I am miles away from gran’ma. Away in a city, she’s never been to, a city she fears might change me. “You can always call me Angu. Don’t mind the distance okay?”, she had reminded me. She calls me every week, sometimes twice a week asking about my health, food, college and holidays, and she then talks about the aunty next door or cousins screwing up in school or the back ache that bothers her.
It’s well past 8:30pm and I want to call gran’ma. I need a story. She’s my sea of stories.
I call, and my li’l cousin picks up “Angu chechiii. Enikkariyam, ammayod mindanam alle”? (Angu chechiii, I know you want to talk to amma no?). Everyone at home knows that I call after suppertime only when I need a story. Other days it’s always at dusk, when the day’s chores are finally over and gran’ma is resting.
I can hear my li’l cousin calling out to gran’ma. I can hear footsteps shuffling. “aaah Angu mole. sugaano?”
After the usual gran’ma –gran’daughter repartee, I ask “Amma I want a story. Just like all the other stories you’ve told me. This time,your first experience watching a movie in the theatre!”
TV and movies were never not a part of me,a kid born in the late 90s. I probably saw my first ever movie at the age of two, lying on the couch, sucking at my milk bottle. Well, that wasn’t the case for my parents, or her parents.
Back in the 60s, in rural Kerala, when the radio was still considered a luxury, wanting a TV was like wanting to hold the moon in your cupped palms.
“Hahahahaha” I can hear granma’s laughter booming through the speaker of my phone, “I knew it was nearly time for another story. I was beginning to wonder why you haven’t asked yet mole.”
I was taken aback. Her voice reminded me of cotton candy. She sounded like a genie who had been waiting to be summoned, like a bird waiting to take flight.
“I had just been married to your gran’pa…”
It was 1963. Snaapaka Yohannan (John, the Baptist) was in town. No, not the man, the Jose Prakash starrer Malayalam movie! So they took their ten minute walk through the mud road from Pothiyekkara to ‘Chengal Victory’ theatre.
“Chengal Victory theatre has been razed down. But if you want to know where it stood, it’s opposite that Mathai doctor’s hospital in Kalady”, she says.
The theatre was a thatched shed with a white cloth tied across the front of the room, to use as the screen. There were three categories of seats- Benches that had a back support, benches that didn’t have a back support and the mud floor.
“We sat on the floor. We needed only 2 anas for a floor ticket. The benches were unaffordable and we couldn’t borrow money. In fact I couldn’t even talk about going to the theatre at my In-laws place as it was considered insane.”
Owing to the fact that the shed was the theatre and the cloth was the screen, there was no way they could prevent the natural lights from entering. So the first show was at 6pm, when the sun set and it was dark enough to project the movie. Some days, there were shows through the night.
Quite familiar with our practise of munching popcorns during a movie, she chuckled “We didn’t have popcorn. But we did have something else! Little boys often plucked cashews, sold them and brought peanuts with that money. They would then roast it and go around selling roasted peanuts in the movie hall.”
I can hear a squaky voice in the distance screaming ‘ammmaa’. It’s my li’l girl cousin.
“Angu, oru minute ee” (Angu, just a minute). I can hear gran’ma keeping the telephone receiver on the table, shuffling of feet and amma scolding my li’l boy cousin. “Eda vazhakidathe irunne. Enitt aa chor thinne!” (Eda, stop fighting and eat your rice.)
“I wore a saree. It was some other material, much like polyester.I barely had enough to count on my fingers unlike you people today, where one has enough to cloth an entire village!”
“I never thought I’d be telling this to you. Actually I never thought I’d be telling anyone atall“
I can hear her shuffling on her chair.
Its bedtime and I can hear gran’ma trying to mask a yawn, “My mother didn’t really spend on movies. I am not too fond of it either. But when everyone comes together, I go. That’s what a happy family does no? Go out for movies together!”
“Hmm poyi padichitt, orangikko. Amma pinne vilikkam. Chakkarumma” (hmm, finish your studies and go to sleep.I’ll call you another time. Mwaah)
“Sheri amma. Ammem orangikko. Chakkaraumma” (Okay amma. You also go to sleep. Mwaah)