Dawat e Ishq.

Daawat-e-Ishq

Ramesh insisted that we see a Hindi film and he was fascinated with this film because it is from the stables of Yash Raj Films. He is also besotted with Parineeti Chopra which only added to his keenness to see it. Since I had to shop for some personal items, and since the theater is in a very popular mall, I agreed to go with him and wish that I had not.

By that I do not mean that I did not like the movie. I could have spent the time more usefully elsewhere is all that I imply. An experienced writer and three very likeable actors in very effective roles have been wasted in a storyline that is powerful in concept but very weak and trivialised in execution. The dowry menace and the misuse of Section IPC 498A could have been treated more powerfully instead of this trivialisation and totally unbelievable conclusion.

I however enjoyed seeing Hyderabad and hearing Hyderabadi Urdu; and another great Indian city, Lucknow, currently the residence of my rakhi sister. Scenes from both took me down memory lanes and that was the only redeeming feature of the film. The music and dance sequences were less than adequate and noisy and so I can give only [rating=3] rating.  Ramesh and I have decided that we will both take a train trip soon to visit Lucknow. Maria, get the red carpet ready.

Story 18. Robert And Anton.

In 1961 and 1962, I was in Hyderabad living a very interesting bachelor’s life with a steady girl friend and making enough money to have a better time than most of my age group youngsters were having. One of the two favourite hanging out places for me and some of my friends was a place on Abid Road called Savoy which was a restaurant on the first floor. A very friendly Sardarji ran it and since it had a few cabins for private parties, it was a favourite place for cooing young couples to meet and have some snacks and coffee.

It was below this restaurant that I first made my acquaintance with Robert who would dust and occasionally even wash my scooter without my ever having to ask him with the expectation that I would give him a generous tip. He would do the same with the other scooters and motorcycles that used to be parked there and I suppose that he made enough to keep his body and soul together. He was a cheerful man around 45 then and so much older than I was or my friends but that did not stop him from being very friendly with all of us.

Over a period of time, I started using him to do other odd jobs for me like delivering letters and mail for which I would agree on a rate on each chore basis and he never failed me. Seeing me successfully do this, some of my other friends also did the same and he became a sort of courier operating out of that foot path. On some occasions when I had had too much of the good stuff, he would drive my scooter with me precariously perched on the pillion home and put me to bed and stay the night in my bed sitter till morning and leave after ensuring that I was operational. A kind of paternal bond that he developed with me that till date baffles me for its total unselfishness. There were many occasions when he had come to the help of me and my friends during our youthful capers and all my friends were also very fond of him.

Robert had joined the Indian Army as a young lad and had retired as a soldier after fifteen years of service. When his earning capacity became zilch and he had to depend on his meager pension, in a country with very opportunities for employment at that age for someone with hardly any skills, his wife took their children and went back to her parent’s place deserting him and leaving him to his devices. This was the reason for his enterprise that brought him into my orbit.

I moved to Chennai in December 1962 and lost touch with Robert till the middle of the following year when I went back to Hyderabad on business and met him. He requested me to find some kind of employment for him in Chennai as he was a Tamilian and wished to spend the rest of his life in Tamil Nadu. I promised him to do what I could and on return to Chennai, I did without much success.

In the meanwhile, in Chennai I had made friends with Anton, a very unusual fellow. A Franco Indian of French father and Indian mother from Karaikal. He was a Marine Surveyor for a French company and would survey ships for hull insurance claims on behalf of his employers in France. He was unusual for many reasons notably for his very flowery Tamil spoken like a trooper and English with a peculiar accent which made him stand out in a crowd. He would look like any Tamilian but wore his French ancestry like a badge of honour. He was a French citizen with Indian relatives and that was a formidable combination. He had a streak of wildness about him that was inexplicable and would take risks that normal mortals would not. He had a Ford Jeep with the steering wheel on the left side and would inevitably get into scrapes with other drivers on the road driving on the left side of the road in vehicles with the steering wheel on the right side. And when he had had a few under his belt, he would become a maniac and would drive like he was on open ground with no other traffic on the roads.

Anton was divorced from a lady who was back in France and lived alone in a middle class neighbourhood in an upstairs flat and had endless problems with his neighbours but since he paid a much higher rent than his landlord would get from an Indian, the landlord who lived downstairs would assuage hurt feelings and keep things from getting out of hand. He had trouble with his servants too and I must have seen at least half a dozen of them passing through his life in the three years that I knew him.

On one occasion when Anton was sans servant, I remembered Robert and asked him if he would consider employing him as a butler to which he readily agreed. I wrote to Robert and asked him to come down to Chennai to see if it would work out and when he did, it was obvious that these two were meant for each other. Robert moved in with Anton around the middle of 1964 when I was too busy to keep tabs as I was busy with my own life and adventures. We would occasionally meet at Anton’s and it was obvious to me that both of them were happy with the arrangement and that was enough for me.

Before I went away to Ahmedabad in 1965, Anton threw a farewell party for me completely arranged for by Robert and it was a memorable one in more ways than what I can write here.

