Working Dreams: Bandra in the Seventies

Given that I have been writing about remembering my  growing up in Bandra in the sixties and the seventies, how do I reconcile memories with dreams, which is the prompt for this final post for the Write Tribe Festival of Words -2?

Actually, its not too difficult, as we all had dreams or aspirations growing up. But this post is not about my dreams that I had growing up and how many of those have been realised.

Instead, I shall focus on what shaped the aspirations of my generation, particularly of those  growing up in Bandra in the sixties and seventies. Naturally, its not just local factors that influenced our dreams or aspirations. The times we lived in, namely the sixties and seventies, also had molded our dreams.

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Artist – Prashant Miranda
http://prashart.blogspot.in/

To begin with, we hardly experienced much peer pressure when it came to studies. What was important was that you got promoted to the next class and that was not a given; every year some of your classmates ‘ducked’, which was a colloquial expression for failing to make the grade, thereby losing a year.

The only time you felt the pressure was when you had to appear for the secondary school certificate examination. But even at this exam, if you secured a First Class or more than sixty percent on the aggregate, you were assured of admission to a college of your choice in the faculty you wanted.

However, given the economic circumstance of those times, many felt that college was unaffordable, not because the fees were high but because you would not earn during the four years of college.

Of course, a few institution offered evening or morning classes for working students, but many who did attend did so with the limited objective of graduating and getting a promotion at work.

Under these circumstances, the great aspiration was to get a job in a ‘good’ company. And a multinational was the first choice with Indian companies like those in the Tata Group being the next best.

To fulfill these dreams or aspirations, many of the girls in our generation living in Bandra opted for a secretarial course where taking dictation in shorthand and typing were basic skills imparted. And for those who opted for secretarial work, the dream was to be appointed as the secretary to the managing director or some other senior executive.

Or many of the boys joined a technical courses, that prepared them for a shop floor job. In the seventies, with the inflow of the petro-dollars, the economies in the middle east or ‘the Gulf’ as it is popularly known started booming resulting in the creation of employment opportunities for the Bandra boys.

In fact to enhance their prospects of being employed in the Gulf, I remember boys learning multiple skills like like welding, fitting, turning or lath operating and even truck driving. In fact, working in the Gulf was the ultimate status symbol for many and a huge positive in the marriage market.

Of course, some of my contemporaries did attend college, even going on to do post graduate courses, but again there was a pressure was to become employable at the earliest. And this influenced your choice of course at college with most boys preferring to secure commerce or science degree as opposed to liberal arts, as the employment prospects were better. Of course, doing professional course like medicine or law or accountancy made one into an outlier in Bandra.

To sum up, in those days, with money in short supply all your dreams were about fulfilling Maslow’s first three needs, namely food, clothing and shelter. In fact, in the 1971 Indian General Election, Indira Gandhi won an overwhelming mandate with the slogan ‘Roti, Kapda aur Makan’.

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Bandra School Memories

In the earlier posts in this series that form part of the Write Tribe Festival of Words, I have been writing about my memories growing up in the sixties and seventies in Bandra, a leafy suburb of Mumbai or to use the old name, Bombay.

For today’s penultimate post the prompt is ‘people’ and I would like to share with the readers memories about some of the people who shaped our lives. I know that, without doubt, my parents were the major influence but they were ably assisted by those who imparted an education to us.

Of course, I am referring to the many teachers and masters in my alma mater, whose guiding principle was ‘Don’t spare the rod; just save the child‘. And the parents were in complete consonance with this principle. Given the ‘zero tolerance’ policy and the threat of instant retribution, I sincerely believe that in the long run we developed a strong sense of discipline.

In this context, I was recently browsing the website of the alumni association and I came across a thread in which two of my classmates on the occasion of Teachers Day discussed the caning techniques of the principal and assistant principal, in much the same manner that two cricket buffs would compare the square cut of Gavaskar with that of Vishwanath!

What a sharp contrast to today, when we read of parents filing police cases against schools if their wards are punished or some students taking the extreme step of committing suicide for the same reason. I guess things have changed but I am not sure whether these changes have been for better or worse.

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The teachers and masters were a real dedicated lot, who in addition to maintaining discipline, took a personal interest in the students. And the class size was not exactly small. In fact, each division comprised of around fifty students.

