The blue reel
By Walt Whitman 1819-1892
Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky…
There's an impatient honk and there's the sound of tyres screeching to a halt as the signal turns
red. There's a shrill whistle signalling the cars at the opposite side of the road to move. The traffic
police are trying his best to control the unruly cars, but it's a daunting task. Then there's the splatter of water as pedestrians make their way around water filled potholes, as though playing the game of hopscotch: winner is one who gets to the destination with the least amount of splashes on their
Privy to all this is the Arabian sea, a layered expanse of sheets of blue, with each sheet smoothly
picking up pace and rolling over the sheet that has lost some of its potential energy, creating a
mesmerising show of crests and troughs, while sprinkling the passers-by on the promenade with
water. The sprinkle could very well be the cry of the sea for attention, its attempt to get people to
acknowledge its beauty and elegance, while they move on with their lives.
This drama is a dumb backdrop pasted to the glass facade of the TAO Art gallery, one of the oldest
art galleries in south Mumbai. The sounds of vehicles faintly carries into the gallery but otherwise it's
like watching a silent movie, where the scene is played on repeat mode with the colour of the sea
changing from a bright white dazzling in the sun to an ominous black as the sun sets beyond the
horizon. Oddly, it is a graphic that has diligently accompanied Hesh, just like the endless landscape of
fields and trees running parallel to out-station bound train. Hesh is on-board the train of life and the
backdrop of a waterbody is a constant witness to his life, even following him from Mumbai to
Manhattan. "I grew up at Shivaji Park in Bombay. My cousins and I would play at the beach, showing
up after hours of making sand castles and downing large quantities of naariyal paani," says Hesh
Sarmalkar, a professional actor now settled in Manhattan.
Born to a family of filmmakers, Hesh naturally had an inclination for the performing arts but his
journey to becoming an actor took its staggering path, not unlike the Hudson River. "Education was
always stressed upon by my parents and they always tried to instil a good balance of doing well
academically and simultaneously following your passion, whatever it may be. I was always fond of
acting, and of course, since my mom's family was one of the founding families of the Indian film
industry, I was exposed to good cinema at an early age. But my dad always said that I could only act
if I stood 1st or 2nd in class." Then at the age of 16, Hesh had to deal with a course-changing
obstruction, his parents said, 'no more acting!' Submitting to this undesirable tide, Hesh decided to
at least do it on his terms. "I always aspired, for some weird strange reason to live in America. This
obsession arose with a Walt Whitman poem I studied in school, it was called Miracles. It had a line
that said, ‘As to me I know of nothing else but miracles, Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan, Or
dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,…' And that stuck with me. Since the age of 14 I
used to frequent the United States Information Centre at Churchgate, reading everything about
America, especially New York. Parents were of course sceptical about my dream to study in
Manhattan because the movie Saaransh had released around then, it was the story of a son who
gets mugged and killed in New York. But I was very bold and ambitious, so very smartly I found a
university that was only 45 minutes from Manhattan. This way I could go to Manhattan once or
twice a week. This fulfilled my parents’ criteria of not living in Manhattan, and it worked very well
for me as I got a $40,000 scholarship for an MS PhD program in Neuro Bio-chemistry."
"I finished my course work but I had that constant nagging feeling that said, 'you know what, this is
not what I want to do!' So I finished my double masters and left the world of science research and
joined the Strasberg acting school in New York, switching unswervingly to acting. It was a tough
choice, but backed with my rich legacy, my upbringing and the unflinching faith shown by my
parents and sisters, I boldly followed the whispers of my heart," says Hesh about finally making it to
his career delta.
After firmly saying no to play stereotypical roles, Hesh finally bagged some crucial rules in plays
and got his foothold in the world of acting. "To strike a balance, I joined the Asia Society; it's a
cultural and educational organisation. I felt like this was my way of staying connected to my roots
through my profession," says a patriotic Hesh.
As Hesh narrates his story while sipping on a glass of nimbu paani, the Arabian Sea seamlessly
blends with the clear blue sky, giving a sense of eternity. In contrast to the sea, the Hudson River is a
lucid void, a clear breather meandering through the glass-steel-concrete jungle, perhaps, flowing
constantly to find a quiet home close to earth while the buildings soar up towards the sky. "I don't
know if it has followed me or if I'm following it but it has consistently accompanied me wherever I've
settled. Whenever I'm thinking of a scene that has an emotional element, I like walking by the
Hudson River because I look at it this way: the divine drops from the heavens created the water,"
says a passionate Hesh. Interestingly, an anti-climax to Hesh's story is his desire to leave the
waterscape behind and be surrounded by the grainy warmth of the desert in Rajasthan. "I've always
told everyone that my body is in New York and my soul resides in Rajasthan."