Mischief is Not Bad
Brigadier Jasbir Singh, SM narrates the many mischiefs during his days at the Rashtriya Indian Military College, Dehradun from 1962 to 1966 in his latest book Once Upon a Time in RIMC. Here’s an exclusive excerpt from the book:
After a couple of minutes, we were near Capri Cinema Hall. As we dismounted from the cycles, we could see the front of the hall was well lit. We kept in the shadows and saw that a number of people were milling around the steps at the entrance. We could not see any RIMC Masters at the entrance, so we knew the coast was clear. Fatty Grewal was given some money by Kajla and he cautiously entered the lobby to purchase the movie tickets, while we wheeled the cycles to the Cycle Park at the side of the hall. There was already a long line of cycles parked on their stands along the low wall that ran along the boundary and parallel to the tall building of the cinema hall. After parking our cycles and paying the Cycle Park owner a princely sum of Re 1 per cycle, we walked to the furthermost door and waited in the darkness. Soon, Fatty arrived with three small tickets of the lowest monetary value and handed us one ticket each. The tickets were made of small, green coloured limp paper with a corrugated edge.
As we had the cheapest tickets, we entered the hall from the door that was nearest the gently curved, 70 mm screen. The screen was made of thick, dirty-white coloured
plastic sheet with thousands of tiny perforations. The naked bulb above the door must have fused sometime back and the entire area was in a general state of semi-darkness. It seemed odd as we were the only people entering from the darkened door. We called the gatekeeper who was standing some distance away in a lighted area and smoking a bidi. He came up to us and we saw he was a middle-aged, scruffy man wearing a khaki cotton coat and frayed trousers that had once been a blue colour. He had a filthy, unkempt appearance, and mops of uncombed hair hung over his unshaven face.
What immediately caught my attention was the gatekeeper’s constant scratching on his trouser covered leg with great vengeance. Something was really troubling him, as his right hand worked its way between the knee and groin. He took our tickets with the left hand and sharply swung his head towards the hall to indicate that we could enter.
While we were walking inside the hall, I stopped and quite innocently asked the gatekeeper, ‘Kya seat number hai, hamara?’ At that, the surprised gatekeeper’s face cracked into
a crafty grin and he announced to no one in particular, in a loud rasping voice. ‘Kya seat number hai,’ looked us over and tried to imitate me, ‘Sabse agli wali line ki ticket kharidte ho aur sharam nahin aati puchhte hue ki seat number kya hai ?’
I felt a tight tug on my arm and realised Fatty was unceremoniously pulling me within the darkened hall. My conversation with the gatekeeper had ended as suddenly as it had begun.
The hall was nearly empty as we walked down a gentle slope to the row of chairs that were closest to the screen. The unclean hall was murky and it smelt heavily of stale bidi smoke, probably a left-over from the previous 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. show. As we walked to our seats, peanut shells crunched loudly under our shoes. We put down three, upturned seats, nearest to the door and sat down to enjoy the movie. To sit near the door was an instinctively motivated reaction, as it would allow us to
exit the hall rapidly, should the need arise. Once we had settled down on the hard seats covered with cheap, red coloured, rexine material, we had to make an effort to throw our heads back to be able to view the large screen that loomed just before us. Looking around us, I noticed two men were seated directly behind me and they were happily cracking and munching peanuts from a cone made of newspaper. The peanut shells were thrown down on the floor, to add to the filth. They were both totally bedraggled and wore dirty, crumpled, striped pyjamas. Their uncombed hair was literally standing on end. They both seemed to have come to the hall straight from bed! The one behind me lifted his bare feet to the back of my chair and an awful looking big toe was soon resting against my neck! Without looking back, I brushed his feet away with the back of my hand. Happily, he did not react to my angry gesture and there was silence. I did not want to start another altercation
after our recent run-in with the drunks!
Trailers of films that were to be screened in the hall were shown to us. Then, at around 9.30 p.m. the film April Fool began. The moment actress Saira Banu came on the screen, our striped pajama-clad neighbours let out a barrage of piercingly loud wolf whistles. Though the whistles had disturbed the peace and also annoyed us, we did not turn back to confront the groundnut-munching
revellers. The movie played on for more than an hour and we sat there thoroughly enjoying our outing. I distinctly recollect the song that went ‘April Fool banaya aur unko gussa aaya…’, when all of a sudden a whitish, transparent slide appeared on the screen, partially hiding the gyrating actress. Large black words splashed across the screen, ‘ALL RIMC CADETS WILL GET UP’, leaving us horrified!
We were stunned and did not move, till Fatty got up and yelled, ‘Run for it chaps, they know we’re here.’