Aditi Nanavati

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                                    The ride back home

It was a cold, gloomy and sleepy winter’s morning. I was sitting on my chair staring at the clock on the wall behind professor Tayler and waiting for the bell to go off. All the students were silent, almost sleeping, but the cold and loud voice of professor Tayler kept our eyes open in the art history class.

Nobody knew what page was to be opened in that enormous book in front of us .All we could think of was a hot cup of tea and the painting class after lunch. [Well- not needed?] I doubt if any student ever paid attention in the class of art history. I wonder why that happened. It was not that we did not want to know about the grand masters of art from the past. Perhaps Prof. Tayler did not know how to draw the attention all 40 students on a winter morning when they’d rather sleep than attend some boring lecture.

The bell finally rang and even though our class was at the end of a long corridor this was one sound nobody could miss even if they were sleeping. Everyone sprang up in excitement and ran out of class. I picked up my books and headed to the painting studio. I had work to complete as I had missed several classes due to a throat infection. Lots of catching up to do.[had to be done?]

It was lunch time, I was starving and wanted to join my friends for lunch but a lot of work had to be done. So I rolled up my hair into a bun and stuck a no. 8 paint brush in it to make it stay. I could not find my tube of cerulean blue oil paint. Started looking all over for it I turned over all the contents of my bag onto the table and there it was, in the middle of a bundle of tube colours tied up with a rubber band.

I was giving my still life the first coat of paint and just as I sat down to catch a breathe[breath:]; all the other students walked in. I had not reached even half as far as they did[had] in the assignment. But I was not going to give up. I would do all it takes[took?] to finish the work today[ or you want to keep it in the present tense, to give a sense of immediacy?]. So I stayed after class and finished all my pending work.

Grabbed my paraphernalia and decided to go home by 5 pm. As I walked home I saw something that caught my eye. [I saw- not needed?]a stunning trench coat on the Simpson’s show window. It was in two colours (black and camel).Obviously I could not afford it, at least not right away.

Next morning as I was packing my bag the rubber band holding my oil paint tubes snapped. Several attempts later I finally tied the knot around the tubes with the broken rubber band. [Of course- not needed?] all that effort did not allow me to get dressed properly.[and] I had to run to the academy without even pinning up my hair in a bun.

I had to hurry and reach school in time because Prof. Tayler was a strict man. He did not like students coming in late and I sure did not want to miss anymore classes. I ran down the stairs of my house, almost tripping on my own dress. [Well- this word could come under 'not needed'- but am i styming a style of this character, maybe she speaks like this? i am not sure, you decide] it was a bad start to what I thought was going to be a bad day.

I finally reached the classroom with 45 seconds to spare. Approached my chair and sat down with a thud. I was exhausted. As I took a deep breathe to relax myself Prof. Tayler walked into class in his long black overcoat and began to announce the page number we were to open and start reading. He had forgotten to take off his coat in the staff room, I guess. He never wasted any time in small talk or any other kind of talk for that matter, besides art history.

We had to start reading about ancient Cretan pottery. My seat was near the window. The school building had big wooden windows adorned with stained glass and the view outside was magnificent. Obviously my mind began to wander. While the class read about ancient pottery I could only think about the trench coat I saw on the show window of Simpson’s at Piccadilly Circus.

I had really liked the coat but as usual not enough money to buy an expensive, tailor made trench coat. So all I could do is wait, for winter to get over and Simpson’s would hold their end of season sale where I could get it at a price I could afford.

History class always got me thinking of other things besides history .Today was no different. I began to plot and plan what I could possibly do to earn a few extra schillings. So I thought and thought some more. May be I could help Mrs. Smith, my neighbour with some cleaning around her house in return for some money, but she never really liked me much. I could also ask for some work around shops in Piccadilly Circus. I had done it before and may be they need some work done now too.

My planning went on for another hour and finally the bell rang, bringing me out of my day dreaming. All the students made their way to the studio where a model was supposed to be waiting for us. Everybody rushed to the studio as they wanted the best seats. But the model was not coming due to a broken leg.[ someone told us she had broken her leg- instead?]

We were given some homework and left for the day. So I thought about making a short visit to Piccadilly Circus and enquiring at a few shops. When I reached there I first decided to go to the shop where I had painted the entrance door for them 4 months ago. I recognized the red door from a distance. It was the office of a weekly newspaper called Bioscope cine- weekly.

