Amma’s Dabba for Rotis: LIfe in Simla of the Sixtie

Amma’s Dabba for Rotis: LIfe in Simla of the Sixties

(When I looked at this chhabri at home, I was reminded of my Amma’s Sabba for kee;ong chapatis)

Life back in Simla of the Sixties was a laid down affair. Nothing to hurry about and run after except, of course, the Angeethi. Which when once lighted could not be afforded to lie idle for a second! Everyone must put the hard labour put in the lightning of Angithee to best possible use, As soon as it would be brought inside by carefully covering the hot handle with a multi-layered folded “pauna” in common parlance some stray piece of cotton fabric, recycled into pauna. Every activity after that would revolve around the sacred Angithee. Chapatis to last the day and for each and every person who had a share in them were prepared in the simmering hot angithi. Once the ritual of meal taking was over, Amma would longingly put  the leftover chapatis to be used during the day!

Today I am going to write about Amma’s dabba for putting in chapatis. It was another of a meticulous ritual to put these chapatis neatly folded in another Pauna which was different from the one used to put on or off the pans and pateelas from the angithi. This pauna to wrap the chapatis in would be neatly held separate from the other paunas in the kitchen.

Those were the days when we had little heard of casseroles so either you had a brass dabba for keeping the chapatis or as my Amma had, a rounded basket type dabba with a tight lid, made of the basket material.

 Now there is another background story about this famous dabba. 

Amma had searched for someone to stitch her “bahar wale”suits and this seamstress lived in the Ladakhi mohalla. Next to her home lived another family who had shifted from Pakistan and were called refugees(?). This family owned a floor mill at the road from Gunj Bazaar touching the Cart road at the entry path to Ladakhi mohalla. When the men worked so hard at the floor mill, the women, the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law would weave various containers in a special grass, meticulously covered, wrapped around with palm leaves. Some of the palm leaves would be coloured in red and green and these would add a sprinkle of colorful patterns and weaves in the golden coloured baskets. I would watch those two women making those baskets so neatly with their nimble fingers hardened by the work they were put into. What a great contribution they were making to add to the family income. Those were the days when no one talked about women empowerment or women finding their own space but looking back I can see with perfect hindsight that these women, along with the seamstress living next door to them, were the perfect examples of women empowerment, though silently doing their job without making a fuss about it.

Amma bought this dabba made by these women for keeping chapatis. It was a beautifully and lovingly weaved dabba with a perfectly fitting lid made of the same material. When we acquired it, it became a piece of family pride as all our neighbours would come to see it. But wise neighboutr wanted to wait to see how soft the chapatis would stay in this dabba. Lo and behold…the chapatis when brought out at 4 p.m. when we would return from school and scourge for chapatis in the dabba, turned out to be soft like the fluffed cotton!!! We could relish them without waiting for them to be heated in the dimming light of the Angitthee which was waiting to be re-lit in the evening. 

Amma would make chapatis in the morning and put them in this dabba. She would never count chapatis but when she put them in the dabba, there would be two which she would make for the sweepress who would collect chapattis and a little of vegetable from every home she served. And two chapatis would be kept for an old man who circled the entire neighbourhood at around 11 a.m. without fall, This man had strange tell-tale marks on his face, with a little mangled nose as well, and I was certainly afraid of him till the day I was told that he was, perhaps, once mauled by a bear and though he was able to save his life but not the looks of his face. After that painful incident he had devoted his life to the service of Bhagwaan Ram. He would collect leftover chapatis from the homes in the entire neighbourhood, put them in a big jhola the kind that Sadhus carry, hanging on his shoulders. We would know that he is around as he would announce his presence in the neighbourhood by chanting Ram-Ram in a loud voice with strange intonation, whenever he would be around. We were told that he would carry those chapatis to the cows which were somewhere at the lower regions of Simla slopes….I never learnt where they were but he was much welcomed by everyone.

And then the remaining chapatis were left in that dabba were for Amma’s kids…we would scour out the chapattis even when Amma was not there. They would be soft to touch just like my Amma’s hands,  sweet in mouth on chewing  and gliding down the throat even when taken with a piece of Aam ka achaar from the martbaan!!

Amma’s Dabba for Rotis: LIfe in Simla of the Sixties

(When I looked at this chhabri at home, I was reminded of my Amma’s Sabba for kee;ong chapatis)

Life back in Simla of the Sixties was a laid down affair. Nothing to hurry about and run after except, of course, the Angeethi. Which when once lighted could not be afforded to lie idle for a second! Everyone must put the hard labour put in the lightning of Angithee to best possible use, As soon as it would be brought inside by carefully covering the hot handle with a multi-layered folded “pauna” in common parlance some stray piece of cotton fabric, recycled into pauna. Every activity after that would revolve around the sacred Angithee. Chapatis to last the day and for each and every person who had a share in them were prepared in the simmering hot angithi. Once the ritual of meal taking was over, Amma would longingly put  the leftover chapatis to be used during the day!

Today I am going to write about Amma’s dabba for putting in chapatis. It was another of a meticulous ritual to put these chapatis neatly folded in another Pauna which was different from the one used to put on or off the pans and pateelas from the angithi. This pauna to wrap the chapatis in would be neatly held separate from the other paunas in the kitchen.

Those were the days when we had little heard of casseroles so either you had a brass dabba for keeping the chapatis or as my Amma had, a rounded basket type dabba with a tight lid, made of the basket material.

 Now there is another background story about this famous dabba. 

Amma had searched for someone to stitch her “bahar wale”suits and this seamstress lived in the Ladakhi mohalla. Next to her home lived another family who had shifted from Pakistan and were called refugees(?). This family owned a floor mill at the road from Gunj Bazaar touching the Cart road at the entry path to Ladakhi mohalla. When the men worked so hard at the floor mill, the women, the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law would weave various containers in a special grass, meticulously covered, wrapped around with palm leaves. Some of the palm leaves would be coloured in red and green and these would add a sprinkle of colorful patterns and weaves in the golden coloured baskets. I would watch those two women making those baskets so neatly with their nimble fingers hardened by the work they were put into. What a great contribution they were making to add to the family income. Those were the days when no one talked about women empowerment or women finding their own space but looking back I can see with perfect hindsight that these women, along with the seamstress living next door to them, were the perfect examples of women empowerment, though silently doing their job without making a fuss about it.

Amma bought this dabba made by these women for keeping chapatis. It was a beautifully and lovingly weaved dabba with a perfectly fitting lid made of the same material. When we acquired it, it became a piece of family pride as all our neighbours would come to see it. But wise neighboutr wanted to wait to see how soft the chapatis would stay in this dabba. Lo and behold…the chapatis when brought out at 4 p.m. when we would return from school and scourge for chapatis in the dabba, turned out to be soft like the fluffed cotton!!! We could relish them without waiting for them to be heated in the dimming light of the Angitthee which was waiting to be re-lit in the evening. 

Amma would make chapatis in the morning and put them in this dabba. She would never count chapatis but when she put them in the dabba, there would be two which she would make for the sweepress who would collect chapattis and a little of vegetable from every home she served. And two chapatis would be kept for an old man who circled the entire neighbourhood at around 11 a.m. without fall, This man had strange tell-tale marks on his face, with a little mangled nose as well, and I was certainly afraid of him till the day I was told that he was, perhaps, once mauled by a bear and though he was able to save his life but not the looks of his face. After that painful incident he had devoted his life to the service of Bhagwaan Ram. He would collect leftover chapatis from the homes in the entire neighbourhood, put them in a big jhola the kind that Sadhus carry, hanging on his shoulders. We would know that he is around as he would announce his presence in the neighbourhood by chanting Ram-Ram in a loud voice with strange intonation, whenever he would be around. We were told that he would carry those chapatis to the cows which were somewhere at the lower regions of Simla slopes….I never learnt where they were but he was much welcomed by everyone.

