BY Impana Kulkarni
As Vatsala Aai struggles to remember movie names she exclaims, “Maherchi Sadi (1991)! I saw it with my husband at the National theatre here. We had ice-cream and chhaa in the interval.” How intrinsic movies and theatres have become to the beginnings of many a love story! A simple tea in the interval builds anticipation – for the movie as well as the couple. For my own mother, this film festival is the time she gets to pull my father out to watch a string of films back-to-back (read – spend a whole day with him without working).
Fondly called by everyone as ‘Aai’ or mother, Vatsala is one of the few ESG staff who visits our office many times a day. Not to meet us, but to get to the pantry at the end of our office to make tea and wash utensils. But the daily visits since the inception of The Peacock has made her an invisible part of our family. She doesn’t talk much, but she notices when the team members change, and asks quietly if the older ones will return this year. She smiles widely and waves across the corridor when she sees the same person again the next year. We make our own tea and coffee, but she helps us out in the pantry, so it is still counted.
An international film festival runs on the shoulders of so many departments – technical, administrative, hospitality, transport etc – all equally important ofcourse. The helping staff is probably one that employs the largest man-power; taking care of the broken décor, dirty streets, filthy toilets and grumbling stomachs. For these 9 days of all-day all-night work, what a difference a warm glass of water or steaming coffee makes!
Vatsala Aai’s husband is retired and owns an electrical shop, but makes it a point to down the shutters and pounce onto the bike the moment Aai calls to come pick her up. She smiled shyly when I asked his name, “Gurudas Parwatkar” she said. To ensure safety, she is avoiding the bus, keeps a distance while talking, and wears a mask at all times. Like most others, she cannot be scared of working here during a pandemic. “If something has to happen, it will happen!” She hits the ripe young age of 60 next year, would you believe looking at that youthful smile? It is retirement age, but she would like to continue working.
She has been working in this campus for the past 15 years, switching between different jobs. She was moved to the present one of serving food and tea three years back. “I now have to make tea for Phaldessai sir, and serve tea and water for others. I don’t mind making upma and tea for any number of people! Many a times, a large group of people suddenly show-up for a meeting. I like serving everybody.” Often these staff don’t have clearly specified tasks or hours. But they work sincerely with all their heart. It doesn’t matter if they are overlooked by most of the public, squatting tired in the grass or by the window. They are content looking at the bright colours, beautifully clad delegates, sharing their day’s troubles with one another, and being a part of this grand a festival.
Vatsala Aai recollects one memorable trip with her husband all the way till Karwar by bus, to watch Ek Duuje Ke Liye (1981). Now, even though on duty, she thrills in the 10 minutes of movie she gets to watch when she enters the theatre for cleaning or assisting. The film festival can be special in so many unpredictable ways.