Come February-March, I fondly remember the excitement and the gusto with which I would wait for Yoni Ki Baat. I don’t know how I found Yoni Ki Baat (or how Yoni Ki Baat found me). In the past, I have written about my hesitation in performing for this play. Honestly, the hesitation left me the first time I went up on stage for my performance. It was a Eureka moment, a life defining moment for many reasons. From there, there was no looking back.
2008 and 2009, I performed in Seattle’s Yoni Ki Baat. I don’t know if anyone of you was there for the show, or if anyone remembers my performance. I have never been a stage and spotlight loving person. In school, I would be the last person you would see voicing her opinions. The darkness, the sharp stares of the audience I could feel, with the bright lights on my face has always made my knees jelly-like. The whole world staring at you from a dark vista point is not a very comfortable feeling to live with. Stage performance was so not me. Then, Yoni Ki Baat happened.
Was I scared? Hell, yes! No matter how much you have rehearsed your lines, nothing can help those butterflies flapping their wings inside your stomach. You know that your friends and the entire Seattle/greater Seattle community is going to be there to listen to you. In some ways, you are the most important person on the stage that evening. In some ways, the stage is the most important and the defining thing of your life that evening. It is natural to feel queasy, for it is much more than a performance. You know you are about to talk about some really personal and taboo topics. No amount of hand holding and good wishes can dispel the fears that are nagging you. Was it the right thing to do, to be on stage and talk about things that can turn away a potential boy friend if he found out? Is it okay to talk about things you would rather your mother did not hear of? I am reputed to have made some daring stunts on stage, now that I think of it. Do not get me wrong, my issues were not always sad issues. I have had some very happy scripts as well. They were taboo issues nevertheless.
A girl in the 6th grade orgasms in class without knowing what an orgasm is, and believed for years that she had a “happy blackout”. The writer Juno spoke of unfulfilled dreams of motherhood. That was me performing on stage. Sometimes I was a 6th grader wondering what exactly hit my world that day and gave me a blackout. Sometimes I was that twenty-something old woman who wants to experience motherhood. Sometimes I was 27 and unmarried, unable to find a connection between the Jakes and Lukes from Harlequin Romances she dreamt of, and the Kamal Kishores and the Neelkanth Kumars she actually met in life. Sometimes she was a happy yoni, sometimes confused, sometimes angry, and sometimes scared. At the moment whatever her emotions were, she always found her voice on stage, a truthful and authentic voice that belonged to her and never failed her.
I realized in the process of scripting my play, that comically cynical, sarcastic satiric writing is my forte. I wrote about grave and serious issues in a way that had the audience in splits. It just came naturally to me. Here I was talking about how “the common man, even after topping the IIT and ending up as a software luminary, spends his entire life paying off mortgages for a house in the outskirts of Bellevue”, and here my audience was laughing uncontrollably. When I was sad, the audience laughed. When I was angry, the audience laughed. Once, all I had to do was go up on stage to start my performance, and some people (probably my friends who knew me) started laughing J
It was an important realization, that this is perhaps where my voice came from. I found it immensely therapeutic. It is not that I intended to become a standup comedian. However, no matter how I said my story, and how sad my story was, the audience always laughed. I am glad they did because I did not want them to weep, feel sad, or shift uncomfortably in their seats. Yoni Ki Baat gave me a blank canvas on which I could paint whatever I wanted to. And I found my voice in humor. Some of my best writings turned out to be the ones coated with a cynical, satirical overtone.
I discovered my comfort zone in writing scripts. I got hold of my stage fears. I learnt to get there in front of people and talk about things that were important for people to think of. Not only this, I made a set of wonderful friends during the process of rehearsing for the play who are my sisters I will cherish all my life. These are not just friends who I’d watch a movie with or have dinner with. These are my sisters I would call up and talk for hours. They are the friends who know me as I am, know of my fears, and still love me for who I am without the glitter and the makeup. Unconditional love is what I got from them. This is why Yoni Ki Baat has been such a life defining moment for me.
I missed Yoni Ki Baat in 2010. Last year, I moved out of Seattle and hence, I will be missing Yoni Ki Baat 2011 as well. Yoni Ki Baat 2011 is special. My good friend Shahana Dattagupta who I met through this play, and performed with for two consecutive years, is directing it this time. I know I am going to be there in every sense, except physically. If it were not the middle of the semester, I would have flown to Seattle in a heartbeat. But I realize that is not going to happen.
If you happen to be fortunate enough to live in or around Seattle, I would strongly recommend you to go watch the show. My best wishes go out to the participants this year. I know you will be nervous on stage, but it is very important that you get on stage and tell your story to the world. From personal experience, once you are there on stage and the show has begun, you realize nothing can hold you back, and nothing really matters anymore. I went up and told my stories as if nervousness or hesitation had never mattered to me.
Lastly, dear Shahana, congratulations on your new role as a director. You have all my love and best wishes. You have made quite a positive impact in my life, and congratulations on your journey from being a performer for 3 years to being the director this year. Someone out there 3000 miles away will be cheering for you and is very proud of you. Good luck to you and the entire team of Yoni Ki Baat 2011.