And then the remaining chapatis were left in that dabba were for Amma’s kids…we would scour out the chapattis even when Amma was not there. They would be soft to touch just like my Amma’s hands,  sweet in mouth on chewing  and gliding down the throat even when taken with a piece of Aam ka achaar from the martbaan!!

Amma’s Dabba for Rotis: LIfe in Simla of the Sixties

(When I looked at this chhabri at home, I was reminded of my Amma’s Sabba for kee;ong chapatis)

Life back in Simla of the Sixties was a laid down affair. Nothing to hurry about and run after except, of course, the Angeethi. Which when once lighted could not be afforded to lie idle for a second! Everyone must put the hard labour put in the lightning of Angithee to best possible use, As soon as it would be brought inside by carefully covering the hot handle with a multi-layered folded “pauna” in common parlance some stray piece of cotton fabric, recycled into pauna. Every activity after that would revolve around the sacred Angithee. Chapatis to last the day and for each and every person who had a share in them were prepared in the simmering hot angithi. Once the ritual of meal taking was over, Amma would longingly put  the leftover chapatis to be used during the day!

Today I am going to write about Amma’s dabba for putting in chapatis. It was another of a meticulous ritual to put these chapatis neatly folded in another Pauna which was different from the one used to put on or off the pans and pateelas from the angithi. This pauna to wrap the chapatis in would be neatly held separate from the other paunas in the kitchen.

Those were the days when we had little heard of casseroles so either you had a brass dabba for keeping the chapatis or as my Amma had, a rounded basket type dabba with a tight lid, made of the basket material.

 Now there is another background story about this famous dabba. 

Amma had searched for someone to stitch her “bahar wale”suits and this seamstress lived in the Ladakhi mohalla. Next to her home lived another family who had shifted from Pakistan and were called refugees(?). This family owned a floor mill at the road from Gunj Bazaar touching the Cart road at the entry path to Ladakhi mohalla. When the men worked so hard at the floor mill, the women, the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law would weave various containers in a special grass, meticulously covered, wrapped around with palm leaves. Some of the palm leaves would be coloured in red and green and these would add a sprinkle of colorful patterns and weaves in the golden coloured baskets. I would watch those two women making those baskets so neatly with their nimble fingers hardened by the work they were put into. What a great contribution they were making to add to the family income. Those were the days when no one talked about women empowerment or women finding their own space but looking back I can see with perfect hindsight that these women, along with the seamstress living next door to them, were the perfect examples of women empowerment, though silently doing their job without making a fuss about it.

Amma bought this dabba made by these women for keeping chapatis. It was a beautifully and lovingly weaved dabba with a perfectly fitting lid made of the same material. When we acquired it, it became a piece of family pride as all our neighbours would come to see it. But wise neighboutr wanted to wait to see how soft the chapatis would stay in this dabba. Lo and behold…the chapatis when brought out at 4 p.m. when we would return from school and scourge for chapatis in the dabba, turned out to be soft like the fluffed cotton!!! We could relish them without waiting for them to be heated in the dimming light of the Angitthee which was waiting to be re-lit in the evening. 

Amma would make chapatis in the morning and put them in this dabba. She would never count chapatis but when she put them in the dabba, there would be two which she would make for the sweepress who would collect chapattis and a little of vegetable from every home she served. And two chapatis would be kept for an old man who circled the entire neighbourhood at around 11 a.m. without fall, This man had strange tell-tale marks on his face, with a little mangled nose as well, and I was certainly afraid of him till the day I was told that he was, perhaps, once mauled by a bear and though he was able to save his life but not the looks of his face. After that painful incident he had devoted his life to the service of Bhagwaan Ram. He would collect leftover chapatis from the homes in the entire neighbourhood, put them in a big jhola the kind that Sadhus carry, hanging on his shoulders. We would know that he is around as he would announce his presence in the neighbourhood by chanting Ram-Ram in a loud voice with strange intonation, whenever he would be around. We were told that he would carry those chapatis to the cows which were somewhere at the lower regions of Simla slopes….I never learnt where they were but he was much welcomed by everyone.

And then the remaining chapatis were left in that dabba were for Amma’s kids…we would scour out the chapattis even when Amma was not there. They would be soft to touch just like my Amma’s hands,  sweet in mouth on chewing  and gliding down the throat even when taken with a piece of Aam ka achaar from the martbaan!!

The road taken in Simla of the Sixties

The road taken in Simla of the Sixties…Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,And sorry I could not travel both

(Simla always offered a life lesson to its people even when we were too novice to learn them but we did imbibe them though unknowingly)

