Congratulations, Vijay

I was honored this week to be asked to introduce dramatist and lifelong theatre practitioner Vijay Padaki when he was honored by a group of his former business students from the Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore. They organized the event to recognize his recent Lifetime Achievement Award presented to him by ASSITEJ, a global network of children’s theatre practitioners, at their annual Congress which was held this year in Havana, Cuba.

Transcript of my spoken remarks:

A wise person once wrote, “A man often finds his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.” Put differently, life is full of surprises and unexplored paths inviting you in new directions.

Vijay Padaki

In 1979 while I was a 12-year-old growing up in southwestern Virginia, Vijay Padaki was teaching Organizational Behavior at IIM-B.  Who would have thought that Vijay, in addition to his background in management and psychology, was also actively involved in running, and in continually growing, the Bangalore Little Theatre, which has now been going strong for more than 60 years. It is Bangalore’s oldest nonprofit theatre.

I have never met a wiser, more astute, more dedicated theatre artist than Vijay Padaki. Mine and Vijay’s paths first crossed in 2012 thanks to the power of the worldwide web, when he reached out to me about my play Tesla’s Letters.

It was the beginning of beautiful friendship. We continued talking by email, and the next time I visited India in 2014 I flew to Bangalore to meet him in person and to see the Bangalore Little Theatre present one of their biggest productions up to that point.  What amazed me, as compared to community theatre groups in the US, is that members didn’t just show up to rehearse and perform plays as a hobby, but that BLT also led classes in acting and stagecraft including set-building.

I was blown away when I saw that Prof. Padaki had made his back yard into a small amphitheatre for BLT’s performances and rehearsals, which to my Indophile mind evoked the famed 19th century outdoor performances at Jorasanko, the Tagore family home in Kolkata.  And that was only the beginning. The more one gets to know Vijay, the more pathways of his life emerge. He joined Bangalore Little Theatre in 1960, the year of its inception, and later served the company in many capacities. As well as being active in the theatre for fifty-five years, Vijay was simultaneously a management professional for over 45 years.

He is the Founder-Director of The P&P Group, a management resource center that has programs of research, consulting and training in organizational and institutional development. More recently, India’s Ministry of Culture invited Vijay to initiate the Arts and Heritage Management program in India. He has written over 40 plays and has adapted or translated several other scripts for publication. In 1993, Vijay won the award for best contemporary play script instituted by The Hindu newspaper for his play Credit Titles. The North American premiere of his play Shakespeare By Any Other Name occurred in Toronto in August 2023, and it was performed, appropriately, outdoors in a park. As a university faculty and psychologist, the International Association of Applied Psychology elected him a Fellow for his lifelong contributions to the field of Organizational and Institutional Development.

I—how?? How does this human being do so many things, and do them all so well? He is truly a rarity among us.

In 2018 when I returned to India as a Fulbright-Nehru Scholar, I was honored when Vijay allowed me to become part of the BLT family by having me teach a playwriting workshop for their members.

That same year, when I was going through a brutal divorce and custody battle, Vijay was my rock, offering me his years of wisdom and sound advice. The guidance I remember best, and which has become my life’s motto, was, simply, “Avoid alcohol and self-pity.” I urge all of you to take his advice, by the way. You’ll be infinitely happier.  I hope he has had as much an impact on the trajectory of your lives as he has mine.

I am so happy to see Vijay continue to receive much deserved recognition not only in Bangalore, and not even only across India, but increasingly across the world.  During the Covid lockdown, he was interviewed by Philadelphia theatre fixture Tina Brock for her podcast, An Existential Dinner Conversation.  I so much enjoyed seeing these two grand masters of theatre, one in Bangalore and one in Philadelphia, connecting and celebrating each other and their devotion to theatre, while being watched by an international audience.

While I was last in Bangalore in 2018, I was also able to observe first-hand BLT’s Children’s Theatre Program at work in classrooms, both in Bangalore and in a remote tribal area of Mysore. I know that this work is extremely important to Vijay, and I was honored to see the fruits of his labor, and was reminded of the powerful impact theatre can have on young minds. Among Vijay’s many works as a dramatist are a number of children’s plays.

As we know, he was recently presented with a lifetime achievement award by the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People, a global alliance of children’s theatre professionals. The ceremony was held this year in Havana, Cuba. I’ve read some small tidbits about it online and gotten a brief recap of the event from Vijay along with a few snapshots, but I am eager as all of you to hear more about it from the man himself. 

Vijay, I am as always, honored to know you, and humbled by your talent, your wisdom, your patience, and your ability to have theatre seep into our lives in so many unexpected places.

Vijay Padaki, congratulations.