Light…

Things to be done, deadlines to be met,

A life running past me, and being caught in the web.

Yet you call out, the voice that held me tight,

The only thing I can call as light.

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V V Puram – Food, Friends, and a Hairy Ass Story

“I know you are unwell but do you want to come to V V Puram next Friday after you return from Sydney?”

“What is that place?”

“Some street with street food”

When you are stuck in a hotel room for 4 days, with a contagious infection and dreams of going out every night on your first visit to Sydney hurting every corner of your existence, you would go to Timbuktu to try poison with a sworn enemy.

This was still my friend Nibbles asking me to come to an obscure sounding place to eat street food. But then, my North Indian ears were used to hearing names of places that were a stiff Sanskrit, a romantic Urdu, hostile Haryanvi, or lovingly wicked Punjabi. To such a set of ears, every place in South India sounded like either one of the many Hindu gods lived there or the name of a few hundred year old kingdom. In Bangalore, such places usually turn out to be old, dirty lanes with small shops and a large traffic jam just as the Sanskrit, Urdu, Haryanvi or Punjabi sounding places do.

“Yes.”

Sometimes I am grateful to god for not giving me the capacity to think too much or go to google and begin researching every place I was planning to visit.

Google, for its pros, belts the cat of curiosity instead of letting it loose on the real experience. However, true to my lack of capacity to think, I did not search or even make Google the culprit for killing my curiosity. It’s only in the hindsight that I came up with this brainwave of blaming Google for not ever testing the validity of my North Indian superiority complex about the street food in a South Indian city.

The D-day arrived; my friends picked me in a cab they had hired to go to V V Puram, 27 kms away, to do what? Eat?

I am again glad that I have the capacity for only hindsight thinking, else I would never get anywhere good in life or do things which are the most essential to our survival, such as going to a place 27 kms away for eating.

On the D-day, I had been back from my foreign adventure for a week and still getting over the misadventure of drinking too many packet soups and eating too much bread while being stuck to the same room for 4 days.

As it turned out, Nibbles was getting over her misadventure of an acid-stricken stomach.

“I feel like my stomach is rising up to my mouth.”

“Ugh! Do you want to play this game on phone ‘dumb ways to die’?

I don’t always offer the best sounding distractions for a painful situation but in this case it worked. We all took turns to play “dumb ways to die” on our phones.

If only we had a live bulb that turned red on assessing our sub-conscious reaction to seemingly innocent sounding names of games, we probably wouldn’t have played that game while Nibbles suffered from acidity and anticipation, I from uncertainty and a little motion sickness, and Vaffles from a patient excitement of being away too long from a once cherished thing. Each of us suffered a little more every few kilometers. Each of us wanted to get there fast for there in lay the end to our suffering of 27 kms.

I am not sure what path we took to end up in an old fashioned crossing with four small lanes flowing asymmetrically out of a seemingly circular park in the middle.

This park was the beginning of our undoing. We stopped outside a temple left to the park and got out of the car. Vaffles rushed to buy the first delicacy, the amazing starter to building an appetite for a much anticipated gastronomic adventure, the much valued drink by all foodies alike – the acidity syrup.

Vaffles and I flanked Nibbles on each side, cheering in our hearts, knowing that she would get to the place where we needed her to be, if only she would glug the pink liquid in the bottle and not stop until she was there, right where she needed to be.

Nibbles glugged and didn’t stop until she had drunk half the bottle.

Her eyes were shining again, we all smiled. We could live with anticipation, uncertainty, and excitement but acidity had to die before it killed our appetite.

We were proud and ready. V V Puram gates were open and waiting for us to come and savor.

Arm in arm, Nibbles and I followed Vaffles as he moved to the left and came to the beginning of a small lane. I looked ahead. The lane was a few meters broad, filled with small shops on sides, some open and some closed. The huge pans and ladles at the open shops clanked with a welcome beat, bringing a spring to our feet.

The first shop on the left was selling gulab jamuns. The gulab jamuns and the shop looked just the same as the first shop that stood at the entrance to the oldest part of my hometown. Strange though it was how a sight from 20 years ago could come alive in sumptuous looking black and brown rounds the size of a Ping-Pong ball, dipped in the sweet syrup, smelling seductively, the way only unhealthy food can.

Our feet followed our nose but our eyes saw something that broke the spring in our gluttonous souls.

As we timed our attack on the gulab jamuns for the end of our journey, two other ugly round mounds mocked at our appetite.  The gulab jamun server bent to pick god only knows what, his pants slipped from the back and his butt served itself to us, with the crack, the clank and way too much hair.

If acidity, headache, and 27 kms drive didn’t kill our spirit, this unsavory sight right where gulab jamuns were, sure did. The sight stuck to my vision, blocking all the food that seemed to be leaping out from the various small shops.

Only for a few moments though, after all, why should we ever break our spirit over an ass?

And we didn’t.

A large part of why nothing could break our spirits is because it resides in our gluttony. Don’t believe me? Here is the list of things we ate (or drank) in the next hour – Masala thumbs up, Corn and Mango chat, Mensin kai Bajji (mirchi bajji), Samosa, Breadpakora, Kulhad chai, Bele Obattu (Dal puranpoli), Kai Obattu (Coconut puranpoli), Idlis, Ras malai, Rose milk, Jalebi, Gulab jamun Dal vada, Kodbale (onion ring vada), Nipattu masala, Almond toffees, and Avrekkai (roasted val beans).

Another part of our spirits lay in the first few lanes beyond our homes that we explore with our once new found independence. V V Puram, for all its southern small street glory, took me back to those small lanes of my childhood where I had made friends for the first time in my life, explored the savory streets, and tasted street food in every nook and corner. It took me back to the lanes of Babra Mohalla and Quilla Road, the older parts of Rohtak where I would hang out with my friends, and savor every bit of my infant independence and freedom.

Be it south, be it north, are we ever too far from a friend who would hold our hand and take us to new places, help us discover new flavors, and laugh away all the hairy asses that block our way?

Nah…

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.