Monday, December 30, 2013

Film Projection Fun

In movie theatres I used to get kicks watching the tiny dust particles wafting in the air, dancing in the beam of light coming out of the projector lens. They would otherwise remain invisible!  I used to do the same when my father operated the film projector at his workplace with the 16mm RCA.  He was the projection operator and sound engineer.  My father was an expert, having been one of the earliest students of Bangalore's Visvesvaraya Polytechnic College where he got his diploma in 1949-50.  From 1951-58 he worked with distinction in the reputed Films Divisions at Bombay [now Mumbai]. 

Picture on the left shows my father operating a slide projector for an official programme in the early 1960s at his workplace in Mysore.  He would take me to unofficial programmes and film shows organized by various in-house groups off office hours.  I would sit next to the projector because I was also drawn to watching how the two film spools revolved, one dispensing and the other collecting after passing through a series of slots. 

In this picture [left] he is examining a 35mm film with some colleague.

Now let me come to my adventure.

It was about 1970-71.  I had just entered high school when information about toy film projectors being locally available had spread.   I longed to have one.  Its cost was twenty five rupees, certainly expensive for a toy at that time. My school fee was six rupees a month.  I think it was my father [and not my grandfather on that occasion!] who gave the money for me to buy, reluctantly.  Reluctantly, because he was aware of my 'experimenting habits', with new things and 25 was a big sum!!

The projector was something like this, but was 'silver painted':

With a huge sum of 25 rupees in my small shirt pocket, off I rode 'my' Robin Hood bicycle to the shop, just one kilometre from our house.  A rack full of these projectors was a visual delight to me!  "I want one projector."  After testing the mechanics he handed it over to me.  I paid the money.  My new wooden gadget was carefully fastened by the carrier clip behind the saddle.  Riding cautiously, feeling the toy with my hand several times if it was securely in place, I reached home.

The shop where I bought has since long been a cement shop [Narayana Shastri Road], close to where I live now.  Photo taken just for this post - see the green painted one [right].

After some days of trial, I was ready to arrange a 'public show'!!  The news of my new toy had spread in the street.  I would announce to my playmates about 'Dinu's film show' after the evening playtime so that they would inform their whereabouts to their parents beforehand.  

Our hall was the audioless 'home theatre'.  A white wall was the projection screen.  I had to connect the projector close to the power source as I had no extra wire.  The wall behind the two chairs [picture below] was the best, but sometimes I chose the wall where the rosewood trophy case is. 

Theatres used to dispose the cut film pieces [35 mm] in considerable lengths and these were available cheaply.  Someone would pick them up from the waste bin or had some contacts with the manager.  But I am unable to remember where I procured mine except for a thick roll which my aunt got from Bangalore following somebody's suggestion.The roll I am showing here is the combined one having all I had.

The 'Dinu Film Show' was arranged a few times, after dusk and would last only a few minutes!  The film got unwound fast!  So fast that there was no time for me to notice any wafting dust in the beam of light in the 'home theatre'!

The 60 watt bulb [projection lamp] would soon heat up the entire wooden projector.  The smell of silver paint on its body would fill the room. It was time for a short cooling break!  Another roll of film was loaded for another small session.  Loading had to be done manually too, after switching the light on!

The projector had focusing arrangement which was a very effective mechanism made from tin sheets! Two were condensing lenses and the third one - outermost - was for focusing. Once 'loaded', the film had to be kept in motion because of chances of getting burnt by the hot light and the lens converging heat to the film, if kept stationary!

When all the film rolls were shown, the light was on for the final time.  The street mates went home, but I had helluva lot of work...... to roll back the mountain of 'spent' film lying on the floor beneath the projector stool.  It was great fun nevertheless.

*  *  *  *  *  * 
This is a link to my other blogpost relating to my projector - its bits!

As I had no other wood for my small bird house project in 2007, I used this!  The only time any bird used it was a Great Tit and I was lucky to take photos of this rare time. You can see the silver paint of the projector still on it.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Chickpea season

Come December, the first sight of Chickpea aka "SoppinakaLLekaai" [ಸೊಪ್ಪಿನ ಕಡ್ಳೇ ಕಾಯಿ in Kannada] is provided by Ramanna.  We met two winters ago in front of our house.  We stopped him.  Ever since this, he has been 'instructed' to stop by frequently during the Chickpea season, which is the winter months, December to February.  And he has been faithfully providing us the supply.    

Chickpea is also known by names like Bengalgram and Garbanzo beans. Some botanical information and my pictures are here: [Dave's Garden] 
'Roasted gram' is an important ingredient in many a south Indian recipe. A bottle of it is earmarked in the kitchen just for this.

"The chickpea is a legume of the family Fabaceae, subfamily Faboideae. Its seeds are very nutritious, high in protein and dietary fibre. It is one of the earliest cultivated legumes: 7,500-year-old remains have been found in the Middle East.", says Wiki.  Another reference says that India produces 70% of world's share.  

Entire plants are pulled out by farmers when the pods are green and the peas inside are green and tender, which is when it is best and sweetest. Many villagers earn their livelihood by selling the plants with pods.  It is a common sight in Mysore during these months.

Two seasons in 2008 and 2009 we used to buy from this man [left]. He never came frequently despite a guarantee to buy. So we missed chickpeas but bought small quantities during the market visits. It was not a satisfying thing because we got too little for a lot of money, compared to what we got from the street vendors.

How we missed our regular man Honnaiah who had stopped coming for some years on either of 1990! 

Around 2002, we caught and bought chickpeas from another vendor at our gate.  With Honnaiah 'absconding', I had started to inquire other vendors if they were from Chikkhalli.  I took a chance and inquired this chap about Honnaiah because he said he was also from Chikkhalli.  Lo, he knew him!  He said he was his ಮಾವ [uncle] and that he no longer sells items as before, but was fine.  This was a sweet piece of information, sweeter than the chickpeas he brought all those years!  We were worried and curious to know about his welfare as we waited only for him though others also used to pass our street selling chickpeas.  I had desired to meet him since long and asked his address.  He said 'Just go to Chikhalli and ask for Yajmaan Honnaiah".  "Yajmaan" is a title somewhat like a 'chieftan'. That itself spoke of his popularity in his village!

