Diary from My Unknown Hometown Rohtak Part 9 – For the Love of The Movies

When I first heard the American expression – ‘going to the movies’, I thought, how many movies do they watch in one visit to a cinema hall? In Rohtak that I grew up in, one cinema hall showed only one movie at a time. Much later, when I discovered my first multiplex at PVR Saket in Delhi, I thought to myself, maybe all American cinema halls are multiplexes. Then the use of ‘movies’ and not ‘movie’ made sense. In a few years and a few visits to America later, I came to appreciate the ‘slang-ism’ in American language.

Anyways, this post is not about American slangs or the movies. It’s about going to the movies in Rohtak of the late 80s / early 90s. Rohtak of those days was a straight line in my mind with seven red dots, beeping the way the GPS location of criminals, beeps in all CSI kind of crime investigation series on TV these days.

Somewhere outside of my geographical imagery, beyond the Bus Stop point on the straight line was the first red dot, Bangar, the cinema hall where I saw the only Haryanvi language movie I have ever seen (because the hero’s father knew Dad and invited us).

Next was my home (which was not a cinema hall but could have been in my mind), from where began a small distributary towards Partap, the cinema hall where Mom and Dad sneaked many a movie nights after putting the three of us siblings to sleep. I still view it not as romance but betrayal on their part. Who puts their kids to sleep and goes to watch a night show and then scars them by sharing this fact many years later? Partap too closed down by early 90s, with the advent of VCRs and then the Cable TV, this landmark from my parents’ early years of marriage suffered a terrible fate. To the best of my memory, I remember it as a stinking, pissing place for the market around it. The building became shards eventually, ready to fall down at any time.

Coming back to the straight line, a couple kilometers ahead was Subhash, again at a little more than a detour from the straight line that I had come to view as Rohtak. I was way too young when we watched any films there. My elder cousins and brothers do remember a time when they showed decent films before slumping into showing the quick money spinners (read Blue films) and eventual closure.

The fourth beeping red dot on the straight line was Asoka, tall and magnificent. That’s the way I remember it, like a palace, much before it was broken down to make a shopping complex. For once, Asoka was on the other side of the sword. It all began with Asoka, all things fun broken down to make more of malls, markets, selling and buying places that made no sense to me and still don’t.

The straight line slurped ahead but there was something to break its motion. A railway track cut through this line just before the fifth beeping red dot, Liberty. This railway crossing caused all of us kids, a whole lot of anxiety, every time we wanted to reach in time for a movie in any of the cinema halls that lay beyond. Our anxiety set a series of events in motion that included us shrieking, Dad giving us one of his famous ‘Stop doing whatever you are doing or you have had it’ looks, us going on the silent mode for a few minutes before shrieking out loud again.

Liberty made for a beautiful red dot, because I visited it much later too during my college again. Next on the straight line came Raj which was reduced to another piss place and bulldozed eventually.

A little more than slightly parallel aberration would take us to Sheila, which in my mind was always out of the city, in a jungle, and it still is. Though, I do believe, that in reality it is pretty much in the city.

I am not sure why I loved these cinema halls the way I did. They were where I came to see life beyond my home and school. In cinema halls of those times, there was a hierarchy of seats. The front rows from the screen were called lower stall, it had the cheapest tickets, and people threw coins at screen at every macho dialogue and every great dance.

The upper stalls were the seats just behind the front row, a little higher in the hierarchy but still cheap. We only sat there in desperation if we didn’t get tickets to the balcony and box. The balcony was really a balcony right above the upper stall and directly in front of the screen. Boxes were one level above the balcony, but they didn’t provide a roof for balcony the way balcony did for the upper stall. Boxes were stationed above the boundary wall directly behind the last row of the balcony. Boxes could seat 6-8 people and were meant for groups / families. Boxes were where we watched most of films. It’s only now that I can imagine why. There were no seat numbers. The mob at the gate exploded the moment the gates opened. Running in midst of a mob crazy to get the best seats in the balcony with three kids in row would be too much for my parents.

It could also be that I loved the movies. As the legend goes, I was the only of us three siblings, who never slept in a movie. It could also be that after every movie, Dad bought us fish, egg, or bread pakoras (fritters). Being brought up in a strictly vegetarian joint family, the movies became his window to show us the world he had seen while studying away from home in his youth. He would tell us stories of how he once cured and befriended an old lady patient while studying and living in a hostel and that lady turned out to be the mother of a cinema hall owner. They gave him a free pass to watch any film that he liked, to come and go as he liked. It became his only source of entertainment, his very salvage at a time he lived on a low allowance in the hostel. The first movie he ever saw there starred Asha Parekh and till today he has stayed loyal to his memories. He has loved her though all of us at different points of time in life have argued that she was ugly and probably not that great an actress.

I could have gotten this love of the movies from Mom as well. I am not sure if she watched any movies prior to marriage while growing up in Punjab of the 50s and 60s. But she sure did make up for it while we were growing up.

