My college life was spent in a lower middle-class college in Kolkata known as St. Pauls Cathedral Mission College or in short St. Pauls. This was the very same college where my father and his cousins had passed out from. Nothing had changed according to my father when he visited with me for my admission. The same shaky wooden staircase the same old buildings and classrooms. Trust me it’s the same now even after me passing out of the college some fifteen years ago. What it missed in glamour was compensated in terms of student to student friendship. The reason was quite obvious since classes were not that mandatory and most of the day from morning until late evening we sat around the large football ground talking and enjoying food from the college canteen.
St. Pauls was basically a Christian college thus we had a chapel on the college campus and when we were not sitting on the ground we were inside the chapel. Do not mistake us for a bunch of religious freaks but we just sat inside the chapel to continue our rounds of talk. The summer days were cooler inside with fans running nonstop.
Most of the Christian students including me were part of a group called SCM (Student’s Christian Movement) which had various activities throughout the year for its members. During my college days, a major political shift was slowly developing in Bengal and that was reflected in college/university politics also. To escape joining the college political groups most of the Christian students opted for being a part of SCM.
A tradition that St. Paul’s had for decades was to have its Annual Christmas Gathering in the college chapel. This was the only day on the calendar that all the Christian students, professors, head of departments, principal and the designated chaplain would have a Christmas Carol service followed by sumptuous rounds of snacks. This was also perhaps the only day when the chapel would be somewhat full and decorated in all Christmas glory.
On the second year of college (2002) when I became quite actively involved in SCM activities I decided to take the matter of College Christmas Gathering in my own hand. I wanted to take it to the next level and instead of just having carols and Bible reading I decided to direct a play to be specific “Nativity” involving all my college mates.
Those were the rebel years thus our Nativity had to be bit different thus we shifted the timeline of the Nativity to the present millennium. Jesus would be born not in Bethlehem but instead in my own city of Kolkata. Instead of the three wise men, we had a social worker, a local don and a local student. Jesus was to be born to a family of a rickshaw puller. For the final twist, I decided to change the gender of Jesus to a girl child.
The script was written and handed over to our head of English department. She was a very senior professor of Calcutta University and after going through the script gave me a go ahead, she was a bit worried about the Jesus being a girl part but she was sure we would do justice to it.
The next step involved in writing the character-wise dialogues and after a couple of days it was finally ready for trial. The team was gathered in the chapel and almost all agreed to be a part of it. I had made several photocopies of the scripts and was distributed to each of the designated characters. Now the real twist in the story came since St. Pauls was mostly a college for non-English speakers it was just not possible for them to remember so many dialogues in English. It was time for plan “B”.
I had just finished my training in digital sound and video editing which I was pursuing privately and was eager to show off my skills so I had a brilliant plan. We would record the entire nativity and after editing with background music and sound effects would simply play the track and the actors will just lip sync to it. This was fine with all since no one wanted to risk remembering so many dialogues in the English language.
Honestly, the production was par excellence, the entire thing was digitally recorded and edited along with proper background music and sound effects. The final product was a real surprise package. The team also felt it easy to just lip sync to the track and after a couple of rehearsals, we were fine to go.
The final track had one final twist, however, to make it dramatic we introduced a live character that of “Almighty God” himself. The nativity would start with a live one to one dialogue between Almighty God and an “Angel” who would complain that the world has gone to dogs and it was the time that Jesus return to Earth. After this, the track would start playing and when the track would play that “Baby Girl Jesus” was born in the streets of Kolkata the Angel who was watching this from the side would angrily come to the front of the stage and ask to stop the play since Jesus was supposed to be a male child. All the characters who would be there on the stage will freeze and the Almighty God will tell the Angel that thing has changed and this time Jesus would be a girl child. The Angel would be convinced and the play will continue to the end.
It was just perfect and to make things interesting we printed cards with schedule inviting all the professors and other dignitaries. The college chapel was all decked up and for a change instead of just minute slices of cake along with salted savouries, we actually gathered enough fund to give proper food packets to all the guests for the evening.
The day finally arrived and unlike the previous year, the chapel was full so much so that people were left standing at the back trying to catch a glimpse inside. The chapel service was presided over by Rev. A Adhikari (now a very senior member of the church) and for the first time, the chapel organ was also played. Finally, it was turn for the nativity to start.
Lights were switched off and the play started just perfectly. Our English HOD was gleaming with joy with our preparations and all the guests were actually stunned to hear the nativity being enacted with background music and sound effect. The nativity was the last event of the day and after the wonderful evening, it was absolutely going perfectly. It was approaching its end when the last twist will come when Almighty God asks to stop the play questing the Angel as to why Jesus was a girl. The moment arrived and the Angel jumped in front of the stage asking us to stop the play, I was operating the sound system and paused the track so that the live dialogue could continue. The nativity had reached its climax and there was silence, pin drop silence. Almighty God got down from his chair and came to the front of the stage and stood with a completely blank stare at the audience. Not a single word just seconds of silence which were like an eternity to us. Other actors turned to look at our friend who was acting the part of the Almighty God just stood like a cold statue but he did not budge just uttered “Oh shit!!! I forgot my dialogue”.