When we walked back from the Lady Irwin School, we had an option right at the front of the school entrance…either to take the Mall road or to give some exercise to the legs by walking steep ascent up through the Kalibari road and paying obeisance to the Mother. As we walked back in a small group, chatting and listening to gossip or the story of a movie running in the local theater, the decision would be based on consensus. Some days it would be through a gentle stroll on the Mall gazing at the people and on some other days it would be going uphill, inclining forward to balance the body and the school-bag. The choice we made, of the road we selected to walk on, held a life lesson for us.Looking back I can see that every single act, however small or insignificant, was in fact a lesson of life to us, the girls!The gentle stroll through the Mall would teach us to walk in the best possible way, the right step, the right gait, the right tilt of the head while balancing delicately the heavy school bag.Rather some of the girls, more conscious of the looks, started carrying books and copies in their arms. Carrying the armload of books and walking delicately was an art to be learnt by the less delicate poor mortals like me. We learnt to keep pace with the delicate and the coquettish so abundant on the Mall. We, too, would pretend to be more delicate and sophisticated than we were in real life. A catwalk on the Mall, it was to be true! Not only the walk but the way we talked was also a little more dignifined than it usually would be!! We would be under a masked presence though at that time little did I know about it… we were just putting our best foot forward, the least to say!But when we chose to walk uphill through the Kalibari road, it was entirely different. As soon as the road to the Kalibari started past the Dalziel estate, we felt like free birds in a jungle, talking and walking the way we loved it to be. Free from all pretension whatever it would be in our walk or the talk! Though while walking uphill we learnt another life skill, though unknowingly. Since the ascent became steep around the St. Mark church, we would incline forward while balancing the heavy school bag on the posterior part of our body…at the upper back or still down. We would put our arms on the waist or at the back to balance our gait. There was no pretension, whatever, to be what we were not! Chatting and laughing aloud was a common practice on this road. We would be wary of the monkeys who would always be sitting at the entrance of the Kalibari temple eating the offerings of sweets made to the stone idols of lions at the gate. Dodging the monkeys we would run or hide or scamper but would enter the temple and would pay our abesiance from outside as putting off shoes and smelly socks would be much burdensome and unladylike to us. And as the goddess is omnipresent so She could understand our predicament and faith as well. Moreover a Chhota Pujari would always be sitting at the entry to the temple with the prasadam and the vermillion which we would put on our forehead. Seeking blessings of the Maa, we would again start our walk back to our home. The stretch from Kalibari Hall till Bentony estate was almost level. Looking at a few beggars sitting on the roadside and putting a little of the prasad in their extended palms we would feel satiated at doing our best for humanity and would walk ahead.There was another choice to be made at the Bentony castle…whether to walk ahead straight or to go down towards the Telegraph office. We preferred the walk down towards the Telegraph office. As both the roads converged at the Telegraph office, it was a great equalizer. The big clock marking time for the Simlaites conveyed a better and more important lesson about Time beijing the biggest equalizer. Though we never thought of such philosophical matters at that time.Again another choice awaited us…whether to take up the road towards the Lower Bazaar or stroll past the Mall gazing at the pictures and wares displayed on the show windows. Starting from the Himachal Emporium with its exquisite Himachali shawls and pure silk sarees adoring one show window, we would walk towards the other that displayed Himachal crafts but we loved watching dolls the most. Small miniature replicas of the people of Himachal. During this walk we would be sombre and ladylike unlike the way we had been on the road less travelled by!This small walk would be a treat to our visual and olfactory senses. The aroma of the freshly brewing coffee from the coffee house would fill our nostrils soothing the very inside but it would be the humble tea that awaited us at home. The aromal of coffee was enough. Looking at other show windows we would stop at the Jankidass and gaze at the both the show windows full of stuff that any damsel would love to own. High heeled delicate sandals, dress material, sarees would surround the twin baby models, one the laughing baby and another the crying baby!! This was a kind of enigma for us to watch as to how it could be…the miracle of science it was for us.The last shop on my way back home would be Devichand’s perhaps….I loved the beautiful silk sarees that they had in their show windows. I never went inside this shop as it somehow looked very mysterious to us.The stairs down from here would lead to my final destination. Beyond this point it would be an entirely different experience. With the spicy aroma and the warm fumes emerging from the Golchas, would beckon me a warm homecoming. The stairs to my home. A few steps down the stairs, the buzzing of the printing machines of the Joshi Mudranalaya and the smell of the paints would make me feel closer to home. Down further, Shonkia uncle with the hammering on red hot iron would endear me to home. The sound of clattering and hammering seemed so familiar and my very own. Still nearer home the Himachal binders with their heavy binding machine that made a thud like sound while binding and the cutting of the pages from sides of the books would produce a familiar ambience.And I would be home by climbing a few steps up!!! The walk from the school to home would be so eventful and an educational tour to prepare us for LIFE. We, the Simla girls, learnt to adjust to a wide bandwidth of possibilities of life. We learnt to be ladylike when we wanted to be all thanks to strolls on the Mall. We learnt to balance the heavy loads of life by changing our mental and physical stance all because of the steep uphill roads and learnt to enjoy the real life in the humdrums of what makes it!! We learnt life is a mixture of all these and we developed the strength to deal with anything that came our way!Thank you Simla for imparting life lessons at every stage through every road that I had taken! How prophetic Robert Frost’s poem has been in my case when I write sharing my views about taking the less travelled road!!!I shall be telling this with a sighSomewhere ages and ages hence:Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by,And that has made all the difference.

106Rohit Yadava, Aruna Mahajan and 104 others106 CommentsLikeComment

Comments

  • Gopal VakilSo lively and poetic☘️1
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  • Neelam SoodVery well said Saroj!1
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  • Indu MehtaHam bhi saath saath chalte gaye..1
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  • Priyanka BerryAnd we walked, and strolled, smelt the coffee and heard the thuds and paper cutting machines at the Printing Press…just as it always had beenLovely read🤗❤️1
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  • Rajiv Kashyap RosyWe walked and walked reached to this Fb group1
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  • Kewal JollyJust too good 👍1
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  • Manju PahwaSaroj , thanks for walking us through your beautiful journey….!!!!1
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    Saroj Thakur replied ·6 Replies
  • Pratap Singh KutlahriaWell presented to enjoy your experiences, similar as mine, on the route described.Pause GIFTenor1
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  • Ramesh KumarA nice , gripping narrative ! However the balancing act of bending forward and backward has scientific reason and explanation of keeping the centre of gravity in place.2
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  • Vinod YadavReading Saroj in itself is a lesson in Poetry Prose .It is always a rejuvenating experience for the depleting grey cells .Thank you for taking us down the memory lane and giving us an opportunity to pay our obeisance at the feet of Kaali Maa … See More1
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  • Rohit YadavaWow… Thanks for the lovely walk from your school to home! Enjoyed every word and line that took me back to Simla❤️❤️❤️1
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  • Jiwan Kumarअपने अपने रास्ते , अलग-अलग पहचान ।मौज मस्ती करनी हो तो कालीबाड़ी,जेन्टलमैन चाल को सीधा सपाट रास्ता। विकल्प ही विकल्प2
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  • Sudha SuriWow! Thank you for your sharing of your philosophical lessons on your way back home . I also relived my walking back home from S’t Thomas School. Yes Shimla has shaped us in beautiful ways.1
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  • Surinder KarolWell depicted stay blessed1
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  • Subhag DuttaWow what unknowingly life teaches usn8n childhood n the lessons captured in our memory are really indellible.Enjoyed each word n each step mentione d in your down memory lane on the roads of Shimla n made us physically strong by walking miles togethe… See More2
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  • Arun SoodSub theek hai but aap shonkiyan ram ki hammer say golcha tak ki kahani batati ho you never gave a word for Mansu he was the man to be remembered.2
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  • Raman SinghBeautifully articulated the minute nuances and observations of Simla life! So beautiful it was and the pleasures it brought to us, in our little decisons! Your heart and soul is embedded beautifully in Simla and that’s how you bring out the flavour an… See More3
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  • Siddharth PandeyDear Ma’am, What a marvellous, marvellous post! I am so delighted to have come across everything you write, and this, in particular, strikes a deep chord. It also serves as an excellent case study for me, for I am always fascinated by the practices of … See More3
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  • Kailash NathGreat explation seems as I am walking with you coming back from school1
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  • Ashok ChauhanLife lessons indeed ; a sheer treat for the reader ! Fascinating, refreshing and nostalgic for Shimlaites !! Kudos Saroj Ji for creating yet another jewel !!! 👍3
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  • Bala KhannaYour illustration is magnificent….always love to read…1
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  • Sunita BansAnother vivid a and interesting description of shimla life beautiful write up of coming back to home from school w1
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  • Sunita BansCongratulations for the post
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  • Sarabjit BainsGreat
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  • Mahesh ChanderVery well written. My sister went to Lady Irwin School from 1948 to 1954. First we lived in Summer Hill & she would take a train from Summer Hill to Shimla every day & back & later walked daily from Marina Hotel to school daily. Up to 4th grade it was … See More1
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  • Hemendra Kumar TewariWhen you talk of walking on the two roads, I feel it is my story.While in School, we shall go to our School in lower Kaithu ,running down the steep slope and while returning walk leisurely via Lal Bagh and on the way try to eat a few fruits from the ga… See More5
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  • Anil SharmaThe sentiments and emotions flow with ease in your words that create a visual picture at the same time. Great writing.1
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  • Nandini SharmaWe walk with you,feelwithyou,laugh and cry with you.That is the strength of your writing poweress.Even walking on roads of Simla we get lessons of life.Totally applaud your posts.1
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  • Dharam Prakash GuptaExcellent narrative as always; you have revived old memories related to many places. I and my elder had meals at Golcha for many years .2
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  • Usha Sharmabadge iconAfter reading this post I was struck first by the simple beauty of your narration and second of how you have been able to connect your journey with life’s lessons. I felt like writing something back to you in response but felt my words would be too ina… See More5
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    Ashok Mangotra replied ·8 Replies3h
  • Narinder VermaNice one, another master piece,Cat walk on Mall Vs free birds in jungle.1
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  • Arun SeamAfter all the views expressed in the comment box no words has been left for me to describe the way you narrated and related it to the lessons of life.👏👏🙏🏽2
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  • Raswinder Singh DhaliwalSaroj Thakur ji 🙏. Your philosophical engagement with your life experiences is thoughtful and redolent of empathy and understanding. The word that springs to mind is verisimilitude ! Your writing is suffused with that truly unique gift. 🙏1
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  • Sudha MahajanWonderful walk with your post1
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  • Lalita PandeBeautifully expressed ,the beauty of your narration is that you take th e reader along with you .2
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  • Jaswinder Rishi❤️🙏👍1
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  • Jaswinder RishiYou are amazing n wonderful personality my dear God bless you n yr sweet family too1
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    Jaswinder Rishi replied ·4 Replies
  • Narinder Singh FloraWell written Saroj , thanks for posting this especially these photos —I feel that I am back to my home ; our house was across the Joshi Mundranalay and under the golchas ;you mention shonkia uncle ,his daughter Mina was my friend ( if you know anything… See More1
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  • Jugnu MahajanWow great narration and writing … no words … 🙏1
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  • Alka MisraBeautiful! 💐💐1
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  • Pamela LyallLovely thought inspiring read We too would climb the steep hill from Tara Hall bent over and sometimes just to gain more time with friends would criss cross the road as we had seen coolies carrying heavy loads … See More1
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    Saroj Thakur replied ·1 Reply10h
  • Narinder Singh FloraYes you are absolutely right our house was beneath the Snow White dry cleaners ! I will appreciate if you can find out about these people for me, thanks !!!1
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  • Raksha KaisthaExcellent narration of simpla events beautifully expressed.Those moments relived.wonderful post 👌👌👌👌1
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    Saroj Thakur replied ·1 Reply10h
  • Suneeta SharmaYour amazing narration brought childhood memories back1
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  • Padam GuptaIn fact you have carried us all Simlaites down the memory lane1
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  • Rajiv KhannaSuperbly expressed nostalgic trip down the memory lane…can relate with every word written so beautifully. It’s one of the finest literary expression I have come across in recent times.Such vivid memory and such succinct expression is rare to come ac… See More1
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  • Kapil Dev SoodChildhood memories beautifully narrated and described. You must be tempted to repeat a part of the exercise if not the whole again.1
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    Saroj Thakur replied ·1 Reply10h
  • Jaishree Joshi JoshiYou have an art of creating nostalgia around the reader .Every single piece written by you is worth reading many times and preserving it I am running short of compliments hence many a times read what you have written and silently keep admiring but this… See More3
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  • Rajesh SaxenaFluid, Captivating, Thrilling narrative.So Relatable…Our Wordsmith, Ma’am has once again raised the Bar….… See More1
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  • Arun SeamAgain reading your post and comments.You know,you are the Pied Piper of this group!🤣🙏🏽🙏🏽1
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Just like to know if all the old friends are doing fine and are healthyPrivateOnly members can see who’s in the group and what they postVisibleAnyone can find this group.General Group