Honnaiah was a tall villager who regularly came with Chickpeas during the season and very occasionally groundnuts.  Chikkhalli is a small village, 10 kms east of Mysore.  Our house was in Devaparthiva Road in Chamarajapuram which was his regular route he took using his bicycle. We used to eagerly wait for his loud and familiar call "KaLLekaai.... SoppinkaLLekaai" [ಕಳ್ಳೆ ಕಾಯ್, ಸೊಪ್ಪಿನ್ ಕಳ್ಳೆ ಕಾಯ್ ].  He was a very familiar figure in our locality.

In April 2003, I decided to visit him.  So with with my wife and two kids we went on my scooter in search of Honnaiah.  On reaching the village, we were properly guided by someone to his house, which was very close to the main road.  When we went there, he was surprised and happy. He recognized me.

This was ten years ago.  It was a pleasing experience to visit his house and capture the moment on my film camera. I was so relieved to see that same smile, which now had a contented glow, after so many years. But it was strange without his customary towel wound round his head!  We had been so much conditioned to that typical look.  He had put on weight, perhaps resulting from not bicycling long distances like before. 

The bargaining fight between my paternal aunt and Honnaiah was adding charm into the transaction.  She used to fight with him to give that one extra plant after extra plant  It was a fight he too enjoyed, but never avoided giving.  He never gave one extra unhappily but as I now recollect he wore a sympathetic look, the same when he gives a child.  He did not forget to inquire about her and was sad to know about her death in 1989.  "Oh, how much she used to fight!" he recalled.  It was so kind of him.

The road to Chikkhalli is all the way 'ups and downs'. We realized then, how far and how tough it was for him to ride with that load on his bicycle and visit localities to sell from that far, for a small profit every day.   Each time he sat on the saddle or got down, he had to do it with his right leg crossing in front of him as the carrier behind was full.

 The one who guided us to Honnaiah's house never was spotted again. The present man also is from the same place. I showed Honnaiah's photo to Ramanna. "Oh, Honnappa!".  I asked how he was.  Ramanna informed that he died two years ago [most likely due to old age].

Eating it without messing!  See how!

Eating them raw is a great feeling, esp. fresh, opening from the pod and popping into the mouth. I learnt the clean technique from my paternal aunt.  There is no need for us to pluck the pod from the plant. There is need for a good thumbnail which I always sport - because of its great utility as a tool.  Here is my video demo!!  

Here are stills :

Hold it in the correct angle. Enjoy the baby pods too by pressing it to produce a pleasing little 'pop'! :)

Press it towards the top and it should open neatly along the 'line'.

Do not miss the good thumbnail tool. Push the cover aside and remove the pea/s. Pop them into the mouth, chew chew.... 

Be ready for a soft surprise as well.  Yikes!  Some will be busy eating the pea inside the cover having gone in by making a tiny hole.  
It is a larva of some host butterfly or moth.  
So keep an eye on the food you eat!! :)

Pods emptied, but still on the plant.  So no mess. That is why I call it as a "clean technique".

Ready for disposal outside the gate, where stray cows consume this delicacy.  Feeding the holy cows is divine, not counting the garbage bins they are fond of visiting, but out of necessity! 

Forgot to say that you need a good stance to start the programme.  
As soon as the lot is bought, I immerse the root portions into a bucket of water.  This keeps the plants from wilting.  It remains almost fresh the next day also.

Ramanna is a good replacement for Honnaiah, but this bargaining charm is missing.  We just tell for how much we want and he keeps the plants in the bucket, of course with a few small plants as a little 'bonus' [in Kannada we call it ಕೊಸರು] which is somewhat customary in many items also.  He also pushes his bicycle in upward gradients.  He has an attraction in my house. He can 're-wet' his greens with water I keep for my garden.  Hope you noticed that act in the beginning.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Bombay Anand Bhavan Stores for Groceries

My fond memories of shopping at Bombay Anand Bhavan Stores

"Bombay Anand Bhavan Stores" was a household name in many Mysore families.  It was somewhat like a 'one-stop shop' situated in the narrow lane just behind Laxmi Vilas, a famous Sari shop near K.R.Circle. Provisions/Groceries [cereals, pulses, flour, spices etc.], Pressure Cookers, Thermos Flasks and whatnot were available in one place.  My fondest memories of this place are from the 1960s and 70s. 

[Author-pictured Nov. 2013].  I have put the name of the shop using Picasa.

The owner R.Vishnu Gopal knew my grandfather - from the Rotary Club.  It was first opened by Vishnu Gopal's father who I understand had a small shop in the late 1920s [may be 30s - needs verification] near the 'OnduvaraaNi Galli' [close to Olympia Talkies] before the new buildings around the K.R.Circle was built. Several customers had patronized it for many reasons for many years.  Probably my grandfather has known them since that time as his office was close by at Gandhi Square.  So it was no wonder that we too patronized it and because of the acquaintance also, my two maternal uncles were employed for short periods.

Pic from 1960s, facebook group. The shop was just behind there.  K.R.Circle is also seen.  Look at this scene from those days - peaceful. That 'OnduaraaNi Galli was to the left out of the frame. 

The item list would be jointly prepared by my mother and grandmother the previous day.  Festivals meant extra quantity. Since our ancestral lands provided our yearly quota of paddy [rice], this was not in the list.  Other grocery items were bought from this store because it also a fine reputation of supplying clean[ed] material. This monthly affair was soon after my father's salary day, which was the last working day of each month. It was a special day for me because it was an opportunity to go the marketplace .... peppermints!  The shop's weekly holiday was on Wednesday.  First Saturday after the 'pay day' was most suitable because father's office had a 5-day week and our school was over by half past ten in the morning.  My grandmother went with mother at times when she wanted to buy flowers in the market. I used to tag along.

  Many times, I would go with my father on his Raleigh bicycle.  On return, our two or three large home-stitched cotton bags, fully loaded, were suspended on either side of the handlebar making balancing a bit tricky for my father as I sat behind him on the carrier, legs on either side.  At other times, I would run behind my mother.  So we went by bus and returned by autorickshaw because the bags were heavy.  I used to carry smaller ones.