She tells us the story of this one movie that one of her uncles took her and her sister to watch. They were staying with this particular Uncle and Aunt because my Mom’s mom, my Grandma wasn’t keeping well. My mom and her sister had very long, thick hair that probably used up a lot of oil and soap and her Aunt wasn’t too happy about that. So this Uncle took the two sisters out for a movie, treated them to a cold drink, and somehow convinced / dragged them to get their hair cut. Despite the heartbreak my Mom suffered for her love of the movies, she never gave up on it. She was as much a patron of the commercial romantic films and tearjerkers, those Rishi Kapoor and Rajesh Khanna kinds of movies, as she was of the serious cinema – Arth being her favorite over the years. Exactly the kind of movies my Dad hated as they stood in contrast to his love for Amitabh Bachhan’s ‘angry young man up against the evil’ cinema.

Though I love both kinds of movies, my Mom is still my hero when it comes to loving the movies. When Mr.India was released, all of us kids went crazy. I don’t remember which cinema hall was showing it or any other events / scenes from this memory, except that one Sunday afternoon, we were getting ready to watch the film when Dad said to Mom, ‘I will be back in a few minutes. I have to meet someone before we leave.’ For a man who once took two hours to buy bread because he met someone on the way, few minutes could be any amount of minutes. Mom waited for exactly 15 minutes, got us all into an autorickshaw and went to the cinema hall. She bought one extra ticket and gave it to the gatekeeper along with Dad’s description. Dad sneaked in and sat next to us just before the interval. In a small town in extremely patriarchal Haryana of the 80s, a woman taking her kids out alone to the cinema hall was a mean feat.  And Dad never left us stranded prior to a movie ever again.

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Diary from My Unknown Hometown Rohtak Part 8… The Golgappa Memories…

The only time I have accidentally met someone from my hometown while living miles away was in the Mumbai office of my current organization. It was a happy surprise that continues to delight me with conversations and an invisible bond of having walked the same roads, studying at same schools though a few years apart and most of all, having eaten ‘golgappas’ at the same chaat bhandars (road-side vendors who sell chaat).

Golgappas!

Golgappas!

Golgappas of Rohtak are not just another fried, crisp, hollow ball of dough that you fill with sweet, spicy water before eating. Golgappas of Rohtak are all this yet more of all the good things in life. They are not just concoctions of tamarind, cumin, mint, dhania etc. They are the very amalgamations of secret spices that sweeten the giggles out of friendship sometimes, add a layer of spicy chutney to a romance the other times, mix the mystery of unpredictable flavors to a mundane life still other times.

Golgappas of Rohtak were the very essence of everything good in the city.

My relationship to Golgappas began at ‘Janti Chaat Bhandar’, opposite to the Pratap Cinema at the juncture of Railway road and Shourie market. Just a few walks from my home on Bhiwani Stand, this was the place where my Dad first introduced me to the tasty little ball of fun.

Now golgappas are not really a child friendly food. They are the most wondrous food in the world but they are not child friendly. If you are going to place an intact crisp ball filled with sweet and spicy ice cold drink in the middle of your mouth and close it to crush the ball, your mouth better be big enough to contain the explosion!

A five year old’s mouth, food pipe and most of the times nose too can neither handle the size of the golgappa nor the depth of water it contains. Yet, gluttony is a sin that begins at an early age. I didn’t want to eat dahi bhalla without red chilies, customized to suit my 5-year old tum! I wanted to eat what my brothers, mom and dad were eating!

I still remember my first golgappa. Janti uncle, the owner of the chaat bhandar found me staring at my brothers and cousins enjoying golgappas while I held on to my plate of dahi bhalla. He fished in his tray for a golgappa of the size that might fit my mouth; picked the smallest one he could find, filled it with more sweet chutney than spicy water and quietly slipped it to me. I smiled, only to be greeted by the sweetest smile I have ever seen on anyone’s face. The dark brown, pudgy face of a man, a thin small mustache, and a smile of a mother seeing her new born for the first time. That was how Janti Uncle smiled. His smile turned into laughter when the golgappa didn’t fit into my mouth and broke halfway, wetting my chin with spices and chutney and causing chilly sensations, mucus in my nose and watery eyes.

He quickly dipped a papdi in sweet tamarind chutney and urged me to eat it. I don’t know if it was the sweetness of the chutney or his big heart, the chilly sensations stopped immediately.  

The cinema hall was shut down a few years later and I don’t know where Janti uncle disappeared. I only know we moved on to eating golgappas from Quilla Road, Railway Road before finally settling on Pratap Chaat Bhandar at Pratap Chowk.

When I was still 12 years old, Ma would specially make a detour towards Pratap Chowk while going from Bhiwani Stand to Quilla Road for shopping which otherwise was just a straight road. It was our special treat – a plate of tikki and papdi, washed off with a plate of golgappas at the end.

