Friday, October 31, 2014

Growing up days – Bengali movies of the 1960s

The Bengali movies of the 1960s presented a special era in movie making because it brought to the forefront C, a black and white movie that revolutionized film making.
Later, in 1962, he presented the movie Kanchenjangha – the first Bengali movie in color. This was another mini revolution because Bengali movies in that period were more often than not in black and white. Suffice it to say that Satyajit Ray left a deep impression on Bengalis and their world of make believe.
As to actors and actresses, the choice in that period was limited to stalwarts like Uttam Kumar, Suchitra Sen, Sabitri Chatterjee, Supriya Debi, Soumitra Chatterjee, Madhabi Mukherjee, Aparna Sen, Bikash Roy, Kamal Mitra, Pahari Sanyal and their contemporaries. Some of them became typecast in fatherly roles like Kamal Mitra, Pahari Sanyal.
Then there were those who excelled in comic roles – names like Jahar Roy, Bhanu Bandopadhaya, Anup Kumar, Nripati Chatterji, and Robi Ghosh come to mind immediately. They ruled the roost for decades.
Incidentally, Suchitra Sen received international acclaim through the movie Saat Paake Bandha – she received Best Actress award in the 1963 Moscow Film Festival. (to be continued …)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Growing up days – 78rpm records and LP records

The music scene of the 1960s meant 78rpm records – these were very bulky discs and the material used in their manufacture was such that handling these records was fraught with dangers. The edges could get chipped off and, if unnecessary pressure was applied, they would crack and leave the owner cursing his luck.
Moreover, in order to play the record and listen to the music, one had to rely on a gramophone record player – it was a cumbersome affair and required needles which would have to sit in the groove and translate the circular motion into sweet melodious music. The needles would need to be changed after every song to get the best acoustic effect.
Later, the bulky 78rpm records made way for the 45rpm records – these were made of flexible plastic type material, hence possibility of unforeseen damages were reduced. In addition, these accommodated two songs on each side and the needles were more sophisticated. The frequency of replacing these was long.
Then came the 33 1/3 rpm records – these dislodged earlier types and took over the honors. The size was large and each side could accommodate more number of songs. The main advantage was that the running time could go on up to forty minutes and, hence, during party time the need would not be there to keep getting up and flip the records. (to be continued …)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Growing up days – the fragrance of old books

There is a special and unmistakable appeal of old books, especially their fragrance. Some of these books are moth neaten, others appear to be falling apart from their bindings and have outlived their usefulness but, these are still considered to be treasures in the hands of connoisseurs.
In Kolkata, there are two major outlets for old books. The biggest ones are in College Street scattered around the boundaries of Presidency College and then there are the ones in tiny shops that line Free School Street.
All the stall owners take the utmost pride in their inventory and preserve the books because some of them are real gems which they have procured for next to nothing but which can fetch for them good money provided the proper customer comes along.
The books range from every conceivable subject under the sun and books on engineering or medicine can be found nestling in between books of Shakespeare and Dickens. The owners are always ready to help out the customer and can even oblige by booking an order to locate a specific book for you – he will not guarantee positive results but will try his level best to satisfy your needs and admit failure if he does not succeed. He could bring for you an alternate book and would not bother if you do not accept the alternate - he will add it to his shelf and wait for someone else who might need it.
To such people, it is the fragrance of old books that matter. (to be continued …)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Growing up days – coffee at College Street Coffee House

The Coffee House at College Street, located in the vicinity of Calcutta University and Presidency College, was the well-known meeting ground for Bengali intellectuals of the 1960s – its regular patrons came from the fields of politics and of arts and aspiring poets would recite their poems aloud in the near holy coffee joint.
From film stars to movie directors and authors to politicians, everyone who mattered in Bengal of the sixties made it a habit to be a part of the Coffee House. Some of them were already established in their fields while others were trying to get a toehold in the highly stiff competition to climb the ladder of success.
There were two parts of the Coffee House – the upper floor was known as the House of Lords and the lower floor was the House of Commons.
The ever courteous waiters, dressed in white, flitted from table to table collecting orders and serving the patrons – but, one section of the patrons would not bother to order either a cup of coffee or even some snacks. They would be busy in arguments with others and, at times, their voices would cross normal decibel levels and draw the attention of others.
The legendary singer Manna Dey sang a song on ‘Coffee House’ and the adda for which it was famous. Incidentally, adda was and still is something unique to Bengalis because it is all about total involvement of all participants to voice his or her opinion on the subject, it could be any subject under the sun. (to be continued …)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Growing up days – learning German language

