Thursday, June 20, 2013

Old Glory

Some three decades ago Tandi, my hometown, was a small settlement with rows of houses and shops along either side of dirt-road that still runs as east-west highway. The settlement gradually turned into a common market place for the people of surrounding villages. Fringed by meadows, fruit groves and forests, the town had flourished at the bank of stream, Budikhola, much wider then, where we used to swim and fish. Not very far from the town in the west is the Barandhabar Forest, a wildlife corridor that stretches up to mid hills in the north and the Rapti River in the south; and across the river is huge tropical swathe of Chitwan National Park. Being surrounded by dense meadows and forests, people often witnessed the wild beasts in the town in the past. One fine morning I saw people succumbed with panic as the mammoth rhino appeared at their doorstep. Traffic was halted for some two hours creating havoc for people and bewilderment for the animal. Rhino found the way north-west of the highway to escape towards Barandabhar forest.

Tharu, the aboriginal people, had predominantly inhabited this land but later other communities, notably Newars, Brahmins and Chettri came from different parts of the country to settle here. The town transformed into a melting pot of different cultures and traditions of diverse people living in communal harmony and peace. Because of low density of population, one community was familiar with others. We would see many familiar faces among the people on the street.

Along with infrastructures and business, the art and culture were also developed accordingly. Apparently there was no means of entertainment that we have today but people would enjoy classical dance, drama, music and song.

In those days, people would enjoy singing bhajan, the religious songs, and performing drama on life story of Lord Ram and Krishna called Ram Lila and Krishna Lila. Youth singers were trained in classical music by guru, religious teacher, and they had to perform during religious ceremonies and the sermons. Rabindra Shrestha who received the training at guru's ashram, school, in Sigrauli, is still called upon at religious programs to sing religious songs and devotees dance in front of image or idol of god. They dance intensely according to the pace of music/song that should be controlled gradually by slowing the music. At the peak of music and dance, if the music is interrupted abruptly, they would exhibit strange behavior. "One of such incidences, a devotee suddenly climbed the tree like monkey" says Rabindra.

Singing bhanjan is an age old tradition in Tharu community. Bikram Chaudhary remembers his father and grandfather singing bhanjan at the courtyard in the evening with fragrance of burned kathe dhup, wood incense. To advertize bidi, rolled dried leaf with tobacco inside to smoke, cultural program was organized in different villages by the culture group came from India. At the end of show, they would throw bidi, towards the audience who stumbled upon other to get the bidi. This helped their cause to create more bidi addicts.

The introduction of motion picture has brought the new twist on the field of entertainment. When people had opportunity to see movie at cinema hall, they were more attracted towards the movie, the characters and their actions. Though there was no cinema hall in Tandi, people would go to Narayangarh (some 13 km to the west) and also to Birjung (border town) and Raxaul (India) to watch movie. They would share movie story among their friends who had not seen the movie. Late Krishna Pariyar, aka 'Bhote' was a famous story teller at that time. He would describe the actions in such flair that his young fans were held spellbound that they offered him cigarettee and rakshi. He also taught them how to do caricature of different movie characters.

This penchant for movie led some youth to make a mini cinema hall. During late 1970s, Sanju Shrestha pioneered in projecting still image of cut pieces of film reel on white screen. With help of friends, he built a small room on the roof of the house using bricks. White screen hung on one side of wall and just opposite wall of it was a hole from where sunlight, reflected from the mirror positioned outside, passes through. A thick cardboard would be fixed near the whole. A small hole on the center of cardboard sees the light passes through. A small pocket to insert cut-piece of reel was fixed just in front of the hole. Just other side of hole, the magnifying glass would be fixed. When sunlight passed through the reel and the magnifying glass, bigger image appeared on the white screen. The reel was replaced manually and a radio was played for sound or song. The charge was 30 paisa per viewer.

