30. Golden Roti, a Ticket or Twenty and an Unexpected Party

Out and about every single day along with my South African friend Jittu, we explored all over Bombay.  Besides hanging out on Marine Drive my first favorite thing to do was experience eating as many of the different flavors available in the local restaurants.

 

Gopis on cloth

 

There were Brahmin vegetarian dining establishments which I mentioned two posts back, serving silver thalis-full of amazing, cooked to perfection, curried vegetables with just right roti and puri, the excellent Punjabi cooking (we called them the best meat restaurants), and the flavorful South Indian kitchens preparing outstanding seafood meals, exquisite sambar, egg curry and masala dosa.  

We indulged in Persian (Iranian) cuisine enjoying perfected biryanis and mouthwatering lamb shish kebab – delicious!  There was always a great Chinese restaurant around any given corner serving their dishes with that Indian twist and always flavoursome to be sure plus I found it really fun to see a Chinese face speaking perfect Hindi.  

Ah yes and the Gujarati restaurants served us delightful kheema, khatti mithi daal and golden chapatis of course, all very palatable.  These are but a few, you get the idea and not to mention a suddenly juicy mouth I’m sure!  

We did our best to return to Marine Drive anywhere between 4 in the afternoon and 7 in the evening for our daily dose of people watching; okay you got me, girl watching!  Oh the beautiful girls accompanied by their families to be sure.

The two of us also had another favorite to-do and that was going to the cinema to see the Indian films.  After all Bombay is the film capital of India.  Our pick of theaters was the Naaz (near my temporary residence as I mentioned in post 28) there at Lamington Road, which ran all the biggest current films.  

In my perception of things it was the top-notch cinema house to attend.  There was elegant balcony seating, it was air-conditioned, the sound system was great, all the seats were nice and comfortable and it was beautiful you know, classy in style.

Outside the theater the line of moviegoers never broke, day or night.  Jittu and I realized we could supplement our income if we sold tickets to those people who were further back in the line, yes!  We’d make pocket money and they’d get to see the show after all, even after the ‘house full’ sign went up in the box office window.

About a week before the show we’d buy maybe 20 or so tickets each, based on how many rupees we had saved up approximately every 8 days and then sell them for that particular day and evening’s screenings for 3 to 4 times more rupees than face value.  

Yes, I know there’s a name for that and you could be sure when we spied the Police wala with their dundas as they walked the line, we’d take off as quick as lightning!  

Here’s the thing: these were mainly young guys of monied families, driving fancy cars and wanting to spoil their girls on a date; they just wanted to get into the show, not even questioning the price of our tickets.  See, the girl wanted to see her screen heroes in the newest film and well, the guys really did too.  

These people are standing in line realizing the show’s just been sold out and they start looking around to see if there are tickets for sale floating around when they notice a small group of people (gathered around Jittu and myself that is) apparently talking about getting into the currently sold out showing.  

They come over to us and there you have it!  They are going in to see the movie after all.  Points for them with their girl and everybody is happy.  They’re so happy many of them even try to give us extra rupees but we refuse the offered tip because we’re already making money.  I get to pay my rent and I eat more nice meals for the next 7 or 8 days.

Another something I was able to indulge in was a few upper-crust parties on Marine Drive, yes the ones given up there in those fancy homes.  And this all due to my Bombay companion Jittu.  At that time in my life I didn’t see how else I would have experienced all that.  

After having attended a few of them with Jittu, I noticed there were basically two types of parties; the family parties and the other parties, the ones where the children and most family members did not attend.  These were the extra entertaining gatherings.  

I can only say that I’d never been so opened up to these elements of the human existence before.  Life is definitely a curious thing.  

Here I was in Bombay, so very far from my little South Pacific island life, learning a lot about the ways of the world and now I knew for sure, there were no limits.  There was definitely no returning home as that young unexposed man I’d left behind in Fiji.

 

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Police wala with their dundas                                             policemen with their stick  (remember my father walking with me and his dunda?)

khatti meethi daal                                                       lentils prepared sweet & sour in taste

Bombay is the film capital of India.                            India is known all over the world for their accomplishments in the movies.  Some of India’s brightest stars are included in America’s movie scene these days.  If you guys haven’t heard of Bollywood by now well, anyway you’d definitely understand that the film industry in India is majorly important to them.

I eat more nice meals                                       Jittu did get allowance from his father every week but he spent it near as quick as he got it, and I will add that he was a very generous friend; spending equally on me as he did on himself.  Everything was ours and needless to say things like transportation expenses, snacks, meals, movies, etc, he kept no tabs.  

