Thursday, November 23, 2006

Home for 8

In the heart of Hazratganj, near Lawrence Terrace, is nestled a haven for the old. At the cottages of Dorothy Croswaite or DC home, live eight senior citizens who have found companionship, love and comfort in their new “home”. Since 1939, DC home has served as an old age home for Anglo Indians. “According to the constitution an Anglo Indian is only someone who can prove to have European blood from their father’s side” explains Mr. Lewis, President Dorothy Croswaite. He holds an honorary position at the home which provides services to it’s inmates free of cost.

At the gate stands Miss Barbara Williams in a grey jersey over her blue dress. She wears her mobile phone around her neck with its number pasted at the back, flashing a wide smile she shows you the number saying, “Oh, I tend to forget!” and offers you a seat in her parlor. The cottage is warm and there are photographs of her roommate’s sister and relatives, “My roommate Mrs. Robertson lost her sister this March, and so she moved into my cottage”, says Barbara. Miss Williams was a stenographer and lived at the YWCA, her father was a doctor in the army. “I lived on Canning road in the cantt, I wonder what its called now… I’d like it very much if I could see my old house again, but I read somewhere that the names have all changed!” she says.

Mrs. Robertson is readying herself for the Lamartinere girl’s concert, “We’ve been invited you see, and we’re waiting for the car to pick us up”, explains Mrs. Robertson. Her sister, Ms. Hickey was a matron at Lamartinere girls, the pictures show a luminous smile and a lady standing by a flowering bush, “She loved plants… all these are her’s. She had two lovebirds who fought like mad, we’d have feathers all over the place. I gave them away when she passed away,” says Mrs. Robertson who taught at a school in Lalbagh. She visits her “Punjabi friends” at Lalabagh every now and then. Miss Williams can’t read too well anymore but used to love her Mills and boons, she still has four lying on a desk. “Oh we spend our time watching Bold and Beautiful between 1-3 o’clock, I used to love watching Dynasty… but that’s all over now!” says Mrs. Robertson, with an eye on the gardener as he waters her sister’s precious potted mauve hibiscus.

Peeping from the parlor door is George G√ľnter; he smiles and goes very pink as he introduces one to his elder sister Sheila. “Georgie, is going to the concert today, I can’t go, I hurt my leg”, says Sheila, a little lady with a wide smile and twinkling eyes. She sits knitting herself a multicolored sleeveless jersey, in a big cane chair with her green walker parked faithfully close by her. George sits on the chair next to her, their two room cottage smells of fresh paint, a small shelf has pictures of Jesus Christ and a rosary while a dusty wind chime hangs at the doorway. “Christmas is around the corner! And I told my doctor I want to be walking around by the end of the month and I miss going to church too…” she says. George the smiling optimist adds, “And the doctor also said she’d be running in one month’s time if she eats her medicine!” They are regulars at playing the Times Tambola and Sheila won a perfume bottle last year, “This year I’ll send Georgie so he can win something”! Her brother brings a neatly folded question paper and asks who the new actor in Dhoom 2 is? He ticks Hrithick Roshan after much confabulation with his sister. The brother and sister duo had German parents, “My parents were first cousins and my father waited seven years to marry my mother!” laughs Sheila who constantly touches her short brown hair while talking about the places where she lived. “Ranchi and Calcutta, I loved Calcutta! And then I was at Bihar serving as a health assistant. My mother is 94 and still very energetic! She lives with my sister in Lamartinere, she hurt her hip too this year and is feeling better now though”.

George and Sheila spend their evenings flipping between ZEE TV and Sony TV, “we watch all the Hindi serials between 8:30 and 11:30. Kasauti, Saas bhi kabhi bahu thi, Kum Kum, ek ladki… all of them! That fellow in Kasauti is so wicked I tell you…” she carries on as George interrupts saying he likes Kum Kum the most and “Mummy likes Kahani Ghar Ghar ki”. He leaves with Mrs. Robertson and Miss Williams for Lamartinere while Sheila talks about how she is prone to crazy cravings, “One day at hospital, I wanted boiled eggs! And I ate boiled eggs all day” she laughs. Evidently in pain because of her leg she is particular about eating her medicine and calcium.

Miss. Myrtle Newman, the most elegant and eldest of the 8, has also spent 11 years at the home. She spends her time, “Meditating and being one with God”, her charm is such that you mistake her for the youngest of all the inmates. “I’m from Chennai, I was a personal secretary for the Board of Directors at prestigious business houses. One can’t work while at the home here, so I decided to have a look at the other side” says Miss. Myrtle. With a passion for music, she was a member of the Lucknow Christian choir, “I left this year but it’s been good fun…I studied music at Madras and was part of the Madras choir under the famous Handleman and even learnt how to read music and play the piano.” A nature lover, she spends her hours walking around the home and reading. “I have a passion for classical music, Beethoven, Mozart…Chopin…I still have cassettes”! says Myrtle.

