Today is Ganesh Chaturthi. A very happy Ganesh Chaturthi to all who celebrate. The evening was replete with devotional film songs wafting in from the various small temples around my place. The songs were not too loud and strangely, makes me nostalgic. I have heard them a hundred times before. It is the same old Tamil film songs, played on special occasions, which is about 100 in a given year, melodious and soothing.
The songs remind me of my village in Kerala. My childhood holidays in Kerala are memories with the background score of songs coming over loudspeakers through the dense rubber and coconut tree growth to our house. The songs signaled a “Talkie” or a village movie theater, which is the hub of activity in the evening in an agrarian community like ours. I never saw the Talkie. I had only heard about it. Sometimes I tried to go to the terrace to see it. But all I saw was a thick carpet of coconut canopies. Sometimes a smoke spiral signaled human habitation, a kallu shaap perhaps, but I never saw the talkie. Families like ours were not supposed to go to the talkies, even if the movies were good. As a kid I never understood this unwritten rule of an agrarian community.
Every week the posters at the small shops in the village changed. Many of them had an “A” written on them. I wondered what the "A" meant. The posters were usually white with outlines of women in what looked like towel wrapped around them. However many of the posters were of old Malayalam movies or flop films of superstars. A small theater I guess could not afford anything else. Whatever the movie, come evening the workers would excitedly gather around the well to wash and discuss going to the movies. I envied them and often asked my grandma and uncles and aunts why we couldn’t also go to the talkies. My grandma would snort and call out “Leelamme, look what your daughter wants to do”. My dad’s mother on the other hand, would chuckle and say that the movie theater was for very poor people and you had to sit on the mud floor and watch. She would then distract me with something. Both grandmas were poles apart as the families.
The talkies fascinated me. The music reverberating from them was soothing in the misty evening air. It could be heard when we were frolicking in the thodu too. And its invisibility gave it its aura of mystery. I imagined it be a Church fair kind of setting. From the kids of the ladies who worked in the house, I gathered that it was a fun place. From them I heard that watching “family” movies in a talkie was fun. Most of the people knew each other and the camaraderie made the movie more enjoyable. After the movies, sometimes the ladies too joined the men for some kallu. Moments of great contentment and satisfaction in the lives of these simple people.
I wish I could go to a talkie and watch a good movie, the kind women went to. It is still a mystery place for me. Maybe I will come back with all the myths in my head busted. Maybe not. But I know for a fact that it was a happy place for many people in the past and even today.