“Guchchi” is a popular Marathi word for “Terrace”. The terrace has played an important role in my life, often fuelling my imagination and creativity. The idea of sleeping on the terrace - flat on one’s back and looking at the never ending blue sky continues to excite me. Many creative ideas have emerged on the terrace, including ideas for this column that Moneylife carries every Friday.
The terrace served many purposes. In two of the flats that I have lived in, the terrace was just a jump away, since both flats were located on the upper most floors. Terraces are used for social gathering among residents. In some buildings, terraces also served as a cheaper venue for arranging a wedding reception. There were sports activities planned on the terrace and winning the races felt like winning an Oscar. Children in the building congregated on the terrace to rehearse plays that they staged during social get-togethers and also on special occasions like Raksha Bandhan, Diwali, Holi and Ganesh Chaturthi.
Playing Holi on the terrace was filled with fun and laughter and we often lost track of time. We would also delight in throwing balloons filled with water on unsuspecting passers-by down the road. The puzzled look on their faces when they could not locate the miscreants was worth a Kodak moment to be captured on the camera. The Kodak camera that I got as a gift for obtaining good marks in my Class X exams gave me an outlet to venture into amateurish photography.
I have always loved terraces and I still do. The difference is that there were no MP3 players then, but mercifully, we had pocket radios. I would climb on to the water tank and sit there comfortably, immersed in looking at the stars in the sky. My mind would often recall the nursery rhyme – Twinkle Twinkle Little Star; How I wonder what you are…
The terrace has also played a crucial role in my success in various examinations. I would leave for the terrace at 5.30am – just at the onset of dawn and I would return home only by 9am. In between, my mother would fetch me a cup of coffee. The time between 4.30pm to 7pm in the evenings was ideal for studying in solitude on the terrace. Walking along the breadth and length of the terrace, one could see other students studying on their terraces and it was a great morale booster.
The expansiveness of the terrace was so inviting that visiting the terrace at least once a day became an addictive habit in later years. In South India, it is quite common for families to have “nilachoru” (the dinner that is had in the presence of full moon). That was also the time for engaging children with folk tales.
Terraces have found an important space in Bollywood movies too. Who can forget hit songs like ‘Bagon Mein Bahar Hai” (Aaradhana, 1969) or “Dil Ki Kitab Kori Hai” (Yaar Mera, 1972) or “Maine ne kaha phoolon se” (Mili, 1975) that were shot on a terrace? Sanjay Leela Bhansali showed the excitement of flying kites from the terrace (Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, 1999) and the title song of the super-hit tear jerker "Khilona” (1970) was also shot on a terrace. In the movie Anjali (1989) Mani Ratnam showed the puppy love between a boy and a girl from the neighbourhood.
Hrishikesh Mukherjee had Rekha plan a secret music fest on the terrace (Khoobsurat, 1980) when the stern lady of the house was away (the song “Piya Baaware” that featured Rekha, Ashok Kumar, Shashikala and Komal Mahuvakar). The terrace has also been used to portray gloomy, sombre and morbid images in films like “Dayra” (1953). In “Pyaasa” (1957), Guru Dutt used it to show the pent-up and repressed emotions of the poet and the street walker in the song – “Aaj sajan mohe ang laga lo”. I recall one more song in “Delhi 6” that was shot on the terrace – but cannot recollect the wordings of the lyrics. Can someone help?
When I visited Chennai in the summer of 2007, I realised that residents of this city spent their nights on their huge terraces due to the terrible humidity inside their homes. The claustrophobic pint sized flats seldom provided any respite from the heat. The gentle breeze on a warm night in the terrace is too hard to resist. Just plug into your MP3 player and take a stroll on the terrace – I am sure that you will love it.
I take this opportunity to also express my long suppressed guilt about something else. Terraces hotspots for women in the building to dry home made fryums and papads during summer. Children in our building had this bad habit of sneaking to the terrace when no one noticed to taste the damp, unfried papads on the terrace. The taste was so good that it was hard to resist having one's fill. The poor women would blame the crows for having swiped the wet papads put out to dry.
I am sure the practice of taking evening strolls on the terrace continues in Mumbai. The cluster of buildings around us provided a clear glimpse of the neighbourhood that we lived in. A splendid view of the mountains around Film City in the mornings and noons and an aerial view of the Lokhandwala complex of buildings was a pleasure to behold. I recall how I had jumped from the top of a water tank to the terrace floor, underestimating the distance between the two. The result was a sprained leg that I dared not inform my parents about, for fear of getting spanked.
One of my aunts lived in a palatial home near Rupam Cinema in Sion. Her garden terrace was so beautiful that even thinking of it continues to energise and excite me. Watching the sunrise in the morning is as exhilarating as that of the sun set at dusk. Viewing a profusion of lights in the darkness of the night is so calming. If only there were mild showers or a drizzle to add to the effect!
The ideal setting of a romantic film songs, if I have left out any memorable songs shot on a terrace, do write and fill the gap!
(Venkatesh Ganapathy is at present pursuing his doctoral research in supply chain management from Alliance University, Bangalore. He is a freelance writer and an avid blogger. In this column, he shares the memories of his childhood in the ‘70s