The red door brought back memories. I was in need of some money that time too. I wanted to buy a lovely lilac dress for the New Year ball in December. I was a few pounds short so I decided to work for it. I cleaned my neighbour’s front garden for her; I also painted the red door and a couple of signboards on Piccadilly Circus. I put together some money and went to the New Year ball in my lovely lilac dress and matching shoes.

I took a deep breathe before I entered and hoped they wanted me to help them with something. As I pushed the door open, the bell on top rang alerting Mr. Woodruff there was a visitor. He got up from his chair, adjusting his glasses that had slipped lower down his nose. I guess he was taking a quick afternoon nap. He was probably 60 years old and got wrinkles around his eyes when he smiled. He said to me in his gruffy old voice: “Yes my dear, how can I help you”. I went up to him and bent over the counter, as I knew he was a little hard of hearing. I asked him if he remembered me. He frowned and lowered his glasses to take a better look at me. He then gave me a pleasant smile and said “Aah yes, yes of course dear. You are the art student from the academy aren’t you”? “Yes sir I am” I smiled and said to him. He greeted me and told me how everyone loved the colour of the door. He thought it added character to the place. I had to say I could not agree more.

It did add character to a dusty little shop which was dark and humid inside. There were three chairs on the left side by the window. There were piles of newspapers covered with dust. It looked like nobody had looked at them for a long time. In front was the counter with a tiny door at one end for staff to get in and out. There were rooms at the back but I didn’t know what they were for. Behind the counter always sat Mr. Woodruff with his olive green jacket which must have been very old as the brown elbow patches had almost completely worn out. I had to convince them to let me paint the door red [as- not needed] they [had] wanted a white door, they thought red was too bright a colour.

I asked[told?] him that I was looking for some work and if he had any cleaning of filing to do, I would be pleased to help him out. He gave me a sweet smile and nodded his head. He asked me to wait one minute and disappeared into one of the rooms at the back. He came out with a board in his hand, gave it to me and asked me to re-paint the board in some bright colours. I was so pleased I had work to do so I grabbed the paint cans and brushes and got to work instantly.

I completed the sign board in two hours; Mr. Woodruff was pleased with the outcome. He asked me to come [the next day?] tomorrow and paint two more signboards and he would pay me [then?]tomorrow. I thanked him and made my way home.

Next day after school I went to Piccadilly Circus to the Bioscope cine weekly office. I was excited I was going to get the money [today- not needed]. Before I pushed the door open I saw [that]the signboard I had painted was kept outside by the door. Well I could proudly say the sign board looked very attractive and hard to miss. I entered the office and saw a man standing at the counter. Though he was dressed in a suit, I could recognize an Indian anywhere [I go- not needed. or it could be - anywhere i went]. Seeing him instantly brought a smile to my face. I went over to take a better look at him. He heard me come in so he turned around and looked at me. He did not smile at all. There was a cold and serious look on his face. My smile slowly died too. Mr. Woodruff was not to be seen. There was a Mr. Cabourne behind the counter who informed me that Mr. Woodruff was on his way and asked me to take a seat and wait for him.

I closely observed the Indian man standing there. I was so tempted to go up to him and ask him if he was from India but he looked tensed so I decided to wait and watch. He was filling in a form which I think was a subscription form for the Bioscope cine-weekly newspaper. I grabbed a paper from the pile and started to read it. It was a new paper called the Cinema news and property gazette which had just started that month (February).

I did not have much knowledge about films but as an art student I was sure interested in knowing about this new and upcoming area of art. I had watched a couple of films myself in school. Prof. Poynter, our president, always kept the academy up to date with the latest in technology and books. They had recently purchased a film projector and had shown us a couple of short films.

As I was going through the newspaper I overheard the conversation between Mr. Cabourne and the Indian gentleman. He introduced himself as Mr. Phalke from India. I instantly looked up at him as I heard that. Mr. Cabourne looked at me and said; “young lady aren’t you Indian as well”. That’s when Mr. Phalke decided to give me a little smile and say hello. I was waiting for this opportunity and went up to him and introduced myself.

His serious face suddenly changed to a friendly, happy face as I told him I studied art in the [R]royal academy of art here in Piccadilly. He told me he was also an artist and he had studied in a college in Bombay, that’s where he was from. He was about to say something but was interrupted by Mr. Cabourne who started showing him some old papers and cut outs and was for some reason telling him that film making was a bad career option.

He was pointing out that a number of producers even in England were not successful at film production. Soon enough he realized Mr. Phalke’s will and determination, which was evident from his firm tone and surprisingly detailed knowledge on film making and cameras. That is when he actually stopped talking him out of film making and helped him find as much information as he could on films and all its related subjects.

