Memories and Musings

My memories which have remained with me over so many years, coloured with my thoughts, and tempered by my experiences.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Last Days in Pandara Road

The open space opposite Sujan Singh Park and Khan Market was a heavily wooded area in the early 50’s. The howling of jackals could be heard at night. There were rumours of someone having spotted a leopard, someone else seeing a tiger, or a wolf having lifted an infant. One could not say how much truth there was in these rumours, but we had seen snakes at night crossing the roads.

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.


  • At 10:05 PM, Blogger Gardenia said…

    I remember hearing stories of those days from Maiji. It was fascinating to learn that Maiji used to send little Viji for a walk every evening to India Gate! On most days, Raji and Bala would go along too, Maiji adds.

  • At 12:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Who knew that WWF had is moment in Delhi in 50s! And the impression that it seems to have made!

  • At 12:11 AM, Blogger venky said…

    If I remember Kunjappa stayed at the Ramakrishna guest house opposite my house in Matunga when he fell ill. Later he stayed in a flat in the adjacent bldg. & used to visit our place for a session of 56 card game on sundays. My father & Kunjappa were colleagues in Voltas.

  • At 3:10 AM, Blogger Raji said…

    Oh, those days are still vivid in my mind - I must have been between 7 and 9.
    I remember going to some of the matches, and the winner, with his cape swinging, holding up his arms - for some reason I thought he was King Kong. I remember going for those evening walks with Bhagavathi Prasad, and even picking up some jamoons; waiting for the school bus (was it always so early, Maiji?).
    Binaca and Binaca Geeth Mala - stying up on Wednesdays just to listen to the programme from 8 to 9 - such a treat!

    And of course the visit to the air crash site with Nada shoes mama, who to his dying day called me that - he passed away a couple of years ago in Chennai.

  • At 4:18 AM, Blogger PentaTwo said…

    I have a few memories of Pandara Road too, even though I was only five or six. One day Raji and I had gone to play outside of India Gate, and I got injured on the head. I think Maiji and Babji were at a wrestling event that evening and Hira Sing had to go and bring them home. That night the song "Mera lal doopatha" was blaring out loud as we were coming back home.
    I also remember there was a mosque outside the compound and every morning, real early, the loud speakers would be turned on with the wailing prayers.
    Also remember standing at the bus stop (Raji and me) in our Hope All School uniforms to be picked up for school.
    And the "jamun" trees near India Gate!

  • At 4:30 AM, Blogger PentaTwo said…

    I also remember having picked up a screw that was about 4-5 inches long from the accident site. It was kept in the tool box we had at home.
    And, Raji you are right about King Kong. I think he and Dara Singh wrestled at that time -- all hearsay from Maiji and Babji.

  • At 4:42 AM, Blogger Raji said…

    That screw, yes. We had it for a very long time

  • At 9:50 AM, Blogger Viji said…

    Every time I pass by Kemp's Corner now (which is at least twice a week) I try and picture Babuji walking - and i hear the song he said was the # 1 those days and would play on every shop radio the lenght of time it took him to get to his lodge - Basti Basti parbat parbat gaata jaye banjara , lekar dil ka ek tara - Sunil Dutt in Railway Platform ....and as for Pandara Road memories , Maiji must tell me if this really hapenend - i rememebr running down the spiral stairway that led from the bathroom to the grounds below one Holi - Lots of people below and some one maybe Hira Singh if he was around that time sprinting after me yelling "mat jao" !!!

  • At 7:45 PM, Anonymous Sangeeta (Kumar) said…

    O Aunty, Binaca toothpaste!!! I had totally forgotten it, and now it comes back so vividly.

    And 'Rangoon'!! The only time I have heard of that place is in the song "Mere piya gaye Rangoon, wahan se kiya hai telefoon"- I don't know if you heard this song but my parents had this really old collection of hindi film music and this one used to send my brothers and me hysterical.

    As always, its such fun reading what you write. Somehow, it brings back little forgotten bits and pieces from my Green Park home...Now, not only can I see the contorted tube of Binaca toothpaste in our bathroom, but everything else that was there....

  • At 8:00 PM, Blogger Veenu said…

    What a delightful surprise to read about Pandara-Road. We moved into the new flats there in 1958 I think, because my brother was born in that year while we were in that house. I was 5 years old. We (as in my Mum and Bro)lived in Pandara Road till 1981, by which time I was married and had two children.

    I am desperately seeking others from Pandara Road, especially from that time. I went to CJM, later to the Pandara Road high, and attended MH in DU. I hope through your blog, there will be others.

    Thanks for a great read and a wonderful trip down memory lane. The mosque was very close to our flat, and I took the University Specials from Sujan Singh Park, so know the area you are talking about!


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