Bombay Anand Bhavan Stores was just about 200 metres from the bus stand.  In summer a refreshing juice or ice cream at the popular 'Phalamruta' was an attraction.  This was/is in Lansdowne Building [now under renovation controversy] facing the bus stand.  If I had any book or pencil to buy we went to one of the many book shops in the same row there.  Sometimes when we went in the evening with grandfather, we would ask for 'ice cream' there.  He would say "Okay, you scream."  But he entertained us with a visit to 'Phalamruta'.

Back to the grocery list.  It would be handed over to the manager of Bombay Anand Bhavan Stores.   He would glance at it and allot a person to pack the items. The man would browse at it too.  We had to wait till our items were packed ready.  I enjoyed waiting because it was a great opportunity to leisurely do my 'window shopping' [this was coined long later I presume!] at the showcase kept at the entrance where attractive stationery gifts were displayed.  The price tags were 'beyond our easy reach', yet I have bought a few smaller items of real need from there.  I have showed some of them here.  Read on.

When I finished feasting the eye at the showcase, I went back and watched our packing man go to the sacks or large metal bins where the items were kept open. The necks of sacks with wheat, rice, dal etc. would be rolled down to the level of the contents. A tin mug having an angular brim with a handle was planted upside down in each sack.  We could examine it before choosing a particular quality/variety.  The grocery section was spacious. A long wooden bench counter for keeping the packed materials and the weighing scale and weights separated the customer stools [wooden].  The manager sat in the centre facing the door with the grocery section to his right and the other half of the stores to his left. The grocery section had its typical smell, sometimes strong from the red peppers. When they were packed, the strong aroma would make us cough!

A suitable size paper cover [pre-plastic days] kept handy near the weighing scale, depending on quantity would be picked for packing an item.  The packing material was paper [old magazines, newspapers or school notes or books]. If the quantity was small, he very skilfully made a paper cone from a suitable sheet of paper with the blink of an eye.  If quantity and volume was more, he would choose a cover made from newspapers [usually by poor people who earned a few rupees from this].

Experience makes these packers develop a knack to estimate the weight of an item visually and physically.  A near exact weight would be carried in the cover along with some extra in the tin mug for weighing. After weighing, the packet would be tied with a thin jute thread. This jute thread roll was hung from a rope tied to a hook in  the roof rafter, just a few feet up.  It was great fun to watch the roll dancing and wobbling as thread was drawn. The thread was strong, but could be snapped with just a bit of effort and knack.  After winding the packet he would snap and twist the two ends that stayed put like a knot, but not a knot!  So at home, it was easily unwound.  Much later, they resorted to adhesive tape and staple pins.  The tin mug with any contents would be replaced in its sack.  If the mug was empty and there was no need to go the sacks again, he would toss it over a few feet in such a way that it got planted in the grocery with a thrilling sound! Chhaak!  Like a javelin!

He would tick mark each item in the list as he packed.  His little pencil was always available on his ear. When fully done, he would carefully pile up all the items on the counter and hand over the list back to the manager.

I would stand watching with awe, looking at his face and the pen tip pointing to a figure on the list in alternation as he wrote the 'answer' besides each item.  Multiplying decimal weights was like drinking water to him.  There were no calculators in those days and imagine how sharp they must have been to mentally put a rate.  And how quickly they calculated! We at school suffered in simple arithmetic!

   Finally he would prepare the total, verify and re-verify to be doubly sure of accuracy, lest he lost his profit. There was one in a thousand chance of his 'mistotaling'.  That was the 'bill' and he handed it to us for payment.  And quite by habit and wont, my mother would again check through. After convincing herself, the payment was made.

Now the manager had to confirm the items packed were in order.  The manager would call out the item and quantity and the person who packed confirmed it from the 'feel' and appearance of the packet [remember, paper covers].  Finally, the item count was verified, lest something had escaped attention.  He would place the items carefully in our cloth bags, with heavier and larger ones going in first, at the bottom.

Sometimes, the paper cover would give way in some weak spot or get torn.  There would be an in-transit, in-bag spillage.  When two different packets spilled, it was extra work at home, separating them!

The shop had roaring business, but there was no pressure.  Things appeared calm with a few people. So our waiting was minimal.

We also at times, went to the vegetable market close by to buy vegetables while the items were being packed thus reducing my 'window shopping' time there.  A separate cloth bag was ready for this.  There was no plastic menace anywhere which the black and white picture you saw above reveals.  It was a really clean city back then. The words 'carrybag' and 'eco-friendly' at that time had yet to be coined!!  There was no life in the market without people carrying cloth bags or wire baskets.

This post would not be complete if I did not recall Srinivas, the manager's trusted employee.  He was always neatly attired in a loose fitting white pyjama and long-tailed shirt.  Of very friendly disposition, soft spoken, smiling, kind and courteous, he was always around helping customers with various things.  If you wanted to know about any item, 'ask Srinivas' was the formula.  He was extremely patient and gave correct information or guidance.  He would ride his bicycle to and from work.  His route was our street.  When he went in front of our house and if we were outside, we always gave a wave of the hand or a smile in the morning.  At times on his return at night, he stopped by for a few minutes of informal chat holding his bicycle beside him, outside the gate while we were enjoying the stars or moonlight. No TV like gadgets!  They were the humble 'radio days'.

The main attraction in that shop as I mentioned was the showcase counter displaying an array of catchy items - pens, imported pencils, pencil sharpeners, rulers, gifts and toys etc.

Bombay Anand Bhavan Stores is where I bought my first 'sketch pen' - a fibre tipped pen - in 1972.  I remember not its cost, but it was a great thrill.

In 1974, I was to watch a Test Match in Bangalore [Click to read story].  I had bought a binoculars in this shop for Eighty rupees, a hefty sum.  It was kept in that glass counter!  Also, Eighty rupees was the rate of the ticket [for all 5 days] for the match.

In 1973, I had bought an electric toy motor for fifteen rupees.  I cannot recall how much the batteries costed.  This was to make a Motor Bus for my school project, imitating my more brilliant classmate I.M.Cariappa who had made a beautiful bus and fitted with such a motor!  My bus did not move when the Judges came to the exhibition.  But it was absolute fun, trying to create something with no tools except an old razor blade and my favourite 'black scissors'.

Another silly toy I bought was this. Electro-magnetic toy.  But the most useful thing was the battery holder which I still use. But I had made a calling bell from this, using the striker from our electric bell that had gone kaput. 

After I "fully experimented" [you know what I mean?] with the first motor, I bought another some years later... to make a fan!

