Sunday, January 6, 2008

MY DAYS IN ALUVA - KANNAN'S REMINISCENCES



ALUVA MANAPURAM ON MAHA SIVARATRI DAY



"ആനത്തലയോളം വെണ്ണ തരാമടാ ആനന്ദ ശ്രീകൃഷ്ണാ വാമുരുക്ക്" എന്ന ഈ അവിസ്മരണീയമായ ഗാനത്തേ ഒന്നു ച്രെവിക്കുവാന് ഞാന് നിങ്ങളോട് അഭ്യര്ത്ഥിക്കുന്നു. 1951ന്നാം വര്ഷത്തില് പുറത്തിറങ്ങിയ "ജീവിത നൌക"എന്ന ചിത്രത്തില് കുഞ്ഞു കുഞ്ഞു ഭാഗവതരും അധ്ധേങതിണ്ടേ മകള് പുഷ്പൈയും ചേര്ന്നു ആലപിച്ച ഗാനം. ഞങ്ങളുടെ പ്രിയങ്ങരനായ അപ്പൂപ്പന് പൊന്നപ്പവിനു ഏറ്റവും ഇഷ്ടപ്പെട്ട ഗാനമാണിത്.

Actress B.S. Saroja in a still from Jeevitha Nauka


I invite you to take a moment and enjoy this evergreen melody "Aanathalayolam venna tharamada Aananda sree Krishna vaa Murukku" a duet by Kunju kunju Bhagavathar and his daughter Pushpa in the 1951 Malayalam Movi "Jeevitha Nouka" to get the flavour of a bygone era in Kerala.




Now, let me elaborate a little bit into the background of this song.This melody follows an old custom in Kerala (especially in Malabar) wherein people belonging to a particular community sing (as husband and wife duo) in the forecourt of the houses of rich landlords (Janmies) during the famine month of Karkatakam (which runs in tandem to the Tamil month Aadi), and the Janmies used to give them rice, vegetables and sometimes money to alleviate their distress. Karkatakam, also called Kalla Karkatakam is considered as an inauspicious month as there are no festivals or celebrations during this month and no new ventures are tried as is the case with Tamil month Aadi. Then good tidings follow with the onset of Chingam the festive month of Uthradam, Tiruvonam & Avittam.

‘Jeevithan Nauka’ is still considered as the first Malayalam ‘mega hit’ film. It was simultaneously shot in Tamil and Telugu. The success of the different versions prompted the producers to dub the film in Hindi as ‘Jeevan Nauka’ (1952). The Hindi version also did well.

The film portrayed the life of simple folk in a small village in Kerala. The treatment is simple, straightforward and objective. At a time when most south Indian films told stories of kings and gods, ‘Jeevitha Nauka’ spoke of human sufferings. This was a new experience.

There were 14 songs in the film. Music by Dakshinamoorthy Swamy followed the then prevailing trend of imitating popular Hindi tunes. Mehboob entered the cinema world by singing for this film. Though an imitation of the Mohammed Rafi song from the Hindi film ‘Dulari’ (1949) ‘Suhani raat dhal chuki…’ (Naushad), the soulful rendering by Mehboob made the song ‘Akaale aarum kaividum…..’ memorable. Other songs like, ‘Aaanandamiyalum bale….’ (P. Leela) , ‘Thoraathasru dhaara….’ (Revamma), imitations of tunes from ‘Barsaat’ (1949, Shanker-Jaikishen) failed to impress. A duet, ‘Aanathalayolam venna tharameda…’ sung by Sebastian Kunjukunju Bhagavathar and Alappuzha Pushpam, father and daughter, in real life, became a super hit.

Noted playback singer Kozhikodu Mehboob made his film debut in Jeevitha Nauka. It will also be remembered for the songs, ‘Aanathalayolam venna tharameda…’ (Bhagavathar & his daughter Alapuzha Pushpam) and ‘Vana gayike vinnil varoo nayike...’ (P. Leela, Mehboob).