Mr. Cabourne left the room for a couple of minutes and went into the back room. I thought this was my chance to talk to Mr. Phalke. To my surprise he started speaking to me first. He was a middle aged man who wanted to start making films. I thought to myself that a man his age should be soon thinking of retirement but [tehre he was]here he is strong and determined thinking of making a film. “The film was not just any film” he said “it was the first film to be ever made in India”.

He said that with so much pride, it made me feel proud of just sitting next to him in the same room. What was even more flattering was that he was actually interested in talking to me about my work. I asked him what the movie was going to be about. To that he said that it was going to be about a tale from the Indian mythology as he wanted the whole of India to connect with the movie.

Mr. Cabourne was taking a lot more time than he said he was, so we got talking. He asked me all about my art school. I told him he was most welcome to come and see the academy whenever he was free. At that he mentioned he did not have much time [here- not needed] in London. He was here to buy a new camera and also take a look at some printing machines. I told him I knew a couple of stores that sold camera and other equipment related to film making in Mayfair which was north of Piccadilly. He thanked me for the valuable information.

Mr. Cabourne came back from the room with a couple of leaflets and booklets and spread them all out on the table. He asked Mr. Phalke to go through a couple of the catalogues which would definitely help him find some good deal on cameras and other things. As Mr. Phalke got busy looking at the catalogues Mr. Cabourne looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and asked me to do him a favour. Since he could not leave the office unattended he requested me to go with Mr. Phalke and show him all the stores. I was still thinking when he added that I was going to be paid if I did this little work for him. Now the twinkle was in my eye. I could not refuse such a lovely offer. I would be spending time with this great man and also make the money I wanted.

Mr. Cabourne gave me a brief on all the places I had to take him to. I followed his directions religiously. We walked out of the office and I told him I had painted the door and the signboard for them. He gave me a smile and tapped me on my head. He said I reminded him of his children back home. The walk was long but the company was so interesting I did not know when we reached the camera store.

Now I dint [didn't] think Mr. Phalke was interested in my childish talks. He again had a serious look on his face and started to enquire about the new Williamson camera. I took the opportunity to read a piece of paper which was pinned up on a board in the shop. It had the picture of a camera on it and it explained how a basic camera worked and what would be the things to look for while purchasing a camera. That was an interesting piece of information. That’s when I realised the limited knowledge I had about things in this world. Here [ was a ]there is a man who has [had]travelled thousands of kilometres from his home and family, does not have a lot of money but what he has is a dream and the determination to make his dream come to life.

On our way to the shop I asked him if he knew my father and he said he had heard of him. My father was a famous Barrister. I very naively asked him if he was going to send his children here to study and offered to let them stay with me. He smiled and said; “No dear, I cannot afford to send my kids here. I cannot afford a lot of luxuries for them and they seem to understand my problem so well”. He had a sad smile on his face. “They never complain or ask for much”. I suddenly felt so helpless and strange inside. I saw the sorrow on a helpless father’s face. I did not know what to say to him to make him feel better but I decided to say something even if it was lame.

“Now that you will buy your new camera and printing machine and make the first ever Indian film you will be famous and have lots of money. Then you can give them everything they want”. He tilted his head to one side and said “Yes dear I too hope that I can make this Film, it has been my dream”. All I could do is nod and admire a man who was strong, focused and determined. He was so clear in his mind and in his speech.

Somewhere deep down I got this feeling, [that I was] I am standing in the company of someone great. His personality was so great and something about him screamed out that he was going to be great someday.[ too many 'greats'- or if that IS what she feels, that is fine]. I was too young to make a judgement like that but this time I just knew I was right.

He was talking to the store owner for over an hour and I had to be home soon. So I went up to him and asked him if I could leave and if he would find his way back to Piccadilly Circus. He seemed comfortable with the idea of finding his way home. So I told him I would meet him the next afternoon outside the Bioscope office. He nodded in confirmation and waved goodbye.

As I left the store I was thinking about Mr. Phalke all along. I was wondering if I had any passion, any determination in my life. Was I just wasting my time or was I actually doing something that I truly love[d]. All these questions came into my head one after the other. I had never asked these things to[of] myself. Then again I never felt the need to ask myself questions because I always thought I wanted to paint. How would I know if what I [was]am thinking [was]is right or wrong? Was I even sure of what I felt about the smallest things in life like may be, what was my favourite colour or what was my favourite food or may be something more serious like, my future in London as an artist.