Each inmate at the DC Home looks forward to December, it is during the Christmas season that children from schools such as Lamartinere boys and girls, Loreto, St. Theresa and St. Francis visit the home and celebrate Christmas. “The children bring us little gifts, lunches, jams, cakes… so much! They sing and dance with us, we have games… It’s all a lot of fun, I enjoy myself thoroughly in their company! And it is good that the children learn about old age as well…” feels Myrtle. Sheila misses her walks in and around Lucknow, “The streets are so busy, my two accidents this year make me feel so unsafe, I remember the time when we went Christmas shopping in Aminabad… I’m too scared now”! Mrs. Robertson remembers her sister’s poinsettias, the festive red Christmas flowers that adorned the little crib they made for Christmas every year. “The flowers died some days after my sister passed away… some remain, but I really need to take care of them” she says.

The common TV room with particular time slots for each cottage is a favorite part of the home, “Our lives here are busy in their own way” says Miss Williams. Other inmates Mrs. Wilson, Mr. Gnomes and Mr. John Perry spend their hours resting and reading or watching television. Mr. Lewis the President hopes to find a young Anglo Indian to take over charge from him, and a doctor for weekly visits to the home “No one has the time anymore, I understand… Eighty five year old aunty Molly, (Mrs. Molly Daniels) is the treasurer of the home, her entire life revolves around these cottages. My wife and her often drop in during the mornings and spend their day here at the home.” A home for those who don’t have a family member to take care of them or keep them, a place where the old find security and each other for company. A home that provides all 8 shelter and love.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Lahore to Lucknow...

The street is one of the busiest in Lucknow, where lunch hour and evening traffic jams are a given. You often notice the sign board, “AN John Hairdressers” in red, wondering how old the place really is… “1952”, says the gentleman behind the counter.

If you’re searching for a gray haired Anglo Indian hairdresser, there is no such man. Instead there is Amar Nath Bhardwaj’s nephew Suresh Kumar Attri, who laughs when you ask him, “Are you AN John?”

The Attris belonged to Kangra, their grandfather a vaid, would often ask Suresh’s father, Purshotaram to accompany him while he went to pick herbs, “My father was a free spirit, he’d ride about on his mare and was never interested in working. It was my uncle, Amar nath who had gone to London and to Paris to learn hairdressing”. It was on Suresh’s grandfather’s request that his uncle taught Purshotaram the business. “Uncle John was very fair and pink complexioned, he looked so European that his classmates began to call him John instead of Amar Nath!”says Suresh, who used to visit his uncle every summer vacation to learn the art of hairdressing.

After the course in London, Amar Nath set up a salon in Lahore. Suresh reads a passage from a Xeroxed page of Pran Neville’s “Lahore, A Sentimental Journey”.

“After a short stroll on the High Court lawns, we resume our tonga ride along the Mall. On our left we pass the shops of the famous hairdresser AN John, the optician Kirpa Ram, father of the well-known eye specialist Dr. Daulat Ram…My cousins show surprise that AN John a sahib, should be working as a barber. I explain that AN John is not an European. His name is Amar Nath; he learnt the art of hairdressing in England and added John to his name to attract European clients.”

“A regular customer, a sardarji, who works in ICICI Bank gave this to me,” Suresh says. An old customer, Dr. Manoj Singh reminisces his first haircut at AN John, “The salon wasn’t where it is today, it used to be at Royal Hotel, and I don’t remember the experience as much as the time when I walked into the salon”. Suresh quips that in 1952, his father had been working at his salon in Dehradoon when a prominent MLA asked him to come down to the capital instead. “We began to operate from Royal Hotel, but one of our customers of Kohli photographers, told us he was selling his old shop and moving into main Hazratganj, that is when we decided to shift here”.

The customers at AN John include Ms. Wilson a seventy year old lady who once owned Playway Academy, “She’s now at DC Home, an old age home but she still comes for her haircuts!” Others are Mrs. Ballard, the ex vice principal of Lamartinere Girls, Rani Kasbandha and the gentlemen are retired bureaucrats and ministers. “We are famous for our haircuts and hair coloring as well as eye makeup.There is a beauty parlor that my wife Meera runs upstairs”. Suresh’s brother intends to open another branch in Aliganj as well.

“Uncle John wasn’t an easy tutor! He used to rap us on our knuckles for each mistake made while cutting hair or trimming. I used to learn hairdressing from his salon on Park Street in Calcutta. After partition he had opened a salon in Shimla on Mall Road and subsequently moved to Park Street”, says Suresh. “ I wanted a break from haircutting and decided to join the restaurant business, I spent a year in Mumbai but nothing worked for me…and here I am”, he smiles.

