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BEATING RETREAT

Beating Retreat is a spectacular display of military bands with a greater variety of colourful Indian regiments than we could possibly see in Britain. This event takes place one evening during the week of Republic Day celebrations and like the folk festival, photographers are invited to the morning dress rehearsals.
The setting is superb. The bands, like all major parades, march from the domed President’s Palace, over the vista, dropping down to the vast Parliament Square between the twin architectural secretariat buildings. The entrance to Rajpath is cordoned off and the audience view from three sides of the square.
Towards the end of the display, every drummer of each contingent parades in front of the conductor to beat the retreat. A bugler, high up in the secretariat dome completes the ceremony by playing the last post, so timed that the final notes fill the square as the sun sets and the lights are switched on, outlining every dome and tower in the vicinity.
Back home in England I was able to make a colourful record of all three Republic Day festivals worthy of showing to the public.




REPUBLIC DAY CELEBRATIONS

India was once ruled by Britain, well known for its spectacular pageantry.which the modern India has inherited. Republic Day is celebrated throughout India for a week of splendid displays, especially in Delhi.
On 26th January the celebrations start with a glorious parade. The procession starts at the President’s Palace, climbs over the vista between the twin secretariat buildings and across Parliament Square. It continues down the mile long Rajpath and through the impressive India Gate. From there it turns off on the road to Old Delhi for a five mile long route of continuous gaiety.
All three services, army, navy and airforce, including the camel corp and skiing brigrade in colourful regalia, lead the parade. These are followed by national services such as nurses and boy scouts, then many school children dancing and performing continuously along the route. Finally we have the fun brigade with decorated elephants and floats. Forty five minutes of pleasure for all.
Peter was a member of the UK High Commission camera club which issued press tickets for the parade. We had positions high up on scaffolding with a wonderful view of everything. With my fixed lens cine camera, telephoto screw on lens and needing to change reels every 25 feet, I missed some of the parade.
The following year I was able to fill in the gaps from different positions and angles by following the parade on foot. After home editing I had a cohesive record of the Republic Day parade. fir for a public audience.

NAINI TAL

Naini Tal at 6000 feet above sea level, was one of a chain of 14 lakes. The far side of this long lake was a sheer mountain slope of trees with a few luxurious houses dotting the hillside like Christmas berries. The town of Naini Tal with the main shopping area at the lake head, covered the lower flat shore.
The lake had a yachting club with their boats sailing majestically up and down the length. The peaceful setting was often broken by the raucous honking of large flocks of geese.
Our hotel ooked down on the lake from the head. At night we sat on the verandah looking up at the sky twinkling with millions of stars which seemed so bright and almost within touch. We enjoyed a fascinating display of shooting stars.
On top of the hill behind the town a white flag would be flown only when the Himalayan snow-capped mountains were visible through the clouds of mist. Early morning was the best time to see the mountains clearly.
We hired horses to take us up to the viewing platform. Our two boys loved it but at the top I sent my steed back. I was never going to be a horse rider. As we climbed upwards through the trees the silver haired langur monkeys with black faces and long tails, looked down on us with disdain.
From Snow View we had the most spectacular 150 mile wide panoramic view of the mighty Himalayan range of snow-capped peaks barely 60 miles away as the crow flies, rising over a blanket of tree tops. Only one day a year was it possible to see Everest but not on that day.
By now I had acquired a tele-photo lens to screw on to my cine camera. I was so mesmerised by the breath-taking scene I couldn’t stop filming. Sad to say that when it came to editing back home in Crawley I had to discard all but the best of these shots.

