Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Prabha Tonk: A fabulous actress, superb wit

Somewhere back in 1998, I wrote a play – Birthing Athena. It eventually was performed at the Sri Ram Centre in New Delhi but this post is not about that production. This post is about someone I met thanks to that play – Prabha Tonk.

Some Dilliwalas, especially the theatre-types would know Prabha as a director or casting agent, or in some of the many roles she plays in her life. Strange then that not many of us have had the privilege of watching her act. In the past few years she has rarely stepped on the stage - and that is a tragedy for all those who love theatre!

I was warned that she was picky about her roles and didn’t take on anything that didn’t match her standards or expectations. But of course, absolutely heedless and completely convinced of my own play, I marched into her house one afternoon, script in hand, hoping she would say yes. I must also confess that I was desperate – my lead actress had been forced to drop out and the opening night was less than ten days away. I hadn’t even met Prabha before, or seen her act. But most of the actors I respected and liked thought she was great – and that was sufficient for me in my despair.

Prabha offered me tea, in that husky amazing voice of hers and that precise accent. And I was sold! This was my lead character just brought to life, with equal parts of maternal affection and no-nonsense individuality. She said she would have to look through the script before she accepted. I left her house with my fingers tightly crossed.

She called later in the afternoon and informed me rather perfunctorily that she would be happy to be part of my play and would be happy to know the rehearsal schedule. Phew….if she only knew the relief I felt.

To cut a long story short – Prabha was brilliant in the play. She grew and grew to fill up the entire stage whenever she strode across it. Even my frayed nerves – that kept me away from the auditorium for long stretches – could not refuse to recognise the power in her portrayal of the loving yet fiercely ambitious mother of my play.

Prabha and I have stayed in touch long after that play. I know that she must be in any play I put together again. And she has grown to like my writing enough to be a part of public readings for both my novels. Beyond her ability to act, there is one more thing I admire about Prabha – its her pithy, ironic, cutting sense of humour.

So when she sent me a piece about mothers and learning lessons of life from them, I of course laughed out loud. There was much in the piece I recognised from my own mother. And there was a clear recognition of Prabha’s own mothering experience. The piece made me laugh when I first read it, and it still makes me smile. And that is the best reason to share it with everyone else. So this is from Prabha Tonk:

Things I learned from my mother

1. My mother taught me to Appreciate A Job Well Done.
"If you're going to kill each other, do it outside. I just finished cleaning."

2. My mother taught me about Religion.
"You better pray that will come out of the carpet."

3. My mother taught me about Time Travel.
"If you don't straighten up, I'm going to knock you into the middle of next week!"

4. My mother taught me about Logic.
"Because I said so, that's why."

5. My mother taught me about Foresight.
"Make sure you wear clean underwear, in case you're in an accident."

6. My mother taught me about Irony.
"Keep crying, and I'll give you something to cry about."

7. My mother taught me about Stamina.
"You'll sit there until all that spinach is gone."

8. My mother taught me about Weather.
"This room of yours looks like a tornado went through it."

9. My mother taught me about Hypocrisy.
"If I told you once, I've told you a million times. Don't exaggerate!"

10. My mother taught me about the Circle Of Life.
"I brought you into this world, and I can take you out."

11. My mother taught me about Behaviour Modification.
"Stop acting like your father!"

12. My mother taught me about Envy.
"There are millions of children in this world who don't have wonderful parents like you do."

13. My mother taught me about ANTICIPATION.
"Just wait until we get home."

14. My mother taught me about RECEIVING.
"You are going to get it when you get home!"

15. My mother taught me about MEDICAL SCIENCE.
"If you don't stop crossing your eyes, they are going to freeze that way."

16. My mother taught me about ESP.
"Put your sweater on; don't you think I know when you'll be cold?"

17. My mother taught me about HUMOR.
"When that lawnmower cuts off your toes, don't come running to me."

18. My mother taught me HOW TO BECOME AN ADULT.
"If you don't eat your vegetables, you'll never grow up."

19. My mother taught me about GENETICS.
"You're just like your father."

20. My mother taught me about WISDOM.
"When you get to be my age, you'll understand.

21. My mother taught me about SHARING.
"I am going to give you a piece of my mind!"

22. My mother taught me about FEAR.
"One day you'll have a child who'll do the same things to you."

My mother was the BEST!!


  1. Prabha has passed away after a six-month illness. Just returned from her funeral.

    1. Hi Sri, yes I was informed...can't believe it! Am still trying to process it. Please pass on my regards to the family on Wednesday. Will send my condolences as well