‘Pum’, is the first note of wake up alarm in Gautam’s phone, then a silence of a few bars, then ‘pum pum’ and later melody with beats start; but there is no point overloading this space with this extra information. Of course there is a valid reason for this. Reason is that Gautam always manages to gently touch the ‘stop’ button soon after he hears first ‘pum’. Today was no exception. So, after ‘Pum’ at 5.47am Gautam stopped further details of the alarm. You know all that ‘pum pum’ and the melody with beats etc. Phone became quiet and in a few moments withdrew its exited bright good morning smile with a dark huff. Gautam was used to it. His phone always gets upset, if it is not given a decent hearing. But we are not here to discuss Gautam’s love hate relationship with his phone.
Gautam hadn’t slept well last night. There was no one in particular to be hanged for this. No, not getting deep sleep can be attributed to many points. But stupidly all that attribution happens only after he has not slept well. He starts to think of points like, over eating, too much activity before hitting the pillow, too much on his mind etc. Although he had tried to get relaxed when he realized his alertness was still with him, even though its time had long run out. Alertness and sleep have to take turns to be with Gautam. It is more or less like a smooth take over. At one time only one of them can be there.
But in spite of below average sleep Gautam was fine. His ‘yog’ class is at 6.15am. After stopping the alarm, he takes a few moments, just being there. Someone had told him NOT to dive into a new day straight away, but slide into it smoothly and gradually. It made sense to him. He twisted his spine this way and that and in 3 minutes he stood up. He easily fought off his unhappiness at being groggy.
At 6.05 he was walking briskly to Ary Samaj, which about .750 km away. Announcement of winter season has made the sun wake up late. So, exterior wasn’t too bright. His weak eye sight and the distance makes Arya Samaj building seems like a ghost. A faint yellow light in the center indicates some students have arrived.
Inside all the mats were in place. Gautam had to take his place on a mat right in front of the teacher at the center. Everyone avoids that place. It is so in the face of teacher.
“Good morning everyone. Please sit in ‘sukhasan, ardhapadmasan or padmasan. Keep your hands on your knees. Pull in your stomach slightly, throw back your shoulders slightly, keep your neck and shoulder muscles relaxed, gently close your eyes and passively watch your breath. Keep breathing normally. If any thoughts appear in your mind, gently ignore them and bring your attention back to your breath. Normal breathing and watching it passively… Now we will chant Om. Take a deep breath in, Oooooooooooooooooooaaaaaammm…”
After 7 chants teacher continues; this time a little softly: “Enjoy the peace and quiet you gained by chanting Om… and passively… watch your breath.”
From more than 10 years these words have remained unchanged; but Gautam doesn’t mind it. In any case Gautam feels rejuvenated after the class and walks back home briskly.
Gautam’s Enlightenment of the day: ‘You don’t have to be active and reactive for everything that you encounter. Watching it passively also has its own positive use.’
In Mumbai many old single-screen cinema halls have been shutting down regularly due to economic reasons. Historically the most important of these was Majestic cinema in Girgaon. This is ‘the’ most important theater in India, because country’s very first feature film, Raja Harishchandra made by Dhundiraj Govind Phalke released in Majestic Cinema on May 3, 1913!
Not being able to patronize Majestic even once is my biggest loss. I feel bad today about being in the Majestic neighborhood for five years and not being able to visit it. It is like missing out on a most important chunk of cinematic history. In fact I have not had opportunities to visit so many other cinemas too in Mumbai. Now I do not want to miss a chance of seeing a movie in the surviving old theatres. More over renovation and multiplexisation of iconic Metro cinema has put me on alert.
In this mission titled ‘visit old theatres’ the list is very long. I decided to start with Imperial, an old beauty situated on Lamington Road near Grant Road station, Mumbai. Naaz and Swastik cinemas are its immediate neighbors. Naaz is very old too, but I have seen many films here. I could not make it to Swastik in time, though. Well, let us talk about what is in our hands, rather than fretting for what we have lost and will never get it back.
On Aug 22, 2006, I reached Imperial cinema around 3.00pm. Like Metro I did not come here to see a movie; but to see the theatre. The show timings here still have the same old schedule of 12.30pm, 3.30pm, 6.30m and 9.30pm. At the booking window my eyes widened with surprise at the price of the tickets. They were Rs. 20 for balcony and Rs. 15 for stalls. I felt as if ‘forward to the past’ has occurred to me. I was transported to an era of 70s. I got myself a balcony ticket for the film titled, ‘Murder Ka Nasha’, which when loosely translated into English would be ‘intoxication of murdering’. Well a close look at the poster of the film revealed that I was going to watch Basic Instinct-2, dubbed in Hindi.
