There are certain incidents and memories that are forever imprinted in your mind’s eye. It just needs a trigger to awaken those memories and then you remember as though that incident took place just yesterday even though it would have taken place 5 or 50 years ago. A forgotten smell, a piece of music, familiar surroundings, a scene from a movie would elicit laughter or sadness or even an adrenalin rush depending on the incident and the memory associated with it. There are some such incidents I wish to share with you.
From time to time we invite readers to contribute. This article is by Havovi Govadia.
When I was 3 years old, I had a three-wheeled scooter which I used to ply in the colony compound. An older friend had one with only 2 wheels, which I got to ride sometime. The increase in speed and the breeze stinging my face used to thrill me. I would pester my friend, give him my slow scooter and go at breakneck speed from one end to another on the two wheels. One day while racing with another little speed fiend, we lost balance, collided and came crashing on the ground. I lost one milk tooth, grazed my elbows and knees very badly. My co-speeder was no better off. Both of us were lifted and taken to our respective homes for first-aid. My love for speed thrills slackened a bit till I graduated to bicycle and rediscovered the thrill of a speeding bicycle and the breeze stinging my face again. Years later when I watch bicycle or motorcycle races on TV and a crash taking place, I remember a little girl, her two plaits flying in the air as she went careening down on her two-wheeled scooter.
The first electrically operated tram-car appeared on Bombay’s roads in 1907. The passing years aggravated the problem of rush-hour traffic and to ease the situation, double decker trams were introduced in September 1920. The various tram rides I had with my parents still bring happy memories. There was no hurry or pushing and jostling to get in. The driver and conductor seemed to have plenty of time and patiently waited for everyone to get in at leisure. There were double trams being pulled together and if by chance we had got in the second tram car, in spite of our parents’ protests, we would run the length and enter the first one to be as close to the tram driver as possible. To go up on the double decker was also a treat. The panoramic view as it unfolded when the tram moved ahead would be mesmerizing. We loved the ‘ting ting’ of the bell when the driver spied someone crossing the tracks or when the tram stopped and started to take in passengers at the stops. The tramway system had been running at a loss when the BEST took it over. The losses kept on mounting year after year. In 1953, it started closing down the uneconomic routes due to high operational costs and poor public support. In 1964 BEST’s long-running tram services terminated. The last journey of the tram was to be really special.
All the neighbors had decided to go together in the evening to see the last ride of the tram. The day coincided with my younger brother’s birthday. As was the custom, my mother made my brother who was wearing his new birthday clothes stand on a little platform decorated with rangoli. She made a mark of kumkum on his forehead; put some rice on it and a garland around his neck. Adults and children all set out together to bid adieu to a beloved mode of transport. My brother refused to remove his garland or the kumkum mark on his forehead. On the road we got curious looks, even amused glances and also birthday wishes from both friends and strangers. I was really embarrassed and kept on urging my brother to remove his garland, without any success. A landmark of Bombay was soon to be history and people came out in droves to watch that history being made. We patiently waited. And there it was. The whole tram resplendent with colorful lights and decorated with garlands slowly made its way the last time on those tracks in the middle of the Bombay roads. I will always remember that last journey since the trams as well as my brother were both decked up. Alas for one it was the end of the journey and for another a whole life stretched ahead and many more birthdays to celebrate.
In the 1960s radio still ruled the roost and I could hear the dulcet voice of Amin Sayani and realized that ‘Binaca Geet Mala’ was on. Every Wednesday at 8 p.m. all the radios in our vicinity had the same program blaring. Every week, Binaca Geet Mala played the popular Bollywood movie songs and was a very popular program on All India Radio. At the end of the year, songs were short listed and then the annual countdown would begin, the most popular song of the year topping the chart. This program was akin to ‘Chitrahar’ which was aired when ‘Door Darshan’ first started broadcasting on TV. My favorite radio programs were the Western music, instrumental as well as vocals which were played on Radio Ceylon every morning. People requested for various songs, even dedicating them to a loved one on his birthday or any other special occasion. So the music numbers were played with the names of people who had requested them. As soon as I would get up in the morning, the radio would be switched on and I would go about my tasks listening not only to the music but the various names, some becoming familiar since they probably sent a request every day. Saturdays, I got permission from my Dad to listen to the radio till 11 in the night since ‘Saturday night’ a program which broadcast popular and latest rock & roll and other English songs after 10 p.m. was also my favorite.
The Parsis had their own popular radio show. Unfortunately, it was broadcasted only in Bombay. As soon as Adi Marzban the doyen of Parsi Gujerati theatre came on air, all of us would crowd around the radio. His typical Parsi plays which were broadcasted were popular with all Gujerati speaking people. The plays revolved around his domineering wife who argued incessantly since she thought she was always right, the neighbors who got him into all sorts of troublesome situations, the pesky over smart neighbors’ children who irritated him. Week after week, the situations were so hilarious that we would all double up with laughter. Mr. Adi Marzban himself played the main character of “Ada” and his wife in real life played his domineering wife “Jer” in the radio show. There was also the “bije marno Dinshaw” or “Dinshaw staying on the second floor” and some other characters. We could not see the actors performing but they were so good at emoting that we imagined the whole situation unfolding as though it was acted out before us. We would feel all emotions as depicted by the characters, the discomfort of being in various difficult situations, the jubilation of getting the better of the dominating wife, the relief of getting out of an uncomfortable situation, or the irritation when “Nusli” the pesky neighbor’s kid entered his house. Sitting in our homes, we were entertained for years with funny episodes. With the advent of TV and then computers and satellite broadcasts of hundreds of programs where one is spoilt for choice, the smart phones where one can see anything on the net on the go has changed the face of entertainment. But whenever I hear FM music being played in the car or at home, I go back to the days when a simple radio occupied the pride of place in most middle class homes.