In 1966, I received a letter from Robert announcing that Anton had died in an automobile accident and that he was moving back to Hyderabad. I received a couple of letters from him from Hyderabad advising me that he was unhappy there and whether I would be able to help secure him some employment in Ahmedabad. I was lucky in doing so with the help of a very dear friend who arranged to take him into his company as a watchman. Robert moved to Ahmedabad and stayed on in Ahmedabad even after his retirement after getting himself a local lady for a wife, till I lost touch with him after I moved to Pune in 1990. In between, every time I went to Ahmedabad, I would meet him and we would spend some time reminiscing about old times.

This is one story that I do not know the ending of. I do not know if Robert is alive or what happened to his wife and children if any as many changes have taken place in Ahmedabad since that time. The company that he worked for closed down and the land was converted to residential plots and the total landscape of the city has changed. I doubt very much that I would be able to go there now and find him. A strange ending for a man who wanted to spend his life in his beloved Tamil Nadu who landed up in Gujarat and just disappeared from my life.

But at an impressionable time in my life he played a valuable role as well as in the life of another amazing character. He is certainly one of my Unforgettable Characters as was Anton whose wild ways finally got his life as payment.

Story 8. The Zamindar.

Varanasi

“All of us are going around with an entire story of our lives, completely different from the story of our lives that anybody else would tell. So much of our lives never breaks the surface.” – Claire Messud in The Guardian.

Before I sat down to write this post, I was visiting Facebook when Nick’s post caught my eye and I could not resist the temptation to include it here. Thank you Nick. I wonder what someone who has known me will write about me!

I met Balji Raju way back in 1961 in Hyderabad. He was engaged to be married to Shakuntala who was my then girl friend T’s close friend and classmate. Balaji, a few years older than the three of us, was also studying for his Masters in Hyderabad. Both Raju and Shakuntala were from the same Raju caste and the engagement had been arranged when they were both teenagers. While Shakuntala was staying in a girl’s hostel, Balaji’s family had taken a full house for him to stay and had equipped him with a servant, and a body guard cum driver and a Hindustan Landmaster car for his use. One of my unforgettable impressions of those days was how the driver, Venkaiah would bring hot lunch for Balaji in the car and serve him, while he sat in the back seat. The four of us would often go on double dates to cinemas and on picnics and all was as well as it could be for young people in those good old days.

I attended Balaji’s wedding in Vijayanagaram in 1962 and lost all touch with him till 1968 when I was posted for a few months at Hyderabad. By that time much water had flown down the Musi and both of us were very different people. I had acquired a BA, and an MBA and was working towards a career in a reputed company and was courting Urmeela. Balaji had settled down in Hydearabad as he did not like to live in his village where his father was a Zamindar. Like many such families, his family had extensive urban properties in the cities which were important for them to visit like Hyderabad, Madras, Vijayawada etc. By that time, zamindari had already become a joke with dwindling agricultural holdings, and Balaji was in the process of encashing what he could of his family’s estates and investing in urban properties. He and Shyamala were living in the same house that Balaji had stayed in while studying and were living a life of the idle rich.

I used to meet them on and off whenever I had the time during brief visits to my in laws, but such meetings tapered off due to the short time that I used to spend in Hyderabad and Shaku was not particularly friendly towards Urmeela.

When I was posted in North India, a mutual friend from Hyderabad was visiting us in Delhi and informed me that Balaji was then living in Varanasi. Since it was a certainty that I would visit Varanasi sooner or later, I had arranged to get his address so that I could visit him when I did.

Before we proceed any further, something about Varanasi. Many rich Indians used to and still do own ancestral residences there as pilgrimage in the olden days meant a few days spent there during the days when accommodation for pilgrims was in short supply. Hindus would go to Varanasi for various reasons and to be comfortable, many had bought homes there to be used by family and friends on pilgrimage to the holiest of all holy towns of India. To die there and to immerse the ashes there in the Ganges is believed to release one from the cycle of births and deaths. Moksha as it is called here.  The older Hindus would prefer to go to Varanasi to die there.

In late 1980, I did visit Varanasi and found out where Balaji was staying and landed up there in the evening after work. He was living in one such home bought by his ancestors. The ground floor was rented out to two traders and he was living in solitary splendour in the upper floor, cared for by the old family retainer Venkaiah.

It was obvious to me that Balaji was not well but I did not know quite what with. He was gracious in his hospitality and reminisced about our old days together and we parted company. During my next visit to Varanasi in 1983, I met him again and it was obvious that he had deteriorated in health further but I could not find out details as he would simply brush it off joking that his time for moksha was nearing. In our chat that evening I learnt that Shakuntala had left him to live with her parents and was in Hyderabad teaching in a school and after that parting, Balaji had moved to Varanasi to be far away from her.

I met Shankuntala in Hyderabad in 1989 when I heard the full story. Balaji had squandered the entire estate after the death of his parents and was a full blown alcoholic. He had no place to live anywhere and was an emotional drain on Shakuntala who finally took the decision to leave him to his devices. He moved to Varanasi as that was the only property left and he was strapped for cash. He was in no condition to earn a decent living. He had died in 1985 at Varanasi and Venkaiah returned to Hyderabad with the keys to the house to tell the story that he had died of cirrhosis of the liver. Venkaiah had performed the last rites and immeresed the ashes in the Ganges, packed up his meager belongings and come away back to his own family.