And if you could not grasp a topic, you would be asked to stay on after school so that the same could be individually explained to you. Or even be called over to the house of the teacher on the weekly holiday for some extra coaching. All gratis! I guess the same was true of other Bandra schools and teachers.

Of course, the teaching staff had their idiosyncrasies; in my final year our class master hero worshiped our fist prime minister, Nehru. He would never miss a single opportunity to extol the virtues of Nehru, much to our irritation. No, we didn’t have any thing against Nehru. Rather that we felt that the adulation was unjustified. In retaliation, every time the master started speaking about Nehru, we would chant the the name of Lal Bahadur Shartri, India’s second prime minister.

Boys being boys, some of the staff were referred to by their nicknames, the origins of some of which were unknown to us. But that did not stop us from using the nicknames freely. Like, one master who was called Bader, a reference to the  WWII Royal Air Force Fighter Ace.  Since the gentleman never taught me, till this day I don’t know his real name. And another, was called Hitler, probably because of his mustache. I guess these names were given in the forties and continued till the sixties.

I believe that my school days were probably the best years of my life and it was only in the final year that pressure of a board examination manifested. And in no small measure, I believe that the teachers and masters of my school to whom I dedicate this post, made a huge difference.

I am taking part in the Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th – 14th December 2013.

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Travel Travails In Bandra Of Old

After reading the first three post on memories, food and books, you have probably concluded that I am an incorrigible nostalgia buff, yearning for the ‘good old days’ of the sixties and seventies.

But if there is aspect of our lives that has changed for the better it is traveling around Mumbai and more particularly in Bandra. Despite the overcrowding, double parking and the pot holes, we are better off today than we were forty years ago.

As I mentioned in ‘Growing up in Bandra’  when we first moved to Bandra, the road outside our building had not been tarred. Walking on that road was a nightmare, especially during the monsoon when you risked slipping and falling. Only a few years later, when more buildings were constructed along the road that the municipal authorities tarred the road.

To get around Bandra, in those days, you either had to walk or cycle, because though there was a bus service the frequency was around once in half an hour. And the bus traversed a long and circuitous route. So you sometimes reached your destination faster if you walked instead of waiting for a bus.

Initially, I used the school bus to get to school. But since we lived on the outskirts of Bandra, I was one of the last to be dropped in the evening. And as the long drive cut into my play time, I started skipping the bus on the return leg, instead walking home with my friends. Eventually, my parents got wise to this and discontinued the school bus.

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Owning a bicycle, in those days, was a status symbol in school. And a racer cycle with gears and cable brakes was the envy of all. So, when I reached the secondary section, I started pestering my parents for a bicycle.

My dad did not directly refuse to buy me a bicycle. Instead he laid down a condition; if I got a first five rank in my class at the examination, he would buy me the bicycle. Being a sucker, I agreed when I should have known that this was never going to be.

Eventually, I realised that was being taken for a ride by my dad. So, using a gift from my godmother who was visiting us as seed capital augmented by my ‘savings’,  a couple of years later, I bought a bicycle.  If I recollect right, the bicycle cost around rupees seven hundred, which was quite a fortune in the sixties.

With the acquisition of the bicycle, every morning I joined the peloton  at the start of what is today called Manuel Gonsalves Road, all heading towards the school. In the evenings, the peloton headed in the opposite direction.

Traveling out of Bandra to other parts of Mumbai or Bombay at it was then called was always a horrendous experience for me. As a consequence of an infrequent service, a bus would sometimes be so full that it would drive past a bus stop without stopping. Especially if no passenger needed to alight.

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For some reason, my dad did not like to use the local train to move around the city. Of course, getting into a local train in Mumbai, then as well as now, requires a special skill set and is not for the faint hearted. It was only when I joined a college that was located in the city that I began to use the trains, which I believe is the life line of Mumbai.

As I mentioned earlier, traveling is one area where I am glad that things have changed. Today the bus services have  improved phenomenally and with more people driving their own vehicles, the buses are no longer overcrowded. In addition, auto-rickshaws ply in the suburbs and make commuting quite easy. If fact, given the difficulty finding parking space, it sometimes makes sense to use an auto for shorter trips.

Also the government has invested in infrastructure like flyovers, subways and freeways all of which have made traveling around the city comparatively a happier experience. I know that many will still complain of the bottlenecks resulting in traffic jams or the lack of parking or the overcrowding of the local trains, but when I compare the present with the sixties and seventies, I’m not complaining.

