33. Stalemate – a New Game is in Order

One day and much to my surprise, my mausa (maternal uncle) showed up and yes, right here in Bombay!  He came in from Fiji with an associate of his and was just wanting to visit … hmmm.  I couldn’t help but to wonder if my brother had something to do with this.

We spent just about every day together.  We weren’t perfectly alone as this associate (tagalong rather) was always with him.  Jittu would go off and do other things with his family while mausa and I did whatever it was we did, going around here and there, eating this and that and basically sightseeing.  

This associate of his I felt very strongly about.  Though it wasn’t my place to voice my opinion of this person I was not at all pleased with his attendance.  I felt sure he was along for a free ride; not once ever did he offer to pay for anything.  

There was just a certain air about him.  But I never asked my mausa about him because who knows, maybe it was some sort of payback or … well that’s why I won’t assume.  I still didn’t like it.

One day mausa came to my hostel to pick me up as was the usual and we went for lunch.  Afterwards we enjoyed a nice drive, not looking to see anything in particular.  He then told me he did not like Bombay.  He was ready to head towards home going first through Singapore and then Australia.

He said I should go with him as his guest.  I was very happy for that gracious invitation of course but I did not wish to return to Fiji.  I’m supposed to be on my way to London.  I gratefully thanked him for his most generous offer and reminded him that I must make my way to England.

He did understand and just before he left, he pocketed me some money and yes I will admit it was a big help to be sure.  Then he was gone.  

Imagine this: neither myself nor Jittu were locals for one and the population of Bombay, never mind the rest of the Indian subcontinent was already astronomical.  Looking for work, the percentage of competition for any one position was completely overwhelming, Why do you think Jittu and I sold movie tickets?   

After my mausa’s departure, Jittu and I returned to doing whatever it was that we were doing … hanging out in Bombay and ultimately closing our season of friendship.  We went on for a few more weeks.  Jittu gave me his contact information for back home in Africa.  

I had no way of knowing how much longer the Suez Canal would be closed and when would I really be able to afford a flight to London.  These flights’ price tag remained well, sky-high as this was really the only way to England at that time.  I had to make a move though and I knew I must leave India and my bond with Jittu behind.


With the Suez Canal not reopening until March of 1957, which of course I didn’t know at the time, I would’ve been in India for a few months more and most likely homeless and hungry, not knowing how much longer I could continue selling movie tickets.  I had to make a move.


32. Behind the Silver Screen

Somehow or other we found ourselves spending a good part of our days in a few of the Indian film studios; R.K. Studios (as in Raj Kapoor) in the suburban district of Chembur and Filmistan Studios in Goregaon, just to name a couple.

We were present for many a scene shootings on these movie sets around Bombay.  Meeting Indian cinema stars for this young man was certainly a plus.  Neither myself nor my friend Jittu were necessarily star-struck.  

My pleasure in doing this came more from my lifelong fascination with the projections on the screen and the range of stories they told rather than anything else.  After that one cannot help but to like or dislike certain actors – it came with the territory of course.   

Perhaps one of the top most recognized and remembered, at the very least to Indian cinema fans I was privileged to meet, would be the aforementioned Raj Kapoor.  He was sometimes akin to Charlie Chaplin.

And I think back now how fortunate I was to have met these people, like Nargis who was undoubtedly R.K.’s favorite leading lady; she was immortalised in the RK Studios emblem in fact.   

And there was the amazing Vyjayanthimala.  She not only acted and sang haunting Carnatic pieces (recognised as the classical music of the South Indian region) but could also beautifully perform the Bharathanatyam.  This is  possibly the oldest Indian dance form.

And there was Madhubala, just as beautiful.  I remember reading somewhere she was considered an iconic Hindi film celebrity.  We have had for quite sometime our own filmfare magazines talking about the people and films (now Bollywood) of our country.  Not unlike the magazines at the market checkout here in the U.S.A. I suppose.  

I also had the pleasure of meeting Kamini Kushal who starred in Neecha Nagar, her debut, which won the Palme d’Or award at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival.  There is a name here I know you all know; another debut role in this movie but as music director, the legendary Ravi Shankar.  

I was privileged to have met actor Dev Anand who was acting in Funtoosh at the time.  He had made his screen debut 10 years earlier and dominated the silver screen for decades to come with his répertoire to include writing, producing and directing.

I also was very pleased to have met Bharat Bhushan, a talented scriptwriter, actor & producer along with the wonderful and often humorous Om Prakash of radio, then stage, and on and behind the screen fame.  

