Author Topic: In the good old days ...  (Read 202 times)

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Offline Figleaf

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In the good old days ...
« on: May 26, 2008, 04:55:31 PM »
For a few annas more
Janardhan Roye

The OPH Road experience was so unique, stunning that even as we hurried home, we knew that the story was worth many retelling, and the adventure was worth the money- all four annas of it!

It was the time of our lives when the humble four anna coin, was on the verge of becoming a 25 paisa coin. But how that coin ruled our lives! It got you a coffee or a song on the juke-box at Koshy's on Brigade Road. Or a crisp Ceylon parata at Impie's …and if you played your card smartly there, Abu or Rifle, treated you to special 'sherwa', red gravy, with the parata. It also got you a tall glass of yummy ‘chilled to perfection’ rose milk.

When broke, we'd earn it the hard way. Clearing the garden for a kindly neighbour, Mrs Malathi Sidenur or singing carols. For the latter enterprise, three or four of us, mostly boys from a traditional Hindu family, formed a group to go around Richmond Town. Our early evening stops included unsuspecting, gentle, old Anglo Indian couples living in cottages.

There we'd stand by the gate and belt out, 'Come all ye faithful', 'Joy to the world' and other Xmas songs that we picked up at school with great gusto. Most often we got lucky. A kindly old lady would invariably emerge from the house, come to the gate and say, in some bewilderment, "Isn't this rather early for Christmas carols, dear? Why, it's only late November!"

To such responses we'd swing into a practiced pitch. We'd say something to the effect that there were many houses to visit, so little time to cheer people with the spirit of Christmas. The lady, seeing through our game, would smilingly press four 25 paisa coins into each of our eager palms. Triumphant, we'd put out a hearty, “We wish you a merry Xmas, merry Xmas and a happy New Year”, and race to Crown Café, Brigade Road and fall on a heavenly strawberry ice-cream.

The coin also got a 'big' kite at shops behind Johnson market or on Arab Lines. Or a bicycle on hire. Or two days of tuck, that amazingly delectable jaggery, coconut and peanut treat, in the tuck-shop.

As we grew older, and moved into trousers, inflation was still under control. Armed with a 25 paisa coin each or with one of us, adventure was always around the corner. We'd set forth exploring the world beyond Richmond Town— places as distant as KG tower in Lal Bagh or Cubbon Park.

On one such adventure we found ourselves in the crowded Russell Market area and happened on that famous, erstwhile institution known as Taj Hotel on OPH Road. The eatery was a hole in the wall where the radio blared old 'Hindustani' film songs, scores of noisy customers waited for tables, and often stood breathing down the neck of diners walloping biryani.

As soon as you got a seat, a waiter plonked four glasses of water on the table. He'd return in a jiffy with a plateful of biscuits and samosas which, with many years of practice ease, he'd slide on the marble table-top.

Then he'd be ready to take orders. If you said 'tea' he'd ask with 'malai' (cream) or without malai?

You were charged for what you consumed from the plate and the beverage… not with a written tab, but by a shout.

This was quite an achievement considering Taj invariably had Shamshed Begum going great guns on the radio. And the place had the din and noise of humungous intensity: Old wall-fans whirring noisily, and clanging each time they hit the wall. Plates and crockery noisily, and unceremoniously, dumped into steel bins. Sizzling sounds and other clatter emanating from the kitchen. People conversing in high decibels— often swearing and screaming to be heard.

Outside, on the crowded road was the honking and rush of traffic included the clip-clop of jutka ponies.

Somewhere else the muezzin was calling the faithful to prayer. Topping the melee was the shouts of the waiters. First they'd yell when placing orders to the kitchen. Next, they'd yell even louder, over the heads of customers, across to the cashier near the entrance.

In time stomers neared the cashier, you could hear the waiter yelling out, "Lal topi wallah, khuska-paal-chai, att anna." Behind the Fez gent was a hunk in a 'Sando' banyan, who became "Pehlwan, beja fry-roti, att anna", and young boy, "Chotu, sirf ek gilass pani, kuch nahi". 

In between the waiter exchanged quick notes with the kitchen, "Sardarji ka beja lao" or "Saheb ka garam sherwa lao". When my turn came at the cash counter, I was identified as, "Pathla ladka, biscoot-chai, char anna", and my bespectacled friend as 'char-anken-wallah, ek samosa-ek colour soda, char anna."

The OPH Road experience was so unique, stunning that even as we hurried home, we knew that the story was worth many retelling, and the adventure was worth the money— all four annas of it!

Source: Deccan Herald
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.