A walk through Memory lanes in the lanes of Lower Bazaar neighborhood

 A walk through Memory lanes in the lanes of Lower Bazaar neighborhood

When I walked past Snowdon hospital on way from Sanjauli to the Mall, alongwith my brother and my daughter, my brother looked up dreamily and said, “there is my school.” My eyes, too, moved up and saw clouds having hidden the Kendriya Vidyalaya Jakhu’s building which was thus could not be seen but he could see it as it came alive to him—in his memory. My younger brother and I kept on refreshing each other’s memory by talking about every corner and curve on the road.

My daughter simply slogged along without even looking up in the direction of her Mama’s school. She was constantly asking us, how long we still had to walk to reach the Mall and having no other choice just trudged along, though grudgingly!  To her it seemed like a long distance that we had already covered and still the Mall was nowhere in sight. “We walked from Chaura Maidan to Sanjauli and then back everyday,” I said to her with a little of irritated tone in my voice. We had reached the famous Lakkad bazaar and I regaled her with the account of big paintings that we always looked at during our walk to the college everyday.  As we neared the famous Chole Bhature shop of Sita Ram, my nostrils filled with the aroma of Chana simmering in the big paraat that he used as a cooking utensil, my mouth watered, salivary glands working extensively to produce memory of a taste we so loved!  But we moved ahead with a promise to come in the evening. The Regal standing almost the way we had left it. Though missed watching the familiar face of Chunnu but there were many Tibetian girls knitting docks and friendship bands on the sides of the road. That really interested my daughter a lot!

We had almost reached the ridge when I saw the Poodiwala sitting near the famous tree. It seemed as if his tree and the poodiwala sitting underneath had become synonymous with the Ridge. Anyone without the other would render the Ridge an incomplete look. My eyes wandered towards the tree and could not help thinking that the tree did not look as big to me as it looked during my childhood. What had happened? Had the tree outgrown it’s maximum capacity and was on verge of decline or perhaps now I was watching it from the critical eyes of a seasoned mature person and not a small girl who seemed to be in awe of such a big tree on the Ridge! On the other hand, the poodi that cost 10 paisa during my childhood cost 10 rupees now. Shrugging off all these thoughts we marched further and went down the stairs to the Mall.
Near the Golcha Restaurant where the steep stairs lead to the Lower Bazaar, we looked down at the maze of stairs and side lanes criss-crossing through the middle Bazaar to the Lower Bazaar. I looked at my brother and without even exchanging a single word we started towards our small friendly neighbourhood. “Who would be there to remember you?” protested my daughter. It was almost sacrilegious for her to walk to someone’s home, unannounced. “But that is our childhood neighborhood” and I added “a home”!!! But deep inside even I was a bit apprehensive, I was walking to the neighbourhood after some twenty years. Much had changed during all this time, but a small little girl inside me was speaking boldly and lovingly, “go, meet your soulmates” and I decided to go.
Scared at the thought of descending into a hub of small structures, seem to be grown on the sliding side of a hillock, and that through such steep stairs, my daughter followed us, though much grudgingly as she knew her mother was stubborn.

“We used to run countless times up and down these stairs!” said I in a reproaching tone, as the little girl inside my old frame had taken over everything else. The small girl in me wanted to run the way I used to almost four decade ago! My knees and legs felt sturdy and I wanted to gallop down the stairs to the labyrinth of lanes where my childhood memories lay still fresh!

Down we went. My brother and I full of exciting chatter and my daughter grumbling at, what she considered, the precarious stairs! It was quite early in the afternoon and ringing the door-bell at such a time was not, by any means, a good manner. But that was my neighbourhood where every time was considered a good time to call upon neighbours. I rang the bell. The door opened instantly and I could see her sitting by the side of a window. I had nearly overlooked the pretty young woman who had opened the door as I was literally dying to meet my childhood role model—Leela Bhenjji!

I was overwhelmed to see her. She was still the same—beautiful, graceful and ever smiling! Though it seems sacrilegious to me to name her by first name but this is how we have been addressing her ever since we became conscious of her existence. I ran to her open arms when she acknowledged me saying, “Kalo”! My childhood name never sounded good to me but it seemed musical to me at that moment as I seemed to find a way in the labyrinths of the maze of my childhood memories.


