Thursday, February 24, 2011
I belong to a Family that's crazy about Food---and a lot of my Memories are linked to that!!!This one is about an Eatery called "The Coronation"----an old fashioned place that served the BEST out of the World Biryanis and Chicken Masala!!!This Eatery was situated next to the Novelty Theatre---bang opposite the huge,sprawling Grant Road Market.Those days this Market was choc-a-bloc with fascinating Stalls---selling everything from Fresh Vegetables,Fruit,Fish,Chicken and Meat to Groceries,Dry Fruits and Pickles!!!My grandparents lived just 10 minutes walk away from this Market----and how I loved my daily trips with my Granduncle---each time we visited!!!The highlight was the Fish Market---where the freshly caught Wares would be sold after a lot of light hearted and goodnatured haggling---and everybody visiting it had their favourite,regular Fisherwomen!!How I loved that Atmosphere---with all it's vibrant vivacity---though the Air constantly smelt very strongly of all the mingled Wares sold there---I still loved it despite the Stink!!It remains still as vibrntly vivacious---even today!!!
A very popular place for Mughalai styled Non-Vegetarian Fare "The Coronation" would be crowded all the time since it opened it's doors every morning at 11 a.m.!!The huge Wood and Coal fired Kitchens were situated at the back of the premises---with the Common Dining Hall in the Front on the Ground Floor.This was the place where the Men ate---those were extremely Conservative Days and Women from good families didn't eat with all and sundry.This Dining Room was furnished with round Marble topped wooden Tables with Spindle backed Chairs----the high ceiling with it's massive,blackened wooden beams pock marked with long handled Fans---languidly circulating the Air-----too high up to make much of a difference to the hot,humid temperature !!Sharing the Table with 4-5 other Diners was the norm---and many fast Friendships were forged here---over steaming Platefuls of fragarant,succulent and steaming Food!!On one side of this Room---a steep rickety Flight of Stairs led to the Upper Storey---the privacy of the "Family Rooms" and an open Terrace.These "Rooms "were wooden Stalls with swinging Doors--furnished with similar Tables and Chairs---but giving a modicum of privacy to it's occupants.Many young couples were regular visitors here---specially during the Courtship period and as Newly Weds too!!This old place was always crowded---fragrantly succulent Dishes piled high with Chicken/Mutton Biryani,the mouthwatering piping hot Chicken/Mutton Gravies swimming in Ghee and piles of hot crisp Naans/Rotis or folded envelopes of Roomalies would make their way constantly from the Kitchen to the impatiently waiting Guests---salivating with the smells!!
Our Family would regularly sit on the Terrace for Dinner---bagging tables as early as 6.30 p.m. to avoid waiting for one---and sip chilled Glasses of Fresh Lemonade and fizzy Raspberry drinks to while way the time---enjoying the hustle and bustle of the Trams and the Street below.The Novelty Theatre next door was new---built in the mid 1950s---and was a popular venue for Bollywood Film Premieres.So most often we'd look out for Film Stars as we sipped our Drinks---wide eyed with excitement!!If not dining there,regular Take Away Parcels were a must each time there were Guests over for Lunch or Dinner---or even when we were "Just in the Mood" for it----for we were addicted to the Stuff!!
Later on my visits to Bombay after our Engagement---Sudhir and I joined the ranks of the Courting Couples---eating in the wooden Stalls!!!The Food would be served in shining Steel Plates with Silver plated Cutlery---and before and after the Meal a server would come by with a polished Brass Basin and Jug, the latter full of warm Water and a tiny bottle of Liquid Soap.He'd place the Basin on the Table and pour the warm Water over our outstretched Hands,add a drop of the Soap and wait while we worked up a lather.Then he'd proceed to pour as much Water as needed to wash the Soap away.How I loved this process!!!Made me feel like a Queen!!As for the Meals---total Ambrosia!!!Even today I can recall the succulence of the Meats and the finger licking taste of those preparations---no words can describe tht experience!!!
We continued our regular attendance there---after both our daughters were born---and they too became avid Fans of that Food!!It closed down in 1985----defeated by the growing craze for Air Conditioned restaurants----somehow they couldn't keep pace with the growing demands of evolving modernisation.Today a huge Clothes Shop stands there----and it lives on only in our memories----a piece of a highly treasured Memory!!After it closed down I tried makingf the Biryani and Chicken Curry---experimenting by trial and error!!1While the Biryani flopped miserably the Chicken was a success!!!However due to the girls moving away and my health constraints this slipped into my Memory Chest.Early morning yesterday I just remembered this Recipe---and cooked it again!!!Sudhir was delighted---spent all of last evening reminiscing of the old days---for once the Idiot Box took a back seat with my Couch Potato!!!