The loyalty continued during college. Every evening, I hung out with a friend whose home was dangerously close to Pratap Chaat Bhandar, thus, earning the chaat bhandar some loyal customers and increasing the heartbeats of all guys of our age who lived nearby. We two were probably the only ones who ate golgappas for golgappas not as an excuse to send signals to a guy ‘coincidentally’ having golgappas at the same time. The golgappa affairs were common as we both researched and observed during our endeavors. No parent would say no to a kid going out for eating golgappas without realizing that it was the breeding ground for pre-adults to check each other out and set some real dates!

A few years later, we shifted out of Bhiwani Stand and thus began a hunt for a new golgappa place, near our new home. After trying golgappas here and there, me and my sister-in-law finally settled on Bikaner Sweets as the best place around home to get our weekly dose.

Then one fine day, the oldest Rewri shop in Rohatk, Gulab Rewri opened a Golgappa corner near Sheila bypass. Beautiful, evenly-sized golgappas with a water filling to die for.

Finally, I moved out of Rohtak to experience West and South India. New places, new people and new flavors in the golgappas I found at golgappa vendors I discovered every week. And yes they called it Paanipuri, an insult to the very wondrous soul of a golgappa. While Golgappa refers to the very experience of a shape and how you eat that shape (Gol – round, gappa – eating something all at once without biting), Paanipuri simply means a ball of water. How original it is to call a thing what it is and not the experience of it!

Neither the taste nor the name anywhere else ever matched the magic of golgappas of Rohtak, and I grew sadder looking for that part of me that probably got demolished along with Janti uncle’s shop, that probably was left behind when we moved far away from Bhiwani Stand and Pratap Chaat Bhandar and the part that I gave up on when I moved away from Rohtak.

Recently, this friend and colleague from Rohtak told me that she attended a wedding at a five star hotel in Delhi where except for golgappas all the catering was done by the hotel itself. From where did the golgappas at this wedding came from?

From our very own Gulab Rewri! I am proud! 😀 😀 😀

Diary From My Unknown Hometown… Rohtak – Part 5

Yesterday a friend from Bihar was pulling my leg and another friend who is from Gujarat said – Pay me to bash him up and I will. And we all burst out laughing. A Gujju telling a Punju – born and brought up in Haryana to pay to bash a Bihari? Wouldn’t I be making my state proud by simply bashing both of them up and then also taking them to the hospital since they happened to be friends?

No offence to any state, please. I love my friends and we have loads of fun with these stereotypes attached to us.

And I suddenly remembered how it was to grow up amidst fathers calling their sons – Ullu ka Patha and mothers calling their sons – ‘kamina’… one of our neighbors couldn’t even talk to their pet dog without using MC and BC at least once every two to three minutes.

Abusive words or gaalis as we prefer to call them are Haryana’s and Punjab’s best gift to the world apart from agricultural and dairy products. Yes, I am proud of the ease with which all of us can and have used abusive words without feeling ashamed or embarrassed. That reminds me, my mom used to call me ‘chudail’, with love of course:-) As for that matter, she had different gaalis for different kids. One of my cousins was always a ‘haraamkhor’. My dad had a softer approach – all boys were and are still ‘khotas’ and all girls – ‘nikammis’.

All this is a matter of laughter for people who don’t know the true essence of being from Haryana. They imitate and have their fun because they truly believe that a gaali is meant for abusing. But we, the people from Haryana, can use gaalis in many ways. Gaalis are love at times, gaalis are scolding at other times, gaalis mean friendship a lot of times and gaalis are anger too many a times. Intimidated by gaalis? Consider this, my neighbor who called her dog MC and BC every now and then would refuse to make breakfast for her son many a times because she would be busy feeding her beloved dog. In his younger day, my dad has addressed every kid he has met in his dental and opticals business as either ‘khota’ or ‘nikammi’, depending on their gender, yet made friends with them and their parents. The same kids who gave hell to their parents before visiting would easily get their eyes tested and milk tooth extracted if he would be around.

One of my older friends and I still greet each other – saali, kutiya, kamini, haraamzaadi… SKKH… strictly in that order. Yet I know and she knows that we may live apart yet we can talk like that and we will stand by each other always…

But all this can really intimidate other people when they visit Delhi and bump into Haryanavi Hawaldars and Bus Conductors.

Apart from the free flow of gaalis, our walk and talk too can be intimidating for a lot of people. Add to that the fact, that we are not the people who believe in keeping things to our heart and not giving a good one to anyone who we think deserves it, can be a pain in the ass for a lot of other people.

What really differentiates people from Haryana from anywhere else is their pride and a belief that they are strong. In an argument, whether we are wrong or right, we say everything with so much of pride and confidence that the listeners can easily doubt themselves despite being right.

All said and done, people from Haryana come across as people with certain toughness in them.

So, in defense of the state that I would probably never go back to again, I can only say that what most people miss out on seeing is that people are from Haryana are impulsive and emotional to the core. They love and hate like the downpour of extreme monsoons. It is this extremist attitude that people mistake for aggression a lot of times and do not get complete essence of Haryana.