In the 1960s, growing up was synonymous with learning a foreign language and the preference was for the German language followed by French. In Kolkata, German was taught by the Max Mueller Bhavan and its setup was located in Ballygunge. The classes were held in the evening and it was convenient to attend after classes in St Xavier’s College.
The French classes were held at Alliance Francoise – this was in Park Street and was nearer to my college but, I opted for German because at least two of my cousins had been to Germany. One of them studied in BHU, Varanasi, and had come in contact with a couple of Germans who had come to India on a student exchange program. They helped my cousin to go to Germany. He had studied Agriculture Engineering but, once in Germany, he had to get a job in a bank to survive. He even married a German girl and lived happily ever after.
Anyway, one of the reasons to learn German was to add to my knowledge and be prepared in case I get a chance to go to Germany. Another attraction was to make new friends and interact with a different set of people. Therefore, words like Fraulien and Frau got added to my vocabulary like danke and bitte.
Unfortunately, I could not finish my course because my tenure in St Xavier’s College was for one year and, after passing out, I went in for studying engineering and my new college was too far away from Max Mueller Bhavan. (to be continued …)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Growing up days – fast foods at Ralli’s

Ralli Singh at Esplanade was famous for its North Indian fast foods like chaats, kulfis and rose syrup – in fact, Ralli Syrup was a brand name by itself that mattered to the discerning foodies of the 1960s.
It was difficult to get a table at Ralli’s and patrons had got accustomed to some sort of waiting time. The joint was in three portions.
The front portion was right on Chowringhee Road and the crowd here was mostly of singles or couples. For the families, there was another section at the rear. One had to cross a courtyard to reach there. A huge aquarium in the room added a new dimension to the set up and, here, there were comfortable sofas. The waiters who attended to the patrons here expected tips and would go out of their way to satisfy the patrons.
Then there was a third section – it was at the upper level and one had to climb a set of stairs to get there. This was, as a rule, reserved for those who wanted a bit of privacy, mostly couples.
I would usually drop in after the movie ended – and would ask for a plate of aloo chaat and a glass of rose syrup. The chaats are North Indian fast foods like the lassi and the kulfi. And – Ralli’s did yeomen service in popularizing unique North Indian dishes. (to be continued …)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Growing up days – tea at Aminia

Growing up days in the 1960s meant a cup of tea at an always-busy restaurant named Aminia – it was bang opposite the Calcutta Corporation building and a stone’s throw from the famous cinema hall Elite.
The location was a prime one and, when I would arrive there, it would be around 2pm. At that time, all the tables would be occupied with the lunch crowd from nearby offices and the waiters, clad in white, would be flitting from table to table collecting orders of mutton rezala, mutton kebabs, parathas and firni. Simultaneously, they would keep an eye on the manager sitting at the cash counter and shout out the amount due from the patron who would have reached the counter to pay his bill.
Each and every activity would proceed with clockwork precision.
While others would order mouthwatering dishes, I would order a cup of tea – the cost was just 12-paise and the taste was so special that it would bring the patrons again and again. Rumors would float that the tea would have a special additive to make it so tasty - I have no idea about its truth but, suffice it to say that a cup of tea at Aminia was always worth its weight in gold. To be continued….)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Growing up – the charm of English movies

Going to college was all about growing up, facing new challenges and meeting new people. These were the stepping stones to gain new experience that helps one to gain confidence to step forward in the world. Some of the people one meets would turn out to be good company, others would be those one would not like to touch with a ten-foot pole.
Anyway, to me, it were the English movies that changed my outlook on life and gave me an insight into how the world moves – not a world of superstitious beliefs but a world that is practical, that does not hesitate to call a spade a spade.
Most of the movie halls had three daily shows – 3pm, 6pm and 9pm. The 3pm or matinee show was my most preferred slot because attending that show would mean I would be home in time and would not need to explain any delay to my mother.
Therefore, I would select such days of the week when my classes would end by 2pm and would give me enough time to walk down Free School Street and end up in the New Market (Hogg Market) area which was home to all the cinema halls that showed English movies. (to be continued ..)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Growing up days – learning how to manage finances