I came to a road crossing and my mind came out of that whole thought process. I suddenly felt like an alien in a place I’ve lived in for so long. I felt alone as I walked down that crowded street. I wished I had not met this man today. Why did he bring these thoughts to my mind? Even though he spoke less about his work, his passion reflected in his actions. He must be a disciplined and principled man who knew what he wanted.

The talk we had on our way to the camera store was playing through my head and I realised that he too was an ordinary man probably in his early forties. He once worked as an artist and earned a living like that. [then he had watched]Now he watched a movie one night and became keenly interested in the process of film making. He must have been confused too. He too must have asked himself questions. May be he even had the same thoughts I [was]am having at [that]this very moment. I was almost certain he went through the same emotions that I was starting to feel very strongly.

I soon reached home with these thoughts still racing into my head. I knew I had a long day [ahead]tomorrow so I swallowed supper and went up to sleep. I was hoping those thoughts would leave me alone [once i slept off?]as I tried to sleep. I had never felt so insecure and unsure of things in my life, especially my own actions. My mother always told me I would learn the value of my decisions much after I made them. She warned me that I would certainly make few right decisions and a few will[would] be wrong. But it’s the process that I must always cherish and remember as that would be my biggest lesson in life. To learn from my own mistakes and finally I would know how the game is played. With that thought and my mother’s sweet face in my mind I went to bed.

Next day was a pleasant sunny day. I finished school early and walked as fast as I could, to the Bioscope office. I learned that Mr. Cabourne was out with Mr. Phalke all morning to buy him a new camera. They were expected anytime. Mr. Woodruff asked me if I would like to complete that signboard I promised him. I nodded and took the board and got to work. I was all done in an hour and the timing could not have been better. Mr. Phalke walked into the office. He seemed like a very happy man today. I looked at him and said; “so I guess you found everything you were looking for”. He nodded and confirmed that indeed he had found everything and thanked me for making the signboard which caught his eye and made him come into the office that day. I felt so good that I was kind of responsible for a part of his happiness. I asked him what he [had done]did today that made him so happy. In response to that he patted Mr. Cabourne’s back and said; “It’s because of this man’s knowledge and help that I’ve got almost everything I need from London”. He placed his order for the new Williamson’s camera and ordered for a new printing machine and a new perforating machine. Now tomorrow he was going to buy some raw negative film and some other small raw materials. Further he said Mr. Cabourne was going to introduce Mr. Phalke to Cecil Hepworth, a prominent film producer at Walton. Mr. Hepworth was going to allow him to see all departments of film-making, help Phalke to shoot some footage with his new camera and see the results. Mr. Hepworth had offered him a short practical course of a week at filmmaking, the shortest on record.

I think [thought that now]now he would get all the knowledge he needs[needed] to make a complete film back in India. I did not know much about India as I left it to come to London when I was very young. I went to school in London too due to which I had almost no knowledge about my own country. I was ashamed to tell people I had never heard the Ramayana or the Mahabharata. Sometimes in the class of art history I know [ knew] everything about impressionism and cubism and Pablo Picasso etc. but when Mr. Phalke asked me if I had heard of Raja Ravi Verma, I did not know what to say. I was ashamed I did not know such a famous artist from India. He carried a small card in his pocket which had a painting of Raja Ravi Verma on it. It was breathe takingly realistic.

That’s when I decided it was high time for me to get to know my country. I thought that if someday I would have children of my own and would not be able to tell them anything about there own country because I myself dint know much.[,] That would be very shameful. So I decided to read about India from the school library.

On my way home I borrowed a few books from my school library. Mr. Phalke was too excited to talk or ask any questions to[pose any questions to/ask any questions of]. So I decided to leave him alone for [that day]today. I carried all the books back home. [the next sentence in brackets- it is like a afterthought to the previous sentence].There were books on India piled up in one corner in the library. Most of them were about the culture and traditions in India. Some looked like fairy tales but then I thought [those]they must be the books on Indian mythology. Mythology, I remember, is a very essential part of all religions in India. They believed that there were gods for everything. But this was a common belief in several countries in Europe as well. Then I started making associations and finding common factors between the gods worshipped in the west and gods from my own country.

It was such a good experience, looking at those books and reading so much about the colourful country that was India. I was [now] saddened by the thought that the British ruled over my country now. It was as if I had this war starting inside me. I loved living in London but I had the sudden want to go back to my country and live with my people. I guess it’s true what people say about the attachment with one’s motherland. I don’t think it ever goes away.

