Blast from the past: TRISHUL

March 25, 2011

 

Here is one more post I did for Atul’s remarkable blog http://atulsongaday.wordpress.com/ . Enjoy!!

May 5th 1978 was a most awaited day for an Amitabh Bachchan fan. That day his latest movie Trishul got released. Zanjeer, Deewar, Sholay, Adalat and Khoon Pasina had been released in the preceding years and had proved to be super-duper hits. Amitabh Bachchan’s distinctive “positioning” as the “angry young man” in the rather cluttered world of Bollywood heroes was firmly established. That the above-mentioned movies were interspersed with blockbusters like Kabhi Kabhie (romantic hero) and Amar Akbar Anthony (comedian) only helped to intensify the hero’s aura among his fans.

Yours truly, then a gangly teenager growing up in Jamshedpur, was one of his millions fans. Jamshedpur, in small town India with five cinema halls, four of them were called “talkies” (like Basant Talkies, Regal Talkies) and the fifth reverentially known as “cinema”; Natraj was its name, Natraj cinema. The nomenclature perhaps drew its source from the fact that Natraj was the newest cinema in town and it was the only one to have air-conditioning and push-back chairs in the “Dress Circle” section. (The others had intermittently working ceiling fans and torn seat cushions). Of course the ticket price was higher for Natraj Cinema as compared with the lowly talkies. Rs 3.72 for a first class ticket in Natraj and Rs 3.15 for one in the talkies.

I have digressed. Let me now tell you why the date was so important. Jamshedpur was participating in a simultaneous all India release. Trishul was premiered on in Jamshedpur on the same day as its all India release!! Truly historic for a kid in the city used to seeing “new” movies only after a few months after its release in the metros and other lucrative circuits. So how could I miss the first-day-first-show of this movie!

Together with my regular movie-going pal, we figured out a way of raising the finances and also – more importantly-  an excuse to stay away from home during those hours. Soon enough I was groping my way into the darkness towards my seat in Natraj Cinema.

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After a rather long build-up, Amitabh Bachchan emerges on the screen through a cloud of smoke-and-dust at a construction site. The lanky Amitabh with fitted jacket and trousers, puffing at a bidi. He puts his bidi to a better use when he nonchalantly picks up the fuse of the dynamite and lights it up casually. He unhurriedly walks away from the site even as we see his co-workers running away from the blasting area. When the cloud clears after this most recent blast, his colleagues asked him how he could do it without being scared. His reply,”Jisney pachchis saal sey apni maa ko dheerey-dheerey marety dekha hai, usey maut sey dar kaisa?” I still remember to this day the thunderous applause this dialogue received from the already noisy crowd in the Cinema! Needless to say, my friend and I were two of the more voluble ones!

The magic had begun!

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The magic had actually begun twenty minutes prior when the director, Yash Chopra, started laying the foundations of the story.

Young R. K. Gupta (Sanjeev Kumar) is in love with Shanti (Waheeda Rehman). His mother (I forget her real name now, Sudha something?) persuades him to marry Kamini (Priya Siddharth) who is his boss’ daughter. (Compare and reflect on the meanings of Shanti (the wronged one’s name) and Kamini, the usurper’s!). The boss is a construction magnate in Delhi.

R.K. Gupta succumbs and ditches Shanti who most “stoically” wishes him well and informs him that she is carrying her child. And that she does not need his patronage, as she does not want to assuage his guilt feelings of being a ditcher. She declares she is leaving town and that she will most certainly bear their child. She works on construction sites to support the child, a son. She, of course, dies rather prematurely and her son swears to take revenge on his biological father, RK Gupta, who has now inherited his father-in-law’s business and is now the biggest builder in Delhi.

That child happens to be Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan).

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He walks into Delhi, penniless, “merey paas paanch footi kaudiyaan bhi nahin hain”, as he informs his father in their first encounter. He demolishes competition with devices fair-and-foul and soon rivals RK Gupta’s empire and finally bests him. Along the way he meets his half brother, Shekhar, (Shashi Kapoor), and his half-sister (Poonam Dhillon’s debut movie). He befriends an RK Gupta loyalist Geeta (Raakhi) and nearly ensnares Sheetal Verma (Hema Mailni). What a multi-starrer! Throw in some more in the picture, Sachin, Yunus Parvez, Prem Chopra etc., etc. Total multi-starrer!

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The crowd in that first-day-first-show in Natraj is besides itself with joy, admiration, and adulation! We are supporting Vijay- and his Shanti Constructions- all the way in its contest with the “RK and Sons” banner. Till, after the denoument in the movie, this hoarding transposes into “Shanti Raj Constructions”.