Yes, believe it or not, I learnt how to manage my finances from my college days. The art of extending the purchasing power of two rupees – in those days, two rupees was a lot of money, exchange rate of one dollar was around five rupees.
Today, I cannot get a toffee or chocolate for two rupees and the exchange rate of a dollar is around sixty plus rupees. Anyway, the distance from my house to my college was big – it would take at least one hour bus journey plus a bit of walking to go from Lake Town, my residence, to Park Street where my college was situated.
And – my daily pocket money was just two rupees – within that framework, I had to go to college and come back plus have tea and snacks plus pay for my fags plus take in a movie. It was a tough proposition and I mastered the art of doing just that.
The route to reach my college from my house had three options – first I had to reach Shyambazar 5-point-crossing and the only means was by private bus – its conductors were very strict, they never allowed to travel without ticket.
From Shyambazar, there were three routes. First, take a tram to Moulali, changeover to another tram and get down at Park Circus. From there walk down to my college. This was the cheapest method because in trams, there was a second class where the fare was less.
Second option was to take a tram or bus from Shyambazar to Wellington Square. Then a second tram to Elliot Road. And – then walk down to my college. Here again, I would save some money but it would take a bit longer because of heavy traffic.
The third option was to take a bus from Shyambazar to Park Street direct – here the time was a major factor because the bus route was through busy streets and heavy traffic.
Therefore, with three options available, I would weigh the various options once I reached Shyambazar and decide on my route of action. The rates for movies were 65 paise in front stalls where seats were not reserved, Rs 1.05 for the next stalls, Rs 1.15 for the middle stalls and Rs 1.40 for rear stalls. I had to save that amount every week to take in a movie per week. (to be continued…)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Growing up days – Bollywood heroines of the 1960s

Bollywood heroines of the 1960s were forever shy with sarees draped around their lissome bodies – the result was meant to provide possibilities of the viewers to go on some sort of a make believe journey into a world of fantasy. Of course, movies were and still are worlds of fantasies and make-believe – hence the mass appeal. But, only a handful of heroines of the 1960s went in for show of skin which, in today’s world, is the order of the day.
They were Sharmila Tagore who donned a swimsuit in the 1967 movie ‘An Evening in Paris’ and Vijayantimala who, in the 1964 super-hit ‘Sangam’, was shown swimming in a lake.
Without doubt, the Bollywood heroines of the 1960s lasted the full decade and are held their positions throughout the decade and even beyond – that can hardly be said of heroines of the present era. Many of today’s heroines are flashes in the pan.
Waheeda Rehman – Kala Bazaar (1960), Sahib bibi aur ghulam (1962), Bees saal baad (1962), Baat ek raat ki (1962), Mujhe jeene do (1963), Guide (1965), Teesri Kasam (1966), Ram aur Shyam (1967)
Nutan – Chhalia (1960), Bandini (1962), Dil hi to hai (1963), Tere Ghar ke Saamne (1963), khandan (1964), Milan (1967), Saraswatichandra (1968)
Asha Parekh – Jab pyar kisi se hota hai (1961), Phir wohi dil laya hoon (1963), Love in Tokyo (1966), Aye din bahar ke (1966), Do Badan (1966), Baharon ke sapne (1967), Aya sawaan jhoom ke (1969) Sharmila Tagore – Kashmir ki kali (1964), An evening in Paris (1967), Waqt (1965), Aamne Saamne (1967), Aradhana (1969), Talaash (1969), Satyakam (1969)
Sadhana – Love in Simla (1960), Ek Musafir Ek Hasina (1962), Mere Mehboob (1963), Woh kaun thi (1964), Arzoo (1965), Mera Saaya (1966), Ek phool do mali (1969)
Vijayantimala – Gunga Jumna (1961), Sangam (1964), Amrapali (1966), Suraj (1966), Jewel Thief (1967), Saathi (1968) Nanda – Kala Bazaar (1960), Hum Dono (1961), Gumnaam (1965), Teen Deviyan (1965), Jab Jab phool khile (1965), Ittefaq (1969) (to be continued …)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Growing up days – 1960s was the coming of age of Hindi movies