I am taking part in the Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th – 14th December 2013.

Photo Credit: lecercle via Compfight cc

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Musical Memories of Bandra

When I was growing up during the sixties and seveties, music was am important source of entertainment, at least in Bandra. More particularly, western pop music. And Radio Ceylon was the main source of this music. Every morning as you walked through the leafy by-lanes or past houses in the East Indian villages called gothaans, your heard music from this radio station wafting in the morning air.

According to Corinne, who grew up in different parts of the country, Radio Ceylon that later became Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation was a popular source of entertainment even in those places too. And the request programs were by far the most popular with most of the those asking for a particular song seeming to live in places like Kazipet, Bitragunta and other Railway colonies.

All India Radio too had weekly request program, ‘Saturday Date’, but it did not command the same allegiance amongst listeners as Radio Ceylon. The announcers of the latter station or the disc jockeys as we would now call them, seemed to be on a first name basis with the listeners. In fact, if I recollect right, these announcers once visited India and traveled to some of the places mentioned earlier to meet the listeners.

In those days, the radiogram which was piece of furniture combining a radio and a record player with two large speaker occupied the pride of place in many the drawing rooms of many houses in Bandra. Since we only had an old Telefunkin radio and a record player that constantly went for repairs, for some reason, I associated the radiogram with affluence.

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To increase business, many restaurants and cafés invested in a juke box. Such places would be packed with young adults who would listen to music over endless cups of chai  (tea). But this phase did not last too long as stand alone record players, manufactured locally, hit the market.

There were two music shops in Bandra, ‘Twist’ (on Linking Road) and ‘Sweet Melody’ ( on 33rd Road – off Linking Road), which sold LPs and 45s.  Sweet Melody still exists, but now sells TVs and other electronic equipment. These shops had little booths each containing a turntable and you were allowed to sit in there and preview the albums or singles. Like trying clothes today at some stores, you were only allowed to take only three or four  records into the booth,  at a time.

Given that music was an integral part of life in Bandra, it was not surprising that many youngsters got together to set up beat groups or bands. When these groups practiced passers-by were entertained, but I am not sure the neighbors felt the same!

These groups got an opportunity to showcase their talent at the annual Bandra Fair in the month of September. At the fair there were two places that had live entertainment, the WigWam that was run by the ex-students of St. Stanislaus High School and the September Garden run by the Mount Carmel Church. The former was designed as a Red Indian wigwam, complete with the mask of an Indian Chief hanging at the entrance.

The music bug bit at an early age. I remember when I was in school some of the seniors used to perform as a group for school functions. And the high point was the drum solo by a student named Paul Fishery. It was reserved as a finale and we always shouted for ‘one more’.

Paul later went on to be play with the ‘Juveniles’ that became the ‘Combustibles’, a leading Indian beat group in the sixties and seventies. And just down the road from where I lived and continue to live, another group of youngsters formed  ‘The Friendship Clan’, which attained much popularity and regularly played at various beat shows and Catholic weddings.

Part of the reason for the proliferation of talent was the annual talent contests that the various churches in Bandra organised for the parishioners. Normally held during the monsoons, the contestants were classified age wise, with separate contests for classical and modern music. And again these categories were split into vocal and instrumental.

Somehow, the whole community appeared to be involved in these contests with the parish being divided into zones based on geography and competing against each other. If you didn’t have talent to sing or you didn’t play any instrument, you helped by ferrying small children to the pianist’s house for practice. Or did some other odd jobs to ensure that your zone did well.

In those days, ‘terrace parties’ were a regular feature in Bandra on weekends. Any party whether on a terrace or in the house meant music and dancing. Not just music played on the radiogram or turntable; invariably there was singing with someone strumming a guitar. At times, the guitar would be supplemented with a bass (base?), a home made contraption which produced a bass sound. It was made by taking a wooden crate and drilling a hole in the centre of one of the sides. Through this hole a thick rope would be passed and the rope was knotted inside the box. The other end of the rope would be attached to one end of a wooden pole in such a manner that when the pole was placed perpendicular on the box, the rope was taut.

I have not gone into who was a popular artiste or which song topped the local hit parade charts. Those are personal preferences and I am only attempting to highlight the importance of music to us in Bandra, when I was growing up during the sixties and seventies.

I am taking part in the Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th – 14th December 2013.

