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All about teaching English

ROMESH CHANDER

Polie Sengupta's latest play "Keats Was A Tuber" needs drastic editing to sustain the interests of the audience.

Polie Sengupta is one of the most promising English playwrights in India today.

Her plays are set in Indian situations and contexts. One has seen some of her plays like "Manglam", "Thus Spoke Shoorpuakha, So Said Shakuni", and "Alipha", all directed by Joy Michael for Yatrik on the Delhi stage.

Sengupta's latest play "Keats Was A Tuber" as directed by Bhaskar Ghose presented, once again, by Yatrik premiered last week at the India International Centre.

The play is a tirade against the present system of teaching English in most of the schools and colleges in India.

The locale is the staff room of the English Department of a small college somewhere in Tamil Nadu.

In a discussion between the head of the English department, Nathan and Raghu, who has just joined the staff in a leave vacancy, we hear him say, "Have you ever bothered to notice what kind of prose has been selected for this non-detailed stuff"?

Charles Lamb's essay, A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig ... That's what I have to teach today. I have to take apart Lamb's delicate whimsy to boys and girls who are first generation literates. And worse, much worse, I have to talk about the mouth-watering and irresistible taste of crackling of roast pork to a group of students, a great many of whom don't eat meat and over half of whom are Muslims".

Or again when Mrs. Nathan asks him not to waste students' time lecturing on Karl Marx and communism, he says, "Why shouldn't I do that? I am expanding their minds, helping them grow, that is what teaching is about. Real teaching. Not this cramming and vomiting out that you and your colleagues expect them to do. Memorise, by heart, mug up!"

While chanting, he goes on to say "Keats was a tuber... Keats was a tuber... Keats was a tuber... culosis patient... culosis patient... Is that all you can tell them about Keats? That he had tuberculosis? And so it goes on.

Unfortunately the play as it stands needs a second look both by the playwright and the director.

Take for instance, the scene between Professor Iyer and his student Damini discussing Pride and Prejudice.

It goes on and on before the student sums up: "Literature goes beyond the question of language, it has to do more with experience... "

Need for editing

The play as a whole needs drastic editing. It could be cut by at least 30 minutes.

For instance, the poetry recitation that couldn't hold the audience's attention except for those from the academic world.

Then again the same holds good for the women who harangue us towards the end. The play improves considerably in the second act and makes up for a lot in the first act that was perhaps responsible for quite a few in the audience leaving during the interval.

Except for some newcomers seasoned actors like Avijit Dutt as Professor Iyer, Ramesh Thakur as Dr. Denis, a professor of long standing, Sinia Duggal playing as Mrs. Nathan, Head of the English Department, were very good and so was Ashish Palimal as the office boy with speech deficiency. But Sunit Tandon, particularly in the earlier part of the play, both in his speech and mannerism, one feels, misplayed Raghu's character as visualised by the playwright.

The play has a potential but what it needs is a revision both by the playwright and the director.

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