1960s was the coming of age of Hindi movies from Bollywood because it was the transition from the black-and-white era to the era of color. And, the movies used to feature stalwarts of the Hindi cinema – names like Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Manoj Kumar and Rajesh Khanna meant box office stars.
The heroines added the glamour quotient and their running around trees was an integral part of Bollywood movies. Moreover, kissing was and still is taboo in Hindi movies and the symbolic depiction was through a pair of birds nestling close and rubbing their beaks.
There was experimentation and producers began to shift the locales from built-up sets in the studio to more exotic locations both inside the country as well as abroad. Legendary Raj Kapoor set the trend with his 1964 super-hit movie Sangam where he went abroad to shoot some portion of the movie.
Then there was Shammi Kapoor who redefined entertainment in Hindi movies by his exuberance and high level of energy that mixed with beautiful music and lyrics to produce masterpieces – the songs are popular even today after half a century. Raj Kapoor –Jis Desh mein Ganga Behti Hai (1960), Chhalia (1960), Dil Hi To Hai (1963), Sangam (1964), Teesri Kasam (1966)
Dilip Kumar – Kohinoor (1960), Mughal-e-Azam (1960), Ganga Jamuna (1961), Leader (1964), Ram aur Shyam (1967), Aadmi (1968)
Shammi Kapoor – Junglee (1961), China Town (1962), Kashmir ki kali (1964), Raaj Kumar (1964), Janwaar (1965), Teesri Manzil (1966), An evening in Paris (1967), Brahmachari (1968)
Dev Anand – Kala Bazaar (1960), Hum Dono (1961), Asli Naqli (1962), Tere Ghar ke samney (1963), Guide (1965), Teen Deviya (1965), Jewel Thief (1967)
Manoj Kumar – Hariyali aur raasta (1962), Woh kaun thi (1964), Himalaya ki God Mein (1965), Shaheed (1965), Upkar (1967) Rajesh Khanna – Baharon ke sapne (1967), Aradhana (1969), Do Raaste (1969), Ittefaq (1969), Khamoshi (1969), Bandhan (1969) (to be continued …)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Growing up days – 1960s belonged to Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Shirley Maclaine and Audrey Hepburn

Frankly speaking, the era of 1960s was a sort of social awakening all over the world and, the movies of that era provided a glimpse into changing social structure of the masses. It was the period that belonged to heroines like Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn. Each of them excelled in her role and their acting talents came out loud and clear landing them Academy Awards.
Sophia Loren – It started in Naples (1960), Two women (1960), Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963), Marriage Italian Style (1964), A Countess from Hong Kong (1967)
Gina Lollobrigida – Come September (1961), Go Naked in the World (1961), Strange Bedfellows (1969), The Dolls (1965), Shirley MacLaine – Can Can (1960), the Apartment (1960), Two for the seesaw (1962), My Geisha (1962), The Yellow Rolls Royce (1964), What a way to go (1964)
Audrey Hepburn – Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), My Fair Lady (1964), How to steal a million (1966), Two for the road (1967)
Then there were movies like The world of Suzie Wong (1960), Hatari (1962), and Swordsmen of Sienna (1962) which did make impressions on the audience. Especially Hatari with its music of Baby Elephant Walk … incidentally, a restaurant opened in South Kolkata named Hatari. It was a favorite meeting joint for collegians and youngsters of the 1960s. (to be continued …)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Growing up days – James Bond and thriller movies of the 60s

1960s was the period when Indians began to be exposed to a changing world scenario where espionage ruled supreme. Memories of the World War II was gradually receding and movies on WWII themes were making way for modern day espionage movies where gadgets left the audience spellbound.
It was a Cold War situation between the two world powers America and Russia and American and British spies tried to steal the thunder from the Russians who had to follow strict codes of discipline.
At such a time, the world came face to face with James Bond – he was 007 to his loved ones as well as his enemies and was licensed to kill. He loved fast cars, fast gadgets and fast girls and he dealt with the enemies with precision.
The 1960s was the emergence on the scene of James Bond with Dr No (1962), From Russia with Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), You only live twice (1967) and On her majesty’s service (1969). Each was absorbing and egged the audience on to want more and more.
Others in this category were Ipcress File (1965), Kaleidoscope (1966), The spy who came in from the cold (1967) and movies of Alfred Hitchcock Psycho (1960), and The Birds (1963). (to be continued …)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Growing up days – comedies of the 1960s