 

Do take a look at these links for more:
Bombay, It’s Ours
Sixties Mumbai Garage Rock Band Gets Vinyl Reissue – about The Combustibles
More about The Combustibles

Sample some Bombay Duck?

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Growing Up With Books

When I was growing up, the first books we read as school boys were the Five Find-Outer mystery stories by Enid Blyton. We found it quite fascinating to read about these school children and their dog, led by Fatty, investigating mysterious crimes in and around their village, much to the annoyance of the village policeman, Mr Goon. Fatty, whose real name was Frederick Algernon Trotteville, was a master of disguise and deduction, ventriloquist, escapologist and macaroon-gobbler .

I also recollect reading books from the Secret Seven series by the same author but the Five Find-Outers still occupy a special place my memory. In fact, Corinne and I still reminiscence about the stories of this intrepid quintet as they hunt for clues, don disguises, interview suspects, check out alibis and ultimately solve the mysteries.

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As books were prohibitively costly to buy, an inexpensive way to whet your appetite for books was to join a circulating library. These libraries were sometimes a mere hole in the wall with some book shelves but all had innovative schemes in place.

You could either join a monthly scheme, which allowed you to borrow one book per day for twenty five rupees a month. As opposed to the monthly scheme, the cost of borrowing a book  for up to seven days was two rupees. For voracious readers the monthly scheme was a bonanza, especially during the summer holidays. Of course, some libraries that stocked newer books or were fancier charged a bit more.

When I entered my teens, I discovered that my Dad had in his large collection of books of various genre. Among these were the novels by Earle Stanley Gardner, whose works of detective fiction mostly involving murder, portrayed Perry Mason, an unconventional defense lawyer. Mason was assisted in his cases by his secretary, Della Street and a private detective, Paul Drake.

Whilst I enjoyed the Perry Mason books, I preferred the stories about the private detective firm of Bertha Cool and Donald Lam, which were written by Gardner under the pen name A. A. Fair. Unfortunately, my dad did not seem a big fan of Donald Lam aka Pint Size because of his height, the main protagonist of this series of novels. Lam like Mason had an unconventional approach to solving cases, again mostly involving murder.

Inadvertently, my dad was also responsible for introducing introduced me to books by Louis L’Amour who wrote western novels or as he called them ‘frontier stories’. One day when I had a school holiday, I chanced upon a western titled ‘Kilrone‘ by Louis L’Amour that my dad had left at home whilst he was at work.

Feeling that I was partaking of some ‘forbidden’ fruit, I started reading the book. And I got hooked on Louis L’Amour, an addiction that only recently has been in remission. Thereafter, my dad and I used to share the novels borrowed from the circulating library. If I recollect correctly, we had two accounts with the library. Of late, though, I have gone off these stories and no longer do they appeal to me the way they did when I was younger.

Later, through other Western buffs, I was introduced to novels by J. T Edson, who used real life characters as ‘guest stars’ in his books. The main characters of his books were Dusty Fog, who was insignificant looking but suddenly became a giant when facing the bad guys, Mark Counter who was tall and handsome and the baby faced Ysabel Kid who dressed in black and was adept with a bowie knife as well as a rifle. I also did read some Sudden novels by Oliver Strange where the hero was a mysterious gunman, again was clad in black, who appeared out of nowhere and before disappearing disposed off the villains.

Whilst westerns were my favorite genre, I did enjoy reading the thrillers by Alstair MacLean, particularly those relating the the WWII like Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare and HMS Ulysses. In fact, I am still quite fond of reading about WWII, maybe because it was,  in my mind, the last time that good and evil were so clearly delineated. Or maybe, its because the victors write the history.

As I mentioned earlier, new books were prohibitively costly. So you either borrowed books from the circulating library or friends or picked up second hand books at the ‘raadiwala’, who sold off books that he bought by weight along with old newspapers.  But despite knowing that there was no chance of buying books,  I quite enjoyed going the Happy Book Stall, the local books stores on Hill Road.

Books still fascinate me and though, for some unfathomable reason, for a few years I was off books. Till I recently acquired a tablet, which I mostly use as an e-reader. In fact, I have read more books in the last couple of months than in the last three years. Maybe, it is just the convenience of carrying your library with you, but I am certainly glad that my love for reading has been revived and I hope to share some book reviews with you in the days ahead.

I am taking part in the Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th – 14th December 2013.

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