An unusual beauty I met was Nalini Jaywant who began acting at age 14 and the popular Johnny Walker, famed in grand wit and comedic roles, giving himself the stage name; after you guessed it! the world famous scotch.  

I found this all very fascinating.  I was intrigued by the way scenes were shot and noted that they were rarely in any type of sequence based on what I was seeing.  

It was like it made no sense when I thought how a story-line would unfold.  Guess I was just thinking of it as a film in its complete form and my brain wanted to think logic.

It was exciting I remember, to attend the completed film months or so later; I watched it with an entirely different perspective.  And the parts that I had witnessed being made now came together on the screen and the logic I was looking for was found!  

Anyhow it was a very good time for me even though it was still monsoon season and an umbrella can only do so much when they’re trying to shoot outdoors!


Raj Kapoor     And I will tell you he was adored in Russia, Africa, China, the Middle East and many other parts of the world as well.    www.nytimes.com/1988/06/03/…/raj-kapoor-top-indian-film-star-is-dead-at-64.html

Bharathanatyam     evolved out of the South India state of Tamil Nadu.  By the way this is where the famous Dravidian-style Hindu temples are located.  Surely you have heard of or seen photos of these architectural marvels in National Geographic or such magazines.

If anyone reading this knows anything about the film industry of India then you’d also know how meaningful and special our cinema is to the majority of the Indian people.  It bears repeating; Indian cinema is world-renowned and can be a whole lot of fun!

On a separate yet related note:  I returned to India many years later with my wife and youngest son, and we found ourselves at the film studios.  We were privileged to meet Om Prakash again amongst a few of the current popular actors, and for the first time, I met the distinctive Amitabh Buchchan with his son Abhishek who was just a little boy at the time.  Now who in all the world does not recognize that man? 


2.  📽 the Cinema … part 1

Now I am wondering, do our island dogs look the same as the ones in Japan or England or any different from say the dogs in Africa?  Do they bark with an accent or is it all the same?  What about the people – how do they look when they smile or get angry and do the babies and children sound the same when they cry?

What about cowboys, do they really have gunfights and why do they say doggie when they talk about their cows?  I had to know!

📽 In the meantime my friends and I would get together on the weekends, most often going for ten-cent matinees, which bought us front row seats, the balcony costing two shillings.

Usually it was Captain America who ruled our weekends!  🎞 These shows were presented serial style in that there would be 2 episodes shown back-to-back on the big screen.  I do have fond memories of that pleasant theatre.  It even had a nice little café downstairs.

I was especially taken with their terrific papaya, 🍓, mango,  🍌 and  pineapple 🍍 milkshakes.  I can see the making of these milkshakes right now!  There were the always-fresh cut-up fruit chunks to one side of the counter, the🥛and ice cream on the other.

The ingredients were put into a silver can then mixed, blended and poured into the glass but only half the way.  The maker then placed the can up on the counter with the remainder of your shake and doing it with such great flair: perhaps it was just the thrill in anticipating the cool delicious milkshake at the cinema!

Needless to say the theater owners always made certain there was a nice variety of cool refreshing tropical fruit juices to savor as well sodas.  The café served up flavorful fish & chips, sandwiches, the best milk-coffee on the island, cupcakes and candies too.

Private vendor citizens were able to sell their freshly roasted warm peanuts and muttar (green peas) to the moviegoers, but they had to do this outside the theatre doors.

As a young lad around 10-11 years of age, I used to go with my brother-in-law and his brothers to the American soldiers’ camp in Tamavua.  We could sell snacks to them like narongi (tangerines), bananas, salted and dry roasted peanuts, and muttar.

We also offered an immediate favorite; rolled roti filled mostly with spicy-curried veggies and sometimes we filled them with chicken curry too.  I remember we would get a lot of silver dollar coins in our payments from these uniformed guys.

They must’ve liked us well enough because in the evenings, sometimes we would get to stay there in the GI soldiers’ camp (as we called it) and watch American movies.  These were projected on to a screen that was set-up outdoors.  They watched mostly Westerns and I quickly came to realize that John Wayne was my favorite cowboy!

I paid as close attention as I could to the friendly American military persons.  I silently noted to myself their demeanor and from what I could tell, I liked the attitude they demonstrated towards one another as well as how they interacted with us, the island natives, as we are that.

I was relaxed there, feeling perfectly comfortable.  These friendly experiences sparked a yearning to go to the USA and get myself a horse, some boots, a canteen and learn how to sling a gun or two!



See you next Sunday night for the continuing chronicles!