It is surprising how a short meeting with a man at a small office somewhere [could]can stir up a storm of emotions in me. I felt the need to know more, more about India. May be I would go back and visit my people back in India this year. I was lost in these thoughts for days. One day I made my way to school after several sleepless nights. I did not see the man standing near the school gate and just walked ahead. He called out to me. I turned back and saw Mr. Phalke standing by my school gate waiting for me. I had not seen him for a few days. He looked as happy as he was when I last met him. He informed me that he was sailing to India tomorrow evening by the 9pm ship. To that I asked him if he had found everything he wanted from here. He said he found everything that he wanted here and more. “And more, Mr. Phalke” I asked him. “Call me dada” he said “yes dear, I made some great friends”, saying that he kept his hand on my head and smiled. I told him it was a great honour for me to have met him and I hoped he made the film he always wanted to.

He said he was full of confidence now after taking the short film course. He was going to make full use of all equipment and make the first film in Indian history. I was filled with pride as he said those words.I mentioned that once the movie is made, he should come back here and showcase it in theatres here too. I told him I would come to India and meet him someday. He was happy to hear that. As I looked at him I wanted to tell him the thoughts I had been having these past few days. But to me he was such a great man and I was not willing to risk my reputation as a smart and talented young girl and have him think of me as a confused and lost kid.

He asked me to take him around my school if I had the time. I had exactly 15 minutes before the class started. So I told him it would have to be a short visit. But I could introduce him to a Professor so they could exchange some valuable knowledge with each other. He did not seem too keen on the idea. I guess he had just come by to bid me farewell. I told him I would come by the Bioscope office later tomorrow and [come- not needed] see him off. He seemed pleased with the idea. He turned around and walked away as I hurried to my classroom.

The next day I was eager to finish school and go [to- not needed] meet Dada at Piccadilly Circus. Once the bell rang, I ran out of the class and did not stop running till I reached the Bioscope office. Mr. Woodruff was just closing the office door. I ran up to him and asked him where Mr. Phalke was? He told me he was asking for me and was going to wait for me at the passenger terminal. It would take me a lot of time to get there. I had to hurry if I wanted to talk to him or else I would have to just wave at him as he would already have got on the ship.

As I was thinking of how to get to the terminal on time, “come on in dear”, Mr. Woodruff said to me from a horse carriage. I smiled and jumped in. He told me that Dada [ had spoken] spoke very nice things about me. I never thought I could have possibly made any kind of impression on a man like him. Mr. Woodruff said that he (phalke) had spoken about me all morning. He told him how I had hundreds of questions on my mind; how I longed to know about my country and its people and most of all how helpful I was to him in his time of need.

All these compliments brought a smile to my face. In my heart I truly hoped he would be great film maker and some day when I go to see a film in the theatre in London I read his name on the screen. That feeling would be completely overwhelming. We reached the passenger terminal and I jumped off the carriage before it even stopped. I knew we were late and we had already missed him by a few minutes. I looked up as the passengers climbed up, looking for Dada amongst the crowd. Mr. Woodruff was waving out to somebody. It was dada standing out on the deck and waving out to us. That moment brought tears to my eyes and I missed my parents and my relatives back home. For the first time I had forgotten the strong and independent woman my father had sent me here to be and was taken over by emotions and weakness. I wanted to run to the ship and go back home with dada. Nobody would notice a tiny little girl getting in amongst this crowd.

I let myself get carried away for a while and then came back to my old self. I knew I had to complete my education and be something. I sure wanted to be well known someday. I did not have a dream but if I had even half the determination [that]as dada did, may be I can survive. I can fulfill my dreams and return to my country proud and content. I did not want to be a filmmaker but I did know I was talented and in sometime things would sort out by themselves and I would know exactly what I want[ed] out of life. I tide[tied] a knot on my handkerchief that day. I swore[i'd] id be something and make a difference. I did not know how or when all this could be done but I was ready for all the challenges to come.

As I waved dada goodbye all I wanted him to know was how deeply he[had] touched my heart and my soul. Without giving me a lecture on self improvement, just his company for a few moments gave birth to a new me, a me I could not wait to discover. And when I looked at him for the last time, he kept his hand on his heart and then waved goodbye. It was as if he was telling me he knew exactly what I was trying to tell him. A tear rolled down my eye as I walked away and sat in the carriage once again, ready for the ride back home.


By:- Aditi Nanavati

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