In the period earlier to the 1960s, comedy meant slapstick comedies of Laurel and Hardy or Charlie Chaplin but the 1960s brought in changes and stories began to be written around situations that involved comedies – movies that did not necessarily make the audience roll in laughter but that did make people raise and appreciate humorous situations.
For example the 1960 movie ‘the Millionairess’ in which Sophia Loren played the lead role with Peter Sellers - its song ‘I’ve kissed the girls in London, I’ve kissed the girls in Rome but the ladies of Calcutta are better by far …’ was and will always remain an all-time favorite.
Another super movie dripping comedy and satire was another Peter Sellers movie of 1964 – it was ‘Dr Strangelove or How I learnt to stop worrying and love the bomb’ and showed what could trigger a nuclear war between the two super powers. It clearly had an important message for the world.
Other movies in this category are Absent minded professor (1961), My fair lady (1964) and Those magnificent men in their flying machines (1965) – delightful movies that still draw crowds. (to be continued …)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Growing up days – English musicals of the 1960s

It can be said without doubt that the 1960s was the golden era of movies in all fields including musicals, social themes, and even crimes and comedy. It was the period when new ideas were making waves and movie makers were dedicated to making movies that would appeal to the masses.
Let us take the musicals - Can Can (1960) Shirley MacLaine, Maurice Chevalier, Frank Sinatra, North to Alaska (1960), Come September (1961) Rock Hudson, Gina Lolobrigida, Sandra Dee, Bobby Darin and Summer Holiday (1963) Cliff Richards, My fair Lady (1964) Audrey Hepburn and Sound of Music (1965) Julie Andrews.
Another movie worth mentioning is South Pacific – it is a 1958 movie and had wonderful music and songs.
Each of these movies was a super hit and even today are in demand. Moreover, some of these have been adapted in other gauges. Best example is The Sound of Music – it has a Bengali version Jay Jayanti as well as a Hindi version Parichay. (to be continued …)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Growing up days – the charm of English movies

In the 1960s, the influence of Western cultures was there in all spheres of life and English movies were no exception because, firstly, the duration would be short – usually all movies would end in one and half-hour’ time maximum. In rare cases would the duration go up to two hours. And – there would be a story that would be held together tautly by the actors who excelled in their spheres. In contrast Indian movies, especially the Hindi ones, would have heroines running around trees.
Addition attractions were the beautiful locales and the carefree lifestyles that were a far cry from the rigid rules that had to be followed in the Indian context.
A pet genre for me was the Westerns with cowboys riding horses with guns in their holsters, sharp shooters who could shoot by just observing movements in the overhead mirrors installed in the bars and knife throwers who could hit a target blindfolded.
Some of the best were Four for Texas with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Ursula Andress, the Magnificent Seven, Gunfight at the OK Corral, For a few Dollars More, Cat Ballou etcetera. Each of these was a movie that I would want to see again and again. (to be continued …)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Growing up days – war movies of the 60s

Since classes were staggered and there was no fixed routine for the last class, I invariably had spare time on my hands and would walk from my college to the happening place in the movie hall area near the Esplanade.
The period of 1960s was the golden era of movies and I was lucky to have been born at a time when Hollywood movies ruled the roost. The varieties were mindboggling and it was difficult to make choices. There were war movies, and cowboy movies, movies of the Wild West as well as the James Bond movies and clones of James Bond and there were, also, serious movies.
For me, watching a movie was just another method to widen my knowledge and share experiences of others.
Like the war movies – these were about the World War II and how dedicated men fought bravely to bring down the enemy. Movies like the Guns of Navarone, the Great Escape, 633 Squadron, and the Man who came in from the cold. Each was marvelous and a masterpiece. (to be continued…)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Growing up days – the British Council connection

British Council situated on Theater Road was another wonderful library – its proximity to St Xavier’s College made it an obvious choice for its students. The range of books here was good and its attraction was the magazines that they would issue. Of course, it was not in the immediate vicinity of cinema halls, hence the students who visited were more of the studious types.
I, for my part, was enjoying my new found freedom and would borrow magazines from here and then walk down to the USIS to pick up some books and end my trip with a movie.
The distance from my college to British Council and from there to USIS was quite big but was never a deterrent because as I walked down Chowringhee Road, I would take in the scenes around me. The Chowringhee Road runs parallel to the Maidan – better known as the greenery of Kolkata – and is always busy with fleets of cars, taxis and buses. The cars were private ones, and the buses were Government CSTC buses. And, of course, there re the trams that plied on the fringe of the Maidan. (to be continued…)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Growing up days – spending time in the USIS library