This is a picture of Adinarayana Shetty Shop inside the heritage Devaraja Market where we also went for a couple of small items and had no time for the Bombay shop.

See how the items are stored here. As a tradition, he offers a piece of red sugar candy and a few raisins on a piece of paper to married ladies just when they have finished buying.

The shutters of Bombay Anand Bhavan Stores remain closed since the 1990s, but none can erase the memories of that wonderful shop.  Its typical ambience and the way in which they were business-like and friendly at the same time will be missed in reality, but linger in memories who had patronized it. 

Doorstep Vendor Services

An hour or two on either side of noon, ladies of the houses would be relaxing after their morning chores like cooking or washing.  The men would be gone for work. The sparrows chirped in the shrubs around the house and there was that typical Mysore calm and quiet, only broken by the calls like HaLLay peppa kaali seesoooy...ya.  [ಹಳ್ಳೆ ಪೆಪ್ಪಾ  ಕಾಲಿ  ಸೀ ಸೋ ಯ್ ....ಯ] or Steeel paaatroya. [ಸ್ಟೀ ಲ್  ಪಾತ್ರೋೊ ಯ] Pause, then a repeat call, loud enough to be heard inside even large homes.  It was typical Mysore scenario in the 1960s and 70s.  Such calls from various vendors who roamed the streets selling their wares or services would fill the air.

To list out various vendors from those days was a long-standing plan but when my new friend Kumar recently spelled that unique call in one of his e-mails - we share some nostalgic recollections from the same period - it was a shot in the arm.  So here we go.
I have tried to spell the calls as they were.  The 'tails' of the calls were usually funny with a bit of drag.
In this post, I list only some "skilled service-vendors" who roamed the streets and went 'door to door', so to say.  Not adding here are the ones who sat in a specified place in shops or pavements and also 'material vendors' who too had their unique calls, but that will be in another post.
The vendors would either come on foot or a bicycle to go around the streets to earn their livelihood selling their expertise.  They were efficient, quick and reasonable.  What more can we ask for a much needed service at the doorstep?  Even now there are quite a few of them, but many trades have disappeared with the changing needs and way of life.

This post is an attempt to recall some of those vendors and their calls from the past.  All of them came calling in their own special tunes which was nice to give an ear.  I have no photographs or audio recordings from that time but I will try to manage with words to "nostalgiate".

Let me begin with Hallay peppa kaali seesoooy....ya. It is actually HaLay Paper, Khaali Seesay  - ಹಳೆ  ಪೇಪರ್ ಖಾಲಿ ಸೀಸೆ meaning "old paper, empty bottles".  He would take old newspaper [by weight] or bottles [by count] and pay money to you.  He makes a profit for his services as he is linked with the recyclers.  He usually came on bicycle this service meant luggage and covering many streets.  What was special was his loud, musical call with a final drag at the end, which Kumar spelled so nicely.  He would possess a weighing balance that was customized for 'his profit'!! Cheating with weights was their trademark.  So we rarely called him.

Slowly riding on his bicycle another fellow would call ThigaNayyyy Aushdheeeeya.  [ತಿಗಣೇ ೕ ೕ  ಔಷ್ ಧೀಯ]  Medicine for Bedbugs. This man carried a bag containing his poison potion which he would apply with his spray gun to the cots, beds, pillows and furniture.  All the items had to be kept outside for him to spray. The potion had a terrible smell that spread around and lingered for many hours.  Bedbug was a pesky pest in the olden times in homes, perhaps due to the type of materials and lifestyles. We had to manage with the smell for a couple of days at least.  It used to be a really terrible day when we had to shift in the beds etc. only before dusk as it had to dry.  Hands had to be washed cleanly if we touched the bed or pillows that day.  Bedbugs slowly got eradicated and so was this trade at least in our home. We also used a small 'Flit' hand spray, but it was too small for the volume needed treatment. It was only for urgency and a very popular 'pest control' measure.  That hand sprayer was in almost every house!  That image from ebay.

All images here can be enlarged.

Haaasgay repaireeyoyya.  [ಹಾಸ್ ಗೇ  ರೆಪೇ ರಿ ಯೋೊ ಯ್ಯ]  Mattress repair.  We commonly use the word 'bed' instead of mattress. In those days, only cotton beds were in vogue.  The cotton stuffed in beds would flatten, form lumps, covers got weak and tore, asking attention after years of use.  The bicycle-riding bed-repairman would be available at the doorstep.  He was conspicuous wherever he went with his long harp-like instrument 6 or 7 feet long that was suspended on the handlebar in such a way that it did not inconvenience his riding. I try to illustrate how that wooden 'harp' was.

My wondering about the harp ended many years later. That was when I saw him working in someone's house.  That harp [I will call this harp] was a manual cotton cleaning machine.  We also summoned his service once.  It required a free room because of the dust the work produced.   One end of the harp was tied to a something in such a way that he could sit and swing it left to right, while the rope in that harp was skilfully flicked with his fingers.  The rope was in contact with the old cotton [removed from the bed] as cotton became more voluminous and flew loose all over. Cleaned cotton was filled back and tufting was done with a thick needle.  The bed was all sponginess once again. And I used to jump on it as soon as it was kept aside, ready, as he as collecting his fee.

Kerosene Oil was available freely. We used a wick stove to boil milk etc. So kerosene was an important essential commodity and there used to be a good stored in reserve for emergencies, just in case.  LPG came to us only in the early 80s.  Kerosene was sold from bullock carts going around the streets, almost daily, selling at 26 n.p. [naye paise - new paisa] per litre, which was painted on the barrel. Of course, the rate kept climbing in the 70s. The kerosene cart was fitted with two metal barrels placed horizontally. The seller would sit on top of the front barrel, spanner in one hand and the rope to control the ox. I try to illustrate the scene. 

The rhythmic tapping of the barrel with the spanner to produce the sound was all too familiar to Mysore public. We could hear it from a long distance due to its shrillness.  But he also would call "Seemay eNNayyy" [ಸೀಮೇ ಣ್ಣೇೕ  ] - Kerosene Oil. The spanner was his key to the outlet tap behind the cart.

When he stopped on the road in front the customer's gate to sell, he would use his conical litre-measure with a handle and then funnel the oil into the customer's container, usually an old oil tin can.   Almost always there was an argument about the measure and the foam that formed at the neck.. So even if the measure was a standard one, he found another way to cheat. 