MY VACATIONS IN ALUVA


The No: 19 Down Cochin Express was speeding past Chalakkudi Railway Station Outer and my mind was racing ahead of the train, with excitement building up within me. The year was 1962, the season the beginning of summer. Seated comfortably by the window in a First class compartment, I looked around to see Ponnappa, dressed in his immaculate white mundu and silk shirt with all the folds in place, seated by my side, smoking his State express 555 Cigarette, immersed in “The Illustrated Weekly of India.” My mother sitting across was reading Kalaimagal a Tamil monthly and looking at her watch from time to time to see how long it would take to reach Alwaye. My brother Sudarsan, sitting by the opposite window was reading “Sports & Pastime” a sports publication of “The Hindu”, which he bought that morning at the Railway book stall in Coimbatore Junction a few hours ago. He was reading about the record third wicket partnership of 104 runs between Nari Contractor (86) and the Nawab of Pataudi (106) in the Madras Test against Ted Dexter’s English team in January 1962 that India won by 128 runs and the 5 match series 2-0. Cricket did not interest me and I looked out through the window. My mind was busy working, wondering what would be the movie on show at Pankajam Cinema and whether there was sufficient time to reach home, bask in the warmth of my grandmother Chithammai pampering me with her cuddly hugs, change, have my lunch and sneak to the matinee show at Pankajam cinema. The time was 11:00 A.M and as the show starts only at 3:00 PM, there was sufficient time as it takes only about 45 minutes to reach Alwaye from Chalakkudi. All the same, I was feeling restless wishing the train to reach Aluva sooner than it does.

Enjoy a ride behind the world's best looking steam engines:

My brother Sudarsan has provided a very interesting link which has a goldmine of information on the WP Engines of the Steam Locomotives used by the Indian Railways in the 60s and 70s, which were slowly phased out in the early 80s eventually giving way for the Diesel powered monsters. There are many pictures of these beauties available on http://www.geocities.com/ and here I am sharing with you a few of the picture of the magnificient WP Engines.





Living up to her fabulous reputation of being a beauty queen among locomotives is WP 7254 as she departs





A few words from master photographer Hal Hughes himself:

About WP No 7295 being got ready for Republic day I must point out that the Smoke Box door was not Painted with Silver paint it was Burnished by hand useing ash and pads made out of rope the door was taken off laid on the ground and 6 Cleaners were put to work on it for a number of days also the Cowcatcher and all other parts were Burnished the same way no Silver Paint was ever used on that WP the Year was 1957 and it was keept clean and was like that when I left the Northern Railway Delhi Divison SRE Shed in 1962 I was a Grade A Fireman on the Northern Railway Stationed at Saharanpur Best Regards to you keep up the good work.

Hal Hughes




By now, you undoubtedly agree about the WPs being one of the most handsome classes of steam engine built in the world. The glorious beasts live on eternally in the hearts of their admirers.

Concluding your ride behind one of the world's best looking Steam Engines:

This series, being mostly from the Southern Railway or South Central Railway, must be my favourite. This one is at Mettupalayam, near Coimbetore and at the Ooty foothills. She has obviously hauled the Blue Mountain Express (now, als, the Nilgiri Express) from Madras upto here. Now the pax will shift to a narrow gauge rake for the Ootacamund Hill Railway - 30 miles in 3 1/2 hours!! (V.Narayanaswami)

Back to Kannan

These WP Engines are more popularly known as Canadian Engines, perhaps due to the fact that they were either imported from Canada or imported CKD from Canada and assembled at Chitranjan. Our favourite No: 19 Down Cochin Express was endowed with one such beauty and we always identified the arrival of the train by its whistling, a distinct bray, unlike the normal whistle of other steam locomotives of the 60s.
A trip down the memory lane on the WP Steam locomotives has really excited me so much that you should bear with me for digressing a bit to quote a few lines from the beautiful melody "Naale Varunnu Thozi" a solo by P.Leela in the 1967 Malayalam Film Indhulekha, wherein an young wife awaiting the arrival of her husband, sings to her close friend (saheli), that goes like this:

"ഏഴൃ വെളുപ്പിന് ദൂരേ,
ഏലക്കാടുകള് കീരി
കാതളവൂതി പാഞ്ഞു വരും
തീവണ്ടിയിലാണ് നാളേ വരുന്നു തോഴി
മാരന് താമരത്താളുഠ എഴുതി "


(My husband will be arriving tomorrow at 7:00 in the morning, in the train, that is now speeding at a far away place, cutting across cardamom forests and surging forward, with its distinct whistle!!)