ANOTHER HIMALAYAN HOLIDAY

During our second year in Delhi (1961) we chose Naini Tal for our annual holiday in the cooler Himalayas. Whereas our journey last year to Mussoorie was hair raising, this year it proved quite hilarious with plenty of opportunities for filming.
To travel from Delhi to Naini Tal you first have to cross the mighty River Ganges with several miles of swamps on either side. This 13 mile journey took three hours by train.
You drive your car onto the open trucks then the steam engine pulls the whole train out of the siding and backs it into the station just to pick up a brakes van. By this time more cars have arrived, so you are shunted back again into the siding and the whole procedure is repeated again and again. With only three trains a day, no doubt the latecomers appreciate this consideration. After all, it’s not their fault they were late. It is nothing unusual usual to wait half an hour at a level crossing or negotiate road works which often take up the full width of the road at once with no alternative route. At the end of your journey the engine is shunted to the end of the train so you are pulled out of the station and shunted into a siding before you can continue on your way.
After the train, you are back on the road with another long delay caused this time when one single lane bridge across a river serves both two-way trains and road traffic. They don’t open the gates if another train is due later. You just wait up to an hour even if the temperature is 118º in the full sun at midday. The stench is appalling too with wild pigs and other animals roaming around.
To reach Naini Tal from the plains you climb 22 miles of corkscrew road. Like all hill stations, there is no motor traffic allowed through the town. Our car was stopped at the boundary and we and our luggage were taken to our hotel by cycle rickshaws along the flat road round the lake.

MUSSOORIE

We arrived in Mussoorie, 6000 feet above sea level, after an ever harrowing road from Delhi. We first noticed that every building. Including first class hotels, had unsightly corrugated roofs. Our wake-up call came at dawn when the hefty mountain monkeys landed on the roof.
Next day we went out to explore our summer retreat. The temperature was like a pleasant summer day in England and welcomed after the sweltering highs in Delhi. The one narrow road had been carved out of the hillside and the main shopping area boasted of nothing more elaborate than open shacks.
Motor traffic was forbidden, except for the doctor’s car. Everything had to be carried in huge crates strapped to the head and back of porters. Children started work at an early age and life expectancy was barely 30 years. More affluent traders could afford to hire haulage ponies all gaily decorated with blue beads and bells.
The undulating roads around town were steep and the only taxi rank consisted of hooded, black leather, two seater hansom cabs. These heavy rickshaws needed five men to operate them. Uphill two men pulled in front and three pushed from the back. Going downhill they reversed with three in front and two behind to stop the vehicle running away.
For two weeks we enjoyed the Himalayan foothills towering majestically above the town before returning on that perilous journey back to Delhi and the tropical temperatures.
I carried my cine camera everywhere to capture life in this small town in the foothills.

SUMMER RETREATS

The Indian plains are unbearably hot in the summer so many take a holiday in one of the cooler hillstations. The office provided us with a car and driver to take us to Mussoorie, 6000 ft up in the Himalayan mountains.
We set off, with driver, ayah, Peter and I and our two young children in a closed car with a temperature of 112º F in the shade! Even worse was to come.
The narrow road carved out of the hillside had few passing points and nowhere to stop. Rock falls frequently blocked the road entailing a hair-raising squeeze with a sheer drop on the offside.
The corkscrew road added to the misery and all except the driver succumbed to travel sickness. The baby’s potty was passed all round so by the time we reached our destination it was full and nowhere to empty it. We carried it into the hotel only to find no water. It was rationed to a few hours a day! And we had make this journey all in reverse on the way home.
We were here for two weeks so we made the most of our holiday in this quaint town with plenty of subjects to film..

THE TAJ MAHAL

How do you describe the Taj Mahal? It’s the most celebrated sepulchre in the world and the lovliest tomb that ever was, or ever will be.
It stands as a symbol to a great Emperor’s faith and his undying love for his dead queen. Shah Jahan reigned soon after Akbar, the first of the great Moghuls of the 17th Century. He was devoted to Mumtaz Mahal and for the 19 years of their marriage, they were inseparable. She died during the birth of their 14th child,
It’s impossible to build another Taj because it was created during one of those intervals in history when the whole genius of a people is concentrated and art becomes an epitome of the age.The artists and precious stones came from all over the world. It took 17 years and 20,000 workmen labouring day and night to produce his masterpiece. During the Moghul dynasty the system of inlaying marble with precious stones reached a peak of perfection.
The tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, richly embroidered with inlaid flowers, was placed in the exact centre of the inner compartment and after he died Shah Jahan was placed by her side. He had intended building another Taz for himself on the opposite bank and link the two with a bridge across the river. His miserly son vetoted it, so we must be grateful to have just one perfect masterpiece of architecture built by a remarkable man who loved his wife so deeply.