There was enough time for me snoop around various corners and crevices of the old structure. The white marble steps leading to the balcony had become so smooth with over use that they felt like silk carpet under my shoes. There were so many parts in the architecture that were purely for beauty and had no practical use. But then a cinema hall has to be pleasing to the eyes and that’s what it was. This theatre is also called as ‘Haathiwala’ theatre, because in its compound there is a pair of life size concrete elephants overlooking a lane. The elephants are still in perfect shape, though a lot of structural area is damaged. The grass and moss is growing in the cracks, giving it an eerie look of a palace whose owner has no will or resources to maintain it. Although it is still a cinema hall in 2006, the settings are of a period film.
I entered the balcony. It looked very friendly and spacious. The seats were not modern; but comfortable. There were fans humming from the ceiling. In stalls too there were ceiling fans, as well fans on the walls. Observing every bit of detail, I took a seat under a fan. There were no seat numbers. The walls had pleasing molding designs. They had survived the time. The ceiling looked fine. The space itself neither was not too large to overwhelm you nor too cramped to make you feel claustrophobic. It was just right. Then my eyes fell at the back of the seat in front. Horrors! There was this very Indian ubiquitous patch of red splash. My knees nearly touched it! Without thinking I got up to find another seat. But I could not. All the seats had that symmetrical spit trade mark. Suddenly I started feeling all this amusing in place of irritating. I went back to the first seat. Slowly the seats started to fill up. I observed that finally about 100 people were in the balcony. Everyone sat separately. Everyone was male.
Lamington road is a business area dealing mainly in electronics and pirated music. Other most popular business here is prostitution. Yes I had noticed two dressed up elderly business women in the compound. After the movie started one of them walked in and went straight to a man sitting in an extreme corner. She spoke for a few moments and then walked away. It seemed to me that sitting in the corner may be a hint which this guy was not aware of. Basic Instinct is a very red light area film. But there were no whistles, no cat calls. Everyone was resting, making use of spare time or perhaps taking a nap. After all in today’s time if 20 bucks can get you 3 hours in a quiet place to relax, it is worth it. I also felt as if I was in a spiritual place where everyone had gathered to let go of their worries.
The intermission slide splashed on the screen. Suddenly I remembered that film ‘Taxi Driver’ made by Navketan, was premiered in this theatre… As my eyes panned away from screen, the walls and the moldings morphed into the period nearly 50 years back. Everything turned new. All the polish on the wood turned fresh. There were streamers hanging from the fans in place of cob-webs. The chairs were smooth and glossy. The crowd in the balcony had Dev Anand, director Chetan Anand, Kalpana Kartik, S D Burman, Talat Mehmood, Lata Mangeshkar, Johnny Walker and many more. They were all shaking hands excitedly and mingling with each other. Some held Coca Cola bottles, while others were being offered cups of tea and snacks. Some eager faces were peeping in from the door to get a glimpse of the super star Dev Anand. The interior of the Imperial cinema looked like a dressed up bride. Softly a band played ‘Jayen to Jayen Kahan’… With the notes of western music and Sharon Stone’s voice, the ambience slowly morphed back into the present. Intermission was over. As I had already seen the original version of this film, I decided to leave this Imperial theatre after touching the trunks of the elephants.
Do you know how old is this earth? It is billions of years old. Homo sapiens did not exist at that point of time. We all came up from a single-cell life to this present state. Some say we evolved from fish, others think monkey is our ancestor. In one of the study by a renowned scientist, if all the time that the earth has been in existence should be condensed to 100 hours then the modern times would measure only a few minutes. By modern times we can say when spoken word developed and we started using intelligence to stay in groups to flourish and also avoid getting robbed or killed by other groups.
Along the lines many inventions kept coming, starting from rough stone tools for hunting, to the wheel, then clothing to save us from different acute weather conditions. We started keeping pets to serve us. Either to gives us milk, meat, or work for us in fields and later even to transport us around. But most surprising thing was the invention of the scare or fright that group leaders instilled among people in order for everyone to stay together; to fight the enemy jointly and keep the tribe safe and strong. The leaders must have been too intelligent to ask the rest of the community to pray to a certain tree, a stone or a certain person. I guess this was the beginning of politics and/or religion. And from that point onwards we have only been the victims of both these social orders. The benefits gained by this world from religion in general are no match to the harm received by its misuse. Currently we are going through the worst period of wars, mass killings, ethnic cleansing, Jehad, countries breaking up etc. Most of this is happening in the name of religion.