I have not been able to get a downloadable version of the widget for this song to upload the Audio in my Blog for your listening pleasure. However, you can savour this melody (and many such) in Malayalavedhi website by clicking on the following link:

http://www.malayalavedhi.com/

Back to my Reminiscences:

The train sped past Koratti, Karukutty and Angamali Railway stations and suddenly with the exotic sway of the compartment and a change in the rhythmic clattering of the wheels I realized that we were crossing Aluva Puza and I could not contain my excitement. I peeped out of the window, oblivious of the disapproving look of Ponnappa, for whom it was always ‘safety-first’ for his grandchildren, though he was much more adventurous when it comes to his own affairs. The scenic beauty of the huge sheet of water gushing underneath promised me an exciting vacation for the next one month, although I was aware that we will seldom get a chance to enjoy a dip in its soothing cool waters unless accompanied by an adult, chances of which were non-existent as neither Ponnappa nor our uncle Kunjamani ever go to Aluva Puza for a bath. So it was only film shows at Pankajam Cinema for us!!

The volume of the clattering of wheels increased with the engine driver applying the brakes as the train was grinding to a halt at Alwaye Station. The din and noise made by the passengers disembarking and those waiting at the station to receive their relatives/friends was pleasantly exacerbated by the noise from the hawkers selling their wares. Predominant among them was "ചായ്.. ചായ്.. ചായ്.. ചായാ... ചായ്.. ചായ്.. ചായ്.. ചായാ...(Chaai, Chaai, Chaai.. Chaayaaa…. Chaai, Chaai, Chaai.. Chaayaaa) repeated at regular intervals from the tea vendor, followed by ബീഡി... മുറുക്കാന്.. സിഗരറ്റ്... ബീഡി... മുറുക്കാന്.. സിഗരറ്റ്... (Beedi, murukkaan, cigarette, beedi, murukkaan, cigarette) from the man selling cigarettes and betel leaves and തേശാഭിമാനി പത്രം... തേശാഭിമാനി പത്രം... ( Desaabbhimani Pathram, Desaabbhimani Pathram” from the hawker of the Malayalam daily Desaabbhimani)” There was also a weak rendition of കാപ്പി ഉപ്പുമാ... കാപ്പി ഉപ്പുമാ... Kaapi.. Uppuma, Kaapi.. Uppuma” from a guy selling the staple South Indian breakfast of Coffee and Uppuma. I was happily drinking in all the din and noise at the station as these signposted the beginning of a pleasant vacation.



A VIEW OF ALUVA RAILWAY STATION


I think it is not out of place to elaborate a little about the significance of Alwaye railway Station. The station is right in the heart of Alwaye, bisecting the town into two halves with the rail-tracks running across the entire length of the town. It was not an uncommon sight to find people crossing either way through the main platform of the station to reach the other part of the town. They were seldom questioned or disturbed by the Railway staff who collect tickets only from the disembarking passengers. The station was a thoroughfare for one and all during periods of lull when no trains were passing through the railway station. Alwaye, though not a junction had a significance of its own because passengers from Parur, Perumbavoor, Kalamaserry and Eloor board the train or disembark at Aluva railway station. Alwaye railway station used to be the centre of a myriad of activities and perennially busy those days as the station receives and sends at least half a dozen trains to Mangalore, Salem, Madras, Bombay and other upcountry destinations..



FACADE OF ALUVA RAILWAY STATION


Ponnappa’s clerk Bhasi, who was waiting at the station to receive us, hands over our luggage to the porter, respectfully answers a few questions of Ponnappa about the status of a few ongoing cases during his absence, welcomes us with a warm smile and exchanges a few pleasantries with us. Ponnappa, acknowledging the bow of the Station Master with a nod, leads us out of Alwaye railway station, as the ticket collector at the exit gate, ushers Ponnappa outside respectfully without demanding the tickets from him. We reach the taxi rank, and driver Krishnan rushes forward, collects the luggage and deposits it into the enormous boot of his waiting Landmaster, and hold the door respectfully for Swamy (as Ponnappa was reverently addressed by one and all) to climb in. I squeeze-in with Bhasi in the front bench-seat of the car and enquire with him in a whisper what was the movie on show at Pankajam. Bhasi informs me in an undertone that “Sneha Deepam” a Malayalam film was on show. Driver Krishnan engages gear and eases his Landmaster out of the Parking lot. A ride home in Krishnan’s 1957 Landmaster normally heralds the beginning of our vacation in Alwaye.






THE 1957 LANDMASTER - TO US SHE IS A THING OF BEAUTY AND A JOY FOREVER AND WE LOVE HER!!