The USIS or United States Information Service had a huge library and was one of the haunts of college students like me. It was situated on S N Banerjee Road and in the vicinity of most of the cinema halls that showed English movies. Its library was not just huge but had books of every conceivable subject and also a library of LP records – the 45rpm and 33 1/3 rpm ones.
And, one section was devoted to newspapers and magazines. The complete area was air-conditioned and a uniformed man stood at the entrance – he has a counter in his hand, his duty was to keep recording the number of people who entered every minute of the day.
The USIS opened its doors at 9am and closed at 5pm – and from the moment it opened its doors till it shut them, people used to keep coming and going. Some of them were serious readers, others came in to relax in the cool atmosphere while another set used the USIS as a meeting place – especially young boys and girls.
But, the elders really loved every moment. Most of them appeared to be retired men and they would enter, make their leisurely to the newspaper section, pick up a copy on the New York Times and plop down on the thick plushy sofa sets. Soon, if one went near them, they could hear the light sounds of snoring. (to be continued …)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Growing up days – I begin to go to the daily market

This was a job that I took up for selfish motives. The motive was to make some easy money on the side to take care of my extra monetary needs. Nothing much but, since I had entered college, it was but natural that my need for money had grown and I had to discover ways and means to bridge the gap.
It was a tough job no doubt because the daily budget earmarked was just two rupees and that was supposed to cover the cost of vegetable and fish needed for our six-member family. Plus bus fare to go to the market and back plus, you guessed it, at least one cigarette.
How I managed to keep aside a few paise everyday was my very own idea – one of these was to take shortcuts to go to the market and avoid the paying of bus fare. I never felt any shame in this because I had not stolen any money, I had only transferred it from the bus account to my pocket account.
The bus fare was eight paise one way and, for comparison, sixty paise was the price of a ticket in any cinema hall in the lower stall. Therefore, in a week I was able to generate finance for at least one ticket to a movie. (to be continued …)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Growing up days – exposed to the outside world

My joining college coincided with a new phase of my life. We had shifted to our newly constructed house in Lake Town which was, at that time, a gradually emerging township. It was situated on Jessore Road and was not too far from Shyambazar where we stayed earlier. There were any number of private buses that plied – these were long distance buses and many of the conductors were not even aware of the location of Lake Town.
Anyway, the fact remains that the distance from my house to my college in Park Street was long – it would take at least one hour to reach. Moreover, I would be getting hardly two rupees for daily expenses from my mother and that had to take care of not just my bus fares but also snacks in the college canteen.
And – in addition to these I had to have some money for going to movies plus a few cigarettes.
Yes, by that time I had got addicted to smoking – because others smoked and, there used to be impressive slogans like ‘live life king size’ or ‘good to the last puff’ or ‘made for each other’. Moreover, dangling a cigarette in between your lips used to look good on the cinema screen and appeared to be impressive. (to be continued …)

Friday, October 10, 2014

Growing up days – going to college

In those days, it was not too difficult to get entry into a college – since I had studied in St Joseph’s, and had secured good marks, my obvious choice was St Xavier’s College. And – since I was in the science stream, it was bit natural that I select that stream. When I came for admission, I discovered that there were students from other schools also and I also discovered that I had entered a new phase in my life.
Yes, I had broken out of the shackles of school and strict rules and regulations. I had discarded the school uniforms and embraced a new life where I could allow my fancies to take over. I had become independent and it was up to me how I used my new-found freedom.
For a start, the classes were nearly one hour duration and, unlike my school where there were a handful of students, here the class had several times more students. And – they were from all walks of life and different schools. It was a totally new scenario and I had to adapt myself to the new setup.
In school, I had Christian Brothers as my teachers but here the teachers were Jesuit Fathers. They also were equally experienced in handling Indian boys and were sincere in ensuring that the students were taken care of. The attractions of the college were the huge library, common room and the canteen. (to be continued …)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

School days – of violins and boxing

It is over half-a-century that I was in school but even now I recall a few faces of some of my teachers. Teachers like Mrs P M Van Dort – she was my class teacher in 1953. She had beautiful handwriting, just like pearls.
Then there was our music teacher – he was a German named Mr Ludwig. He would take pains to teach the students depending on their knack. Whilst some learnt the violin, others would go in for the trumpet or the drums. He also taught the group to sing in choir and they would go on stage on the annual day to render their stuff.
Another unforgettable pair of teachers were the Cowans - they taught in different classes, would arrive in school accompanied by their two sons and would disperse towards their respective classes. They would meet for lunch and, at the end of the day, would reassemble and go home. I have never them meet while classes were going on and there was hardly any change in their routine.
And then there was Mr Joshua – he was our boxing teacher and took our physical training classes as well. He had enviable biceps and triceps.
Mine was a Christian missionary school and it was great in studying in such a school that tried to develop the students in all aspects of life and living. (to be continued …)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