My daughter was mesmerized by the pure and simple love flowing between us. Her uncertainty and doubts of walking to a stranger’s home vanished away.  The young pretty woman, the daughter-in-law of my beloved bhenjji was equally graceful and welcoming.

While the young one went to the kitchen to prepare tea, Bhenjji was nostalgic for the good old times, for the old friends and for so many other things and the tales that came from her enthralled us for their plain simple truth. Even my grumbling daughter sat quiet and absorbed in all that she heard. Stories and tales of a different time, a different world that was so different from the world she had seen and experienced. She marvelled at the friendly neighbourhood, the warm and pure bond of live that bonded us, the simplicity of taking up the threads where we had left them. Despite visiting the neighbourhood after a gap of two to three decades, it was as if we had been there all the time!
And we were all were at HOME, my daughter the most! This is the beauty of having lived in a simple humble neighbourhood in Simla of the Sixties….you are hooked for life!


Vaids and Hakims in Lower Bazaar of Simla of the Sixties

Vaids and Hakims in Lower Bazaar of Simla of the Sixties

A post by Sudha Mahajan has made me wonder about so many Vaids, Hakims in and around the small neighbourhood I lived in. The simple life of the Sixties had simple solutions even for the ailments which human life had always been assailed by. I really don’t

There was one Vaid ji on the stairs starting from the Nathu Halwai shop. He carried big moustaches and was, invariably, neatly dressed in dark band-gala coat. Sitting behind a big table on which were assortment of bottles and jars had their place, he looked indomitable. The walls of his small shop were neatly lined with jars and bottles having god knows what! His patients would sit on a side bench that was put besides his chair. What I so liked about his shop was a white marbled pestle and a neat little oval shaped mortar. I was always mesmerized by his shop and especially how he would put small portions of medicine in neatly placed paper pieces on his table. He would neatly fold those pudias with specific directions to be followed by the bewitched patients.  I  would walk slowly while passing through his shop as I wanted to see the miraculous potions of medicines handled by Vaid ji.

There was another Vaid ji who had a shop next to Nathu Halwai. His shop was non-descript, a little dark as it faced north, and a little down the road. He, too, had the entire wall lined with concoctions for, perhaps, all diseases of the world. He sat on a low lying wooden Diwan and his patients sat nearby. I don’t remember much about this shop except one unfortunate happening when a small infant was pronounced dead and the wailing mother was supported by someone. This was my first real encounter with death and I felt angry that all those medicines, herbs and concoctions adorning the walls of this shop could not save a small infant from the clutches of death. Before that I had read about death only in Kalyaans and believed that only old people die but this incident changed my perception. When the wailing mother and the person carrying the dead infant had disappeared in the busy hustle and bustle of the much happening Lower Bazaar, the part of the road facing the shop was washed with water and sprinkled with gangajal while I watched it. Life goes on was the lesson that I learnt that day.
Another Vaid ji I remember of was my friend Uma’s father. He had a shop opposite to the Masjid in the middle Bazaar. As Uma and her parents had living quarters towards inside of the shop so this was one which I observed most meticulously. Vaid ji would sit on the Diwan having marble pestle and kundi and same decoration of jars filled with who-knows-what! Inside the house which had a small kitchen opening towards the back side, Uma’s mother would be busy preparing food etc. on the angitee the same way my Amma would be. Uma, too, would fall ill like me and would have running nose and I would wonder why didn’t her father made a concoction to get us rid of running nose, such an irritating thing to beseech us!
There were many more at many nooks and corners of the Lower Bazaar and the middle Bazaar as it required a few bottle,  jars and the marbled pestle and mortar and of course the experience to read the pulse.
I was so interested in observing about the Vaids as the house we lived in, once upon a time, was occupied by one Vaid ji. I remember seeing him once when he paid us a visit and Amma, covering her head demurely, touched his feet! When I saw him I started weaving
stories about him.
The house we lived in had a big Diwan facing a window. I heard Bauji tell us that there lived a Vaid ji in that house, and rightfully so as I could imagine his presence in the structure of the house. Besides this window, with iron rods inserted in the wooden frame, perhaps would have been a seating place for the Vaid ji who owned that house. He must have used the Diwan as a place to conduct his business during the day and a bed to recline upon during the night. Undoubtedly, solid wooden Diwan, besides the window overlooking the entrance, was the prime location in the entire home as this seating place faced a flight of stairs bifurchooting away from the main Nathu Halwai stairs. I don’t know why the Vaid ji left that place to settle at Tutoo where he had his ancestral place.

The home had a number of inbuilt alcoves at the ground level, two big glass-paned almirahs,   inbuilt in the room with more than sufficient shelves beginning at the ground level and going upto the ceiling. A perfect place for a Vaid ji to sit on the Diwan with easy access to jars and  bottles of herbs, medicines and concoctions neatly arranged in the glass-paned shelves, all within easy reach. The only relic of his presence in that house was a stone mortar, big enough to hold a kilo of herbs, left in one of the alcoves. The big stone mortar is still in use, filled with water every day for the birds!  Some sane use it has been put into after serving so many in search of a panacea!
As if all these Vaids were not enough to guard the health of Simlaites in the Sixties, some strange looking sellers, claiming to be from Kabul or Kandhaar would display weirdest looking herbs on the roadside on Sundays. I, too, would watch them claiming the real panacea for many diseases! The favourite spot for them would be besides the lion-faced water hydrant near Nathu Halwai shop or outside the tunnel in the lower Bazaar. And there would be a big crowd of onlookers.
Now there is no shop of Vaid ji on the Nathu Halwai stairs, Uma has taken up the seat of her father but she sits on a chair. When I go to Simla, I do meet her and we talk over a cup of tea ordered from a nearby tea stall. She has her home away from the hustle and bustle of lower Bazaar.
There are stylish looking medical clinics in and around Lower and Middle Bazaars but what has remained constant is human endeavour to find a panacea for all the ills that assail us despite so many feats of science!!

( Please fill in more details about  Vaids and Hakims as this is only tip of the iceberg)


 

Crevices shouting to tell the story of the real Simla of the Sixties

Crevices shouting to tell the story of the real Simla of the Sixties

“The facts speak only when the historian calls on them: it is he who decides to which facts to give the floor, and in what order or context” ~ Edward Hallett Carr

Persons or places, both are alike in one way as both have a history of unsaid, untold accounts that have gone into making of them. The persona of a person is the result of dreams, aspirations, trials, tribulations, failures and struggles and so is the persona of a place. The only difference is that a person is in a position to make a choice of bringing all those struggles to light but no such luck lies with a place, simply because it cannot speak for itself except through some relics of the past, glorified for their proud existence or patchworks of lesser-known places coming to surface through  hidden  crevices in the slopes below the Mall which cry for a voice, whenever they can, in any form they can!

What we know of Simla is described in the words of the writers, the elite writers of the Raj period, who glorified for us its history and persona labelling it as the queen of hill stations, the summer capital of the British Raj, the evening walks of the majestic Mall and the partying in the tudor banglows where the dainty men delicately tangoed the pretty damsels till they pleased. The romance of the Raj in this Summer capital is what we were made to take pride in even when we became free of the Raj. 

The crevices from the Lower Bazaar, Gunj and “below the Cart-road” were a bit too below mark for the natives to take note of. Very few writers have taken up writing about life in these less-talked areas, the poor cousins to the rich and influential in the family, the Mall and some other parts.