The vehicle, powered by a 1950 Morris Oxford side-valve engine, ignited by a conventional cam-point distributor and an electric fuel-pump that goes tick, tick tick when the engine gets heated up, was by no means a hi-tech car but we love her as the best automobile man has ever made. The alamode squire instrument panel in the middle looks exactly like an old valve-radio, with a huge speedometer dial in the left that seldom works and a cluster dial on the right with fuel gauge, Amp meter and temperature gauge none of which show the slightest sign of life even after starting the car. But the engine comes to life with a gentle purr at a slight tug of the self-starter knob and this beauty gets ready to take us places albeit at her own sedate pace of 50 KM per hour.

Driver Krishnan, then in his mid-fifties was a real character out of a storybook. Attired in Khaki shirt and mundu (the uniform of most of the public transport employees) with long unruly hair dripping with coconut oil and sporting a handlebar moustache and a pair of ear studs (Kadukkan as they’re called in Malayalam) to boot!! However, Krishnan’s signature tune was the pretension of servility he exhibits in Ponnappa’s presence, a demeanour that had won him the privilege of being Ponnappa’s favourite driver transporting him to the Court and back home everyday. Krishnan’s son Vijayan, also a taxi driver, used to substitute as Krishnan’s understudy, chauffeuring Ponnappa in his 1956 model Hindustan-14 on those occasions when Krishnan was indisposed or off duty due to his inebriated condition!!

It takes hardly about ten minutes drive from the railway station to reach our destination and even before the car comes to a complete halt in front of Pnnappa’s stately home in Bank road, I jump out of the car and rush inside like a bullet. There was Chithammai our grandmother waiting for us in the long veranda (Ummaram) of the house and I rush into her arms for a cuddly hug and a little bit of pampering. As Chithammai gets ready to receive her daughter and other grandchildren I disengage myself from her grip and shoot inside straight to the dining room cupboard to open a row of big stainless steel vessels (Sampadam) one after the other to inspect what were the goodies Chithammai had made for us to indulge in. I was not disappointed as I see huge vessels of golden fried banana chips, jackfruit chips, sweet banana chips (Sarkara varati), murukku, manoharam, Halwa and Jangiris (the last two made by a professional cook at Ponnappa’s behest). I immediately stuff my mouth and all my shirt and trouser pockets with all the eatables.

After the initial exchange of pleasantries and pampering and the subtle demonstration of love between mother and daughter i.e. our grandmother Chithammai and our mother Dorai, we were all instructed to go and have our bath to refresh ourselves from the travel fatigue and become cleaner before lunch. In the meanwhile, our mother had opened her suitcase and distributes our change clothes, towel (thorthu) and soap to each one of us. Oil bath was a daily ritual during our vacation in Alwaye and mandatory for the children. Chithammai used to douse a generous supply of coconut oil on our person and gently massage our scalp and body before giving the green signal to go and have our bath, as and when the bathroom becomes vacant.

The huge bathroom in the Aluva house needs special mention. It was detached by about 60 yards from the main building and adjoins the cattle shed (thozuthu in Malayalam) and overlooks the kitchen and the backyard. Previously used as a garage for Ponnappa’s car (an estate-wagon) it had two huge arch-shaped doors reaching almost to the 15 feet high roof. The makeshift bathroom was about 200 sq. Ft in area and the rear portion of the bathroom was used as storage for firewood and assorted items. The front half of the bathroom was the washing area with two huge buckets of cold water fetched from the well in the house and Ammoommai the 67+ old servant maid was in charge of replenishing the water each time someone takes bath. Hot water was available in the morning hours, in a huge open vessel (Arukkanchatty) boiled by Ammoommai in the conventional manner using firewood stacked in the rear portion of the bathroom.

The huge bathroom doors did not have a bolt to lock them in and the only signal to caution the intended user that the bathroom was already engaged as someone was taking bath was the sound of water splashing inside and the two huge doors almost touching each other in a closed position although invariably there used to be a gap between the doors for the daylight to filter-in as the bathroom had no electricity connection and natural light was the only source of lighting. The two huge doors used to remain open at all the other times. As children, we never used to bother about the lack of a locking facility and Ammoommai the elderly maid, used to pass in and out of the bathroom during our bath either to replenish cold water in the buckets or to tend to the hot water oblivious to our state of undress. However, when the elder members of the household were having their bath, she used to abstain from trespassing into the bathroom as a mark of courtesy to their privacy!!

The bathroom used to have an exotic smell of a mixture of assorted brands of soaps used by various members of the household, talcum powder, toothpaste, sandalwood paste used by Ponnappa, soap nut powder (Shikakhai), boiling water, firewood, coconut oil et al. I could still sense the smell in my nostrils taking me back on a nostalgic trip down my memory lane, although 40 years have passed since we have last visited our house in Alwaye!!