School days – Diwali and Kali puja

This is another great festival of Bengalis where Goddess Kali is worshipped - it is also the Laxmi Puja or worship of the Goddess of Wealth and New Year for some communities. Hence, there is a festive air all around with shops selling varieties of sweets while other shops sold firecrackers of various types.
In those days there was no restriction of the decibel levels of firecrackers and, hence, there would be packets of low decibel levels for use by us children and the higher decibel ones apart from rockets were meant for the college going ones and the elders.
We children had to be content with sparklers, charkis, tubris and other such innocent combinations.
Of course, the lightings of houses during Diwali used to make the occasion more attractive - there would be tiny earthen lamps which would be lit in the evenings and oil in them would be replenished at regular intervals to ensure that the wick did not burn out.
Some households would install garlands made up of tiny colored electric bulbs – these would be set to glow at pre-determined intervals thereby adding to the charm. (to be continued …)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

School days – celebrating Saraswati Pujas to get better marks

Goddess Saraswati is the Goddess of learning and school kids as well as collegians are her devoted followers because she is the one who can bless you with knowledge. Obviously, practically all schools in Bengal worship her sincerely.
She has a majestic swan for company and a musical instrument also with her apart from a pile of books – these are the symbols of her reach. Not just books but students, especially, the girls must also be experts in music.
The day is known as Basant Panchami and students keep fast till the pujas are over – then only they break their fast by taking a bite of a mango flower called ‘mukul’ and taste the green plum called ‘kul’ for the first time in the season. Interestingly, the Saraswati puja is a family affair because practically every household performs its own puja even though the schools arrange their own.
Moreover, the day has a special significance because on this day, it is forbidden to touch and pen or pencil or even open any book because these are placed at the feet of the goddess to get her blessings. The ultimate objective was to please the Goddess so that she would ensure that her devotee gets good marks in exams. (to be continued …)

Monday, October 6, 2014

School days – my first train journey

Growing up in a large city like Kolkata has both its advantages as well as disadvantages. In the 1950s, there were an abundance of buses and trams on the roads and school boys were experts at boarding and alighting from moving vehicles. Connectivity between points was also superb. Hence, the need of using bicycles for commuting was remote.
I was no exception. I rode a bicycle for the first time when I had gone to Kanpur – I worked there briefly for a couple of years and, since transportation was a major problem there, I had no other alternative but to learn cycling.
As regards train travel – this also never materialized during mu school days. However, at the fag end of my schools, I got an opportunity to travel by train, thanks to an aunt of mine. She was a nurse in the Railway Hospital and she took me with her on my first ever train journey. It was from Howrah Station to Palta – the next station.
Subsequently, I have traveled by train to different destinations throughout the country – sometimes on official duties, at other times on holidays with my family. And, the experiences that I have gathered on the way have helped boost my confidence levels because, once you are faced with a situation, the best in you is bound to come out. (to be continued …)

Sunday, October 5, 2014

School days – traveling by trams

Trams on the roads of Kolkata used to be aplenty in the 1950s and a section of people, that included office-goers and students alike, preferred this pollution free and silent mode of travel. These vehicles were operated by the Calcutta Tramways Corporation or CTC and the driver and conductors were usually from Bihar.
Elderly people used to travel in these trams early in the morning and just relax on the seat as the world passed by with fresh air billowing all around. It was an unparalleled experience, especially when speeding through the outskirts of the grassy stretch of the Maidan.
Incidentally, the trams used to have two classes – the front portion was the first class and the rear portion was the II Class. Obviously, there was a fare difference and most of the passengers in the II Class used to be non-Bengalis engaged in various professions that involved manual exertions.
Of course, in my school days, I hardly ever boarded the tram but would watch from the bus as it overtook the slow-moving trams – the problem with trams was that it had to follow the set down lines and could not overtake. In case of jams, it had to wait for the jam to be cleared.
At times, the overhead contact made via a pulley mechanism would get dislodged and the tram would stop. It was then that the conductor would alight, move to the rear of the tram and, by using the attachment cable, put the pulley back in the slot so that the electrical contact was re-established. (to be continued…)

