Monday, February 25, 2008

OUT OF THE COMFORT ZONE...

The rotors are whirring at full throttle, and the sunlight filters through the spinning wings into his sleep-laden eyes. He’s never really liked small planes, but the fatigue of the past few days have made him immune to the claustrophobic environment of the tiny flying box. He’s stayed awake the whole night and now, even though his body is crying out in exhaustion, he cannot really get himself to sleep. There is a bundle of thoughts between him and his conscience that morning. He has a lot of things to prove, to himself, his admirers as well as his critics. The impending show in Dimapur, Nagaland is one with individual performances after a long hiatus. He has done well in the group performances so far, and it is time to prove his mettle in solo performances as well. There have been a few uncomfortable questions raised against his ability to hold a crowd on his own, and they’ve been justified ones at that. Having been a dentist, it hasn’t been in his nature to shout out loud or to jump left, right & centre and run across the stage so as to sway the crowd along with his moves. A Doctor is calm, composed & makes the patient feel at ease by putting them into a cheerful & relaxed state of mind. In Indian Idol & in Live shows, he has been expected to be the antithesis of this – He’s supposed to be wild, unrestrained, loud - a stimulant, an aphrodisiac! But he remembers what he himself had said during an interview – “The best thing about performing live is the unparalleled thrill of having the crowd at your control …the feeling of being God for an hour or so, and then getting back to being a normal person, one among all of us.” Show business requires certain traits to be picked up, and the mantra to success is adapting to new situations, creating new scenarios and coming out of one’s comfort zone. Over the past year, he’s broken many self-placed barriers & has slowly but steadily come out of a shell, all for his own good. His vow to keep learning with time has not gone unfulfilled. Today, the learning over the recent past will be put to trial, and this gives him some anxious moments.

As the plane starts descending, he sees a welcome change on the horizon. The appearance of mountains brings back memories of school & expectedly, a smile on his face. He’s had a few friends from Nagaland, and from what he knows of them; he believes them to be a humble & talented people. He’s heard other things as well, some of which, unfortunately, has not been very good. The showdown between extremists & the general populace is not something that makes headlines but is very much a barb in the fabric of his country. Since the North East is something that most know little about, it is almost another world altogether. The dialogues mouthed in Chak De India by the north-eastern members of the hockey team are not far from the truth… He tries to banish the thoughts from his mind as the wheels grind against the tarmac. At the tiny airport of Dimapur which handles less than 5 flights a day, he’s welcomed by the organizers with their children dressed as little angels. Their cherubic smiles & the pink of their cheeks melt him instantaneously. His face is drawn into a smile but that soon changes to a stoic expression of concern when he enters the city & notices the roads to their destination - tiny, broken & dusty. He notices many places where there’s not a soul in sight. Someone explains that this is mainly due to lack of planning & an impending change in government but he can’t help assuming otherwise. The organizers make sure his fears are unfounded by ensuring that nothing obstructs the entourage on their way by having a jeep full of armed soldiers precede it. There is armed militia patrolling some roads & this reminds him of riot hit areas. This is something he’s seen only on television and never in his wildest dreams had he visualized that one day he would find himself in a sensitive zone and be flanked by such a high level of security. When he finally gets to the guest house, he notices the sense of urgency with which the gates are opened, the vehicles moved in and he’s whisked in. The Guest house is something out of old times – airy, spacious and homely with high ceilings - a trademark of the British era and which in today’s date is a luxury not many can afford. The caretaker of the house is a bubbly young lady who is professional, yet so warm & caring that he takes to her immediately. Her family is extremely sweet and her brother has a literal avalanche of a collection of DVDs. Out of this, one that catches his fancy & occupies his next one hour is Westlife – Live in Stockholm. He loses himself in the flawless performance of the four member boy-band – replete with superb co-ordination and simple yet captivating dance steps. As the songs & performances whiz by, he is transported to another world, imagining himself & his band, singing & performing to perfection and getting their teamwork right. The thought pumps him up further to do well that evening.


Close to the hour of the show, there is palpable anxiety in the air. The short trip to the venue gives him goose bumps, both out of excitement & by seeing the deserted roads fast filling up. The stadium had been deserted when he visited it last for a sound check, but now it is teeming with people, clawing at the gates & pounding at our vehicle. It brings back fond memories of Idol days when the fanaticism was at its peak & such things were daily occurrences for him…

The show is a sellout, for there are people as far as the eye can see. Now the challenge lies in justifying the trust of the sea of people who’ve turned up to see their favorites. Little children greet him on stage with the traditional Nagamese jacket and the show takes off from there. The crowd is not only swelling in numbers, but in their involvement as well. Only once before, in Nepal, has he seen the audience in such fervor, lapping up every word uttered and every performance dished out. They are so fantastically encouraging that he attempts a lot of things on stage which he’s never even fathomed he would do. He puts together a small composition which is appreciated & draws a lot of cat calls (had never imagined cat calls would be so satisfying one day). He jumps around, runs across …. You name it! His body’s gonna be sore for a few days but it’ll be worth it. J F4’s co-ordination is fantastic & they are in sync throughout, even in some parts which they had never prepared & performed impromptu. The singing goes up another level and he’s glad that as a band they are growing with every performance. The crowd is completely involved, enjoying every moment – they sing with us, they dance with us, they stick on till the very end. He is overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. After Nepal, this is the only show which becomes satisfying in every sense of the word – the sound, lights & the musicians have been top-notch. The performance has been good, the crowd response - outstanding, the crowd density - overwhelming (more than 15,000 people showed up, with another ten or so waiting outside the gates. Another ten did not turn up because they didn’t expect to get any tickets!!!) . The hospitality is genuine & the concern of the organizers very real. After a long time, he’s met people who see him not as a performer but as part of a family. He feels completely at home. Post-show, a party is thrown to celebrate the booming success and it goes on late into the night. The next day, the people of Dimapur get back to their normal lives & their work in politics with a smile & a sense of satisfaction. He gets back to Mumbai, with a content heart – this has been his best Valentine’s Day ever! Apart from the adulation & respect he’s gathered, he returns with the biggest prize of them all – the best compliment he’s ever received in his life – “Meiyang, you’re an inspiration and a role model to all of us here.”