Suresh’s daughter Anushree and son Siddhartha are uninterested in the business, “ My daughter wants to sit for her CAT this year and my son is still in 8th grade, my wife and I will continue to work here as long as we can,” declares Mr. Attari. The nomad hairdressers have found their home in Lucknow, AN John continues to style the beautiful people of Lucknow

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Giddy Up Lucknow!

The gentle thoroughbred standing in stable number 3 at the Lucknow Race Club is “Strides of Success”, a living legend. Of the ten races he’s run, he has won eight. In adjoining stables stand Royal Challenge, Magical Strides and Mad Minute. It’s that time of the year again. The races have begun.

The Lucknow Race Club is abuzz with activity. It’s gearing up for the most prestigious race this season, “The Army Commander’s Cup”. Strides of Success will be making history if he wins this race, “The only horse to win it twice” says his owner Kumail with a gleam in his eye. A love for horses runs strong in Kumail Yawar Hasan’s blood, “My mother is happiest when I’m working with horses. She doesn’t mind my erratic traveling because it’s all for a good cause”, says the proud owner of six thoroughbreds, which include Strides of Success. “He doesn’t even trot when he enters the track, its always a gallop,” says Kumail’s cousin Razaa who’s horse Royal Challenge is competing with Kumail’s Strides of Success and Magical Strides.

“This is going to be a long season, it began in October and will carry on till the first week of April”, declares Captain PS Thappa, the state manager. He is overlooking the arrangements for the Sunday race. Pottering around is the one eyed Ram Chandar Yadav, the longest serving employee at the Club. For forty years he has seen jockeys sit lined up on an old wooden bench, new horses in the stables, the mad rush at the bookies and the crowd at the stands. “I don’t remember names of horses or men who rode them, I’m just an uneducated man who has watched all the races in this club. I don’t bet!”, laughs the old man who remembers the days when the Club regularly hosted teams from Calcutta, Delhi, Jaipur and other cities. “There were female riders too, but never from Lucknow” he says.

Adjacent to the race track is an old mazaar, “This is Bade Mama ki mazaar, all the horses must do salaam at the mazaar before the race, this has been a tradition for over a hundred years”, says Ram Chandar who recollects how Balkrishnan, a young jockey died in a race the day the horses didn’t do their customary salaam.

The longest course in the country and the only one where races are run anti clockwise, this club comprises a Meeting Hall, Clock Tower, Scales Room, Jockey’s Room, Totalizator Building, Book Maker’s stalls and a Starter’s Bunglow. The Club was founded in 1883 and the first Civil Service Cup Race was run in February 1883. “A majority of the owners were Europeans, but a few Indians like HH Maharajah Kishore Singh, Nawab Khoorshaid Mirza and Kumar IC Singh took part in the races”, says Kumail who’s family has been involved with the Lucknow Race Club for over three generations.

“This season we’ll be seeing more thoroughbreds, we have about fourteen competing in all, we have even increased the track length from 1000 to 1200 metres as the thoroughbreds need longer distances”, says Captain Thappa. “There are two kinds of races held at a Race Club, the blue ribbon and the white ribbon. Blue ribbon races are sponsored events while the white are regular races. Each season has about 22-25 Sundays hence those many races,” says Brig. SK Khajuria President of the Lucknow Race Fund and Sub-Area Commander.

“The regular races are for local horses, taunga pullers, who fall in the pony category”, explains Captain Thappa.

“At last Sunday’s race, this mare overthrew a jockey and escaped. She almost ran into a train and was found in La martinere!” says a groom, showing a black mare with injuries. “She was lucky to survive… these injuries are nothing”, says another. The grooms have to be very alert at all times because locals often come to steal horse shoes. “The horse shoe of a black horse is considered most rare and is sold for large sums, people try to come and steal these shoes for black magic. Some even come and take away earth from the stables, we have to make sure no one comes anywhere near the horses”, says Rafiq, while feeding his master’s thoroughbreds a mixture of jawar and chana.

Every groom shares a special relationship with his ward, fifty eight year old Shyam Lal calls Strides of Success “My best friend”, and Strides seems to agree as he nibbles his groom’s arm. “This horse transforms on the track, he senses the excitement of a race…” says his owner Kumail.

18 year old Hashim Ali Khan has come specially from Bangalore to ride Strides for this race. The jockey weighs only fifty nine kgs and talks of racing in Delhi, “ After Lucknow, Delhi Race Club is my next destination” he grins. Hashim and Strides of Success’s arch rival for the Cup? Magical Strides and his jockey Mohammad Ismail.

“We will be seeing more races this season, since it’s much longer. Races to look forward to are President’s Cup, the VN Misra IPS Cup, the Kingfisher’s Cup, HT Cup, Vijay Mallaya’s Signature Cup and the Taj Cup amongst others”, says Kumail. The races are held every Sunday, generally between 11:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.