Steeel paaatroya. [ಸ್ಟೀ ಲ್  ಪಾತ್ರೋೊ ಯ ] [Stainless] Steel utensils.  He came on foot, carrying a large bamboo basket on his head, cushioned by a roll of towel. That call was also familiar and an everyday phenomenon. He sold utensils and also bartered for old clothes.  If someone called him, he would come and remove the heavy basket from his head to the floor.  A helping hand was required.  I wondered how he managed to walk around with such a heavy thing up there for a long time. If people called him, it was good for his neck to get some respite.

Since he had the cloth barter system, the ladies thought they made a small profit of a steel utensil for the kitchen by disposing old clothes.  He would fix up a value for the clothes in the form of a certain utensil. That was the starting rate.  He knew full well that the lady would still want a better vessel.  He would pause and mentally calculate something and then offer a slightly better utensil.  This argument went on for sometime until a deal was struck.  If not, he would carry the basket and move on.  Again, a helping hand was needed to lift the basket onto his head by someone as it used to be quite heavy with his ware and the bundle of clothes already bartered. 

Kalai patreya.  [ಕಲಾಯ್   ಪಾತ್ರೇ ೕ ಯ ] In those days, most of the houses had been using brass, copper and bronze utensils for cooking.  'Stainless steel' was slowly making its way into kitchens only to completely change the scenario in the coming decades. So, the inners of those old utensils needed to be coated with tin from time to time to prevent poisoning esp. when sour/salty stuff was kept/cooked. This is an age-old practice. This man would come either on his bicycle or on foot carrying his tools, charcoal and a small air blower.  When someone called him, a fee was agreed upon and he would start working.  First, he chose a place outside the house - footpaths were nice and clean and of mother earth!  A small pit would be dug up for burning charcoal to heat the vessels which were large too.  He made arrangements for his blower, the small pipe connecting the pit bottom for blowing charcoal. I used to watch this blower in action with great curiosity.  He would hold the vessel his long pliers and twisted it around to heat all round.  He applied tin in powder form that melted on coming in contact with the hot vessel and quickly spread the thin tin film around the inner surface as tin melted. Here are some images in someone's blog. [Click]  This one is better for images, but the text is in Hindi.  [Click]  This is very nearly what was done in front of our house.  I am showing a large bronze vessel [above] from our attic. 

Kathree, chaakooo SaaNay Hidisteerammaaav?  [ಕತ್ರೀ, ಚಾಕೂ  ಸಾಣೆ  ಹಿಡಿಸ್ತ್ಹೀರಾಮ್ಮಾವ್ ] This long call was a question to the womenfolk here. [Amma, means womenfolk in this context.]  His expertise was sharpening scissors, knives, sickles etc.  His tool was a customized frame fitted with a bicycle rim, belt-driven, pedal-powered and fitted to a smaller wheel that held the grinding stone.  He carried this machine behind his back.  My favourite thing to watch how sparks flew away from him as he sharpened weapons!  I took this picture [left] near the New Delhi Railway Station. How beautifully they customize their bicycles too! 

He would walk along the streets callingChatthreee repairee. [ಚತ್ರೀ  ರಿ ಪೇರೀ ] Umbrella repair.  He came with a bag of paraphernalia, new spokes, nails, thread, needle, scissors, cloth, spare handles etc.  Of course, those were the days when things were used till it was no longer fully unusable.  Only then something was disposed.  As such, many things were repaired and repaired till its full life was squeezed out!  Money was not squandered, even if one had. If something was bought, they squeezed out the maximum value.  There was no garbage problem because people did not generate it unnecessarily as well!  For so many things the old times are referred as the 'good old days'.

Cobblers also walked around looking for their business while some sat under a tree shade spreading their tools in front of them. Chapplee repaireeee, [ಚಪ್ಪ್ಲೀ  ರಿ ಪೇರೀ ] he would call every now and then looking if someone gave him work.. If someone had any broken strap of a flip-flop or other footwear that needed any repair, he would sit outside the gate, do his job and collect his fee, which was very nominal, before walking away.  When I see the myriad variety of footwear available in the market and when I see the broken footwear thrown/disposed on the spot where it broke makes me think how bad the quality of material we have now, esp. women's.  Before fibre and PVC, only leather and rubber constituted the materials. They were so durable and even repairable! A 'stitch in time' used to extend its service hugely.  Doorstep service was invaluable. I learnt how to repair the chappal by stitching from these fellows and also how they waxed the thread to add strength to it.

Plaasteek Saamaan Repairee..... [ಪ್ಲಾಸ್ಟೀ ಕ್  ಸಾಮಾ ನ್ ರಿ ಪೇರೀ]  Plastic items repair.  This trade was rather short-lived in the late 80s. This man would carry pieces of plastic bucket and such, an iron with a wooden handle - this was the 'heat solder', charcoal and an air pump. Just like the tin coating man, he would prepare the ground for charcoal burning.  They had found out business in this as we used to throw away cracked buckets.  This service came as a boon to extend the life of buckets especially as they were the ones that broke most and buying a new one every now and then was proving a bit costly. He would fix up a fee and start working.  He would neatly seal the crack with his junk plastic piece.  The solder was heated and he melted the edges of the pieces he had placed on the crack with it. This was done on both sides of the container.  Lo, the bucket was usable again!  But the work was not guaranteed as the joints were liable to come off any time for some reason.  Probably the arrival of malls and easier flow of money in middle class families eased the way of life.

The aura surrounding such doorstep services, the arguments by the women about fixing the fee, the thrill of watching work done in front cannot replace modern methods.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Random Trainy memories

One of the earliest picture books I can recollect, was on trains.  When mother fed me morsels of food, I used to flip the pages of this thin book, which probably had just about a dozen pages.  I do not know if they had been reduced to few pages by my handling!  I had managed to salvage one page many years ago when I grew up.  But it too disappeared about 15-20 years ago.  It had full page attractive colour paintings of different railway engines and trains - in fact, they were photo-like paintings, so real and one of my favourites.  My search for it on the web gave me these two images - both from 1950s and my memory is from the 60s.  These look very similar to that.and I can never remember to have seen its cover page!

