Luck was supposed to interfere that fateful afternoon- and it did, bit too late and rather too well- when the sun, shining bright on me, disappeared at once into the wilderness of the winter clouds.
It had been a rather cheerful day for me, until I first saw her. I was looking around for a prospective deal when, out of nowhere, she emerged.
This ‘nowhere’ happens to be an eating joint that claims to be a hotel - Apna hotel, to be precise. Apna hotel sits comfortably beside ‘Damru cinema’ where I can be conveniently located in a yellow tshirt -my color of the day according to TOI horoscope - blacking tickets for the noon show.
It’s a Friday today in Jhansi. Although I know it is Friday elsewhere too, I’m not quite sure, somehow. I figure, the mass hysteria at the ticket counter is the difference.
The air smells of a blend of Panama cigarettes, Mulaithi paan, 502 bidi, Rajshree gutkha, and some fake (custom seized?) deodorant -I guess ‘Brut’- thrown in as a weak neutralizer.
‘Kaanta laga’ hasn’t lost its flavor yet. I can hear it playing somewhere in the distance.
Tickets are running out faster than the numerous queues that eventually converge at one counter. The other two counters have been rendered dysfunctional. The lone counter has progressively begun to become a battlefield of wrists.
The smiles on ticket blackers’ faces have broadened. The frequency of their catchphrase has increased- tees ka pachaas, tees ka pachaas, tees ka pachaas …
It was the beginning of 2004, the year I now single out.
In September of the previous year, Indian PM had offered friendship to Pakistan from inside a bulletproof glass in Srinagar.
In October, Coke had been put on trial accused of sucking a bunch of Indian villages dry.
In November, I had started generously bunking my IIT coaching classes.
In December, Irfan Pathan had debuted against Australia.
It was late January now. Nothing of much significance that I can recall had happened in January (of course apart from the happenings of this story).
The winters were gradually bidding goodbye. People had started stuffing their quilts in their storerooms. The average temperature hovered around 24 degrees, and I, around cinema halls- mostly on Fridays.
In the autumn of 2003 I had approached my father with the special intent of obtaining money for my pocket (essentially to watch movies). My father, a man of simple reactions, had slapped me on the face.
He had then tried to justify the slap by quoting my performance (or rather the lack of it) in previous year’s IIT mains exam. I had missed the cut-off by a whisker then, and hit the wrong chord now.
Every Friday I found myself in the queue at the box office of either of the three cinema halls- Damru, Khilona, Nataraj -parked in a cluster near Elite crossing (pronounced 'E-light').
Elite crossing was named after Elite cinema which occupied the ground floor of an archaic building.
The first floor, however, was a sarkari office where my father had been given a wooden desk, a squeaking chair, and a small chamber in a big locker.
I always avoided Elite cinema for obvious reasons. Besides, I had never liked its seats.
The very afternoon I was slapped I had taken a resolve, which would result in me blacking movie tickets for the love of movies (healthy pocket? Well, I didn’t really care.). I loved movies as much as I hated academics.
My IIT coaching center was just across the road from Damru cinema. The class would end at 11. And every Friday I’d trust my books with a paanwala named Kailash who pronounced his name as ‘Kailas’.
ई किताब बहुत भारी है, कईसे पढ़ते हो इन्हें, he had asked once.
इनमे कहाँ बोझ है, बोझ तो वो है जो घरवालों ने डाला है, I had joked.
अउर का करोगे, पिक्चरें देख के जिंदगी नहीं न कटती.
अब हमहिं को देख लेओ अगर पढ़ लिए होते तो हियाँ पान पे कत्था और ई फटी सीट पे गांड न घिस रहे होते...
सही कहिते हो , I said, fervently shaking my head in approval.
He continued, पिक्चरों का ज्यादा सौक है तो सेहत बनाये लेओ और बम्बई निकल जाओ..
हमाये मालिक का लड़का निकल गया, ‘खंजर’ पिक्चर में सुनील सेट्टी का नौकर बना है, he added in a neutral tone.
I always wondered if I could invent a jugadu machine that would print those flimsy pink and brown and green and yellow tickets. Such was my craze for the silver-screen that today you name a movie, however obscure it is; chances are, I must have seen it in the serene company of empty seats. There hasn’t been made any movie I couldn’t sit through in those days.
I tried making friends with the ticket checkers, but to no avail. They offered to let me in only during the night shows. ‘Thank you, but sorry’; nothing less than first day first show would do. Besides you can’t come home at midnight saying your coaching center is conducting extra classes.
I started off with a very matter-of-fact approach. I would approach people at random asking whether they managed to get a ticket. On hearing an answer in negative I’d start pitching my case: I have an extra ticket which was meant for a friend who didn’t turn up. You could be my friend who turned up. And the price, 40 bucks- only 10 bucks more than the actual price, and 10 bucks less than the black ticket’s.
...to be continued