The way we were
[dropcap]I [/dropcap]grew up in Kohima in the sixties. I can go on about the good old days because they were damn good. And how good it was to grow up in that period in Kohima.
The music scene was fun and upbeat, and we certainly did not lag behind where pop music was concerned. Though my father’s generation liked to listen to Pat Boone, Belafonte and the occasional jazz biggies like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, it was my uncles and their mates who brought the Beatles on to the scene with a big bang.
Back in the day, there was a town hall called the Ruby Cinema Hall. It was located in the heart of the town where the new NST is being constructed. (The geographical detail is for the benefit of those born after the demise of the hall.) They screened both Hindi and English movies, but keeping the audience in mind, they always had a surfeit of English movies. Ruby Cinema hall was also a multipurpose hall for the town’s growing population. Sometimes the ladies of the town would organize a flower show at the hall. Schools regularly used it for their Variety Entertainment programs where different schools like the Little Flower School, the Government High School, Baptist High School and National School would present songs, dances, skits and comedy items. I can recollect older cousins practising the steps of a Scottish dance, clad in their plaid skirts, and a band made of matching plaid material pinned across their white shirts.The same Ruby Cinema hall was the venue for rock concerts, which some of us were never allowed to attend as we were not old enough. But there were at least two happy occasions when I was in the company of older cousins, and got to watch one of the famed rock concerts. The band that sent the girls screaming was my uncles’ band, The Merry Makers. They played hits by The Monkees, The Beatles and maybe The Ventures. All this was very exciting and the musical quality was very good as well. My uncles rehearsed for many days before they played at concerts. They were four members: John Kire, Nicky Kire, Temjen Peter and Temjen Aier. They wore Beatle outfits with tight drainpipe pants and ankle boots. To my grandmother’s consternation, all of them insisted on wearing their hair long. One of their stage acts that I can never forget is this: In the middle of a song, two of the guitarists repositioned their guitars so that their instruments were on their backs. As the crowd gasped, they continued to play in perfect rhythm and went on to finish the song. I’d like to see young guitarists of today try that.
Back then, most music-loving households owned a gramophone that played Long play records and singles. We managed to buy most of the Beatles records and learnt the words of the songs so we could sing along while the gramophone played. My classmate’s brother Nobin Rai, ran a music shop in the seventies. On a dusty afternoon last December, I stood below the shop and scanned the area but could find no trace of it. Hope it’s only moved location and not gone bust.
The Ruby Cinema hall was bombed in 1973. That was a highly strategic bombing effectively cutting off the cultural life of a whole town. No other venue has been able to function as well as a center for public activities after the Ruby Cinema hall was wiped off the face of Kohima. Other halls sprung up, much more sophisticated and far better furnished, but none could be embraced by the public as the Ruby Cinema hall had been. I think it’s to do with our memories of the place. In the place of old memories of what a place used to be like, anything new that tries to replace it will fall short.
Kohima in the sixties was a swinging place in the nicest sense of the word. It was a cool place to grow up in: it was a small, safe place despite the raging political climate in the hills beyond it. I am grateful I had the privilege of growing up in that era.
We can’t roll the past back. I guess, at best, we can try to make the future a better place, by putting back those ingredients that worked. A culture of openness, good music, inter-school events and a continuous effort to embrace all that is beautiful and worthy of recommendation.