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Resurrecting Caesar!, Submitted by S.K. Saksena
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My alma mater, BITS Pilani (then known as Birla Engineering College) was as much a centre of academic excellence, as it was a hub of cultural activity. That’s the way the visionary founder, Mr. G.D. Birla wanted it. Our theatre group was particularly active and we staged plays round the year. The rage of the campus was my classmate, D. Ramanathan. The way he could modulate his voice, change his expressions or roll his eyes, none of us could come any where near him. He was always acting even off the stage. He also acted in the classroom, when he could not answer any questions, regarding the intricacies of electrical engineering. Histrionics was so much in his blood, that all of us, including our Principal, called him ‘Drama’ Nathan. This moniker was something he relished very much. The choicest roles went to him. His piece de resistance, Mark Antony’s oration at Caesar’s funeral, was a permanent fixture in any variety entertainment programme. During bull sessions in our hostels we always made him act out the Mark Antony bit. In my days, any one who had even a bit of exposure to English Literature, believed that he knew that famous bit of Shakespeare by heart. When ‘Drama’ Nathan held forth, we waited with bated breath for the moment when we could also join him and blurt out “Ambition should be made of sterner stuff!” Or “O judgment; thou are fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason.” Whether on stage in the campus auditorium or in our hostel bull sessions, ‘Drama’ Nathan’s oration always ended to a thunderous applause. He would take a bow, and then another. Every Saturday, a movie was screened in our campus lawns. When the 1953 version of ‘Julius Caesar’ was announced, we all stormed to see the movie. None of us wanted to miss the opportunity to see Marlon Brando, playing Mark Antony and deliver that famous speech. ‘Drama’ Nathan wanted to benchmark himself against Brando, and he did pick up a trick or two.
Then a day came when ‘Drama’ Nathan met his Waterloo most unexpectedly. A variety programme had been arranged. On stage were Mark Antony, the First Citizen, the Second Citizen, the Third Citizen and the Fourth Citizen. They were all in their white Roman togas, which were nothing but the white tablecloths from our hostel mess. The poor dead Caesar was lying still under a white shroud, which was also one such tablecloth. As the prompter, I was on the sidelines, holding sheets containing history’s most famous speech. While Mark Antony might have had to ask the citizens of Rome to lend him their ears, ‘Drama’ Nathan had to make no such appeal to his expectant audience. With élan he started and audience emoted with every nuance of his delivery. They were all transported to Rome of Caesar’s days.
At one point the Fourth Citizen pointed to Antony and exclaimed, “Now mark him, he begins again to speak.” Thus ‘Drama’ Nathan after a pause continued with - “But yesterday the word of Caesar might have stood against the world”. Then with a flourish of his hands pointing towards the dead Caesar, he exclaimed “Now lies he there, and none so poor to do him reverence!” Just then the poor dead Caesar jumped up with a shriek, shrugged off his toga and ran off stage. Taken totally by surprise, I said to my self “Yeh kya ho rah hai”. But ‘Drama’ not the one to be flustered, kept alternating between praising Caesar and calling Brutus an honourable man. The four Citizens on stage gesturing to each other were a portrait of confusion. History was about to be rewritten. The audience was in splits and the clapping would just not stop. They thought that this time we were presenting a spoof of the great oration. They stood up and continued to clap. Our event manager, equally confused had the curtains pulled down, in the middle of Mark’s speech, and gave instructions to start the next item on the programme, pronto. We all rushed backstage to find out what had happened. Well, the poor dead Caesar was being stung by red ants, which were all over, thanks to a few clumps of sugar stuck to the tablecloth from the mess. The dead Caesar bore it stoically, till he could bear it no longer. Then he jumped up and ran out. For once, our very own desi Mark Antony missed a chance to take a bow ! I wonder how the real Mark Antony would have reacted, if the real Caesar would have jumped up from the dead. Would he have continued with history’s most famous speech?

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