Balaji would have been about 45 when he died. What a waste of a life that could have been very different.  Perhaps, he got the moksha that he joked about.

Music That Changed My Life.

It is difficult to believe that this one song changed my life. Believe me, it did. I have given a version where there is Satchmo’s trumpet takes the center stage, but the lyrics for the song is what changed my life.

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Long way from my home
Sometimes I wish I could fly
Like a bird up in the sky
Oh, sometimes I wish I could fly
Fly like a bird up in the sky
Sometimes I wish I could fly
Like a bird up in the sky
Closer to my home

Motherless children have a hard time
Motherless children have-a such a hard time
Motherless children have such a really hard time
A long way from home

Sometimes I feel like freedom is near
Sometimes I feel like freedom is here
Sometimes I feel like freedom is so near
But we’re so far from home.

Now for how that song changed my life. This was way back in 1968 when I was dating Urmeela who subsequently became my wife. I used to go to her home in the evenings whenever I was in town, free from my touring responsibilities and we would inevitably end up having a sing song session with some other friends and her brothers joining in. Urmeela herself could play the piano but since we would be sitting out in the courtyard, she would not participate but would enjoy the sessions.

At that time, this song was one of those songs that simply would not go from my thoughts. I now understand that it is a form of tinnitus, a condition that affects one in ten of us. But while tinnitus is usually a buzzing, ringing or whistling sound in the ear, without any obvious source, in some people it could take the form of phantom music. I go through such periods even now and there is a particular tune that has bugging me the last week or so which will not go away.

To come back to my story, my late mother in law was very fond of this song and would ask me to sing this without fail and so it became my signature song as it were.

A lot of water flowed down the Musi before I discovered that the song changed my life for ever.

When Urmeela and I decided to get married the matter was discussed in a family gathering at her place when my mother in law gave her approval for the idea by saying in excellent Hyderabadi Telugu, that I was a good choice because I could sing well and particularly that song about being a motherless child.

The rest is history.

After all these years however, it has become a fact rather than just feeling sometimes like a motherless child, I am one now and so is Urmeela’s son. He became one four years ago today, as I write this post for scheduling it for the coming Friday.

I hope that you enjoyed reading this post on the weekly Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where eleven of us write on the same topic. Today’s topic has been chosen by Maria The Silver Fox. The ten other bloggers who write regularly are, in alphabetical order, Delirious, gaelikaa, Grannymar, Maxi, Maria SF, Padmum, Paul, Shackman, The Old Fossil and Will. Do drop in on their blogs and see what their take is on this week’s topic. Since some of them may post late, do give some allowance for that too!

The Oddest Place I’ve Slept In/On.

Flash back to 1961. I was a happy bachelor enjoying life at Hyderabad. To enable that life style I was also a wheeling and dealing salesman.

My late uncle PK, who was more of a father to me than my father ever was or is, was then in Bombay and had some work with Sirpur Paper Mills located in the backwoods of Telengana in Andhra Pradesh. Like he was wont to do, he decided that since he had to come so far anyway, he might as well come up to Hyderabad to meet up with his nephew and get him out of any scrapes if he had got into any. He sent a letter to me; those were the days when that was the preferred mode of communication as even trunk calls were difficult and to get me near a telephone would have been difficult; and requested, yes, requested, that I hire a taxi and come to Sirpur and meet him off a train from Bombay so that he could finish his work at Sirpur and return to Hyderabad with me in the taxi to spend a couple of days with me there.

Just to ensure that I met the train on time, which was early in the morning, I reached Sirpur the previous evening by around 6 pm. It was then that I discovered that there were no hotels or waiting room in the station and the entire town consisted of the station, a small restaurant and a police outpost. All serving people visiting the mills during the day time. I went up to the Station Master to ask his advise and he suggested that I sleep on a bench on the platform of the station.

I did not relish the idea as the single bench was occupied at that particular moment by an unsavoury looking character and so I went to the restaurant to seek advise. The Head Constable of the Police outpost was having some tea there and when I was talking with the owner of the restaurant over heard me and offered the hospitality of the outpost for the night to me. He added that there was a toilet too and that clinched the deal and I gratefully accepted his offer.

It was thus that I spent my first and not the only night in a police lock up. The cell was not locked as a courtesy to me, but it was an experience that I have never forgotten.

My uncle duly landed up the next morning and was flabbergasted with my story and could never stop teasing me on and off throughout his later life, about my going to jail for his sake.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post on the weekly Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where thirteen of us write on the same topic. Today’s topic has been chosen by Paul. The twelve other bloggers who write regularly are, in alphabetical order, Anu, Delirious, gaelikaa, Grannymar, Maxi, Maria SF, ocdwriter, Padmum, Paul, Shackman, The Old Fossil and Will. Do drop in on their blogs and see what their take is on this week’s topic. Since some of them may post late, do give some allowance for that too!