Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Remembering Uncle Sam

The movie hall darkens. As the screen flickers to life and the images begin to fade in, a strange craving overcomes me. No, it overpowers me.
“Uncle Sam?” I hiss.
A crackling bag is handed over to me. I feel the warm stuff inside the bag. I’m satisfied and now I can settle down to watch the movie.

Somewhere I had read that there were certain associations can actually help one remember. Here was one simple example: movies made me ‘remember’ samosas! For me, a movie loses its flavour without the accompaniment of hot ‘theatre’ samosas. It’s nothing new. It’s something I’ve always associated with watching films, in the theatre in my younger days, and now even at home.

So much so that way back in our childhood, samosas got shortened to ‘Sams’ and then became a cryptic ‘Uncle Sam’. In other words, no movie was complete without ‘Uncle Sam’. That hot delicious savoury once almost set a theatre on fire, figuratively speaking.

I was all of eleven at that time.
My brother, fourteen, was a teenager who was at the stage when brothers did not want to have much to do with a ‘kid sisters.’ Home from his boarding school for the holidays, we were having our share of quibbles and fights. The film, ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ had just been released a week ago and I kept pestering my mother to take me to see it. Bogged down with guests in the house, my mother hit upon an idea. She delegated the entertainment portfolio to my brother.

My brother was indignant. “Take her for a movie?!!!” He looked at me like I was something amphibious that had crept out of stagnant water. I opened my mouth to protest, but one stern look from my mother and I realised that silence was golden at that point in time. I turned and left the room, glowering.

Several moments later, I realised Mom had won the case. The die was cast. My brother, resigned to his fate, came out with his nostrils flaring. I was thrilled. I put my pride aside. For me what was most important was going to the movie.

But not that easily.
I was bombarded with a volley of instructions.
“You will not walk next to me. Walk behind me like you don’t know me.”
“Just keep an eye on me, if you miss the bus stop, I’m not responsible”
“And don’t talk to me in the bus.”
“Get off when I get off”
“And don’t talk to me, at all, ok?”

I promised without flinching. The desire to see the movie was so great. And so we were off the very next day. I was excited. He was still sulking. He strode ahead, hands in his pockets, thinking deeply about why God made kid sisters. I scampered happily behind him, determined to keep my promise not to talk to him right through the outing.

At the theatre, I waited patiently while he bought the tickets, and then we went in, sort of, together. Ushered into our seats I settled down to watch the movie. And then it happened. Those associations. Those memories. And an overwhelming craving. Forgetting all the promises made to him, I blurted out, “Uncle Sam?”

His look to me could have set, not just me, but the rest of the theatre on fire. He glared. He hissed. And then he spat fire. But knowing he could not do anything, he harrumphed and then stood up and went out. Five minutes later, a hot pack was thrust into my lap with another look that now sent me to the bottom of the evolutionary cycle. But the smell of the samosas wafted up and I smiled and settled to watch the movie. Any promise could be broken for ‘Uncle Sam’.

As we got older, we remembered that incident and laughed. Especially every time we ate samosas.

Years later, I was visiting him in the United States. On the second day after my arrival, my brother came home from work and handed me a packet smiling.
Looking inside, I saw a Blockbuster home video of ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’
And a dozen samosas.
“Welcome to Uncle Sam”, said my brother smiling.

(c) All rights reserved. Vaishakhi Bharucha


  1. Oh these brothers r so alike. U just reminded me of my childhood wheni was taken for a movie by my brother{grudingly} almost the same replay of instructionsn rather one more for future if at all n that is next time i should either be prepared to sit in the front seat of the double decker bus or not to go out with him . That was the final order This time when he came down from the U.S he was longing to go for the same bus n yes with me minus the instructions esp the one regarding the hair >The punch lineis we r both baldy.

  2. It's funny how they kind of fall into the same mould as soon as they become brothers, isn't it?

  3. Well, I share that memory too..especially in those gaiety galaxy days. However these days I think the next generation will write about uncle pops as uncle Sam isn't the healthy uncle to hang out these days