We used to play chuku-bhuku-chuku-bhuku slowly running, holding shirts of the boy in front while the leading boy was the engine. We had to run in such a way that our toes did not hit the heels of the boy in front.  The 'engine boy' mimicked the engine sound of chuku-bhuku and also the whistle sound of 'koooo... koo', with the webbing between the right thumb and index finger held to the lips.  The left arm mimicked the back and forth motion of the piston rod at its wheel.  That was a very popular game in those days. It had no meaning, except imitating the train and getting thrilled, just because the trains were that fascinating.   See this video:

Mimicry experts used to mimic the typical sound of the chugging steam engine and they still do it in the diesel engine era!!  The new generation will never understand its beauty!  It is an easy-to-do mimicry done the same way the 'engine boy' did and they do so beautifully.

Some movie songs also feature this fantastic rhythmic music of the steam engine, chuku-bhuku.

I still continue to do rail track watching even now!  It is a great pass-time on long journeys.  I could not help taking a video recently on the return trip from far away Dehra Dun! See:

People who were renown of telling untrue incidents or similar harmless stories would be nicknamed as "Railu" (ರೈಲು) meaning "Train", like my late maternal step uncle 'Gunda'.  He was so fond of getting kicks out of telling about incidents as if he was at the spot and many times he would have come up with a deviated version!  Such 'news' were 'train news' and we did not attach much value to them, because it was told by Gunda.  

Soon after my marriage, my wife, mother and late paternal aunt planned a trip to Nanjangud.  My older memories are in a separate post here. [Click].  I was the one who bought tickets at the Chamarajapuram Railway Station for the four of us.  If I remember right it was a sum of Rs.10/ I paid.  He gave me four tickets.  I was happy four persons would be traveling for just ten rupees!  It had been a long time since I had traveled to Nanjangud.  So I thought the Railways have not raised the fare by much.  We alighted at Nanjangud Town Rly. Station.  There was no rush but just a few passengers who had alighted.  We had to hand over the tickets at the gate to the Ticket Collector.  He stopped us and asked who traveled.  He saw the four of us together.  I was surprised why he was asking.  He took us to the Station Master and explained showing that we had traveled using 'Child Tickets' with half fare!!  I was completely taken aback and embarrassed.  I was completely unaware why and how I was handed over those 'child fare' tickets.  I explained it was honestly unintentional but he would not listen. The fine for this was double the fare.  Sheepishly, I paid and learnt a lesson.  The visit to the Temple was smooth our return journey by the next train 2 hours later was with the proper tickets.   

B.V.Pandit established his Ayurvedic Medicine Unit , 'Sadvaidyashala' in Nanjangud in 1913.  One of his products was the medicated tooth powder, pink, sweet and sold in paper packs.  It was very popular esp. among children notwithstanding yours truly, due to its unique flavour and edibility!  Even now it is available, but in aluminum foil packs.  Actually, I use it even now and try my own combos with different brands of tooth powders to good effect.  The beautiful 'Nanjangud toothpowder' was in so much demand that the Mysore-Nanjangud train was nicknamed as 'Toothpowder Express' and funnily, B.V.Pandit was nicknamed Baai Vaasnay Pandit [Foul-smelling mouth]!   ಬಾಯ್ ವಾಸ್ನೆ ಪಂಡಿತ್ !

The local transport unit also experimented what they called as "Road Trains". It was nothing but two buses.  The driverless hind bus was hooked behind the main bus - towing to be precise. They were in gray colour introduced in the early 70s.  It was discontinued as it faced problems while making road turns.

Small rails had to be joined together to make an oval track, a winding toy engine and a couple of little bogies behind it!  What a sight it was!  It never lasted beyond a few days and I had to be content in seeing superb solid mini models displayed in the Railway Stall of the Mysore Dasara Exhibition.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Memories of Nanjangud Temple sojourns

The 1000-year old Temple of Lord Srikanteshwara/Nanjundeshwara at the small town of Nanjangud, renown as the Benaras of the south, used to be visited by us almost like a periodic routine. It is 14 miles south of Mysore. We went by both road and rail.  Some of the fine memories of the several sojourns we undertook esp. in the 1960s remain etched in the memory.  Firstly let me recall the train journeys. 

On the left is a picture from 1865. The recent image is from '', appears to have been taken on a day when there are just a few people.

Many of the auspicious days on the lunar calendar were kept aside for visits to Nanjangud.  Our house was at Devaparthiva Road.  The vintage Chamarajapuram Station was just two furlongs away.  This little station was from the late 19th century and resembled something like what R.K.Laxman illustrated in his illustrious brother R.K.Narayan's grand novel "Malgudi Days".  The RKs also lived 5 furlongs away for some decades roughly from 1930.  Since actual photographs are not available, this serves as a visual as it is very close to how it looked.

And this is how it looks now almost from the same angle.  Track is broad gauge now. The old tiled building is also renovated adding new shelters for waiting passengers.  The huge concrete name board is a favourite of mine due to the letter type and its antiquity. 

[Image by author]

The early morning train suited us best.  If we were late to start, someone had to run to buy tickets to save time while the older ones reached gasping!  I was curious to look at how the ticket was issued.  The counter window at a corner had a wooden plank that was as high as my head and I had to crane my ncek to peep into the station master's room.  Methinks it was the station master himself who issued tickets and sometimes also struck the bell.  After money was handed, he would issue tickets only after he inserted tickets into a slot of a peculiar machine. In fact, I read that these machines were still in vogue and were withdrawn by Railways, only last year or so.  These cardboard tickets with destination, serial number and fare already printed.  That machine printed the date. Those neat tickets fitted my little palm and they became playthings after the journey.  

[Image from IndiaMike]

[Image from Wiki]

After buying tickets, we used to wait on the platform.   We kept an eye on when the level crossing gates were closed as it indicated the arrival of our train from the main station.  Opposite this station is Kannegowdana Koppal.  Crossing the dilapidated barricades parallel to the track some people from Koppal would wait with large vessels next to the metre guage track.  I used to wonder.  That was for collecting excess hot water, which the steam engine driver would release for them when it stopped.  They used that water for bathing or other things before it lost its heat.  That saved them the chore of boiling while also saving fuel.

Another amusing thing to watch was the exchange of the token ball.   It was the safety measure for single tracks.  Read in the link what it was all about.  You will see in the picture there that the driver and the station staff are exchanging the ball - kept in the leather bag tied to that cane ring with a handle.  