These days I am searching for any material which would give us a peep in the life of people and history of the much happening yet less talked about areas of the Lower Bazaar and down. Please suggest some material if you have, a letter from your grandparents, an account of life in the Bazaar area, anything would help. 

I remember all the accounts that I grew up hearing in the lanes of the Lower Bazaar and it is a pity that I never cared to get more from my Bauji as I, too, like many others was a bit ashamed of coming from the Bazaar area. And now when I am past the age where these sham appearances matter to me, the people who could have helped me to know more are no more in the world!

Still it is not very late. I would be writing about my remembrances of people living in my humble neighbourhood who represent a segment of the life in Lower Bazaar and I trust my friends in the group would provide more details to me. 

I have been strongly feeling as if the crevices in the plateau right from the Lalpani, meandering through Ladakhi mohalla, Gunj Bazaar and the Lower Bazaar is earnestly calling all of us in the group to tell their part of story in the making of Simla–the Simla that we all so love!

Dared to fly when I was unable to walk…

Bauji, with his glasses on his eyes,  would hunch over big ledgers, sitting in the sunlit verandah, on Sundays. These big sized ledgers were of  Cooperative association of the Post-office employees. Bauji held some post in that and, perhaps, got some honorariam for this service. When tired, he would call me, ” Saroj Singh…chai peela do.” I would prepare tea and both of us would sit together, each immersed in a world of its own over the cup of tea. Never did he reproach me for my failure. The only remark which he ever made was, “the hard-earned money of Postoffice employees never goes in vain, then how could ….?” 

Perhaps he was struggling with managing his own expectations that had tumbled down and I was managing my own emotions to handle this turmoil. Those days there was nothing like depression, anxiety or panic attacks.. Instead I was focussed on what to do…and how? I had silently put the syllabus of the IAS in my cluttered cupboard. Hiding it from my;  as well as Bauji’s sight. 

With Amma in a Government job, miles away, my elder sister married off,  two younger brothers too small, I had no one to talk to. I thought of the little piece of sponge that I held so precious during my childhood. It would absorb water and I would clean my slate with it….what I liked the most was it would regain its shape, once released, even when I would squeeze it hard. I loved it for it…coming back to its original shape!! I, too, had to! But how!

During that very time an advertisement caught my attention in the Tribune…Indian Airlines inviting  applications for Airhostess…Tall, smart and fluent in English…I thought that this is the godsent signal to me and my life. I would fly if I cannot walk. But Bauji….would he allow me for it, was the moot question. I had broken his dreams. And during those days, in 1975, this kind of job for a girl from middle-class was not imaginable, at least in my acquaintances. 

One sunny Sunday when we sat together, I asked Bauji’s permission to send my form along with two passport sized photographs and a postal order. He looked at me, from behind the thick lenses of his glasses, making it hard for me to read expressions in his eyes, but he moved his head upside down…signalling his ascent!

This post is not about my dreaming of becoming an airhostess, a glamorous job, by the standards about that period,  but about Bauji standing rocklike behind me, with me, even during this strange turnabout in my aspirations and dreams, and afterwards as well!

From Simla to Delhi and from Delhi to Hyderabad for the preliminary interview and from Hyderabad to Madras for the final interview ..a long journey it was both physically as well as psychologically. It was a very long journey for a girl from the Lower Bazaar neighborhood as I had never travelled beyond Solan before that and my journey by train was from Simla to Taradevi only, till then. And here I was aiming to fly!!! Saw the airplanes from such close quarters, first time in my life, as I had only seen them flying past the Simla skyline and that too Jets perhaps!! 

Looking back I find that there were a few factors, dormant may be, in my persona, that directed my desire to fly. One was that having listened to Kali..Kalo…Kalo over the years, my inner-self was in revolt. And here was a chance to prove about my presentable self. The role played by Roshan Studio acted as a catalyst…this photo studio would make any girl look beautiful. A plane Jane would look like a star material. Amma had asked me to get a portrait clicked at Roshan Studio which she wanted to use to find a matrimonial alliance for me. One picture and two objects aimed at!! This picture had opened up new hopes in my little mind…dreams to fly high as I could not walk….and opened up different dreams in Amma’s…

To cut the story short…I was selected but Amma put her foot down…not allowing me to join and the picture sent to the prospective alliance got approved and I was to be married!!

This was the best thing to have happened as my life, once again, took another turn. Simply a graduate, I married and created a peaceful life with my husband, a Veterinarian, in a small village. K. S., my husband, took up the role of Bauji as he could see my potential and with love, care and a rare alchemist’s touch, he transformed me….giving a filip to my self-worth that I had lost after the painful and traumatic experience in the office of the Principal at Sanjauli college. As a vet, trained to look after the animals who cannot speak he has the special ability to find out the cause of pain in anyone and find a cure for that. He could see my hurt and pain and provide a healing touch to that as well. Like the sponge, I was full of life to take on any challenge, with K.S. with my side.

Destiny still had to test my perseverance, perhaps. 

Married in the year 1978, as a simple graduate, I had little choice to give a direction to my life.  K.S. gave me full freedom to do what I wanted to and always was/still in the wind beneath my wings. And Bauji’s dream of Administrative services for me started to take strong shape in my mind. From 1978 to 1984…. Seven years in a row, I would compete, without fail, in HAS examination. I qualified the written part six times and was disqualified in the interview all the times, breaking my heart even more. It was painful for me as once when I was fourth in the written examination, I was given 80/200 marks in interview whereas another candidate was given 140 or 160 marks (bumping of his marks more than mind in total for written and interview) as he was alleged to be a relative of someone influential! Every year with renewed energy , I would start afresh to come to a painful culmination, every March or April, when the results would be declared.

During these seven years, I had become a mother to three beautiful kids who knew that their mother prefers books more than anything else. My kids would put any reading material in my hands whenever I would be sitting idle.  I had completed my Masters in English literature getting second position in HPU and had earned M.Phil. in English literature as well. Destiny had carved me for this role….of being a teacher!

I would ask myself….if I had to be a teacher, why so many dreams  found a place in my heart and eyes…and nurtured, I could not find an answer to it. 

This answer I found much later in the words of Paul Coelho…With each passing obstacle and hurdle that I encountered,  there was a lesson to learn. Every single endeavour of mine made me stronger…physically as well as mentally.  And when my destiny found me fully prepared to take up the challenge of transforming lives of young students, I became a teacher….as I was destined to be a teacher, nothing else!!! Nothing more beautiful could have happened to me professionally! 

I came to  teaching in 1984 and joined National Institute of Technology Hamirpur, the then REC, in 1986 and am here ever since, except for some break which is my latest story of fighting against unscrupulous practices!!! My most challenging and painful memory of my life is of these four years…..would write sometime after my retirement about it!