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This song is from a party thrown by AB; Shashi Kapoor and Hema Mailni celebrating the joys of love; by dancing, and singing. “Mohabbat bade kaam ki cheez hai”. Shashi Kapoor in his jerky but lovable self and Hema Malini as only Hema Malini would. AB, who is the host, responds with “Ye bekaam, bekaar si cheez hai”- utterly useless stuff this romance is. This is understandable, considering the tribulations his mom went though. “Kitabon mein chhatptey hain chahat key kissey, haqeeqat ki duniya mein chaahat nahin hai” , AB goes on to sing in Yesu Das’ voice.

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The Romance of Parathas

March 23, 2011

Tikoniyas

One of the best things about the hostels of the engineering college at Banaras Hindu University (IT-BHU, Varanasi) was the cuisine on offer at the messes. Fresh, tasty, nutritious, and incredibly cheap! The IT-BHU messes are a subject of a post of their own, more about them later. One of the monthly highlights was the “paratha festival”; a weekend lunch where we would be served several varieties of parathas. Parathas are something I have adored all my life, and you will soon get to read reasons why. Suffice it now for me to say that these fests were just the right antidote to the week’s hard work. And well fortified I would have a grand snooze in the afternoons extending into evenings- till I was woken up by friends to catch the night show of a movie.

I will return to the BHU paratha fests in a bit. I must tell you first about how my romance with parathas started.

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I have indelible memories of those triangular, layered parathas. They were the constant feature in my school “tiffin-box” for eleven years, right from kinder- garten till the tenth standard. We called them tikoniya parathas, the three-cornered ones. They were nearly always accompanied with aloo bhunjiya, potato sautéed with onions- sometime gobhi as well. The tiffin-boxe never varied in its shape and size. An anodized aluminum or stainless steel affair with a lid which would be affixed to the body by means of two “clasps” on either side which snap shut with the sharp clicks. The container would have a partition one-thirds the way. This one-third was meant for the bhunjiya and the rest of it was for the three parathas, each folded into half.

Just to complete the story of the tiffin box I must tell you about the days I forgot to carry the box back home. The following day’s supply was rolled into a sheet of paper. Often a glossy sheet torn out of a magazine! Or an old calendar sheet.

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Parathas would nearly invariably be made with Dalda, or “khajoor chhap” as it was popularly known as. “Khajoor chhap” being a colloquism for the logo of the yellow-tinned brand from Lipton, two palm trees embracing each other. Sometimes the paratha would be elevated to another cooking fat- the blue-tinned Ghantoor ghee. The actual brand name for the ghee was “CK” (CK standing for Chanda jee, Khuba jee). The “Ghantoor” was the Bihari-speak for Guntur (coastal AP) where this ghee was manufactured.

It is not that the paratha was had only with bhunjiya, there were several other agreeable accompaniments as well. For breakfast at home it could be had with milk, or its derivatives- dahi, kheer and sevai. It could also be had with pickles, sabzi or with plain sugar. For good effect- and ease of eating, sugar was placed along the length of the paratha (the perpendicular of the isosceles triangle, if you will) and the paratha was rolled into a well, cheeni-roll. Just the right thing to munch on as you flipped your textbook pages with your left hand and chomped at the paratha roll held with the other.

Our house was strictly vegetarian, and I discovered later, that a paratha tasted divine with an omelette, a bhurji, chicken, mutton or an egg curry.

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Tikoniya paratha is only one in the royal family of parathas. There are the most gloriously appetizing stuffed ones. Aloo Paratha being the most popular one. Staple of a weekend breakfast in many a family. Aloo partha with dahi and pickles or with an egg bhurji. This was the standard daily breakfast on my travels during my sales stint in North India in the early 90’s. Nothing like a large, hot, crisp aloo paratha with some divine, thick dahi at a road-side dhaba in upcountry Punjab on a cold wintery morning before I caught a bus to my next work destination! Mooli partha- ones stuffed with shredded radish- was also a popular breakfast.

The fillings could get really diverse depending on the creativity of the cook. You can use mashed chana daal, gobhi, and even keema. Even khowa paratha, paratha stuffed with the divinely sweet and mouth-watering khowa. And if you can’t stuff them, knead them into the dough. Like, for example, methi paratha!

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You thought the people from the Southern parts of India eat only rice and sambhar? Think again! Have you ever lasted the delicately layered Kerala Paratha? The Ceylon paratha is a close equivalent. Have you ever had the joy of having Kerala paratha with Malabari mutton pepper fry? Succulent and spicy lamb pieces with crispy parathas! If you- or your wife- cannot prepare these parathas, fret not. You can always order pre-cooked and packaged “ID Parathas” available at every “kaka-shop” in the neighbourhood. If you don’t know what a kaka-shop is, or if a kaka-shop does not exist in your neighborhood then you probably do not deserve to have these parathas. Amen!