In later years after my visit I was able to use the symbolism of this story for the hero in one of my novels Unfortunately, cine filming gives me no still photographs.

RURAL INDIA

The countryside offered more opportunities for filming. The Office organised minibus outings for staff and wives.
An Indian village is a collection of mud huts surrounded by a mud wall. Furniture consists of a few rush mats, brass cooking utensils and simple string beds. These charpoys rest against the outside walls during the daytime.
On the roadside women and children collect animal droppings and shape them into round pats. These are sun dried on roofs to use as a cheap form of fuel. The downside is that it robs the soil of fertiliser.
Sheep are thin and scraggy as there’s no food value in the parched scrubland grass. Buffaloes provide most of India’s milk. It is rather thick and curdled but not unpleasant. They can’t perspire so they’re seen wallowing in water during the heat of the day and watched over by the children.
In desert areas camels are the main beasts of burden. They supply milk and hair. Their herdsmen can be seen by the roadside whiling away the time spinning on a hand held spindles.
While in India we saw a swarm of locusts with crows feasting on the stragglers. The peacock is the national bird and flies freely around the countryside.

CINE FILMSTOCK FOR AMATEURS

Commercial cinema movies use 35mm filmstock, the same size as that used for 35mm transparencies in a still camera. For the serious amateur, this was cut down the middle to produce 16mm filmstock. By the mid1950s this was cut again to provide home movie enthusiasts with the cheap format of Standard 8.
Problems arose with the size of the sprocket holes which had remained the same throughout each halving, so by 8mm the area for actual film was much reduced. Even so we could achieve an acceptable quality.
8mm cine film came in rolls of 25 ft that had to be threaded through the camera by hand. The real bugbear was having to open the camera to turn the film over half way to give 50 ft of exposed film after processing. Unless you could find a convenient dark corner, light fogged the beginning and end of each roll and had to be discarded when editing. The frustration remained paramount until you became expert in rethreading the filmstock blind with camera and hands in a cloth black changing bag. That 25ft mark always seemed to run out at some vital moment of filming!
In India, cine filmstock cost only one pound for the 50ft of exposed film so over the two years I took thousands of film footage which gave me ample room to edit out anything not suitable for public viewing. With no tuition I was filming more by trial and error and instinct. By viewing each processed film I could go back and retake bad scenes.

TOURIST ATTRACTIONS

The richness of India’s historic architecture and impressive works of art were to be seen everywhere we went. Elaborate palaces and tombs just had to be filmed. Whereas Peter could capture a whole building with one 35mm transparency. With my cine camera, I had problems.
Panning up and down and side to side did not make for easy viewing. I learned later that this was called hosepiping. Wherever possible, even without being taught, I instinctively tried to avoid such dizzy shots by using another mantra – ‘the subject moves, not the camera.’
With so many colourful and varied native Indians wearing countless regional costumes, I could edit these shots between different aspects of the buildings. As I had a small projector bought in Aden on the way, I was able to view my processed films on the white room walls and see where I could improve my technique. With filmstock at only £1 for a 50 ft cassette I could experiment and take any number of shots to allow for waste.

In the heart of New Delhi stood an 18th Century stone observatory with six huge instruments devised to study the sun, moon and other celestial bodies. – somewhat on the lines of our Stonehenge.
Eleven miles south stood the 238 feet tall fabulous tower of Qutb Minar, built sometime before 1200 AD. Each of the five storeys was separated by projecting balconies decorated with fine carvings -and you could climb 370 steps to the top if you felt energetic.
This tower shows no shadow on June 21st, the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere. As Delhi is 5 degrees north of the tropic of cancer, it’s concluded that the minar has an inclination of 5 degrees south. Such remarkable engineering for that age.
Nearby is the Iron Pillar, a shaft of solid wrought iron 16 inches in diameter and 23 feet 6 inches tall. So pure is the iron that despite exposure to all weathers over 1500 years, it shows no sign of rust.
With so many elaborate monuments, temples and tombs in pink and cream stoneware I was never short of subjects.