My destiny has always been testing me for strength and rewarding me at the same time. Looking back at a life spent, I have no regrets at all. When I started sharing my dream, destiny and reality, the biggest compliment I got was from my daughter, who along with her comments,  sent me this song of  Frank Sinatra, by Robbie Williams – My Way (Live at the Royal Albert Hall) saying, ” Maa this is your retirement song!” Enjoy!!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XM5gkph97Uw

And now, the end is near

And so I face the final curtain

My friends, I’ll say it clear

I’ll state my case of which I’m certain

I’ve lived a life that’s full

I traveled each and every highway

But more, much more than this

I did it my way

Regrets, I’ve had a few

But then again, too few to mention

I did what I had to do

And saw it through without exemption

I planned each chartered course

Each careful step along the byway

But more, much more than this

I did it my way

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew

When I bit off more than I could chew

But through it all, when there was doubt

I ate it up and spit it out

I faced it all and I stood tall

And did it my way

I’ve loved, laughed and cried

I’ve had my fill, my share of losing

And now, as…

A Mix of Dreams, Destiny and Drastic Reality…

A Mix of Dreams, Destiny and Drastic Reality… 

( I needed extreme courage to share this story from my life…) 

I turned out to be a brilliant student in school…topping the class, invariably.. throughout. Though my best friend Chanda would usurp the position from me many times. A friendly arrangement between us! No hard feelings or a deadly competition. We both enjoyed it. 

In class tenth, with my best friend Chandra getting the second position, I stood first. Bauji must have nurtured some dream for me. I, too, along with Bauji, started to dream of the medical college and would look in admiration at all those who passed by carrying white overalls carelessly dangling down their shoulders…while I walked to Sanjauli college with dreams in my eyes. But that was not to be. And today I have taken courage to speak all about the tumbling down of the dreams that I nurtured.

Bauji had nurtured,secretly, another dream for me…Civil services. One day Bauji

 brought home the syllabus of IAS examination as one of the clerks, some Mr. Negi, working in the Post-office had cleared IAS and Bauji had started to dream of his Kalo doing the same being so brilliant. But destiny had another plans laid down for me.

It was perhaps the year 1973 or 1974…don’t remember exactly as the brain deliberately downplays all the painful memories. It is surprising that I have not heard anything about it in this group. Those were the years when Himachal Pradesh University was, perhaps at its lowest ebb…the rumours were afloat that question papers of the final examination were out before the actual date of examination. We, too, wanted to have some inkling of the probable questions that we would have in the examination but it was believed by the girls in our group that either you must have an elder brother, a “dada” kind  or a boyfriend who would scour these for you. Not for the girls, those poor unescorted ones! Unfortunately, neither did I have an elder brother or a boyfriend who could have helped the “damsel in distress!” How I wished to have an armoured knight-in-waiting to get for me those alleged question papers!! 

One of our friends, having an elder “dada”  type of brother, supplied a few topics which could be there in the Chemistry paper to be held the next day…excitedly I memorized all those equations with trembling heart and fingers crossed. Wrote them religiously in my notebook to give it another lick right before I finally entered the examination room in Sanjauli college. Remembering and praying to all the gods that I knew of, I glanced at the question paper and would you believe me one of the questions carrying 05 marks, perhaps, was exactly what I had been secretly shared with by my friend (via her brother). But no other questions were there. I thought of attempting that question before I would forget balancing all those dreadful equations. Since the question paper carried only 60 marks, even 5 marks were good enough for me. 

One of our friends, having an elder “dada”  type of brother, supplied a few topics which could be there in the Chemistry paper to be held the next day…excitedly I memorized all those equations with trembling heart and fingers crossed. Wrote them religiously in my notebook to give it another lick right before I finally entered the examination room in Sanjauli college. Remembering and praying to all the gods that I knew of, I glanced at the question paper and would you believe me one of the questions carrying 05 marks, perhaps, was exactly what I had been secretly shared with by my friend (via her brother). But no other questions were there. I thought of attempting that question before I would forget balancing all those dreadful equations. Since the question paper carried only 60 marks, even 5 marks were good enough for me. 

The invigilators on duty, roaming carelessly, became alert as the principal, with another teacher, perhaps Prof. Bisht, entered the room. Both of them were going to the seats of girls and asking them something in whispers. No one knew what it was. I was busy doing the paper when they came to me and asked in a low whispering voice, “the copy where some solved questions are written, is it yours?” I always have been a person of the category, “fools rush in where angels fear to tread”…an impertinent fool, not wrongly analysed by one of the friends in the group. Shocked at being caught, and frozen to utter a word, I moved my head up and down to record my ascent to the crime. How could I say NO?? The smirk on their face said it all, “come and meet me in my office after the paper,” said the principal sir. Relieved that they had caught the criminal, they left the room, leaving me hot rushed and too numb to write any answer in my sheet. I was afraid..would I be handed over to the police or would they call Bauji. What would I say to my friends when they would want to know why I was summoned to the office of the Principal? I had not ever been to his office, even once! 

I could not think any further…I somehow completed the paper, whatever I could write and handed it over to the teacher in the room. 

Coming out of the room, I cleared my head in the fresh air and dashed to the office of the principal…the small room with beautiful bay-windows, with vines running on the exterior walls, which I had always admired from outside, lacked all charm today. The principal showed me a copy and said in a stern voice, “Is this your notebook?” I looked at it and almost fainted as it was NOT my notebook and I had, like a nitwit, moved my head up and down saying my assent. “No.” I said. Perhaps they were not satisfied. Taking permission, I ran outside to bring my notebook. The principal saw my handwriting in the notebook and moved their heads from side to side, as the copy in their hand was written in entirely different hand. It didn’t match! I looked at that notebook and was further shocked for two reasons…the notebook had answers to the complete question paper and second was that  I could recognise the handwriting of “the friend” who had so magnanimously shared 5 marks note with us. The worse was that she had refused point blank that the copy outside the examination room was hers!! So smart of her. And here I was standing before them for something which I had not done. The result was…I failed in the Chemistry paper. And the real subject of the crime, that girl, ….passed with flying colours and got many more successful achievements.

 Not to bring the skeletons out of the cupboards, it suffices to say that my dreams were shattered and so were my Bauji’s. Fathers are a rare species…they dream big for their kids.. Here I was having failed in a subject which I dreaded like plague hereafter…

I was shattered but not broken and now can say with certainty…destiny always has a plan for you. In the words of Steve Jobs..looking backward all the dots connect into a pattern, a beautiful shape, ..the dots which seemed so disconnected, once upon a time,..in Simla of the Seventies! Would write what turn my life took after this….

Life coming full circle for a girl from Lower Bazaar of Simla of Sixties

Life coming full circle for a girl from Lower Bazaar of Simla of Sixties

The big divide between the majestic Mall and the Lively Lower Bazaar became so apparent to me very early in my life. Though I am still not sure that the difference was just a figment of my imagination or was it real…I am still trying to find an answer to this million dollar question. And if such a big divide did exist, where did it start from? Perhaps some other post for its historic origin from the Raj period. Here in this post  I can answer for myself but not for all and would love to know how it affected others, if it at all it did. 

For my little mind, it started the moment I would reach the top of the Nathu Halwai stairs and had to cross over to the other side.

But when did I become conscious of this divide? For my little mind, it started the moment I would reach the top of the Nathu Halwai stairs and had to cross over to the other side, covering a trans-section of the whole of the Mall with people, rather well-dressed people, coming from both the directions. When I was small, very small, and Amma would send me to Bauji’s office I would run along without bothering for anything. But as I grew a little, an unfounded fear came to my mind, a fear based on my perception that people on the Mall spoke English, only English. I became worried about what if someone would speak to me in English, how would I talk to that person, what if someone from Bauji’s office would start a conversation with me in English?  

I can have a hearty laugh over it, today, but back then it was such a tormented  top-of-the-mind-affair for me. Though something about, how I looked,  which should concern a damsel more, came much later to me. It is intriguing that more than how I looked, how I spoke my English was my biggest concern. I had learnt one sentence, “I don’t know how to speak in English,” which I kept ready in my  arsenal to shoot at anyone who would speak to me in this language. But thankfully no one ever met me who cared or dared to talk to me in English!! But this was the first feeling that I remember of where I was conscious of being the “other” as those who spoke English were different and of course, superior! 