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PS: We are on a family holiday to Mauritius. I am taking my kids around the breakfast spread and we are all admiring the vast array of dishes. Cheeses, fruits, meats, breads, my kids are totally impressed! Mostly continental stuff though as Mauritius is hugely popular with European tourists, specially the French and the British.

Suddenly I hear my younger one exclaim: “Papa, look! Paratha!! But I don’t know why they call it a faratta.

“Shut up”, scream the elder son, “this is not India!”

I scramble closer to where the action is, and I spy upon those juicy tikoniyas right next to a large bowl of aloo-sabzi. And then I realize, Mauritius has been largely peopled with men and women from Bihar, wretched indentured labourers who came from Bihar.

You can take a Bihari out of Bihar, But not the paratha out of a Bihari! Partha or faratta, does it make a difference?


Angkor Waaaaah(t)!!

March 7, 2011

 

Buddha

I must admit I was not prepared for Angkor Vat. At all! All I knew it was an old Hindu temple in Cambodia. Only when I visited the place I realized there were three mistakes in my short presumption. To start with, the age of the temple. It is not old, but very, very old. I am sure that you will agree that something built in the 1000-1300 AD does indeed deserve to be called old. Only a few centuries younger to our very own Ajanta and Ellora. While Angkor Vat is indeed the name of one of the temples -one of the most glorious ones at that- the Angkor Vat complex houses hundreds of temples across a sprawling area of maybe a few hundred square kilometers. And the temples are not solely Hindu, they house Buddha statues as well. Some temples  have alternated between Hindu and Buddhist over time depending upon the faith of the then king of the land.

Somewhere in the middle of the first millennium, Hinduism moved eastwards from India; probably due to the travels of traders. Cambodia was a place where it struck roots and flourished for centuries. It was occasionally overtaken by Buddhism which had also spread from India to the far corners of Eastern Asia; from Burma and Thailand to Japan, China and Korea. The Khmer kings of Cambodia were not all Hindus, some were devout Buddhists as well.  Hinduism was the more dominant of the two till the 13th century when Buddhism, patronized by the then king became the state religion. All the kings had very Sanskritized names;  Suryavarman, Jayavarman, Yashovarman. Point to remember here is that they were not Indians, but Khmer. Khmers who interacted and traded freely with the Indian kingdoms (Cholas etc) and zealously went about constructing magnificent temples across their empire. A large number of them are in the Angkor Vat region including the famous Angkor Vat temple. I had the opportunity to visit three of the temples on a trip to Cambodia last week.

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Bayon Temple

Bayon temple, made sometime in the 1200’s, is a cluster of towers each with Buddha’s face carved on the four sides, sometimes with only on one or two faces. The temple is made entirely of rocks (Lateritic rocks, I am told, from the neighbouring mountains.). Not carved into hilly slopes the way the Ajanta caves are, nor fashioned out of one single rock like the temple in Ellora. But huge rectangular chunks of these rocks stacked one atop the other without any binder like cement or mortar to hold two of these rock pieces together. I wonder how this structure could hold and then I am told by our guide that it is the weight of the rocks which ensures stability! Some engineering creativity here!

The towers have this eerie, grey, weather-beaten look. It is something about the rocks I surmise. Let me describe a rock piece to you. Imagine a tower of polished black granite. Gleaming in the sun. And then a few years of acid-laced rains eats into the granite leaving blotches and pits all over the surface. Then someone with a giant sandpapering machine gets to work on this mottled surface making it even rougher. To complete the effect someone carries a large hose pipe and sprays tons of liters of a powerful bleach on these rocks.

The temple complex is, well, complex, and feels like a maze inside. You climb up into a narrow aisle and you climb down into an even narrower one. Look around diligently and you find gems of such carvings.

Wall Carving at Bayon 1

 

Another detail from Bayon wall carvings

One should ideally devote at least 2-3 hours to take in all the details. Thirty minutes is all we could spare!

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Ta Prohm Temple

Ta Prohm also known as Raj Vihara (The Royal Monastery) was made in the late 12th century. It is a longish walk from the road via woods to the temple. When we reach the temple what grabs us immediately are the trees growing atop the temple and its walls. Yes, huge, full-grown trees on the walls. Take a look yourself:

 

A Tree at Ta Prohm Temple

 

Tree 2

It is the trees which give the defining look to this temple. Apparently, the chaps who were responsible for discovering and then repairing the Angkor Vat ruins decided to leave one temple in the “original” state to tell the visitors- and the world- what the real state of a temple was when it was discovered.

