps leading to his room and knocked on the door.“Hey! What happened?” Saravanan who opened the door asked as he entered.
The recognition of a known face and voice plummeted him to the present .
Mohan let out a huge sigh and said “They want a macho muscular man, not me!Its Six Packs era now!”
“But director Kalaimaran makes realistic movies with good actors.”
“Used To. Now he is working for a producer who wants to make an all-in-all commercial movie. His own son is the hero. The audition was for the villain part. They want a new face.”
“Oh!! I heard that producer Devendran of Delta Movies is launching his son. It could be this one. He had produced two of Kalaimaran’s earlier films. Hmm!!”
Mohan slumped into a plastic chair at the corner, the only piece of furniture in the room.
“Don’t get too upset da. You know its not easy to get a chance in this industry. If they did not take you its their loss. Something better is on its way. Let me make some tea.” said Saravanan and proceeded to boil some water on their kerosene stove.
Mohan reminisced through the earlier events of the day. The director had not even thrown a glance in his direction.
The assistant directors who were doing the first level filtering had sent him away with a ‘Better Luck Next Time’. He loathed those words now.
Mohan belonged to a dynasty of zamindars - heir to the family that owned half of the lands in his village. He had a deep-rooted passion for acting from a very young age. His favorite game as a child was enacting snippets from the various mythological stories his grandmother narrated. He missed no opportunity in school to participate in skits and was an active member of the drama club at the local college where he had graduated in arts. He spent hours reading books on cinema and the various nuances of acting.
His father was of the assumption that Mohan would join him in managing the family lands and businesses as soon as he finished his studies. When he came to know of his son's desire to act in movies he was outraged. He belonged to the group of individuals for whom cinema had only one synonym. Vice.
“Its your age!! You believe in fantasies and waste your lives. You have been brought up with luxuries around you. That’s why you are not serious about money matters. You can do as you please. One day you’ll realize that you were wrong and would give up all these stupid dreams that you have built up. That day you can come back and our riches would still wait for you. Till then don’t expect a single penny from my end for these weird ideas of yours. ”
With these words from his father reverberating in his head, Mohan set off from his village with a hundred rupee note in his pocket and his heart heavy with hopes of becoming an actor one day. Saravanan was his best friend from college and was only too happy to share his room with him.Odd part time jobs provided some money to feed himself and to share other expenses with Saravanan who was already struggling to make ends meet with his job at a local magazine office. The rest of the time he went about attending auditions, trying to meet directors and producers to find himself a chance. He was not interested in commercial cinema. He did not want to become a star. He wanted characters that would unleash his acting potential to the fullest extent. The farthest he had gotten so far was playing the role of a guest at a marriage in a movie. He was one among three hundred and that was what he was paid as well. It had been five years now since he set off from his village. Only his mother would talk to him whenever he called up home.
Saravanan handed him a couple of Marie biscuits and tea in a glass tumbler. They stood on the terrace watching the scarce Saturday evening traffic on the road.
“I think my father was right.” Mohan said as he slowly sipped his tea.
“About what?” asked his room-mate.
“This whole acting dream of mine. It’s all non-sense. Maybe I just don’t have the talent and it’s just a stupid desire that I have”
“Come on!!! Don’t get so frustrated. I have seen you perform . You are one hell of an actor. Don’t ever doubt that. It’s just that luck has not favored you yet.”
“Then, may be it will never favor me. Look at me!! It’s been five years now and I am still where I started. I think I am not destined to do this. ”
“You should make your own destiny my friend.”
“This sounds good in books and movies. Reality is far from that. I think I’ll go back Saravanan”
“You mean…to your village??”
“Yes!!! At least my father will be happy. It’s been failure and failure and failure. If I go back I’ll spend my energy on something useful. ”
“Think well with a calm mind before making any decision. Don’t let your haste and frustration take control”
“No!! This has been in my mind for quite some time. I have made up my mind.”
“But this is what you have always wanted to do”
“And that’s why I never tried anything else in life”
“You need to be practical at times I guess. I have decided.I need to book tickets for tomorrow’s evening mail. Shall we go to the reservation counter in Mambalam station?”
As they stepped out of the reservation center Saravanan’s cell phone rang.“Hello……Sir.....Yes sir….Oh!!!..... Okay sir.”He disconnected the call and turned to Mohan.“It was Mr.Kesavan, one of our columnists. He is not well and wants to submit an article for this week’s edition to our chief editor. He asked me if I could collect it from him. Shall we drop in for a second and then go for dinner?”Mohan nodded.
The editor Kesavan was in his early forties and was a very pleasing person. He welcomed them both and spoke very amicably. As they sat on the couch discussing general current affairs Mohan noticed the paintings that adorned the walls. He had never seen them before and they were all masterpieces.
“These paintings are very beautiful, sir” he quipped.Kesavan gazed at the walls and replied
“They have all been done by my niece. She has great talent and greater grit and determination.”
“They are all amazing.”
“You would be more amazed when you see her. She is actually staying here with us. Let me introduce her to you. Please come”.He led them upstairs.
There was a white door in one corner, 'Divya's Studio' written on it in a beautiful font. Kesavan knocked and called out "Divya, Some friends of mine want to meet you".A tender voice; that of a young girl answered “Come In Uncle”
Kesavan opened the door. It was a huge room partitioned into two by a wooden frame. The completed paintings were on their side and Divya was working on the other side of the frame and hidden from their sight.“I have a couple of gentlemen here who seem to like your work a lot.”They crossed the partition and Divya came into their sight.
The sight struck like a bolt on Mohan and formed a lump in his throat.Divya was a teenager around sixteen years of age. She was seated in a raised chair. A canvas was spread on the floor and she was working away holding the brush between her toes. The full hand sleeves of her salwar hung loosely on either side of her shoulder where her hands should have been.She looked at them and said “Hello” with a very sweet smile.As Kesavan introduced them to her Mohan could not find the right words to say “I….I ….Your paintings are very beautiful” he said in a soft voice.“Thanks. My paintings are getting exhibited at the Madras art gallery next week. Please do come”
“Sure” Mohan replied.“Well, we’ll not disturb you more. You carry on.” Kesavan said and led them outside.
When they were back in the hall Mohan asked "How did it happen, sir?An accident?”
Kesavan slowly nodded his head and swiped his palms on his face and continued“She was good at drawing and painting even before she learnt to read and write.
When she was around twelve years old she fell from a moving train. We were able to save her life but not her hands. Her parents were shattered. But she has an amazing grit. She refused to let the handicap paralyze her life and snatch her dreams from her. It took a Herculean effort to get where she is now. But she has a never-say-die attitude. With the help of a trainer she learnt to draw with her feet. It was clumsy initially. With repeated practice she has mastered it and her feet now listen to every idea, every visualization in her.Even our chief editor wanted to do a coverage about her. She hates that kind of publicity for sympathy and refused”
After a cup of coffee, Mohan and Saravanan bid good bye to Kesavan.That night Mohan stood on the terrace directing his gaze at the millions of stars in the sky. Kesavan’s voice kept echoing in his ears. The image of Divya bringing her imaginations to life, with those magnificent pieces of art, using her feet was struck in his mind.He took the train ticket from his shirt pocket. He looked at it for a moment,tore it into four and held out the pieces. The wind whirled around the paper bits and carried them away from his hand.