"വാസന്ത പഞ്ചമി നാളില് വരുമെന്നൊരു കിനാവ് കണ്ടു കിളിവാധിലില് മിഴിയും നട്ട് കാത്തിരുന്നു ഞാന്". 1964ഠ വര്ഷം റിലീസായ ഭാര്‍ഗവി നിലയം എന്ന സൂപ്പര് ഹിറ്റ് ചിത്രത്തില് ബാബുരാജ് മാസ്റ്റര് ഈണം പകര്ന്നു ജാനകി ആലപിച്ച ഈ ചോക ഗാനത്തെ ഒന്നു ച്രെവിക്കുവാന് ഞാന് നിങ്ങളോട് അഭ്യര്ത്ഥിക്കുന്നു.


Please spare a moment to listen to the song “Vaasantha Panchami Naalil Varumennoru Kinaavu kandu kili vaadhilil miziyum nattu kaathirunnu jnaanThis sad song denotes the disappointment and despair of an young girl awaiting the arrival of her beloved who never turns up. A solo by S. Janaki ” in the 1964 super hit Bhargavi Nilayam. Music composed by Baburaj.



Get this widget
Track details
eSnips Social DNA



IT’S MEALTIME IN ALUVA!!


As I step out of the bathroom after a refreshing bath, the exotic aroma of Pappadoms being fried, ripe mango pulp boiling in delicious Pulissery, green banana & roasted yam curries being stir fried in coconut oil wafts through the air tingling my taste buds. By God, it’s mealtime in Aluva!! I walk briskly towards the kitchen, which is the main entry point for members of the household to enter the house unobtrusively after a bath in semi-attired state, as the long veranda in front used to be filled with Ponnappa’s clients in the morning hours.

I enter the kitchen and greedily grab a few Pappadoms, breaking a few more in the process and Chithammai my sweet grandmother who was frying the pappadoms, chides me calling me a themmaadi pattuzuvaan (roughly translated as little scamp) albeit with her tone of indulgent affection and asks me to go, change and have my lunch with Ponnappa.

The Kitchen in our Aluva house overlooks the long backyard of the house through its long window running through the entire breath of the backside wall and it is a convenient point for Chithammai to supervise the work of the daytime maid Ammoommai and call her in if necessary as her work spot is directly in front of the kitchen window.

First and foremost let me elaborate about the mealtime nuances of Ponnappa and his distinct tastes and preferences. It is in fact an interesting experience to just sit by his side and watch Ponnappa taking his meals as he has framed his own sets of dos and don’ts that have to be strictly followed by other members of the household particularly by Chithammai.

Ponnappa does not use a dining table but squats on the floor following the typical Pattar tradition atop a tortoise shaped wooden plank colloquially called as Aama Palakai. Even before he comes and sits for his meal, two silver platters should be kept in front of his Aama palakai, one main plate for the rice and curries and a side plate for Pappadoms with a bowl of curd to his left and water in a unique shaped vessel called Kindy.
As soon as rice was served on Ponnappa’s platter and two spoons of ghee (clarified butter) poured on it, Ponnappa sprinkles a few drops of water on the rice and recites Parseshana Mantram, which is performing Nivedhanam to the Bhagawan who resides in each one of us as an Antharyami, by reciting the Sloka and simultaneously eating a few grains of rice and ghee using only the thumb, index and middle fingers of the right hand do this. Once this is done the meal begins.

My favourite meal was “Neyyin Chadam” or Ghee-rice, a tasty concoction of piping hot rice mixed with a generous dose of ghee (surely, you wouldn’t worry about cholesterol problems, at the tender age of 10!!) and broken pieces of four or five large sized Pappadoms (no Sambar or Curry please) and consumed with gusto with Kadu Manga or Avakka Achaar as accompaniments. A real gourmet’s delight!!

Let me assure you that no dish prepared by the best of chefs in any Five star Hotels can come anywhere near my favourite Neyyin Chadam either in taste or flavour!!

Neyyin Chadam should not be confused with Nei-Choru or biriyani which is a meat preparation and cannot even be mentioned in Ponnappa’s household!!

LAZING POST LUNCH


After a sinfully heavy lunch, surely one cannot expect your brain and other mental faculties to be at their best, turbo charged and functioning on all their six cylinders!! No way!!! Some brainless activity and generally lazing around is certainly called for.

