October 24, 2009

Robin's fond remembrances

ROBIN PARRIE has great memories of the Railway Institute to share with us, which first appeared on the ANGLO INDIAN PORTAL. He calls it the Anglo-Indian Institute and for good reason too, for there were, in each railway town, two such institutes, one for the Anglos, the other for Indians. John Masters has something interesting to tell us about what the Indians did with theirs, but more of this at a later time.

"Yes, I remember it well! The Anglo-Indian Institute. Every Railway Colony had one. Where Snooker was invented and of course the world famous "Wooden Spoon Award" has to be the right name to evoke the latent (railway) childhood memories of a dispersed community. The mounted antlers and tiger heads hung between every shuttered window of the dance hall. The French-chalk skid marks on the highly polished floor, left behind by a dance floor show-off from the previous nights Michaelmas Ball. "Can't dance, merci beaucoup".

The badly ventilated 'choky-always-smoky', dark as night, billiard room (pictured above), with white light focused only on the emerald green felt surface, where Ronnie Holmes's dad and mine would play till dawn...

The verandah, curtained by wet cuscus mats to keep us cool on Fahrenheit-days, often hid the ice candy man taking a last lick before puffing his bidi and making a sale! I can still hear him shout, "Ice man mom" Ice cream...cola candy...ice"!

The 'never-used-for-it's-purpose' Institute office, home of the watchman where he kept his ragged smelly (engine-oil) bedding in one corner with his lathi, and higher upon the wall hung his large handled chipped enameled coffee mug on a huge railtrack-sleeper nail...

The dry, parched earth, wire fenced compound, massively littered with trodden fragments of Cheetah-fight matchbox labels, Charminar cigarette packs, fragments of Tombola tickets discarded in disappointment by some star-struck fireman, Ganesh bede wrappers, bone dry straw-like remains of well chewed sugarcane, a warped dehydrated 'polly' mango seed or two, moulting feathers from the pigeons living in the school belfry next door, and a neat column of red ants wending their way through the touch-me-nots, to their daily scrummage in the canteen bin. .The pitch-black silent night sky, contrasting a million twinkling specs of light reaching out to you as you gazed into the firmament from your easy-chair. It's so quiet you can almost hear that shooting star, or if you closed your eyes I swear you could hear your blood flow! Have never ever experienced that again.

The red-eye nights, sitting out on the verandah waiting for someone to shout "HOUSE" and win the "Bonanza" the top "housey-housey" (Bingo) prize so we can all go home to bed. "Alone by itself, number one" . . . "Two little ducks, twenty-two" . . . "All the one's, legs eleven" . . . "Keep your thoughts pure, sixty-nine" . . .!! It went on-'n'-on-'n'-on. Even tall tumblers of ice-cold ginger beer from Spencers, served with some elegance by a Nehru-suited, turbaned waiter with a freshly starched serviette folded neatly over his arm, couldn't keep us from dozing off!

So-long. See you in school after the hols.

Oh, yeah! I remember it well."