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As we would leave for the College in the evenings my father would extend his right index finger towards me to hold it so that if I stumbled I would be saved from falling on the uneven road and hurting myself. To my infant eyes his index fingers appeared fat and big. I was a mere child then and he would take me along to the college where he would play either tennis or badminton.
On the way would be Tandon Stores, a very good looking store run by the brother of my father’s colleague who would force my father into the store and engage him in longish conversations. The store would be full of candies, toffees, pastries. cakes and what have you. Mr. Tandon was incredibly fair and he appeared to me like a white man. His apparel were also like those of the white men we used to see those days. He would be in half sleeves white shirts, khaki shorts stockinged legs with tough looking boots encasing his feet. The khaki sola hat used when he would go out on his bicycle made him look like a genuine white man. This used to be for summers; in winters too he would be smartly dressed. He would always fill my pockets with candies. While father played tennis, thanks to Mr. Tandon, I had plenty to keep myself occupied with. Much later Mr. Tandon’s s son became a good friend of mine when we were in the college.
Father was apparently was very easy to get along with. On the tennis courts a white man would come very frequently. He used to be in the employment of Sardar Phalke, who was a minister in the Gwalior State administration. Bradley by name from Ireland, he used to be teaching young Phalkes at home. He became very friendly with father and would borrow my father’s racquet to do some knocking around. He would frequently come home too. We used to find his hair style funny as he would have two partings on two sides and the hair in between would be raised – somewhat like the current trends in hair styling. Occasionally he would also bring a small car of the Phalkes and take us children on rides in the town. Quite curiously, he would come in summer afternoons to relax in what could be called the drawing room where we had a settee to lie around and relax. Apparently, with just a table fan, the heat of the summer didn’t matter to him much. As the evening approached he would have a cup of tea and get back to the Phalke’s big rambling sandstone house.
The same Phalke children became friends when we came together in the college. My mother used to like the youngest one – a close friend of mine – who used to be fond of her Bengali-ised Hindi. These are fond memories as all the Phalkes have since passed on. My friend’s son, however, does keep in touch. Bradley, Bradley Sa’ab for us, used to converse with us in his broken Hindi. I suppose, as the Phalkes one by one got admitted to the Scindia School – an Indian Public School that was meant for the children of Maratha feudals, Bradley Sa’ab had to pack up and go. But I do not remember him coming home to tell father about his impending departure.
I can recall two Hindi pictures that I saw with the entire family. The first one was Naya Sansar which apparently had a theme song with the same words. I remember scenes in which the hero would come out of the foliage to sing “Ao basal ek naya sansar” This must have been in late 1930s or early 1940s. The hero was Ashok Kumar. I don’t recall the heroin who most probably was Leela Chitnis. I do not remember the name of the other film but I remember during a brawl a bald man was hit on his head with a liquor bottle. I got so scared that I started crying and was quickly taken to my mother sitting a few rows behind us. The man who was hit was David Abraham, a consummate character actor who worked right up to 1950s.
Father had taken the two youngest of us brothers to the award winning Walt Disney film Vanishing Prairies. I still remember the landscape that appealed to me so much and the huge Prairies bison. They were being driven westwards or just killed when the Americans were out to colonise the Prairies. In the process, Walt Disney showed the wildlife of Prairies. If available online, I would want to see it again. It is such a powerful documentary. Another film by Walt Disney that I remember was the animation film Mickey Mouse. Enormously funny for children the film had a very long run. I don’t know whether it is ever shown to children in schools.
That reminds me; it is time to go to school!
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