I paid whenever I could but there was no denying he had more of an income than I.  It clearly made him (and me) very happy to have someone fun to explore the new surroundings and get into light mischief with.  He didn’t want to hang around his father the whole time they were to be in Bombay.  It was a win, win for the both of us.

16. I found a piece of my heart that was still available!

23rd May, 1954 – The week of tradition has passed and the time has come for me to bring Hemma home.  I saw her standing at the front door and when she noticed me walking up to her house, her face lit up immediately!  

Her greeting for me was one filled with warmth and acceptance as she gestured to me with an open arms greeting, inviting me into her parent’s home.  As I walked passed her into the house I sensed very strongly that she was most anxious for me to take her into our new life and this pleased me.  

We entered the living room together where I was greeted by the family.  The younger sisters and the 2 little courier pigeons aka little brothers now called me jija-ji -respectfully big sister’s husband- and the parents now called me beta (as in dear child**).

We shared pleasant conversation for a little bit and then lunch was served.  All the while we are talking, my stomach grumbled gently which I’m certain was due mainly to the delicious smells coming from the kitchen.

I knew I was in for a treat because the vegetarian phase had now passed and well, I’m not going to tell a lie, I’m not vegetarian as was my father and brother; no I couldn’t do it.  I did reveal that part of me while docked in Australia, remember?

Anyhow lunch was beautiful and the anticipation of the very next step was both Hemma’s and my dessert.  What can I say?  The time had come for the final departure from her childhood.  She would now take up the journey into her husband’s home** and her new life.

Goodbyes and all that stuff … a quick skip forward to walking down the street.

I realized this was the first time that she and I were completely alone, ever!  I took this opportunity to ask her a question.  As we walked along I solicitously asked her, ‘Did you miss me during this past week?’

We had been holding hands as we walked and at this point she looked into my eyes and said, “Very much.”  No further steps were taken and then Hemma added, “I love you and I want to spend all of my life with you so don’t ever leave me to go anywhere!”

Hemma then wrapped her arms around me and hugged me just as tight as she could.  I chuckled, quickly responding with, ‘Okay I will never go anywhere without you.’

I thought to myself at that moment, ‘I lost Sonia.  And then I lost Noori.  I will not lose you.’

We arrived at my house, now our home, to lots of huggie-buggies but not before a quick welcoming pooja* to bring in the new daughter.  Everyone was there to greet her, greet us, as the newlywed couple.

It wasn’t long before Hemma was being shown the various rooms in the house; now she would see where our bedroom is and of course the kitchen!

Speaking of which, after that delicious, filling lunch and the nice stroll home, this man was ready for his afternoon nap!  Without missing a beat, Hemma made certain no one disturbed my peaceful slumber, and I rested very well.

And so began our life as husband and wife; young and innocent!  I returned to work and Hemma slipped into her role at home perfectly.  We did all the fun things; enjoyed movies at the theatres, had picnic lunches at the beach, shopped, went for milkshakes on a perfect day and visited friends and family for tea time or meal time, whatever the time was!

You know our backyard is the heavenly Pacific Ocean and so there are lots of secluded stretches of gorgeous sandy beaches to laze around on.  Our climate being of tropical nature allowed for most any day to be a fabulous beach day!

I can tell you at this point in my life, I was very happy.  We did fall in love with each other, I am certain.  I had a loving companion to go forward with and together we dreamed and planned; everyday was fresh and exciting with the prospect of a hopeful future.

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*** usually used for either gender although beti is feminine

**   It is customary the wife moves into the husband’s home and becomes part of that family  going forward; the honorable role of daughter-in-law.

*     pooja – prayer

15. One Last Song For Gary

Saturday evening had arrived and it was the 15th of May.  Noori has asked my brother if she could sing a song for me -well, presented as a song for all- before we leave the house and I enter my new life.

He said yes, seeing no problem with that.  Earlier Noori excused herself with my sister, she would not attend the wedding ceremony or celebrations.

Her passionate voice sang a song from an Indian movie made only the year before and it went something like this:  *Raja ki aayegi baaraat, rangili hogi raat, magan main nachoongi ho, magan main nachoongi…”

She sang it all the way through but by the middle of the song I have to tell you, there wasn’t a single dry eye in the house, especially mine… and Noori’s.  Only later did I find that my mother knew why.

