Last Days in Pandara Road
So it was no wonder when one or two American ladies asked me questions like, ‘Do tigers and leopards roam about in the streets of Delhi? Do snakes crawl all over the place? Do you have thunder and lightning in your country also?’ I had met these ladies at one of Bala’s friends’ places when we both visited Bala in the U.S. for the first time, in 1975.
New Delhi’s lifestyle started changing gradually. There were more people on the move with more buses, cars and cycles. Prices also started going up. Instead of eight seers of milk per rupee, we got only four seers. A seer was a slightly smaller measure than a kilo. Vegetables costing an anna a seer also went up to four annas, sometimes even double that.At the same time, vegetable vendors started coming to one’s doorstep, which helped the housewife to a large extent. The ‘pani-wallah’, a regular feature carrying water in his goatskin bags from place to place started disappearing.
Indian products like soaps, talcum powder etc started appearing in shops. Binaca Toothpaste, which came in a bright yellow and green tube, was the first with sales promotion. Each tube contained a golden trinket to be attached to a bracelet which one got as a gift when ten empty Binaca Toothpaste Packets were sent to the company. I collected the bracelet and many trinkets for my daughters. Binaca Toothpaste just vanished from the scene some ten years ago. I remember the washing soaps ‘Dip’ and ‘Det’ were brought out by Godrej and they were very good. Godrej started the promotion of their products with gift offers in the early sixties. The detergent ‘Det’ in a 2 kilo pack came in a beautiful white plastic bucket with lid. They turned out to be very good for storing provisions. I collected quite a few of them.
In the winter of 1953-54, ice-skating rinks appeared in the open ground opposite Sujan Singh Park for the first time. Huge crowds collected, especially at the weekends, to watch stunning performances by very good skaters. It was a crowd-puller, for that was the first live ice-skating performance for the Delhi crowd. It was a new, wonderful and fascinating experience for one and all, including our family.
Another attraction was the wrestling bouts that lasted for nearly two months. All the participants were from Europe. Maybe there were two or three Indians too. I am not very sure. I still remember the names of a few European wrestlers. ‘The Flying Dutchman’ literally made a flying attack on his opponent to make him fall on the ground and unable to get up within the count of ten. Another was the ‘Red Scorpion’ dressed completely in red, who felled his opponent with a back kick which gave him the name ‘Scorpion’.
Then there was this ‘Masked Angel’ who never showed his face in the ring saying that he would only be unmasked by the wrestler who defeated him, which never happened. I can tell you that this wrestler was no angel once he got inside the ring.
Babuji and I did not miss even a single one of these bouts. We did not have to worry about the children for Annaji-Ammaji were there with us. Going to the movies had come to an end with school-going children. Raji’s and Bala’s school bus came to our gate by 6.15 in the morning, winter or summer. That meant early nights for the children and for us too.
According to the Hindu calendar, one cycle of life means sixty years. Any person who lives up to sixty is considered very lucky, having lived a full life with children and grandchildren. Once a person completes sixty years, he re-enters the cycle a second time. That is why when a person completes sixty years of age, it is celebrated as an achievement.
Annaji completed sixty years of age in November 1954. Personally, Annaji did not want any celebration. But we both along, with Chitthi and Chippachi were very keen to make an occasion of that day. So we had a ‘homam’ in the morning and treated our friends to a sumptuous lunch. Babuji’s youngest brother, who was working in Bombay, also joined us. We all felt very happy and fulfilled.
In December of the same year there were two plane crashes, both BOAC, and both flying from Rangoon to London. Those days there were no non-stop flights. Hop-stop- hop from city to city was the procedure. The first crash occurred when the flight from Rangooon was landing in Calcutta. It was a total loss. One lady missed the flight at Rangoon. The radio, the press and the man in the street congratulated her on her lucky escape. Well, this lady reached Calcutta by the next flight from Rangoon. She was on her way to London, and the next stop was Delhi. This plane too crashed at Palam Airport while landing and there were no survivors! Now the very same radio, the press and the common man all pointed their fingers at her saying that she should have died at the Calcutta crash and because she escaped death then, this crash had to follow. Just imagine!!
Among our group only ‘Nada Shoes’ Mama had a car. He was a very generous person. Though he was living in Karol Bagh, he used to visit us often in South Delhi and take us for long drives. A visit to the River Yamuna in September with us was a must for him.It was wonderful seeing River Yamuna overflowing both the banks.
As he was working with Burma Shell Oil Company, he was free to go anywhere inside Palam Airport. He took us to the crash site at Palam to see the remains of the plane there.Whenever I read about a plane crash, this picture comes to my mind. This friend’s name is Ranganathan and it was Raji who started calling him Nada Shoes Mama. He used to tease her about her canvas shoes, which had laces, as ‘Nada Shoes’. Raji was just two years old at the time.
In the last week of December, Babuji had to make an emergency trip to Bombay. His youngest brother, Kunjappa, was admitted in a hospital, with a serious attack of typhoid. This news was conveyed to us by telegram by my younger brother who was also working in Bombay and staying in the same hotel as Kunjappa. Telegrams were the only and the quickest way of communication in those days and they usually carried only bad news. We were shocked to know about Kunjappa’s illness. The same evening, Babuji took a flight to Bombay – his first flight. Naturally, we were all worried, troubled and very frightened, praying for Kunjappa’s recovery and Babuji’s safe landing in Bombay, for it was too close to the two crashes.
Babuji, as he later on told me, had conditioned himself mentally to carry his brother – twelve years younger than himself -- in his arms to… if something unthinkable happened. But God was great. All that happened was that Babuji had to walk a distance of three or four miles to Kemps’ Corner and back to the hospital in the middle of the night to get the life-saving drug from a medical shop there. Those days, roads were deserted after 10 p.m., with no buses or taxis. Auto rickshaws had not yet entered the picture.
Well, to make the story short, Babuji stayed in Bombay for more than six weeks till Kunjappa was well enough to travel by train to Delhi. He stayed with us for a month or two to get back his original health. In Delhi, he suffered a relapse and the doctor gave me the responsibility of taking care of his diet. Kunjappa just hated his insipid diet, and hence, I was at the receiving end of all his tantrums, anger and bad temper. But did I care? No. I just wanted him to get well and back at work.