I seriously question the utility of religion as a concept for any benefit to human race what so ever. Any sensible businessman will just drop such a useless thing which draws out so much from you compared to what you gain from it. The balance sheet shows only losses. As it is being done today, religion is just too damn expensive to follow. Although religion is not a necessary condition for anyone to be a good and successful human being. People can do very well in all fields without the contribution of religion in their lives. People who are busy making money to look after their families may have no time for it. If a beggar starts praying in place of begging, without doubt, he will have to starve. Only the people who are well off or are misguide by others for some reasons known best to them; take the religion seriously and use it as business. And people who take religion too seriously may turn out to be rather dangerous for the world in general.
Sooner than later, constructive people will get to know the value and contribution of religion. And they are going to revolt against such a concept. The process may have already started. So I guess it is worth it trying to live without religion and check it out. We might have more time to meet friends, play with our children and cook nice dishes for them, finish a pending job at the office, most of all to ‘think’. We hardly allocate any time for us to think, which is such an important and constructive mental exercise.
Recently I read that the amount of happiness that science and technology have given to the world in the last 100 years is far more than happiness given to us by religion in 2000 years. We have been fighting wars for a God we have never seen but will give no importance to trees, air and rivers that directly enrich our life. So nature in fact is the God right in front of us!
Sometime back a dog in his playfulness scratched my arm with his tooth. It made a slight crack in the skin, so I was advised to take full course of five anti-rabies injections. After the course was over, a friend told me that now I am safe for next five years of any dog bites. In a humor I asked him, will the injections work if a lion bit me? Laughing aloud he said of course it will.
In Mumbai’s National Park there is supposedly a good leopard population, who keep venturing into their ‘No Entry’ areas quite often, in search of food. Generally small children and dogs get killed by the beasts; but most grownups who are attacked generally escape with some bites or missing pieces of flesh from their body. But of course attack by a leopard does shake anybody badly.
So, armed with the anti-rabies shots, I thought that meeting a leopard would not be a bad idea. If the animal attacked me, my name will definitely appear in newspapers and personally for me it would be a rare honor too… doesn’t matter if I survive to tell the story or not.
I can see, not many people are in agreement with me. Well, traveling thousands of miles at a great expense to climb the Everest is such an honor that is fraught with worse dangers. Quite a few climbers have not come back home to show the pictures of the summit and tell the story. I think it will be proportionately honorable and dangerous to meet a leopard nearer home and click his pictures leaping towards me. If I stay in my senses, ward off the leopard somehow and run away like a gazelle; I will be able to tell my story punctuated with related real pictures. Just like everybody whoever has climbed or even tried to climb that peak has gone into the record books. But then even leopard attacks are well covered by news channels that send each such encounter into record books and the person also gets frozen into the ocean of internet data for ever…
One day (night actually) with all this unrealistic rubbish in my mind, I went to sleep and dreamt of an ‘encounter of the real kind’ – with a leopard. Location is Mumbai’s ‘film city’ studios, night shift. I am shooting for a television program. It is raining. The scenes are being shot inside a running taxi. I am in the back seat recording sound. I have my headphones with a Beta-recorder by my side. The girl actor sitting on the other side of the seat is enacting her part. In a while due to change in camera position, there is a short break. I get out of the cramped space to stretch my legs and move a bit away to pee by the side of the road. As I am about to unzip for the act, a light-boy shouted from the back, ‘sir be careful, don’t go far. It is not safe at this time.’ It was past 2.00 am. I took the advice seriously and wanted to get back in a hurry. A light drizzle started. Rain drops were creating very soothing soft sounds hitting the soggy leafs. Instead of sharp clicks of ‘tup tup’, the drops fell with soft ‘dhub, dhub’. There is a thick cover of leafs in that dense forest. It is pitch dark ahead and I have no intention of straining my eyes. As I am about to zip up, I notice two small dots of faint light in the dark. In a moment they both vanished and then lit up again, together. Then they moved sideways, but together, retaining the distance between them. A shiver went through my spine. I kept my movements very slow and small and started retreating back keeping my eyes at those lights. The light dots simultaneously lowered towards the ground and moved forward. Now I was able to see the figure of a small leopard in the ‘service light’ provided for the shooting crew. In fright I turned back and ran towards the taxi. But I didn’t know that the taxi had been pushed back by a few meters. I took a swift turn and ran with long paces and grabbed the taxi handle. Silence of the night got shattered by an animal’s roar. Taxi door opened, I rushed in and as I was about to shut the door, the animal too managed to push its roaring face inside. I knew I had to hold the door tight and keep it pulled in with all my strength to keep the leopard out. It was a spotted leopard! His bare teeth and foul smell were inches away from my own face. I did not have enough time to slide further away on the seat as the girl and the recorder were there too. His roar in surround sound had scared the hell out of everyone. I could hear the girl’s squeak too in between. I was holding the door tight to keep the hungry leopard away from me. After a while for some reason, leopard started pulling away to release himself from this unfamiliar tangle. May be he was tired or his neck may have started hurting…
