Tuesday, January 16, 2018
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The New Year Eve this year (2017) falls tomorrow. What an exhilarating moment it is to recall some of the memorable New Year Eves one has spent. Events pass across your mental screen, personalities seem to be beckoning to you, reminding you of the days when it seemed that all the joys of the world were within grasp. My first New Year Eve in Allahabad was in 1946-47.- as also the first New Year’s Day.

We brothers were in Allahabad for a winter vacation from Cambridge School, Delhi, as my father, then serving the Indian National Airways, was posted here to attend to aero-planes landing in Bamrauli and sea-planes (flying boats) getting down gracefully in the Yamuna in Karelabagh.. I was a school boy then and what interested us most were the movies. We picked up the newspapers – the Amrit Bazar Patrika(as NIP was then known) and ‘The Leader’ to see film advertisements. We were not permitted to go beyond Civil Lines. There used to be two cinema halls in Civil Lines. They are still there. Palace is there all right though not the same as it used to be. And the other hall has undergone changes in its name several times. It was Regent then. Both the halls had advertised that on the occasion of New Year’s Day they would be distributing sweets to every ticket-holder. That was apparently to please the English-speaking picture-goers as then the 7 and 10 p.m. movies were English language ones. In the afternoons at 1 and 4 pm they would screen Hindi films.. You will wonder why the movies started late –I, 4, 7 and 10 pm ? The reason was that during war time, whatever the reason, the clocks had been advanced by an hour. The 1,4,7 and Alahabad news10p.m. of then would be 12, 3, 6 and 9 pm .today. The tickets used to be sold from an open counter in Palace and not from a ticket-window. A paper bag, punched, was handed over to ticket-buyers. It contained pastry, , biscuits and potato wafers.. I do not remember what movie it was. But I do remember the pastry and the potato wafers. That was the last new year under the British regime. There was suspense in the air. The British were not sure whether they would be in India for the next year. There was a sizeable number of British nationals in the city, mainly bureaucrats. There were judges too—and one of them was Mr Justice Hamilton from whom my father bought second-hand the car ‘Rover’ – a name that has fascinated me so much that I have adopted it for the Window column..

And then came 1947. My father was transferred to Lahore. In Delhi we were told by an elder brother who was then working there in some office, ‘This time for your summer and winter vacations you will not go to Allahabad but Lahore’. The company-allotted bungalow was perhaps in Model Town. We were all excitement. Then round April my brother came again and told us, ‘No, you are not going to Lahore but to Allahabad – and permanently too’. And then he told us that the Barnetts couple from London, who were running Barnetts Hotel had decided to sell the establishment which was being purchased by father and his friend Shashi Kanta Vermaji. I am mentioning this because the 1947 New Year’s Eve was celebrated in Barnetts where a New Year Eve Ball had been organized. That was the first time that Barnetts were organizing the show. There was to be the selection of Miss Allahabad too. I remember the solo performance on the dance floor of one young girl who was wearing a skirt made of ropes. Lights were put off and a flashlight from the skylight (ventilator) above would chase the movement of the dancer. There was loud cheering. Some other girls also participated. And then the lights in the hall were restored. The dances began again with couples taking to the floor and audience too swinging in ecstasy to the loud music of the band. One Miss Lee was adjudged as Miss Allahabad by the judges and her picture was flashed the next day both in the Patrika and the Leader.

But the memories that I cherish the most are associated with the Elysium New Year Eve parties. ‘Kise yaad rakhun, kise bhool jaaoon’. That is how I feel, specially when I recall the Fancy Dress shows that were organized year after year on the occasion. In this connection three occasions rather personalities I can’t forget And two of them have now retired from Indian Administrative Service and one adorned the chair of a judge in the Supreme Court. I come to Markanday Katju first. He was a very enthusiastic participant in all club activities. He said, ‘I will come. Try and recognize me’. He did come, dressed as an Arab Sheikh. Of course he could be recognized. But what is unforgettable is the act he put on of the Arab mannerism, also not forgetting some notoriously lively comments which any Sheikh, used to luxurious living would make.. One New Year Eve came when Kumbh Mela preparations were on and the saints and sadhus had already started entering the city. Our New Year Eve guests were arriving. In the verandah was sitting a Sadhu on the ground with long hair, ‘Is he Jata Shankar’, remarked a member while entering the room. ‘Bachcha, bhagwan tumhara kalyan kare’, the Jata Shankar would say.. And Elysians would tell me, ‘Why have you allowed him here ? Send him in the back yard.’. When all members had come, in walked the Sadhu with some members scared. He sat confidently on the sofa, pulled off the ‘Jata’ from his head and lo and behold ! It was Vinod Vaish. You can imagine the cheers that followed. But the best is yet to come. There used to be a weekly ‘The Indian Observer’ which carried stories bordering on pornography and so it was very popular. All the sex scandals, real or imaginary, were featured in it. And in its question-answer column the editor would entertain the foulest of sex-related questions, accompanied by cartoons. The Editor was Durlabh Singh. He was on a visit to Allahabad. He some how learnt that I was a budding journalist. He wanted to meet me urgently. So he forced his way into the New Years Party when our fancy dress fun was on. Incidentally, Piyush Kanta Verma (IAS-Punjab cadre)had come dressed as a lady. It was a fantastic sight. He had put on a sari, lipstick, bangles and was made up excellently. He had a slim figure and that made his act a perfect one. He was showing his glamorous poses when in walked Durlabh Singh, the Editor of Indian Observer. He had a glass of whiskey in his hand. He looked at Piyush. ‘You pretty dame’ he approached ‘her’ putting his arm round her. He said, ‘If only my cameraman was around I would have taken your picture’. He left after meeting me and requesting me to contribute stories about Allahabad to his weekly. But as he left he did turn round to give a second look at Piyush, saying, ‘Very well made-up lad – I thought he was a lady not a lad’ and then with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, he said, ‘But what difference does it make ? They are all alike’. Today those young lads of the Elysium have become VIPs in their respective spheres. I read about Elysian Prabhu Dayal’s book on the Pakistan of Zia ul Haq’s days being discussed at a gathering in the Allahabad museum. Prabhu, who became an IFS (Indian Foreign Service) officer was a good debator. His ‘Guru’ in the field was another prominent Elysian—Rajeev Dhavan, till recently a senior advocate of Suprteme Court who hit the headlines by announcing that he would not practice anymore for reasons well known. Elysian Markanday Katju has retired as Supreme Court judge. And Elysian Yogendra Narain, former Secretary of Elysium, who is now in charge of the Delhi unit of the Club, retired as Secretary General of Rajya Sabha and has just released his latest book, ‘Born to serve: Power Games in Bureaucracy”

In the New Year Eve party we would also adjudge the best song of the year from the songs presented on the occasion. Very often K.L.Saigal’s songs were voted the best. But once the song that clicked was a romantic number written by Kavi Neeraj and featured in film ‘Nai umar ki nai fasal’ --- which is what the Elysians were. The song was, ‘Aj ki raat barri shokh barri natkhat hai, aaj to tere bina neend nahin aaye gi’. After the New Year cake was cut the Best Song was hummed again. And I remember when the members were leaving for their homes round 12.30 a.m. they were humming the song, loudly at times. And Arun Shukla (son of the then Commissioner J.D.Shukla) was the loudest. I could hear him hilariously singing it even when he had reached the far end of the compound where his driver was waiting for him.. To youngsters I would advise: Enjoy your self and enrich your memory bank with golden memories because tomorrow when you think of these days you will feel young all over again—as I do.

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