At Chamarajapuram, when some goods train passed without stopping, he would drop that cane ring with ball before getting ready to receive another.  He would hold his arm stretched to 'catch' it. The ring clattered into his shoulder as the train kept moving.  This was another sight to watch.

When our train arrived we would all board it.  Soon there would be a bell, which was a 2-feet piece of a steel rail hung in front of the Station Master's room and stuck with a small iron object. The clangs from this could be heard even at home on silent mornings.  The Guard and the Driver communicated with the Station Master with flags.  At night they used kerosene lamps with a green or red tinted glass lens.  Even the level crossing had a kerosene lamp fitted to a pole. 

When the green flag was waved, the train's whistle would go....Kooooo.....koo.  Then Chuku bkuku chuku bhuku...the train would move.  I was also eager to see if the signal hand connected by a long steel cable many hundred feet away.  As our train moved, I used to follow the cable running parallel to the track up to the pole.  The lever in the Station Master's room was operated for this.  It was a great thrill to see the Station Master, just as much thrill to see a policeman on night beat, in flesh and blood!! 

It took about 45 minutes to reach Nanjangud, stopping at Ashokapuram, Tandavapura and Kadakola stations.  Nearing Nanjangud, the train [metre gauge] passed over a bridge built in the 1730s, yes, 1730s, on River Kabini.  It is the oldest bridge in India.  It had both rail and road running parallel, which is a unique feature.  Since it is dilapidated, traffic is suspended [since just a few years] after building separate bridges for road and rail with broad gauge.  On that old bridge, it was thrilling to watch from the train vehicles moving next to our train.  When we were in the taxi, if we were lucky, the train would be moving beside. I compared speeds.

Old bridge [now not used] where the rail and road run closely. Picture taken from our moving bus recently..

After alighting at Nanjangud Town Rly. Stn., we would walk down or take a Tonga [horse cart] and go through the Bazar Street to reach the Temple .  It was a lovely, calm and peaceful temple to visit, with stone pillars, stone floor, stone roof and a magnificent ambiance true to a really sacred place.   My grandmother would focus on the idol of the deity and do the praying while we followed suit. As soon as the rituals and mantra chanting were completed by the priest, we were back in the station to catch the train to Mysore, but not before relaxing for a few minutes.  My mother, younger brother and an aunt also accompanied on these mini pilgrimages. But when my grandfather came, we went by a taxi, owned by one Khallaq, an acquaintance of Salar Masood Sahib who was my grandfather's client.

We did several trips in Khallaq's black and cream taxi - may be it was a Hillman.  The number 77 painted on the doors on either side ever remains in my memory. Whenever and wherever we saw some other taxi, we would get excited 'Khallaq's taxi!'. There was a taxi stand behind Town Hall where a new structure has come up now [Makkaji Chowk] and Khallaq used to be there. So it was my grandfather who found him the previous day to fix up the next day's tour.  Very calm and soft-spoken driver, he was our favourite.  It was fun going in his taxi.

I tried to imitate my grandfather's style when he sat near the front window. He would rest his elbow on where the glass shutter went down and held the upper frame with his palm. When I tried, my arm was so small.  Now I can imitate. I do, when I sit in our car and recall those days!

Even now when I go on that stretch of road before reaching the old bridge [now a new parallel one is used], I recall a sight I saw when I was probably 2 or 3 years old.  It was this sight that has firmly stuck in memory.

River Kabini goes in a curve. At that time I am now recalling, there was a large amount of water, may be double than in that picture.  You know what I had exclaimed?  "Umba Neeya".... Actually it should have been "Thumba Neeru".  But I was not yet proficient in correct pronunciation at that small age.  This is so fresh in my memory that I can feel as if I'm watching that now, sitting on someone's lap, may be it was my mother.  There was an unobstructed view of the river. 

The most uncomfortable part was when my grandmother made a vow for me for a ritual called 'Tula Bhara' at that temple and a large quantity of jaggery cubes would be bought and taken.  For this, it was always in Khallaq's taxi.  There used to be a big weighing balance suspended in an open shed in the quadrangle.  It was meant for this ritual.  On one tray I would be made to sit. In the other, jaggery cubes, weighing equal or a wee bit more.  This jaggery was offered to the Deity.  Kings would do the same, but with gold coins instead of jaggery or whatever item that was vowed!  I was extremely shy to get weighed in front of so many people and this is what made me uncomfortable. I tried to shy away and got cranky.  I do not clearly recall if we took a bath in River Kabini close to the temple before going in, which many people used to do.

Sometimes we went on weekdays also. Without hurry, we were able to return well in time for my grandfather's 11a.m Court time.

Inside the stone temple, it was so cool.  I used to run here and there and my grandmother used to break the 'prasadam' coconut halves and offer us a few pieces while we relaxed before embarking on the return journey.  There used to be a rickety door [which was locked] to a small shrine full of bells.  Many children used to shake them to produce the clangs in different frequencies - cling, clang, tlong, long, plong, all would go in a chorus but the one that did not have the 'n' would stand out!!

Snapping fingers at the tiny idol of Chandikeshwara, the sight of the Mystery Bilwa Tree growing on the roof, a Shiva Linga on the Temple tower peeped through a ventilator, the peaceful open quadrangle, some huge brass 'Garuda', etc. used for the processions being stored in some free place, the oily aroma in the temple premise, all stand in memory.   There is a huge Sacred Stone Bull at the entrance.  This was the first mini temples we would be visiting in the premises.  A couple of bananas would be offered to the the Bull. The priest would peel it and place it at its mouth, horizontally.  It is an unforgettable sight on the seated black bull.  A mantra would be uttered and then he would give that banana as 'prasadam'.

The peaceful ambiance itself inside the vast temple premises used to take me to a blissful state, which I could not express at that time.  We could stand there any length of time and get energized being in such close proximity of the Deity.  There was no queue system or barricades to visit the sanctum sanctorum, like it has become necessary since about 15-20 years.  And there were so many other 'mini idols' that had to be worshipped/visited.

We traveled to Bangalore also many times and that is in a separate post.

Childhood memories are best. 