This particular episode brings back painful memories and even today I wish the whole thing to go away. Sherry was an old school friend but did not stay in our housing colony. She would attend many of our club functions with me which made her friendly with my club friends. She fell in love with Peruz and slowly the couple started drifting from our group and going out alone. Sherry’s parents were aware and approved of the liaison. In fact they made it official by having a ring ceremony which some of us attended. I slowly lost contact with Sherry and we would meet infrequently whenever we bumped into each other when she visited Peruz. Soon, I started hearing rumors of physical violence that Sherry was subjected to and the fights that
took place between the couple. Whenever they came home from somewhere, many had seen her crying and sometimes being dragged by Peruz. One day she paid me a visit and related all the ugly details. She was in a dilemma. She loved Peruz but could not cope with the violence any more. I told her to take her parents into confidence, naively hoping that their interference would instill a little sense in Peruz and stop the violence she was being subjected to.
One day I get message from Peruz to meet him at his home. Wondering why he wanted to meet me, I paid him a visit. As soon as I entered his house, he started abusing me loudly for interfering in his love life. My explanations that it was his girl friend who had initially come to me asking for advice, did not cut any ice with him. He kept on getting more belligerent and abusive. Never having faced such violent and abusive behavior before, I started crying, still arguing about my role in this sordid episode. Fortunately for me, my good friend Pesi who lived next door heard all the commotion and came out to check. When he saw me being ill treated, in true Bollywood hero style, he came and caught Peruz by his collar, threatening him with dire consequence if he insisted on carrying on with his obnoxious behavior. He also fired me for interacting with a coward. I rushed home, all the while weeping and wondering how Sherry could even think she loved such a gutless man. I realized that nothing would stop Peruz from abusing women and hoped that Sherry would have sense enough not to marry him. Alas, she did not have sense. She married him and moved to England.
Years later when I visited London, my cousin started telling me about Peruz. It seems he was still violent not only with his wife but also his children. My cousin took up for the abused children and also had to face a barrage of abuse and hostility! Memories of that day when I first experienced and faced violence came rushing back. When I related my exact same interaction with him so many years ago, we both started laughing. It was our bravado that we laughed off our distasteful experience. I had a silent prayer for my long lost friend and thanksgiving for the fact that we had to face something so demeaning only once in our lifetime, when there were countless women, who had faced and were facing physical and mental violence through the ages.
All the girlfriends decided to pay a visit to the pilgrim villages of Navsari and Udvada to pay obeisance to the holy fires. We first landed at Navsari and stayed with my aunt. After the customary visit to the ‘Atash behram’ there, we caught a train to Udvada. We were 7 of us and had to spread out
some sitting inside, where ever place was available on the train seats and 2 of us sitting on the door of the compartment. We were all busy talking when suddenly the girls sitting on the door realized that our train was chugging into Udvada station. They let out a huge scream all the while shouting ‘Udvada has come’. There was panic among us and all of us ran helter-skelter, trying to remember where we had kept our bags and rushing towards the door since the train only halted at the station for 2 minutes. Our co-passengers were laughing and helping us to get our things. It was fortunate that we were traveling light. We were literally pushed out of the train compartment, some kind travelers even throwing our bags out on the platform. When the train chugged out, we gathered our wits together and after taking count that all of us had managed to get down we burst out into uncontrollable laughter. Though it was to be a spiritual trip, we had a good time bonding together, ribbing each other, paying our respects at the Fire Temples and enjoying the rural experience. I have visited these places countless times but always remember how we almost missed getting down from the train at the Udvada station.
Talking of journeys, one more came to mind, also on the same route from Gujarat to Bombay. On this 3 hour journey, there are 2 kinds of passengers traveling – ones who daily go up and down for their jobs to Bombay and back to their villages in the evening and the others who are traveling just that one time. My cousin who traveled every day from our village to Bombay for job, made me get into an unreserved compartment, where the ‘up-downs’ as they were called did not mind other co-passengers. I was with my two young children and got a seat next to an old lady with a huge cane basket. She was getting down after 2 stops and I had told my children to shift in after she left. On the next station, a huge burly man got in and came and stood near the window of my seat. As soon as the old lady got up to leave and I put my hand on the seat so that my children could come and sit there, he sat down on my hand. I politely asked him to get up since I had reserved the seats and he was sitting on my hand. Very arrogantly he told me that this was his seat and that every day he travelled sitting on that particular seat. By this time my hand had got pins and needles, and no amount of pushing
helped to budge him. My 12 year old young daughter tried to drag him but of course to no avail. My hand was going numb with his bulky pressure and I was feeling revulsion for this uncouth and unmannered man who refused to see any reason. The other passengers intervened but he again rudely shut them up. My arguments made not an iota of difference. By now I was in physical pain with my hand pinned under his bum, when one of his friends sitting a little further away and hearing the commotion came and managed to drag him. I wanted to punch him but could not feel my right hand at all. I was so obsessed by this unpleasant incident that I kept on relating it to all and sundry and still remember it vividly whenever I travel by train to the villages of Gujarat.
Havovi Govadia is a 65 years old grandmother of 3. She was born and brought up in Mumbai and shifted to Nagpur after marriage. Was working in Empress Mills (first Tata enterprise) till it shut shop in 1987. Working now as an independent financial adivsor.
Havovi wrote scripts, directed and staged plays and various tableaux on Zarthushtra, Parsi fashions through the ages etc. mostly to acquaint the younger generation of their rich heritage from 1980 till about 2000 for the Nagpur Parsi Gymkhana.
Havovi started writing these little anecdotal stories at the insistence of her niece who is now 10 years old and living in USA and who was keen to know about her grand parents whom she would never meet and those days when “you and my Dad were little”.