 

The subject of many a picture postcard

 

 

The last of the Ta Prohm tree pics!

All this time, over the last hour, I have not seen a single Indian tourist, the tourists were nearly all Caucasians or from the Far East: Koreans, Japanese etc. Suddenly I notice a very Indian-looking gentleman walking very purposefully up and down a corridor. I sidle up to him and ask what was he doing here alone and where his family was. (Only an Indian can ask another Indian about the family, others discuss the weather or football!).

“I am not a tourist”, he explained, “I work with the Archaeological Society of India.”

“Oh, the ASI”

“Yes, the ASI”

“Ah the ASI!”

I decided to move on from my excited- and silly- ASI chants.

“My name is Ojha, Santosh Ojha, I am from Bangalore”, I offer him my business card.

He offers me his own, “I am Ganjoo, T.K. Ganjoo.”

I inspect his card with due reverence.

T.K. Ganjoo, Senior Conservation Assistant, Project: Conservation and Restoration of Ta Prohm Temple. A partnership Project of ASI and SPSARA Authority Conservation D’Angkor Siem Reap Cambodia”. On the top right of the card is the legend Government of India (Ministry of Culture). And on the top left the ASI logo.

“Kashmiri I am sure!” I showed off my knowledge about Indian names.

“Yes, a Kashmiri, now based in Jammu”

“How long have you been here?”

“Since 2008, Mr Sood, my boss has been here since 2004.”

“Great job you are doing!” I complement him.

“Aah!” He dismisses this. “We are not allowed to touch most of the temple here. Just a few crumbling walls which we plan to fix.”

Of course, Ta Prohm is intended to be kept on an as-is, what-is basis! And a ten year project to maintain Ta Prohm in its pristine glory! Now you know the complexity of the job at hand at the Angkor Vat Complex!

“I will return the day after to meet up with you. I hope you will be around”

“Of course I will be. I will tell my boss Mr Sood as well. Do come.”

Unfortuantely, I never did get round to revisiting Ta Prohm temple again.

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As I exit the Ta Prohm complex I cannot help but mention three things.

Thing 1:

The board displaying the association of ASI with the project:

 

ASI is helping out as well.....

Thing 2:

The ensemble of musicians squatting on the floor at the exit playing some lovely music. And then I see the display board next to the music party, it comprised solely of men who were victims of land mines who lost their limbs in the civil war of the 70’s and 80’s. Cambodia has the highest per capita victims of land mines.

 

The Magnificient Musicians!

Thing 3:

As we emerge out of Ta Prohm complex, we are accosted by little girls, some as little as 4 or 5 years. “One dollah, saah, one dollah, you mah friend.” One US dollar could fetch me one  bottle of water, a pair of bracelets or even a folding fan to give me relief from the hot Cambodian weather!

"One dolla', Sah!"

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THE Angkor Vat Temple

Angkor Vat is the largest Hindu temple I have ever seen. I thought Meenakshi temple at Madurai was huge, but you must see Angkor Vat to see what huge means. I read later that this temple has a total area of 200 hectares, a rectangle of 1.5km by 1.3 km. A temple to beat all temples and that too built some 800 years ago.

 

The structure of the temple is supposed to represent Mount Meru, the center of the Universe for Hindus. Originally built to have nine towers, only five survive the ravages of time. The outer four having disappeared altogether though they have left their marks on the temple periphery. The outer eight towers representing the mountains surrounding Mount Meru, the home of Gods.

 

Those steep climbs at Angkor Vat!

This is not a temple to be visited in an hour- the amount of time I could afford to spend there. You could go on for days and still not tire of it. And at the end of your visit you would have (re)visited the entire Hindu mythology. The battle of Kurukshetra, the Samudra Manthan, Hanuman identifying Himself to Sita at Ashok Vatika, Lanka Kand, Sita’s Agni Pariksha. Well, I could go on and on. Except that I did not have the time to see all this, what I mentioned above have been gleaned from reference books!

 

The View After the Steep Climb

The look and feel of this temple is similar to the previous two temples. Similarly hewn stones, erected in a similar manner; one rock slab stacked over the other. It is just the dimension of the temple complex overpowers you. As I walk through the galleries, I spy upon a row of Buddha statues which had one thing in common; they were all decapitated! Not the Taliban effect, but the work of local vandals who have looted artifacts over the centuries. And yes, Buddha was there all over the place even in this overtly Hindu temple!

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