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
As I grew older Romantic Films began appealing more!!Whispering about the Gossip regarding certain Film Stars---Indian and Foreign---became a favourite pastime of ours in the Recess at School and during Day Spends in each other's homes!!A new World opened up for us---populated by Books from the Mills & Boon Series----writers like Essie Summers,Lucy Walker,Georgette Heyer,Barbara Cartland replaced all the others on the Parentally approved list!!I'd devour the Serials in magazines like "Woman","Women's Weekly" and Woman and Home" much to Mummy's diapproving dismay---but there was little that she could do about it---apart from sniffing disdainfully each time I picked up one those Magazines!!
Those days my Parents perfected the Art of putting me off!!!Getting permission to view popular Films turned into a Nightmare!!Mummy'd send me like a Badminton Shuttle to ask Daddy for permission to go---he'd promptly send me back to her again---and I'd be volleyed back-n-forth between them till I tired of the whole thing and gave up---out of sheer exhaustion!!!Except for Films like "The Agony and The Ecstasy" based on the life of Michael Angelo and of course "The Bridge on the River Kwai" there were limited Hollywood Films that came within the appoved list.Thanks to the Nuns we watched some beautiful Films of Danny Kaye,David Niven,Cantinflas and Debbie Reynolds---these would sometimes screened for us in School----the only one that the Nuns cancelled out was "The Nun's Story" for they considered it to be too graphic for us!!Films based on Rudyard Kipling and Jules Verne's Classics were a Joy to watch---as the characters came alive before our eyes!!!
The biggest stumbling block was our Bollywood Films!!There used to be a great rush for Tickets---these Films---both good and Bad would complete a minimum of 25 weeks at the Box Office---as we were starved for such Entertainment!!!Besides the Films based on Indian Classics and made by Directors like Kidar Sharma, Guru Dutt,Bimal Roy ran to packed houses and were considered wholesome Entertainment---imparting good Social values to the young Generation!!!The Films however which appealed to us at that age were the "Masala " Films featuring Heroes like Dev Anand"Cary Grant"but to me he was more the "Gregory Peck" of India,Shammi Kapoor--the "Elvis Presley" of india,his younger brother Shashi Kapoor and later Rajesh Khanna---all were a Craze as Heart Throbs!!
I still remember when in 1969 August my huge group of friends went to see a Shashi Kapoor Film together in Kiran Theatre.His crooked smile,boyish looks and mischeivous eyes had the lot of swooning over him!!!And a line of his Dialogue"I love you--honest!!" turned our collective knees to jelly!!Unfortunately gushing about it at home ensured that there'd be no second visit to see a rerun---but the Mystique of Cinema was very tangible then---but sorely lacking now!!!
However one thing that we got to see was the really great Plays and Cultural Programs performed live on Stage.Cultural troops of Dancers from Russia,Hungary and many Eastern European Countries gave regular performance which we were lucky to view live on Stage.Besides these, Dance Programs by Dancing Greats like Birju Maharaj,Damayanti Joshi,Yamini Krishnamurthi,Mrinalini Sarabhai,The Jhaveri Sisters,Kanak Rele,Sonal Mansingh and Sanjukta Panigrahi performed live at The Tagore Theatre---3 hours of visual bliss---viewing the graceful "Mudras "and "Bhavas" with great concentration---Jewels in the Treasure Chest of Memories!!!There used to be Musical Concerts too---Begum Akhtar,Pandit Ravi Shanker,Ustad Vilayat Khan and Kumar Gandharva----the last also being a Family Friend-----I had a very richly educative and blessed childhood!!!
Monday, February 21, 2011
Chandigarh had just 1 Cinema Hall to begin with----Kiran Theatre in Sector 22----but the only Films I got to see were religious ones.I remember watching these Films with one unique Feature---each time any Gods or Goddesses appeared---the Image would freeze long enough for the devout to offer Flowers and Coconuts as Gifts to the Dieties!!Besides there was always the lure of the "Ram Leela" which would begin on an auspicious Day long before Dussehra---so as to unfold the Story daily in parts leading upto the killing of the Demon---Raavana!!!The Actors of these Plays came from all walks of Life--Domestics,Carpenters,Labourers---thi
s was their hour of Glory---exalted by the characters they played!!!Each Street or "Mohalla" had it's own "Mandali" or Company and thanks to Amma we'd watch different Mandalies perform in the beginning till finding the best one----and then regularly watch only that!!!It used to be great fun---one sat on the Ground on thick Cotton Groundsheets called "Durries"---and watched the Story unfold atop a rickety,ramshackle Wooden Stage ----carried away by the Magic of the Story itself---The Ramayana!!The tale made us sad and weepy,angry and righteous by turn---a real roller coaster ride of all Human Emotions!!This Tableau used to be lit by the flickering Light from the Gas Lamps---the huge Shadows being cast adding to the Atmosphere!!