School days – attraction of sweets made of coconuts

Coconuts have always had a special place in the lives of Bengalis – and, sweets prepared from coconuts had an added attraction of their own.
I remember in the days previous to Durga Puja festivals. My father would bring home at least four coconuts – the ones with the hard outer skins removed. The procedure involved first breaking the hard outer shell to expose the milk white kernel inside. Then mother would sit on the ground with the specially designed equipment to gradually scoop out the kernel on to a flat plate. It was a painstaking process and ashes copped out the insides, it began to accumulate on the plate in the form of a mound.
Once it was done, the grated coconuts would go into a large vessel and put over the heat. She would add sugar and, as the sugar meted, it mixed with the grated coconut to create a new mass that was waiting to be eaten. For flavor, she would add powdered cardamom.
Then would come another tedious process – converting this mass into round shapes because those would then become easy to handle and, also, easy to gobble up.
At times she would put the whole mass on a flat plate and cut them into rectangles, or triangles or rhombus to bring variety into the final product. (to be continued …)

Friday, October 3, 2014

School days – shopkeepers use paper bags to pack the groceries

Our school days were days of rupees, annas and paisa – 16 annas was equivalent to one rupee and four paisa was equivalent to one anna. It was in 1957 that decimal coinage (one rupee was made equivalent to 100 naya paise – this term naya paise was to differentiate it from the existing paisa. The ‘naya’ was later withdrawn and it became just paise.)
It took people some time to get gradually accustomed to the new system which embraced all measures including weights, volumes and even lengths.
Anyway, this is not a treatise on that subject but through this, I will try to highlight the cost of living in the 1950s – I still remember going with my father to the Shyambazar market for purchase of monthly provisions that ranged from rice and sugar to cooking oils, dals, maida and spices etcetera.
The measure of weights was in seers – one seer was nearly equivalent to one Kilogram or Kg and for two rupees, we would be able to buy five seers of good quality of sugar. The shopkeeper would weigh the sugar into a large paper bag. Paper bags were the order of the day – no plastics or polythene. In those days, no one had heard of environmental pollution.
Similarly, one tin of Milkmaid condensed milk would come for 14-annas – that was less than a rupee. And, for as little as two rupees per day, one could easily procure vegetables and fish for a family of six!! (to be continued…)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

School days – Bijoya Dasami and sweets

Bijoya Dasami is the last day of the Durga Puja festival. On this day, Goddess Durga, along with her children, goes back to her husband Lord Shiva in the Himalayas.
The day is a sad one because it would bring to an end the festivities but, there always remained the silver lining because, on this occasion, the younger ones would touch the feet of elders to get their blessings. And – blessings minus sweets is meaningless and certainly not in order. Therefore, there are sweets and sweets.
In our days, most of these sweets would be homemade – the elder women of the family would stay up at nights and toil with ingredients like flour, coconut and chhana to create mouthwatering delicacies that would vanish in no time.
Then there would be salty stuff like the nimkis or chanachur to add to the tastes.
And – since this Bijoya had to be attended to meticulously, we would go from one house to another, carry out the ritual of touching the feet of elders in the house and then wait for the plate of goodies. The process would not be restricted to only relatives but would also encompass neighbors as well.
Since schools would be closed, our visits would go on till lunch time and by the time we came home, we would have lost all appetite for normal lunch. (to be continued …)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

School days – celebrating Durga Puja

Durga Puja is the greatest festival of Bengalis and initially it was restricted to the rich and the famous zamindars and other affluent people. The four-day festival involved not just different types of material and labor but also adequate amount of finance.
Tradition has it that the villagers would wait expectantly all the year round to partake of the goodies that would be distributed by the zamindars – there would also be eats on the occasion and, in the evenings, the unique Bengali theater groups would conduct ‘jatras’ to entertain the villagers.
One of the oldest such pujas was that of Sabarna Roy Choudhury – it started in 1610 and is over 400-years old. Anyway, with the passage of time, the festivities went public and came to be known as the ‘baro-yari’ pujas – ‘baro’ means twelve and ‘yaar’ means friends. Hence, baro-yari literally means twelve friends. This culture took off in the early 1900s and gradually gained momentum. And – true to Bengali culture, the pujas kept multiplying mostly because of dissidents breaking away from the original group to form new groups.
Of course, finance invariably ruled supreme and, in order to generate the funds, the organizers would go in for collecting advertisements apart from donations. Later it all was about sponsorships – the better contacts one had would translate into lucrative sponsorships.