I was making matar paneer, – Peas with homemade cheese, when the aroma jolted me back to my childhood, in India. It used to be my favorite dish, especially the way my mother made it. Cubed pieces of paneer – homemade cheese floating in a delicious orange colored sauce. I could hear ” Chalte Chalte ” Farewell – blaring from a neighbor’s radio at 6:00 in the morning. Watching movies and listening to movie songs is a huge part of people’s lives in India. All my friends saw movies. So, I expressed my desire to see the movie Chalte Chalte a popular movie in the mid 70s, my mother glared at me and firmly declared, “No more movies for the next few years, they promote wrong values.”
I was a first grader then! My friend, Shaheen narrated the entire story of the new movie, Muqqadar ka Sikandar[Conqueror of fate] , on the way back home from school on the bus, It seemed fascinating and confusing as five people were caught up in a complex web of love and in the end only two of them got married while the other three people ended up dying of unrequited love -it was needless in my opinion. But Shaheen had tears in her eyes while narrating the scene of Sikander – the hero’s death.
A few years later, all the girls in my class were crooning over Kumar Gaurav, they were singing and reenacting scenes from this movie Love Story , the latest movie. While my college-going brother was of the opinion that the hero was a skinny-rotten guy, with a prominent Adam’s apple, who looks like a wounded puppy. I laughed so much that my stomach hurt.. Anyways, my “acquired” opinion of their favorite hero did not go well with the girls. A year later, a drive-in- theatre cropped up, about a mile away from our house, the movie-curfew was lifted. I saw Kudrat a movie about past life lovers meeting in another life. There was a song depicting a dancer in tight shorts dancing in a discotheque, my father immediately remarked , “Badmaash aurat” (vulgar woman).
I felt happy that I could finally, discuss a movie with my friends at school. But they could only talk about the superstar Amitabh Bacchan. I pretended to like Rajesh Khanna, the hero of the movie, that I had just seen. They hated him. So we argued back and forth. But it never interfered with our lunch sharing. Our group of four was a true representation of the diversity in India, as we spoke different languages at home and belonged to different religions and that never interfered with our friendship but preference of movie stars had the potential power to make or break friendships.
In our English-speaking school, the students were a good mix of Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Anglo-indians and an only Sikh. Our mornings started with singing hymns from the bible. Then we had an excuse of a music class where we sang mundane English songs like, “ Little bird tell me where you fly?” Some of the boys sang popular songs like, ” “Brown girl in the ring.” Whereas my traditional mother, who disliked movies because of the hip shaking and lewd lyrics, listened to her mandatory shabads ( hymns in the sikh culture), on a cassette player, while my brother listened to Rock and Jazz on his homemade stereo with clay pots as amplifiers. His room was decorated with posters of Rock bands. There was Elvis, a practically naked Linda Ronstad among many others. Music blared from his room non-stop and my parents shook their head sadly wondering when the ta ta “noise” would stop.
I was being made to learn classical Carnatic singing, by my mother as that was “proper”, but it wasn’t popular. And whenever I practised -” Sasa rere gaga mama papa!, My brother would yell, “Stop screaming.. and why are you going mama papa they are right here!” Sometimes, he would bray like a donkey and convince me that my singing had attracted a donkey to our doorstep.
The Sanskrit shloka – ” Suprabhatam”, was played every morning on the loudspeaker of a nearby temple. India being a land of many festivals, had some sort of celebration happening at all times. Celebrations entailed blaring movie songs or religious mantras from loudspeakers. The songs from Tamil and Kannada movies – “Ennadi meenakshi, Soladi ennachi” and “Naa Ninna Mareyalaare” are still stuck in my head somewhere. During December, as if struck by religious consciousness, there would be religious renditions of ” Swame Ayyapo — Ayyappo Swame.”Not to forget the regular “Allahu Akbars” from a nearby mosque 5 times a day.
I guess the songs and sounds from everywhere and of all kinds collide to create a madness of sorts – a cacophony which is the hallmark of diverse people from varied backgrounds living together in harmony, where Adjust maadi (Kindly tolerate) is the slogan and the underlying mesh that binds everyone together in Bangalore ( must I say Bengaluru) as in all of India.