It was like I was wearing lead shoes not to mention the heaviness of my heart but I also knew, the promised **baaraat had to leave my house now in all its pageantry and head directly to the bride-to-be’s house.

Goodnight dear, sweet Noori.

The marriage ceremony took place as planned.  It lasted about an hour and a half.  Yes it does and can even go up to 2 hours in some instances.  Another time perhaps.

At the end of the ceremony my bride was taken into her house and I did not see her again the rest of that night.  At this point of the evening, amidst the congratulations and what-have-you, the entire baaraat and all guests were fed a wonderful and fulfilling vegetarian dinner.

Arrangements have been made for myself and a few male members of the wedding party to slumber outdoors.  Of course for me and some others, we slept underneath protective mosquito nets.  Don’t worry, this is Fiji; it’s nice and warm!

The women from my side of the family have returned to my household for the night; there will be much to do when they awake!  Sunday morning arrived swiftly and ^kichari was the traditional meal which was served.

It was about brunch time now.  I have not yet seen Hemma since we were wed last night; we will not be sharing this meal together either.  Tradition.

Although the delicious food has been laid out on the table before me and my guests, no one eats.  I have to take the first mouthful.  But even I cannot start because I must wait.

You must be wondering, now what?  So I’ll tell you: in the tradition (at least it was practiced back then and before that even) the guests put money on the table in front of the groom, one at a time; a gift-giving game in good fun.

And from just beside me, I’m being pinched and coached:  Very much in the capacity of a best man, my adopted+ brother’s given duty was to take full & proper charge of all my needs.  This responsibility was met with great honor and dignity for him, as it was for me to receive it.

So he sits beside me to watch closely each denomination laid in my presence.  With each note I got a pinch from him to say, “That’s not enough!”

And so the cash keeps coming in until the note laid down is big enough to stop the nipping, thank goodness!  Finally my brother approves and says, “Now you can eat!”

Good thing too because by this time we were all very hungry and so I take the leading bite!

Not long afterwards my bride Hemma comes out of her house, escorted by the ladies.  It is time to wrap this part of the wedding up neatly and make the initial journey to my house; our home.  The goodbyes are said.

Whoever is still here from the baaraat goes with Hemma and myself to our house.  The first part of the journey was by car and then we walked the remainder of the way; it’s not as far as it sounds.

It wasn’t a bad walk for that path had been cleared out for the most part – it was now nothing like the school boy days when I had to ‘hike’ through there;  you remember that, right?!

That evening my wife sleeps in another room with the girls of my family; we are still not together.  The next morning her family comes to take her back to their house.  Yes you guessed it, tradition.

Before they can leave however the in-laws are invited in and served a variety of fresh & hot, delicious and hearty snacks with tea of course.  About an hour later, they have left with my new and still very young wife.

The remaining folk in my home now are those who live here, a few family members and some friends to hang around, help out and enjoy the petite celebrations and with more eating of course!  Now we can go back to our regular diet and have a drink= or two if we wanted.

It’s also time for me to wrap my head around thoughts of my new life.  Hemma is away for a full week.  Last of the ‘tradition’ call and …I am really married.

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*Raja ki aayegi baaraat (the king’s wedding procession will arrive), rangili hogi raat (the night will be colorful-festive), magan main nachoongi ho, magan main nachoongi (transfixed, I will dance),… and as song approaches its end,  the lady is singing that she’ll be dancing alone because of something like, a blow to the heart, rainfall (tears) in her eyes, the night will be dark and so she’ll dance alone.  Pretty darned sad if you ask me.

1953 Credit where it’s due:    LYRICS: Shailendra & Hasrat Jaipuri    MUSIC: Shankar Jaikishan                     ~  If possibly there’s an error with these credits, someone please let me know – thanks much!

**baaraat    Groom’s wedding party

+adopted brother    elder than my blood brother, he was the son of (one of) my father’s best friends.  My mother practically raised him.  This relation was born from a very strong bond forged on the ship which my father traveled from 🇮🇳 on;  you would’ve read about those relationships in the Pilot Episode (archives).

^kichari    traditional dish served day after the wedding.  It is rice and dal (spiced lentils) prepared  together; see?  A symbol of unity.

= a drink    as with the mandatory vegetarian meals, so too alcohol consumption is not allowed.

And there is more thing:     LBM never, ever liked for his food which was served hot, to become cold.  To this day he still very much does not like that, not one bit!  Just imagine him as a restaurant owner?  LOL – think you would be let back in as his guest if you did not dig-in immediately upon being served?