Gradually all the his sounds ceased and a faint regular breathing faded in. His face was not as ferocious now. Feeling easy and safer, I decided to do the most unthinkable. I touched leopard’s nose with my left hand. His ferocious face squirmed and rotated aggressively to bite my hand. But he was getting tired. So in a few moments again, very carefully, I touched him between his eyes as if it was a dog. He protested less this time. Encouraged, I started moving my hand on his face. His shut his mouth and looked at me with wonder in his eyes. Obviously he had never met a human so up close. I remembered there were some omelet sandwiches on the seat. I fumbled behind my back and found them. Slowly I took one near his mouth and released the pressure on his neck, just a little. He smelled it, looked away and then suddenly snapped and gobbled it up. It was the best thing that happened in my life. Seeing this scene, the girl passed some more which also were eaten up in no time. Everyone was quiet and stayed locked up in various vehicles. I gestured for more edible stuff, which was placed behind me by our adventurous spot boy named, Kutti from the half open window on the other side. Soon all the sandwiches were over, although I was sure my esteemed guest could have eaten a hundred more. Now I was getting restless due to lack of distraction and entertainment for the leopard. I had made the grip on leopard’s neck quite loose so that he could eat comfortably. Now was the time to let him go. It was also the time that was full of risk, apprehension and perhaps loads of sadness. Just as final moments were approaching, I felt leopard’s face one last time. This time his head pushed my hand with affection to increase its pressure.
Meeting a leopard was the most valuable incidence of my entire life. I rolled my fingers on his head, between his eyes and on his ears. He was quiet. I released the pressure on the door. He pulled away a little and finally he was out. Now was the time to do the next right thing. There was enough space for the door to shut. And I did shut it. The animal was confused. I rolled my window down a bit and looked at him. He put his front legs on the door and stood on his hind legs. As I was about to put my hand out of the window, the girl screamed and pulled my hand away. The scream shocked the leopard and he sprinted off with a jerk. Somewhere an ignition key turned and a vehicle started with a rickety sound. I turned to see who this was. It was the camera van. I turned back swiftly, but the leopard had vanished. I could see no trace of him anywhere. There was darkness all around. I got off from the car and tried to search for those two dots of light, but could not…
I felt very sad that I could not go further in this relationship for so many reasons; but was extremely happy for whatever I achieved. We had to restart the shooting. Continuous sound of all the vehicles that scared the leopard was irritating me now…
A school bus was idling and revving outside my bedroom window. Kids were boarding the bus. I left my bed feeling fresh and happy and went out for a walk.
Blood was flowing all over on the rough stone floor. Suyesh and his three followers were chained to uneven dirty walls of a prison cell. They were bleeding from their numerous wounds. A couple of tired soldiers were resting with whips in their hands.
Earlier a court had been summoned in the middle of the night of Suyesh’s arrest. After a short hearing sleepy judges pronounced him and his friends, enemies of the state, guilty of treason that were plotting to topple the legitimate kingdom. They said that Suyesh especially was doing it by misguiding the innocent and ignorant subjects of the kingdom of Amor. The court had awarded death to all four by crucifying them on the crosses. They announced the sentence was harsh since the crime was severe. They could have been simply beheaded. But the court thought differently. Their death had to be seen as lesson for people of this kind. Sentence was to be carried out next day…
On the day of Suyesh and his follower’s arrest; much after the sounds of speeding heavy hoofs had died down, a shadow emerged from behind a large tree. It looked around at the empty space and scattered things. The shadow’s right hand was placed carefully and firmly under the bulging stomach. The shadow bent down carefully to gather what was left behind of some importance. Slowly a few other shadows emerged from the hiding. Slowly they also picked up few things from ground and then went back to the darkness of a thick tree. Ironically it was also the darkest day of their life. After conferring for some time, all of them started chopping their beard with a pair of scissors. Everyone chopped off their long hair also, including the pregnant woman. They threw the hair and their skull caps in a fire. Now they looked like normal Amorans. The sky was getting brighter. They set off for Amor from a different and longer route. By the time they reached Amor many more had joined them. Nearly 100 of Suyesh’s followers reached Amor, all looking like Amorans. They merged themselves into the market places, but stayed in each other’s vision. There seemed a lot of excitement among people. Many soldiers were on duty scattered all around. It seems nobody was going to work that day. They were informed that the king had approved two days holidays for everyone. As Sunday was till two days away, they were told to come to work on Monday. Today a traitor was to be crucified in public view.