Our age being 10 or thereabouts, our appetite being insatiable it is little wonder that immediately after lunch we shoot straight into the larder like unguided missiles and raid the containers there and fill our snacks plates with all the goodies awaiting us in stainless steel containers (Sampadams). Most of them are fried ums like banana and jackfruit upperies (Chips), murukku, cheedai and thattai. There are also plenty of sweet concoctions like Halwa, Jangiri, Manoharam, Chakka Varati and above all Puttu.

This is a divine tasting sweet concoction made of fried semolina with saffron, jaggery, cardamom and cashew nuts, powdery in consistency and smooth to the touch.

Now, this delicacy Puttu is totally different from “puttu,” the staple breakfast food of Malayalees which is powdered rice and scrapped coconut steamed together in a tubular vessel, cylindrical in shape, consumed with Kadala, Pazham and two or three pappadoms.

Greedily grabbing huge helpings of all these sweets and savouries stuffed into all our shirt and trouser pockets and sometimes heaped in small plates, we make our way to the row of wooden easy chairs (five of them in all) in the front verandah (Ummaram) of Ponnappa’s Stately home. The verandah used to be cool and cozy from the shades of mango & jackfruit trees in the front, an ideal place to laze in the afternoons.

Sometimes, we pickup a few back copies of Ananda Vikatan and Kumudam, Tamil weeklies, patiently stacked by Chithammai in the order of their dates in the hall window, overlooking the verandah. We pull out copies of the weeklies paying no particular attention to the dates and mostly guided by the pictures on the cover page. We quickly riffle through the pages, stopping only to read the jokes and cartoons and throw the books back into the window ledge in no particular order.

I rush through the contents of these weeklies absently, my mouth and taste buds working overtime chomping on the sweets and savouries while my ears were attuned to wait for the broadcast of film songs from Pankajam Cinema, signaling the commencement of the matinee show shortly.


PANKAJAM CINEMA

Frequent visits to the Pankajam Cinema was an integral part of our vacations in Alwaye, and for me it used to be a daily treat in store and high-point of my vacation. Every afternoon, after enjoying an elaborate three-course lunch prepared by Chithammai, I used to wait for the broadcast of film songs from the cinema, played through a loudspeaker, signaling the commencement of the matinee show shortly.

I have blanket permission from Ponnappa to visit the theatre daily and see the movie on show, subject to two conditions. One, I was allowed to go alone only for the matinee show and two, an adult should accompany me and leave me within the precincts of the cinema, if I prefer to go for an evening show. Normally Ponnappa’s clerk Bhasi used to accompany me and leave me at the theatre and Panki, my grandmother’s nighttime maid used to bring me back after the show.

The usher in-charge of the balcony at Pankajam was Rahmanikka (Abdul Rehman) a thin and grumpy looking man, then in his early 50s. Rahmanikka was gifted with a razor-sharp memory as he not only remembers each and every member of Ponnappa’s household who were entitled to free entry to the cinema (the freebies include our second-cousins from Kochi) but remembers our faces even after the lapse of one year between our two consecutive vacations and ushers us in, albeit with a look of disapproval on his grumpy face. He also used to keep tabs on repeat visits to the same cinema by some members of the freebies-club, and I am sure my name was the topmost in his rogues-gallery.

What enticed me most to Pankajam Cinema were not the movies on show on the Silver Screen, as one would imagine, but the Projection Room and the cycle of activities there for each show.

The Projection room in Pankajam Cinema or for that matter in any movie-house used to be out of bounds for the movie-goers (not that the average movie-goer may even be remotely interested in visiting the projection booth) but to me it was the sanctum-sanctorum of the Cinema and the very purpose of my daily visits. The Projection room in Pankajam was at a slightly higher level (just a few steps) from the first-floor balcony and the domain of Madhavan, the Projectionist. For performing odd jobs like rewinding the film-reel after each show, cleaning the projectors, changing the carbon-arcs etc, Madhavan was assisted by his handyman and sidekick Jabbar, a boy then in his early twenties.

The two giant sized heavy-duty 35MM “Devi” Projectors (a locally assembled brand) standing side-by-side and the smaller slide projector in the farther corner of the projection booth used to fascinate me no end. Taking advantage of my interest and curiosity, Madhavan initiated me into the task of rewinding the film by hand, using a chain-driven freewheeling re-winder. Rewinding each film reel by hand-cranking takes about 10 to 15 minutes and used to be the most monotonous and tiresome activity in any cinema house, but I used to enjoy it and this activity used to give me a sense of importance as unless and until I rewind the film reel the next show cannot go-on. It was only much latter, may be in my early twenties, that I realized that Madhavan and his sidekick Jabbar, found a gullible sucker in me to dump this monotonous task.

