Our correspondent tries her hand at getting gloves and puppets to tell a story
Bend your wrist,get the puppets face to a thirty degree angle and learn to move it. Now,why are you moving its body when its face is still? Come on,say something funny. We need five characters for this session and names which will click with the kids Anupama Neogi and Debashish of The Puppet Theatre,Chandigarh,hurled the instructions at me without mercy. I had chosen to play a puppeteer to a group of active,inquisitive,hard-to-please five-year-olds at Strawberry Fields kindergarten and I had an hour to get the technical details right while my audience waited impatiently.
A single finger glove,a four-finger glove and a string of puppets came tumbling out of Anupamas bag. It was a delight to watch how toothpaste covers,paper plates,slippers,paper strips,tennis balls,small shoes were transformed into bees,alligators,a magician,a fly,an elephant and a small girl. My job was to convert these into walking,talking,dancing characters,who were grumpy,sad and happy with different voices and expressions. These are muppets,as only their mouths move. Play with them first and then think of a story,keeping in mind your audience. You have to give them something that they can relate to,laugh at and transport them into a fantastical world, said Anupama.
Give me a story at least, I pleaded,as the mats were put out in the school lawns and the children jostled for the front row seat. You can never go wrong with an animal story,less words and more action, said Debashish.
Numbers,chocolates,friends,magic,good boy and bad and a Cinderella danced in my head. I picked up the colourful muppets and before I began,I got a little help from the children. Call him Chikku Ram please, was a request from one bubbly boy. While my four fingers moved Chikkus upper jaw,the thumb got the lower jaw going and I was told in whispers by Anupama to modulate my voice like that of a child. Chikku Ram,I told them,was lazy and loved watching television,eating chocolates and had a crooked nose. His friend,the foam bunny,which we called Bunny Sir scolded Chikku Ram for not doing anything.
My audience was tough and I had to think on my feet. No patience here for a long,winding story. Whats Cinderella doing? I want the elephant to speak,Is the boy good or bad? While the questions came quick,I tried to balance three puppets in my hands,make them speak,laugh,sing and keep up the tempo,with Bunny Sir encouraging Chikku Ram to run,play and count till 40.
By the end of the story,the laidback Chikku Ram had been transformed into hardworking Chikku Ram. Then came in the magnificent magiciana puppet made of a tea carton. He had sequined eyes,a door knob nose and moved with the help of an attached rod.
This was a tough balancing act,for when the arms were in place,the feet went haywire. But the children simply adored him as I made him dance with the strings attached to my fingers. But while I got the magician moving the storyboard in my head went blank!
I looked helplessly at Anupama,Take out the child in you, she encouraged. But before I could think straight,the strings attached to the magicians arms and legs ended up knotted. Debashish stepped in and finished the puppets part with a gentle flick of the wrist and finger wiggles.
I then went back to my story. Chikku Ram was on the field,not eating chocolates,Bunny Sir and he were now buddies,the magician with his wand had transformed the children in the audience to Superman,a fairy,a butterfly,while the elephant and the lion took a nap.
Alls well with the world, I said with a sigh and ended my short haphazard stint as a storyteller. After a short round of applause from the tots,I was swarmed with queries. Are you coming back tomorrow? What new story will you tell next? the children asked.
As I left the school,I promised myself that Id have a rollicking tale ready the next time I performed for my exacting audience.