A Brief History Of Brain Drain employs Shakespeare to explore the age old myth of Brain Drain followed in India.
These were his first words. There was no doubt about it. The happy eager parents did not pay much heed to this at first. But it was not until a few years that a diagnosis proved their worse fears. Their son was born with a rare speech disability. The village pandit was certain that a demon had possessed the child. The chances of their son to have a normal life were thwarted no matter what they did. In a society that termed the birth of a baby girl as a curse, being the parents of a disabled son was almost criminal.
Over the years, the family had sold half of their land to cure their son. They had gone to various pilgrimages, consulted a lot of babas and kept many fasts. Yet somehow the Gods remained silent. The couple worked as daily wagers to make ends meet. Their attempts to try for another son resulted in three more daughters. Though the boy was eager to attend school, everyone knew there was no real future. There was no way that the bumbling disabled kid was to ever be a metric pass and get a job. He could never dream of becoming a babu or even a peon with his disability. Hard earned money could never be wasted on educating the village buffoon to learn and recite the Sanskrit Shloks. Even if he was able to get married, there was no guarantee that he would draw a dowry that was close to what a normal bodied man does.
No one understood a word the boy said. He would speak in a silly language that the villagers would laugh at. They would imitate him, mock him and berate him. But there was something that they could never do. During the Navratri, a special program was organised just before the Ramlila started. As the solo performer of the show, the kid would don different costumes and utter gibberish. He performed the show with passion but the villagers were there to be entertained. So funny was his performance that audience would bursts out in laughter as soon as he would come up on stage. Despite having an ignorant audience, the show was a massive hit. And the money bought a few simple meals for the family that were more fulfilling than the dry fruit-filled sweets during Diwali.
It was during one of such occasions, that the sarpanch of the village invited the Inspector Sahib to attend the Ramlila. The sahib, a Britisher, had agreed to accept the invite just to keep the pestering old man away. He was posted to the village only a month back and was already disgusted by filth around. The heat was unbearable and the natives were irritating. Though they feared him, they kept bringing him all kinds of spicy foods with funny names. From pickles to papads, the food was either oily, unedible or plain unhygenic. He knew his posting here was going to be a long and tiring one.
A special chair was arranged for the guest of honor right in the middle of the huge squatting crowd. It was really difficult to say what was more troubling : The huge blood sucking mosquitoes or the stink of the cow dung cakes that were burnt to fend the pests away. The organisers were at their wits end to stop the crowd from vexing the snobby Sahib. Whenever he looked around, he saw people smiling at him for no reason with expectant eyes. He wished he had never accepted the invite and that the program would end soon.
The commotion stopped and the music started. The sarpanch announced the presence of the Sahib and signalled for the show to start.
“To be, or not to be: that is the question” shouted the disabled boy. The crowd could not control their laughter. The chief guest was flabbergasted.
As soon as the performance ended, the inspector asked the sarpanch to produce the young performer. He said he wanted to speak to the kid alone.
“You speak English?” asked the Sahib.
” Y..You..You can understand me, Sir?” Tears rolled down the kids eyes as he tried to even as he tried to maintain his composure.
” Where did you learn the language?”
” I don’t know. The Villagers say it must have been some demon. Can you really understand what I am saying Sir?”
“Yes. I can. You have a distinct Bristolian dialect. Now tell me the truth child, who has taught you this language?”
” I swear by the holy Gods, Sir. No one has taught me. They say I am cursed and disabled for the way I speak. They wouldn’t let me in the school. I can’t even read. This is the first time I am having an actual conversation.”
” And what about Shakespeare ?”
” Who Sir?”
” The lines that you were performing on stage?”
” Oh… those lines come to me when I am asleep. I recite them from memory. I perform them in front of the villagers because it makes them laugh. Are these words derogatory? Am I in trouble?”
” What you performed tonight is one of the greatest plays ever written. You might be a genius or a great con-artist. I just can’t decide which.”
The sahib was an experienced man. He had been to Burma and Africa before being transferred to India. He had seen bizarre tricks, inhuman feats and unbelievable miracles performed just for a few shillings. Most of the performers were thugs, street magicians and con men. But still there were men who had the ability to do something that others could never dream of. The Kid that stood in front of him had no etiquettes. He was dressed in shabby clothes. The lack of proper nourishment was evident from the bony fragile structure. Yet the Sahib had never seen a Solo performance of a Shakespearean play executed with such precision.
” Tell me child …Do you love your parents.” said the Sahib.
” They mean everything to me, Sir.”
” Would you like to go to England?”
“Will they understand me there, Sir?”
“Why, of course. Everyone speaks English there. Your talents will be recognized and you won’t have to be poor anymore. No one will ever call you a disabled kid. You can take care of your family too. ”
” If that’s the case, I would be fortunate enough to be considered to go to England, Sir.”
” But you will have to change something…I don’t know what your name is. But you will have to change it so that you could fit into the society there. It just one of those things that will make you more acceptable. And while you are at it, learning proper etiquettes would benefit you a lot.”
” I understand. But I don’t know any good names. Sir, Would be kind enough to suggest a few names?”
” Let’s see…Joseph, Nicholas, Stephan. Hmm…Geoffrey, Edmund, Richard, Noah. Yes, Noah sounds perfect. You are like the chosen one, aren’t you? It suits you perfectly.”
” What about a surname sir. Shouldn’t I have a surname?” came the curious reply.
” Well, I found you reciting Shakespeare. Why not Shakespeare then?”
“Noah Shakespeare. That sounds amazing.”
Soon the kid bid farewell to his family and his village, to which he would never return again. The dumbfounded villagers still could not believe that the Inspector had recommended the disabled funny kid of a poor worker over their more talented children. They began parading their kids in front the officers quarters each, hoping that the Sahib would select one of them. It was not until the next six months that Noah’s family recieved a letter with about 2 pounds in it. Another six months and the family managed to become one of the richest families in the village.
It would be years before the villagers would decipher the secret. The same disabled kid who was shunned by them was now their hero. To master the way to riches, they began to send their children to an expensive English school. Every other wealthy and talentless child spoke with a perfect accent. They made their children wear clothes just like the Englishmen. Those who failed to go to foreign lands, produced more kids and trained them even harder, until one of them made big. Every parent now wanted their children to become the next Noah Shakespeare.
A strange tradition that is still being observed in India.