For ten-year-old Ori, his mother’s life as a theatre actor holds as much fascination as it does fear. Approaching adolescence in an unstable home, he is haunted by her nightly stage appearances and the suspicion and resentment her profession evokes in people around her, at home and among their neighbours. Increasingly consumed by an obsessive hatred of the stage ori is irrevocably drawn into a pattern of behaviour that can only have catastrophic consequences. Political bullies, actor, hairdressers, set boys and backstage crew make up the world of The Firebird, a visceral exploration of a young boy stumbling into adulthood, far ahead of his years.
Playhouse is the North American debut of the Firebird published by Permanent Press.
Majumdar, Saikat. The Firebird. Hachette India Local: 2015
Majumdar, Saikat. Play House. Permanent Press: 2017
Disaster came early in Ori’s life, at the age of five, the first time he saw his mother die.
Around him was a warm nest of people, people who munched on popcorn, their faces lit up by the dark red light of the fire pit. They looked around, put their arms around him lovingly, their palms covering his eyes, and murmured, “Look away. You don’t have to see this.” To each other they said, “We should have put him to bed.”
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Ori walked in the direction of the reddish brown turrets. He walked towards them quickly. He had slipped out of the little house where the troupe had put up, without anybody watching him leave: the men smoking and toying with the wigs, the backstage players, the hairdressers and the make-up folks and the set-boys shooting back and forth past the balcony.
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It was wrong of her to pretend to be someone else’s wife.
They hated it, his aunt and his grandmother. Sometimes the maids giggled with strange, star-struck eyes. He remembered the photograph that had appeared once in a newspaper, a close-up shot of his mother’s face and that of another man, looking at each other with a strange kind of fear in their eyes.
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Before going to bed, Ori combed and brushed his grandmother’s hair. Every night. He loved to play with the grey white strands. He would undo the neater braids woven by Maya earlier in the evening, comb out the sparse strands, make uneven, odd-shaped plaits. Suddenly, his Mummum seemed small and weak and breathed the sad smell of an old woman in bed. The smell of coarse cotton and old wrinkled skin made his heart ache.
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Interviews and Discussions
A Playhouse Ready to Vanish- With Keri Walsh for Public Books
Kolkata’s Fading Theatre and a Boy Who Played with Fire- With Aditya Mani Jha for Sunday Guardian
Curtain Rises on Lost Stage-With Dipanjan Sinha for The Telegraph
Memory and Place-With Joseph Daniel Haske for The Los Angeles Review of Books
Read about the documentary series that treats Firebird as its muse in Times of India- Neeraj Kabi joins hand with Sujoy Prosad in a docu to chronicle city’s theatre heritage
A discussion by Lantz Fleming Miller, Politics of Sexual Identity: How Contemporary Indian Literature Dispels Any Need For Differentiation, on The Punch Magazine
Ketaki Datta provides a close reading of The Firebird in ANTYAJAA: Indian Journal of Women and Social Change