Train journeys of yore

Undertaking a train journey during my childhood was like an adventure.  Let me slowly trudge back to the bygone decades to 'nostalgiate'.  We traveled from Mysore to Bangalore occasionally, because of many relatives there.  Sometimes we took the bus also, but trains have that 'something' special.  We traveled to Bangalore for various purposes.  From our house we would take a tonga [autorickshaws in the 1960s and 70s were only a handful] to reach the Mysore Station [right] which was just over a mile and a half away.  

The journey of eighty seven miles took four hours.  I have no idea how much the fare was.  Mysore Railway Station had only one platform, which was vintage. I found an old picture that was shared in "Heritage Objects of Mysore" group on facebook. Here it is:

 My grandfather Subba Rao used to pack a lot of clothes even for a 3-day trip.    Two pants and two shirts separate for the onward and return journeys.  It was because, in next to no time the clothes got blackened in the train.  Seats were wooden planks, painted light yellow.

Before occupying the seats, we would wipe the seats with something.  Yet, we would find all portions of clothing coming in contact with the seat or anywhere, blackened.  'Black magic'!  It justified my grandfather who always wore light coloured clothing having a separate journey set.  But we were no exception either.

Tracks were metre-guage and the trains were pulled by coal-fired steam engines.  It is well known that burnt coal produces a lot of smoke. Fine particles of invisible coal ash would be all over the train, but 'black magic' was inevitable.

Traveling with my grandfather was exciting more because he was my favourite and also for his fascinating old-time stories that he 'nostalgiated'.  I used to ask for the window seat.

Glass window shutter and the rain/sun protection shutters were quite heavy and were held up with a crude stub.  The construction was quite crude and the bogies looked old too.  When the train rattled quickly, the vibrations would cause some loose shutters to slip down past the stub and fall with a thud.  Sometimes it fell for no reason too!  We used to hear incidents of passengers' hands getting injured by them esp. children. So we were advised to be careful not to keep the hand at the window base.  Those who were drowsy would wake up with a jerk when such a shutter fell suddenly!

When the wheels of the bogey passed over the rail joints there was the continuous tak-tak....... tak-tak sound throughout the journey.  It was so hypnotic that the sound kept ringing in the ears for quite a while, post journey.  We also felt as if the bodies were slightly swaying left to right.   These were the brief after-effects for a journey even this short.  Longer the train journey, longer these funny effects lingered.

Looking out of the window was a joy, but many times small cinders of coal flying out of the engine's chimney landed in the eyes.  "Do not rub the eyes." they would instruct. Someone would remove it from the finger-tip or blew hard into the eye to get rid of it.  When it was quite tiny, the corner of a folded handkerchief was the tool.  It dampened the joy of window-seat travel for the rest of the journey, because the eyes would become red and burned.  The thick black smoke spewing from the engine chimney added charm to the scenery.  Without smoke, like this, the picture would not be complete! At times there were red-hot cinders in large numbers 'whooshing' up as well.  When the wind took it away from my direction, I was happy.

I was very curious of going near the engine when we had time before boarding the train.  Feeling the heat radiating many feet was itself a small thrill.  The engine drivers, usually two, were blackened entirely and their skin shone due to sweating.  What a tough job I used to wonder. There were some clock-like meters that displayed something.  It was great to watch how they would use a huge spade to pick up coal from the huge container behind the engine and throw it into the oven. When the whistle was tested, the driver would pull some wire at the top..... my hairs would stand on end and was watching when the whistle blew 'koooo.....koo'!  Then some steam would escape from another outlet next to the engine chimney.  Great fun!

In recent years there was one popular man selling groundnuts [peanuts] on the train.  In the earlier days, vaguely I recall fruit vendors who hopped on at the stations on the way.  Coffee and tea were not sold on board in those days.

We have seen trucks and cars being pushed by people to get them into motion, but not trains.  Wait.  Hear this amusing real story of my grandfather fondly narrating how train passengers got down and pushed the slowing train up a steep gradient.  He would start his story as soon as the train picked up speed a couple of miles ahead, to gather the momentum required to cross the  upward gradient, going towards Bangalore. He knew from his journeys over many decades perhaps dating from the 1920s that we were nearing that gradient.  In fact when the broad gauge was made a few years ago, this gradient was taken care of.  It was somewhere near Ramanagara. In my grandfather's time when the engine's HP was lower, many times, he used to say the train stopped.  That is when the passengers got down and pushed it forward till it crossed the gradient!!

Whenever we got close to Srirangapatna, my grandmother was ready with a coin. She would give a coin to me also, for 'offering' it to River Goddess Cauvery [Kaveri].  We threw the coin out of the window to the river when the train was passing on the bridge over it.  It was fun following the trajectory of the flying coin till it touched the water, by which time, the train would have passed a long way. I also enjoyed the hollow sound the train made with the air as it passed on the bridge.  Took this picture recently when the train was on the bridge.

People used to carry water in glass bottles.  These bottles sometimes broke when it fell and made a dangerous mess with water and broken glass on the compartment floor.  Pre-plastic days, you see!

My grandmother used to carry her drinking water in a brass vessel with a handle.  There was a perfectly fitting brass cup underneath, placed at the neck. The handle-lid is screw type.   I cannot remember exactly the luggage she carried, but I vaguely recall that it was a sort of basket containing her saris.   My grandfather used to carry a kit bag or a suitcase.  In days still older, the only luggage was steel trunks of different sizes, which we now use as storage trunks. Imagine the days when they used to carry them for those journeys!

The train would stop at every station for a short while. Srirangapatna, Pandavapura, Mandya, Maddur, Channapatna, Ramanagara, Bidadi, Kengeri and then reach Bangalore.  Maddur Station was famous for its Maddur Vada and people would flock at the platform counter when the train stopped briefly.  But there are many instances of people having missed the train at Maddur while engrossed in eating! My grandfather's cousin Chandu was one.  This was another of my grandfather's stories.

Outside the Bangalore Railway Station we would look for an autorickshaw - they were in great numbers there.  We would ask him to take to "Tata Silk Farm", a famous landmark in Basavanagudi.  That was the southern end of Bangalore then.   We 'pitched tents' almost invariably in my aunt's house there.  Depending on the programme the return journey was either by train or by bus as buses were more frequent.  "Non-stop" buses [the board mentioned it] had become popular.

We also went to Nanjangud by train.  It is 'nostalgiated' in a separate post.