This would end on "Dussehra" with the burning of the Raavana,Kumbhakaran and Meghnaad Statues in a huge ground---and what a crush there'd be to watch this take place!!!The Actors playing Ram, Laxman,Sita and Hanuman would be seated on a Chariot and would take a round of the Premises---being worshipped and feted by the Devout---of which our Amma was one---and we'd be forced by her to pay homage and be blessed by them---for a happy and secure Future!!Amma also was a simple but devoutly religious person---it never struck her that these "Dieties" stank of stale Liquor and cheap "Beedies"(Indian Cigarettes)---I doubt whether they bathed either----but that day they were Gods to the Crowd!!The Show however would be spectacular!!!Blazing arrows would be shot into the huge Effigies---setting off the Fireworks stored inside----and would be followed by an awesome Display----of Fireworks accompanied by Booms and Crashes loud enough to wake up the Dead!!!
Amma also believed in Fasting---each year she'd fast for "Nirjali Ekadashi" which used to fall in June--the hottest month of Summer in North India.That day she'd make a huge Tubful of "Shikanjvee" with Raw Sugar,Lemon Juice and Water with huge chunks of Ice added to it.This Tub would then be shifted to the Road behind our Bungalow---and placed along with "Kulhads" or Clay Pots under a shady Tree there.There would also be a "Charpaee" or Cot placed for us to sit on placed next to the Tub.The Tub would be covered with a piece thin Mosquito Netting---to keep off the Flies---and Amma would then proceed with folded hands to plead with and entreat every passerby to drink glassfuls of it!!Mornings wouldn't be that bad---there'd be a few people moving around---but afternoons were bad!!!Which Idiot would leave the comfort of the cool homes in the hot 45 degrees Celsius + temperatures to come and drink that Lemonade???Then we'd very magnanimously oblige---and drink ourselves sick by evening!!!
Not just that she was very ritualistic too.Her Room was a place I really loved to be in.Spotlessly clean and fresh it smelt of "Dhoop"---a mixture of various types of Incense---the likes of which I've never smelt since after she left us!!Each time we visited Himachal Pradesh during our Vacations much later I'd carry back loads of every Brand of Incense available there---but nothing matched the scents of that beautiful Memory!!! It was Amma who gave me the grounding of my strong Religious Base---but watching her I also learnt which Pitfalls to avoid!!Today I practice "Aham Brahasmee"---"I am an Image of the Lord"---and salute Human Beings as a whole---for God resides in every Human Being's heart!!I perform only those Rituals which have been impressed upon my mind since early Childhood as being unavoidably imperative---but I do not and never have believed in Caste,Creed or Religious differences while choosing my Friends---it is our Minds and Thoughts that have to gel together---the rest is superflous and doesn't matter as far as I'm concerned!!
My Parents too were very broadminded for that Era,and we grew up playing with the children of those who worked for us as well as our neighbourhood children.Mummy encouraged the Women who worked for us to fetch their children with them each time they came to work.While the mothers were busy all us children would play and even eat together---Mummy would serve all of us---the entire crowd of 8-10 children at the same time---and we'd eat sitting crosslegged in the Verandah together!!Sometimes these Women and our Drivers (Chauffeurs) would carry some Special dishes--packed in shining Brass Tiffins for us to eat.I still maintain that the taste of what these women would cook for us still lingers on my tongue---try as I might I can never duplicate it!!Things like "Sarsonkaa Saag","Maa Chholian di Daal" and "Gobhi Parathas" were just awesome--all home made with lots of Love----are parts of my most treasured Memories today!!
By now we had one more Theatre added to our City---named Jagat Theatre in Sector 17---and this was when the I became aware of Films as Entertainment!!!I still remember the Sunday Matinees we attended with the Nuns---Films like "The Ten Commandments","Ben Hur","Sound of Music" and "Mary Poppins" ,"Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!!"as well as almost all of Walt Disney's Fairy Tale Classics featured prominently among them!!We watched the adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion" into "My Fair Lady" and William Shakespeare's "Julius Ceasar" with Marlon Brando playing Mark Antony---and all of us recited the stirring Speech "Friends,Romans,Countrymen"---with him---the Theatre resounding with our voices!!The highlight of course was the Rex Harrison--Elizabeth Taylor--Richard Burton Starrer "Cleopatra"----that entire Film is still imprinted on my mind---watched with moonstruck wide eyes---I must have 15 years old then!!!
Bolly Wood Films were a different story.
Each time we planned on seeing a Movie,the Parents had to e buttered up weeks in advance.Then too we'd get permission only if an adult accompanied us---very restricting because we couldn't even swoon when our favourite Heroes appeared on the scene----for that would be considered being too forward!!As we grew older this condition made way for another---only Balcony Tickets were allowed!!Reason?Since these were expensive the "Riff-Raff"---read oversmart Boys---stayed in the Upper Stalls!!Then too we weren't allowed more than a Film or two each month----it was considered "too corrupting" for our young minds!!!
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