Soon, I graduated from the rewinding activity to more important assignments as Madhavan used to allow me access to the Projectors. He taught me how to load the film-reel into the feeder-spool on top, how to thread the leader (the first few feet of blank-film in each reel) through the aperture-gate into the take-on spool below, how to gently run my hand on the film to check for slack if any and how to make the film taut by adjusting the sprockets with my fingers. I also learnt to install the carbon-arcs into the Arc-housing in the Projector, how to maintain the gap between the carbon sticks for maximum brightness and when to change the carbon sticks. However, the most important activity was constantly monitoring the remaining film in the feeder-spool through the film level window and start the standby projector at the appropriate time. The cue for changeover used to appear as alerts in the form of circles or triangles in the corner of the projected image.

The first alert appears about ten seconds before the end of the reel when you have to start the standby projector, already loaded with the next reel. After another seven or eight seconds, the changeover alert appears again, when you have to make the changeover within the next two seconds. The two projectors were interconnected through a changeover switch and as soon as the switch was pressed, the playing projector gets switched-off in sync with the switching-on of the standby projector.

This activity had to be carried out so deftly such that the screen never goes blank and the audience in the cinema-hall are oblivious to the change in the source projector. If you mess-up this activity (as I used to in the first few attempts) the tail-leader (the last few feet of blank-film in each reel) will pass through the aperture gate and the screen goes blank. This was nothing short of a catastrophe as you get immediate reaction from the audience in the cinema-hall, especially the frontbenchers, by whistling, booing and catcalls sometimes accompanied by loud expletives in pristine Malayalam!!

I loved all these activities and learnt the tricks of the trade faster than Jabbar and soon I was ready to run a show all by myself, although Madhavan never allowed that, understandably since, if anything goes wrong it was his job that would be at jeopardy and he had to face the music.




Another important and equally enjoyable part of my visits to Pankajam cinema was patronizing the petty-shop inside the theatre compound during interval break for refreshments. The shop, run by Jamalikka (Jamal) and his son, used to sell to the movie goers and passers by, an assortment of beedies, cigarettes, betel leaves, tobacco and soft-drinks. The last mentioned amongst Jamalikka’s wares was the object of my interest and I had two interesting choices to indulge in. One was a Sherbet (Sarbath in Malayalam!!) made of Sarsaparilla essence and fresh-lime juice doused with ice and water, a really tasty and restorative drink. The other was a soft-drink called “Love-O” a divine tasting Indian made cola, good till the last drop. It was really unfortunate that this superb cola had vanished from the market having lost the race to tasteless colas made by American soft-drink giants.

CRICKET

Our own version of the gentlemen’s game used to occupy most of our afternoons and evenings during our vacations in Alwaye. The game was played on the sprawling grounds in the forecourt of our Aluva house. The rules of our version of the game were quite different and varied from the official version of the game and tailor-made to suit our own requirements and limitations. Our limitations are numerous but I will list below just the major ones:

1. None of us have played the official version of cricket - neither at the school level nor at the lowest rung of league divisions.
2. We were not well equipped with the required gear like good bats, balls, pads, gloves or shoes.
3. Our knowledge of cricket was limited to bowling, batting and fielding and we had no clue about the finer nuances of the game.

However, we never shied away from shouting some of the cricketing jargons like ‘Howzaat?’ No ball, leg-bye etc., that we have picked up by listening to the running commentary of ongoing Test Matches broadcasted by All India Radio.

It may be noted that, unlike the present day generation, we did not have the facility of watching the game on TV those days, but I can assure you that listening to the running commentary of the game from some of the all-time greats like Beri Sarbadhikari, Chakrapani, Devraj Puri and Anand Rao was sheer pleasure and gave us the feeling as if we were sitting and watching the game in the stadium in the midst of all the action. Such was the verbal power of these commentators!!

