By Kulbhushan Kain
All these years, I never felt age creeping up on me- not even when I moved into my 50s – though I was quite surprised to see wrinkles appear on my face one day as I shaved in Vancouver,Canada. I had never noticed them –unlike the grey strands, wrinkles come more stealthily! Even though my body started to protest when I played squash after 60 – I was able to accept it without realising that I was getting old!
However, when I returned to Dehradun – I started realising that I was getting old. This realisation stemmed not from the fact that my body started to protest more vigorously – but because I could not relate to an “aged” Dehradun – or, if you like it, a “younger” Dehradun. The streets were choc a block with youngsters speeding on 2 wheelers or cars, the wide open spaces between Majra and Saharanpur Chowk and between St Joseph’s Academy and Hathibarkala had disappeared, and Dalanwala and Old Survey Road, which had palatial bungalows had now been converted into small houses, multistoreyed flats and malls! I felt like Rip Van Winkle!
It’s not just the landscape that has changed that makes me feel outdated. It’s the way we live life these days – the social system. Among many other things that makes me feel old is what and how we read these days. When we were young, our newspapers were delivered to our house – and not thrown across the gate. Ali, the newspaper man, used to cycle all the way from Patel Nagar, where he lived, and would hand over the paper to one of us. Most days in winters, we would offer him a hot cup of tea and on summer days, a “nimboopaani”. Ali was more than just a newspaper hawker. He was a walking newspaper, the “breaking news” of the locality and always indulged in a bit of gossip.
“Do you know Vilayat Khan saab is not well and Amjad Ali Khan has come to look him up?”, or “Do you know Miss Murray has gone for a vacation to Australia for a month”? That gossip which was so priceless and interesting has gone out of our lives. People don’t talk to each other and even if they do – I can’t relate to most of them.
Along with newspapers, we read magazines and weeklies that shaped the way we thought about life. Many of these have disappeared or are on the verge of extinction. “LIFE” was an iconic magazine whose engagement in the events of the last 100 years had led to an epic form of photojournalism. It covered some of the biggest events – from WW2 to the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth, assassination of Kennedy, feet of Gandhi spinning thread in 1946…LIFE’S role in the history of photojournalism is considered unparalleled. In the sixties, TIME, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, SPORTS AND PASTIME and READER’S DIGEST were a staple diet of every middle class home. READER’S DIGEST, in particular, was different – the magazine was compact – with its pages roughly half the size of most magazines and whose tagline was “America in your pocket”!
Sadly, the circulation of these magazines has taken a hit, and LIFE and NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC have almost packed up. TIME, which was a weekly for decades, has become a bi-monthly and costs Rs 500 per issue. In the Dehradun of the ‘60s and ‘70s, one could never imagine that there was a new world emerging in which these iconic magazines would disappear.
We also read the “Illustrated Weekly of India”, which started publication in 1880 and sadly ceased publication in 1993. Many of us used it as regular reading and guide for honing English language skills. Junior Statesman was a very popular magazine during our University days. Shashi Tharoor wrote regularly for it, as did Papiya and Tuk Tuk Ghosh. Among Hindi magazines, we read Dharamyug and, of course, Chanda Mama.
Those days all but seem to have vanished. It has had an important fallout. People no longer go to libraries because books and magazines are available on their smart phones. Libraries were not just places where people came and read magazines, books, newspapers. They were places where people came, met, socialised and made friends. What better way to make friends or romance than over a newspaper, book or magazine?
The same goes with movies. Movie halls were not just halls where one went to see movies. They provided other forms of entertainment and refreshments as well. Who can forget the Odeon Café where eating a samosa during the “intermission” was a ritual? Or, the tea hawkers calling out “chai, chai, garma garam chai” and selling them in white tea cups (not the horrible paper Nescafe Cups like in most places these days). Picture Palace in Mussoorie had a tea and refreshment room (read bar!!) on one side of the hall. Sadly, all the movie halls have disappeared save Orient and Picture Palace! Everyone watches movies on TVs, laptops or smart phones!
I miss the Dehradun that I grew up in. I miss using Margo Soap and having Horlicks as a drink before I slept. I miss using Cantharidine hair oil. I miss being forced to have Castor oil once a month. I miss Binaca Geet Mala. I miss Royal Café and its dance floor. I miss Napoli and Jimmy’s Kitchen. I miss Jugal Kishore. I miss RB Hamer …
I miss the generation before me who have taken flight to another world.
What also makes me feel old in Dehradun is when friends younger than me and with whom I grew out of shorts, pass away. I ask myself the question, “Did they die young or have I become old?”
It is a question I have started asking in my beloved Doon.
I know the answer!
(Kulbhushan Kain is an award winning educationist with more than 4 decades of working in schools in India and abroad. He is a prolific writer who loves cricket, travelling and cooking. He can be reached at email@example.com)