Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
I chanced upon an Art and Culture Youth Festival in the center of New Delhi recently. The multi-evening festival showcased a colorful collection of dance, theatre and musical performances from all over India. There were traditional folk dances mixed with modern interpretive numbers, there were giant, fifteen foot dancing puppets and musical fusions of eastern and western instruments.
On my second night attending, the second to last act was a play put on by students from an Indian university. I was disappointed to find that the play was in Hindi (a lot of the festival up to that point had been in English).
As I was getting ready to leave, a young man dressed in a tuxedo walked to center stage. His chest was puffed out and he sported a sinister black cape with a bright red inner lining that hung from his broad, imposing shoulders. He spoke and Dracula’s voice boomed and reverberated off the steps of the small, crowded amphitheater.
A second character entered from stage left and stood across from Dracula. He was much smaller in stature and wore a striped shirt. His face was painted white. The Mime was silent and had none of the bravado of the much larger Dracula. He held a small, unassuming mirror in one hand.
Then, a young man appeared from down stage and walked toward the two juxtaposing figures now occupying center stage. The Mime greeted the young man with excited waves and a gay smile. He held his mirror up and threw a handful of glitter into the air.
Dracula rose one arm out of his cape and with a foreboding smile, beckoned the young man over to him. Hypnotized by Dracula’s gaze, the man barely seemed to see the Mime. As he approached Dracula, the Mime jumped and waved in a silent, desperate plea for him to reconsider. His smile had flipped into a frown.
Once the man was under his spell, Dracula yanked his extended hand back, as if pulling on a string attached to the young man’s heart. The victim clutched his side and crumpled to the ground. His lifeless body was dragged from sight and in it’s place a grave stone appeared. A young woman entered from down stage and the drama repeated itself. A second tombstone appeared.
I decided I’d stay.
The play carried on in Hindi, but some of the props were were in English which gave me a general sense of what was going on. As it progressed we followed a group of young adults undergoing the trials typical of youth: narrow-minded teachers at school, demanding parents at home, and a workforce that didn’t care about them. All the while the Mime and Dracula were locked in a battle for the young people’s hearts and souls. One by one, each youth was picked off and recruited into Dracula’s swelling ranks. The Mime seemed to have met his match.
Before long Dracula was commanding an entire legion: blindfolded actors and actresses frantically paced back and forth across the stage while others worked mindlessly at rote tasks. Backstage, behind them all were two actors, one on his hands and knees, the other standing on his back, his right arm ticking relentlessly in a clockwise circle, his left arm slowly following suit with each full revolution of his right.
All at once, everyone froze. After a short monologue each of Dracula’s minions brought a rectangular piece of cardboard to their mouths. On each was written the word “EXCUSES.” With their free hand they pointed accusingly toward the audience. Near center stage another of Dracula’s minions lifted up a large sign with “WHAT’S YOURS?” scrawled across it. Then, for longer than was comfortable, there was silence.
It seemed as if the entire audience was scared to move—me included—less any of us admit that we too, might be guilty of our own excuses.
I hadn’t understood a word the actors had said but I knew this story by heart. I’d seen Dracula before. I was engrossed. Whenever a joke was made I laughed with the crowd even though I never knew quite what it was we were laughing about.
Dracula was now working on his newest target. At the back of the stage five of his minions stood with signs in their hands which were turned away from the audience. One by one each walked up and slapped the bold, young man resisting Dracula. Then they’d reveal the words written on the other side of their sign.
SLAP! The first sign was revealed: “Comfort Zone.”
SLAP!! The second: “Doubt.”
SLAP!!! Each strike across the poor holdout’s face—to the growing amusement of the audience—was louder than the last. They were real slaps. The third sign was revealed: “Not Enough Time.”
SLAP!!!! The fourth: “Expectations.”
Then, the last of Dracula’s sign-holding converts approached center stage. The youth flinched in anticipation of this ultimate slap. It never came. Instead the sign was silently revealed in his face: “FAILURE.” His fate was sealed.
At the beginning of the play, each young adult had carried a handheld portable radio which tuned them in with an inner music that they and the Mime could hear and dance to. But now each had broken their radio. No one danced anymore.
Near the end, one of the youth managed to remove the blindfold from over his eyes. For the first time he could see the absurdity of his still-blindfolded peers.
This particular young man had not only broken his radio, he had carelessly mishandled the radio of a friend, who had given it to him after his own radio had broken. Now his friend was one of Dracula’s drones.
Newly awakened, he was given the choice again. This time he could see the Mime. He looked into the Mime’s silent mirror and walked away from Dracula’s outstretched hands, into the glitter.
After another monologue two signs were held up, one near Dracula and another near the Mime. They were different acronyms of the word “FEAR.”
Dracula’s read “Forget Everything And Run.”
The Mime’s read “Face Everything And Rise.”
Then the play ended and I again found myself 7,861 miles from home in a strange city, under a strange sky, surrounded by strange people. They didn’t eat like me, dress like me or worship like me. We didn’t even share a common language. But we shared the same enemy.
His name is Dracula.
*Featured picture is of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.