Now, for the rules and regulations of our own version of the game:

1. There were two teams consisting of only 3 Players on each side and my brother Sudarsan and I were the rival captains for our respective teams.
2. Each batsman had to bat alone without a partner (non-striker) so even if the batsman scores a quick single, he still gets to face the next delivery.
3. Bowling was always done from the Pankajam Cinema End and the batsman always bats at the Federal Bank end of the field (the next building adjoining our house was a branch of the Federal Bank).
4. As there were only 3 Players on each side, all the players other than the batsman should field, no matter even if your team is batting.
5. Thus, once the batsman is given ‘out’ he does not return to the pavilion (the verandah of the house) but immediately takes his position as a fielder.
6. There were no Umpires and whether or not a batsman is out is decided mostly by loud arguments, the decibel level being the decider and sometimes by the elder members of the family, if our verbal duel reaches a crescendo necessitating intervention by the senior members of the household!!.

It may be noted that the verdict by the senior members of the family seldom had any relevance to what actually transpired on the field and mostly guided by their own equation with the player concerned or what is the best course of action to follow to avoid the present situation getting out of hand!!

7. We used to play without a wicketkeeper as the stumps were very close to the Eastern wall of the compound and wall deflects the ball to one of the fielders.
8. Scores were never recorded but maintained by each player only in his memory and always used to be a subject matter of dispute with substantial differences and had sufficient room for cheating. The ultimate scores were finalized by hectic bargaining between the rival sides!!


9. The game was played with a homemade ball designed by us, by patiently collecting the secretions of the rubber trees (4 of them) inside our compound each morning and rolling them into an oblong shaped ball.

The ball used to shoot-off like a missile, in a trajectory of its own and the bowler had absolutely no control on his deliveries or the batsman on his strokes!!

10. The rule of LBW had no sanctity and the batsmen were allowed to block the ball with their legs to avoid hitting the stumps.

11. Each member of the team gets to bowl in turns, no matter whether the bowling is effective or not. If it takes 12 overs to bowl-out the opponents, each player in a team bowls 4 overs.

12. Each over is restricted to strictly 6 deliveries, noballs and wides were not recognized and no extra deliveries were allowed.

13. On the same token, a batsman is declared out, if he were clean bowled or caught, noballs and wides not withstanding.


14. Fielding positions were always fixed with two fielders on the on-side and two on the off-side and the bowler or the captain need not strain his brain about setting the field or changing field positions.


15. Strange as it may appear, but it is true that sometimes the batsman also duplicates as a fielder chasing his own strike, if one of the four fielders were to be temporarily absent, either to drink a glass of water or to pursue matters of other interests!!

Our rival teams had six permanent members (3 a side) and sometimes guest players strengthened the teams in numbers whenever our second cousins from Kochi and Parur visit Aluva. Besides my brother and me, there were 4 other permanent players in our two rival teams. These were four brothers from a neighbouring house namely (a) Dorai Mani (b) Rajamani (c) Harimani and (d) Veeramani in the order named. They were in fact five brothers in all, including Kontha Mani the eldest, who never used to join us for cricket, may be because he was not in our age group.

Let me digress a bit to explain the concept behind the moniker ‘Kontha Mani’ which follows an age-old tradition followed amongst all Palakkad Bhramin households.

The first son of the Palakkad Bhramin household is invariably given the name of his Paternal Grandfather. In the joint family system those days, where the married sons live together with their parents in the same house, it becomes a tad embarrassing for the mother to call her son by his first name, which is also the name of her father-in-law as it may sound disrespectful when the old man lives in the same premises and may unwittingly respond to his name being called!! More so, when the mother wants to reprimand her child for some of his misdemeanour, which may appear to her mother-in-law as if she is using her son as a façade to give vent to her real feelings against her father-in-law to settle scores!!

So the name Konthai, meaning baby, comes in handy, as the mother and other members of the household are free to discipline the errant child by shouting at him and calling him names. Thus the first-born son becomes Konthai Anna to his brothers and sisters, Kontha Periappa or Kontha Mama to his siblings' children and Kontha Pattappa to their grandchildren!! It is not uncommon to find many Konthais within the same household in a joint family, as the first son of each brother gets the name of his paternal grandfather.

The same rule goes for the first female child who is named after her paternal grandmother but called Kunja or Chingi or Inja or some such. However, this problem does not arise for the second and subsequent children as they get the name of their maternal grandparents who do not live with them in the same house save occasional courtesy visits.


More………

2 comments:

ramaswamy said...

Hello Kannan,
Nice read.Was very nostalgic for me as I happen to have been born in Aluva and am the younger son of 'Pankajam Swamy',the owner of the Pankajam Cinema.Thanks for mentioning about our theatre.
Regards.

R.Sajan said...

Very nostalgic.