Another concern which I developed was about my clothes, though it surfaced much later. We, in the Lower Bazaar neighborhood, had the vocept of  “ghar wale Kapde”.The moment we came back from the school, we would hang, neatly, our school uniform on a peg at the back of the door as where was the luxury of ironing clothes every now and then? And immediately change into the “ghar wale” clothes and our comfort zone. There was nothing unusual in that, everyone did that. But when I developed pre-teen consciousness and moreover had befriended girls from the high-end neighborhoods, there was an unsaid pressure on my mind while going to Bauji’s office, crossing the no-man-land on the Mall. I was afraid someone from my school may not spot me in those “ghar wale kapde”!  But Amma knew nothing about the theories of child psychology….how could she understand what I went through when I could not change into nicer clothes. Not that the “ghar wale Kapde” were not good but to my little mind they were not good enough for the Mall. That was my second big concern which reminds me of being conscious on the Mall, How would I  evace going in those clothes anywhere near the Mall or wait like a hawk to find a safe zone, brings a smile on my face, even today!

Later when we used to walk back from our school, Lady Irwin, talking leisurely about so many girly gossips, listening to stories of English movies, fashionable to talk about, boyfriends or the boys who followed some girls or threw some chitti towards some chosen ones, enjoying a world which was alien to me, yet endearing. I was slowly enjoying a vicarious identity, entirely different from the real one where I would light up the angeethi after changing into “ghar wale Kapde”! But at one point, once again, I would be in a dilemma when we would be near the Telegraph office, under the gaze of the Woman-in-Blue-Saree, whether to take the road towards the Mall or downwards to the Lower Bazaar side, though both leading to my home. I would take the upper one..the Mall road as it had another attraction…the full length glass on the show-windows, of almost all shops, where I could stealthy look at my whole body image, a rarity in my Lower Bazaar neighborhood. What an achievement it would be to catch a full body image…Moreover it would give me a few extra minutes to listen to scintillating tales from a girl of my class who was recently crowned Miss Simla. A proud achievement, more so because the girl was from Purusharthi mohalla!   How could I let it miss? The feeling of guilt of watching and admiring my tall and shapely sillohete in the glass panes was offset by the fact that if one of us could waltz to glory of being Simla queen, I could, atleast, watch my own image in the glass panes!!

At the stairs leading down to my home, I would run down when there would be no one around, especially a boy following the beautiful ones in our group, I would run down as fast as I could. But if there would be anyone around, I would go still further and walk down from the stairs adjacent to Roshan Studio or even Beekay’s or even further. I knew all the jigsaw puzzles of the stairs like the back of my hand and could dodge anyone on those terrains. 

Once in proximity of my home, I would heave a sigh of relief and change into *ghar wale kapde”!!! Was a bit ashamed of my home and it’s location…and would want so much to have a change of house!! A stage in my life when I was worried about how I spoke, what I wore and where I lived…such immense anxiety producing deadly combinations.

I was like the Alchemist’s Santagio taking my chances as they came my way ““A shepherd always takes his chances with wolves and with drought, and that’s what makes a shepherd’s life exciting.”

And today I don’t even bother how I would be assessed for my fluency in English,ironically the subject I teach, if I am understood in any language, preferably in the language of silence। And as for clothes are concerned, I don’t give a damn about what I wear as I learnt to wear my attitude on my sleeves for others to see. And finallly  at this stage of our life, we are constructing a house big enough to get a small girl get list in its cavernous expance, at a high-end  locality, though all we need today is a small home, bereft of clutter where we live as happy as we can in a quiet neighbourhood

 I wonder today as to why I worried myself to death chasing mirages when today life has come a full circle for me!! 

My question finds answers, perhaps, in the words of Paulo Coelho when asked “Why” by the shepherd boy Santagio. The answer that Santiago gets is equally relevant to the small girl from the Lower Bazaar of Simla of Sixties  ““When I have been truly searching for my treasure, I’ve discovered things along the way that I never would have  had I not had the courage to try things that seemed impossible for a shepherd to achieve.

Mindboggling Excursions of Body, Mind and Tongue…Simla in the Sixties

Mindboggling Excursions of Body, Mind and Tongue…Simla in the Sixties

Whenever Amma would ask us to go to the office of Bauji for some errand…I would be the one to jump with excitement, like a student who raises his hand in the class when he opts to answer a question. And straight would I run up the stairs which were steepest at the uppermost end. Perhaps it had an anology for all of us to learn from that the last flight to the success is the steepest, but such ideas would never come to my mind at that point in time. There was a green wooden divider in the middle of this upper portion of the stairs but having strong and sturdy legs who would need it, at least not I. Crossing the breadth of the Mall, definitely, would be a challenging task but once accomplished, I would be the queen of my own magic world, weaving dreams on the next flight of stairs, watching people and show-windows from the stairs. After enjoying a short spin in my dream world, I would turn right to the Post office, the magnificent Royal green colored Post office, which was once a second home to me. Everyone knew me there. I had an identity. I didn’t even know at that time what it is to have an identity, but whatever it was, I had it. I was Rana Ji’s daughter…or perhaps they might say behind my back, a vagabound child, always on a move! But who cared if you never came across such a comment!

I would be let in, through the huge door with big glass panes…the glass panes had a watermark of British Empire, inbuilt in it. I would watch it with disdain!! I hated that watermark and my mind would think of the story where the slaves bought in a market would be marked by hot iron rods to ensure who they belonged to. I would have the same feeling. Why do we have this glass pane with a watermark of the British Empire? Then shrugging off my frail shoulders, I would move ahead where Bauji would be busy in his work. I would convey the message of Amma and would wait till my customary bakhsheesh was not handed over to me. It would be 5 paise usually or 10 paise when I would be luckier and Bauji in his better mood. The strong-room of the Post office where sometimes Bauji would be working, had big sturdy iron rods around it making it look like a jail. My little mind would weave stories about it that perhaps this was a dungeon in the era of the British where they kept the bravest Indians, who raised a voice against them. I would be afraid of the entire place. It would seem so suffocating to me.  My little palm would be exerting pressure to hold the coin tightly and the lower limbs would be in ready-steady-go mode to run out of the imposing interior arrangement. Even the Khaki uniform of the postmen would remind me of the policemen on duty! And I would literally run out as soon as possible to the fresh air of the outside world…and fresher dreams!

Would jump down the stairs like a hill goat, taking two steps at a time…The flight down the stiars would be a breeze..sometimes, I would glide down from the green wooden railing much to the amusement of the onlookers but who cared as long as they would not report it to Amma.  Once I reached the stairs that led to our home, looking stealthily towards the window, I would straightway head still downwards to Nathu Halwai shop if I had 10 paise in my coin.  Else to the Bhujju, a short combination for Bhaiyya and ji,  the nearby shop of aam-papad, candies and groundnuts etc. . Five paisa would get me anything in a paper pudia and 10 paisa would get me a piece of Burfi from the Nathu Halwai!!! I learnt financial management based on the resources much early in my life!! The paper used to wrap burfi piece or the aam-papad would come as a bonus as I would read it word by word till it would go to the drain or the angitthee!

And feeding both my mind and tummy, I would be back to my cocoon, in the safe haven of my home…till another excursion of both body and mind!!!