Other people also copied this technique and built mini cinema hall and narkat, giant reeds, was used to make the roof for the house, harvested from the bank of Budikhola. Once I followed them in their venture of harvesting reeds. Sky was clear and surrounding was beautiful when I saw Lord Shiva in meditative posture sitting on tiger skin at the base of the mountains. The snowy image and the emblems with backdrop of glistening mountain were as depicted on the poster. I did not tell anyone about the event as it was obvious that Lord Shiva lives in Himalaya. Later I realized that seeing god is not normal. I again went to the place but I could not find the image. I tried different time of the day and different season of the year but in vain. I could not reveal the fact to anyone, as I know they would not believe me. Now I understand that the image was never there. The notion that 'Himalaya is abode of Lord Shiva' had, in fact, created the virtual image in my brain.

Public documentary show on varied subjects of health, environment and education was organized by government agencies to create awareness. Using projector and generator, the documentary would be shown on white screen fixed on stand. Madhise, the people from Terai regions, also showed the movies inside the tent at the cost of 50 paisa per person. They would generally stay for a month in one place before they moved to other place.

Some Madhise would attract kids' attention, "Bombai, Calcutta sahar dekho, Hema Malini, Dharmendar dekho" enticing them to show famous cities and movie stars. They had portable wooden box fixed on the stand with the two holes on the front that were covered with the lids. Inside the box were vertical bars where long sheet of color poster of different Indian cities and movie stars was rolled upon. The bars sticking out on top of the box, attached with the handle. Kids had to pay 20 paisa to peep through the hole to see the colorful posters being rolled. A light was also fixed inside the box to brighten up the poster and magnifying glass was fixed near the hole to make the image bigger.

Video parlor was popular in early 1980s. Mostly Hindi movies were shown in video at the cost of 5 rupee per person. With the public distribution of electricity since 1981 and also due to rise of numbers of viewers, video parlor was mushroomed in many places.  

To the delight for movie lovers, the first cinema hall 'Narayani Chitra Mandir' was established in Tandi and began the public show since 1982. People poured into the cinema hall and all three shows (morning, noon and night) were full house almost every day. On Saturday (discount on morning show) and when there was popular movie on screen, viewers outnumbered the capacity of the hall. Hundreds of people swarmed at the ticket counter to insert their hand into small opening to get the ticket. They would often receive the bruise and blood on the hand along with ticket. Who could not flex their muscle, had to buy the ticket in black.

Narayani Hall was renovated in 1985 to make it bigger and better. During this, another, 'Jyoti Hall' was also built in the town to accommodate ever increasing viewers. Cinema also served as the place for social gathering and the spot for lovebirds for dating. Generally morning and day shows would be filled with outsiders while night show would be occupied mostly by town people. After day of hard work, they would enjoy going for movie with their family or friends.

Video parlors were also running simultaneously. But government forced them to shut down because of complaint against them by cinema halls. In fact they were operating illegally, without paying tax.  

When television was introduced in 1986, Durdarshan, was only channel available. TV signal would be detected by antenna at its precise position and its subtle variation would affect the quality of image. People had to spend more time adjusting the antenna position than actually viewing TV. On top of that weather and crows (they love to perch on antenna) would often spoil their effort.

People felt enormous relief when cable television was introduced in town. It started with 4 channels and later extended up to 32. People had luxury to shuffle different channels flickering their finger tips. This also created the conflict in family as they were squabbling over what to watch on TV. With economic progress of family, each room finds its own TV set. This all sounded the death knell for the big cinema halls. Now Jyoti Hall has been closed and Narayani Hall is hardly running two shows per day.

Internet service was provided at the cyber with dial up connection. Internet was so slow that users would have enough time to take a nap at the interval between two clicks. It was relatively faster when dial up was replaced by radio link and by ADSL connection later on.

Information technology has brought multitude of sophisticated gadgets and digital programs for techno savvy users. Never ending flow of video games and mobiles has confined young people into limited space. This has all brought the whole new meaning of entertainment. Modernization keeps people busy in there own business and makes them ‘content and happy’ on their own. Now we have to wait for important events like marriage, bratabandha, or funeral ceremonies to have the opportunity to see our family and friends.

Social gathering is an important aspect of the community. Our culture and customs bring all diverse people together for cohesion, harmony and peace to make vibrant society. It helps to strengthen the bond between us creating sense of equality. That sense is essential for social progress.

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