Remains of Palladium Cinema Hall, Lal Chowk, Srinagar. June, 2008. Burnt down in 1992.
I couldn't put my eye to the viewfinder. I didn't want to draw attention. I didn't want anyone to know that I was taking a picture. I was afraid. It seems stupid.
She came back from school that day and ran straight to her mother who was in the kitchen at the time, sitting next to a reluctantly burning stove. Mother was decongesting stove's snooty nozzle using one of those half-blackened-needle-tipped tools. There, it was fine now. Burning with that right gushing sound. It was quite a sight, but this didn't make Mother happy. It never did, even though it was a dangerous thing to do, even though Mother was good at doing this thing. She knew what would make Mother happy. The news. The good news. She was now bursting with excitement. It was just too good. One look at her, and Mother knew her daughter had something to say. So. She told Mother the news, in single breath, she told her what she saw that afternoon on her way back (it wasn't there in the morning) from the school: Poster of Rajesh Khanna's Roti on Palladium's hoarding wall. Finally it was here. They had heard the songs together on radio, they had hummed the songs - Naach Meri Bulbul Paisa Mile Ga, Gore Rang Pe Na Itna Gumaan Kar, Yeh Jo Public Hai Sab Jaanti Hai. And now the film was here. Mother walked into the hall, looked at the wall clock- they had time. They definitely had time. Mother offered her the afternoon meal, a plateful of hot rice, a thick Dal and some fried potatoes ( a treat just for her). 'Finish all of it.' While she ate, her mother got into a Sari. They were going to see the film, they were going to see Roti. There was no doubt about it from the beginning. She knew it would turn out this way, it always did. And as usual her big brothers won't get to come along. What fun! They were still at School. They would be there for another hour or so. When they come back and find the lock on the front door, as always, to get the key, they would go to aunt's house down the street. Boys didn't seem to mind it at all, ever. After all, they did get to see the films later with gang of friends and cousins. And Mother paid for it all. So it was fine. Till: They all made it back to the house by the time Father got back from office in the evening. It was their little secret. Something on the side. They always had time on their side. So, the mother-daughter duo saw Roti that afternoon at Palladium cinema.
Later at night, after dinner, Father, as usual, did ask them, "So, How was the film?" And he got the answer, in one voice, "Rajesh Khanna, Mumtaz, Song, Dance, Pahalgam. How do you think it could have been?"