In a lane, close by, a huge crowd was waiting for the criminals to pass carrying their crosses. Soon enough they heard loud excited noises of “shame shame”. The group appeared in a distance. They were walking casually in that direction. Everyone’s heart sank to infinite depths on watching badly bloodied bodies of Suyesh and three other men. A crown made from barbed wire had been pushed into Suyesh’s head. The blood from those wounds was constantly flowing onto his calm face. The crosses were heavy. Condemned criminals were falling and rising up as they negotiated the steep climb of the lane. Thick black shawl barely showed Mandakini’s eyes. She was also in short hair. She hinted someone to move towards the hill. That’s where it was all going to end, at the city grave yard. The group separately moved quietly and swiftly. They kept looking back at their saints, now pronounced criminals.
At the grave yard too, people were collecting in large numbers. This is where main action was to be performed. The group merged itself among other Amorans. By evening the tired bloodied bodies reached the plateau of the climb and end of their journey. Swiftly the soldiers took over. They started the process of hammering everyone to their crosses. No normal human being could dare to look at the cruel site, even for a moment. Everyone in the group was weeping with covered faces. It was very dangerous to cry in public view. Nobody must sympathize with such criminals.
In front of a large gathering the procedure started. It took quite long to hammer Suyesh and others to their crosses and then hoist them up. Nobody was hammered in the head, since it would hurry their death. The agony had to be enhanced and elongated for Amorans to see punishment for the traitors. In the end all the four crosses were secured into the ground and workers left, leaving only the security personnel behind.
Late evening King Vikram himself came over and approved the arrangements. He gave a short speech about the devious plans of these criminals. After he went away, most of the soldiers too left, except a few guarding the crosses. All the crucified bodies were still breathing.
During one of many glances Mandakini managed to take at Suyesh; once she suddenly felt that her eyes locked with Suyesh’s eyes. She noticed a faint smile crossed his lips. She knew he noticed her. He made no gesture, could not do so. Nobody expects any gesture from a man nailed to a cross. This fraction of a moment, meeting of the eyes started a huge storm in Mandakini’s heart. She told the group about it at night. She told them that Suyesh should not be allowed to remain in a land where he is considered a criminal. He must be brought back among the people who loved him and shared his vision. They all agreed. The men set about planning, what to do and when.
On second day, city doctors announced all the crucified men dead. The crosses were lowered, the bodies released and buried in the graves that were ready to receive them. Some people came forward to drop a customary handful of mud. With partly hidden faces some men from Suyesh’s group too dropped the mud and carefully watched the location of the grave, it’s depth, noted the white cloth that covered the body. After the burials, everyone left. No onlookers, no soldiers, no spies. There was nothing to be done, nothing to guard. It was a good sign. It was Saturday. Men decided that Sunday would be the perfect day to carry out their plans. Since it would be the last holiday after the burial, every official of the kingdom would be busy celebrating their success with food and wine…
With the precision of nature, the group reached the grave at 2 at night on Sunday, dug it up, lovingly took hold of Suyesh’s body, rearranged the mud, dropped some flowers on other graves and disappeared…
During the day some drunken soldiers came to watch the site where they had stood guard and witnessed an extreme drama three days ago. They were shocked to see the flowers on the graves. It was a crime! The news spread. Soon an army of soldiers came. They checked out the flowers. They also noted that Suyesh’s grave looked ruffled. King was informed, who arrived in the company of the Army General. They ordered the grave to be dug open.
Soon the bloodied white cloth appeared. It was stretched across the body, like it was on Friday. On a hint a soldier pulled the cloth off, revealing the shape of a body made in mud!