Reading… The best gift Bauji bestowed upon me in Simla of the Sixties

Reading… The best gift Bauji bestowed upon me in Simla of the Sixties
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.” How right Steve Jobs has been as I, too, can connect the tiny dots of my growing up years, today, while looking backwards!  The times were simple
Perhaps getting my pelvic girdle fractured resulting in immobilized leg for a long time…with no screen to ogle at…the long winter evenings and my restless soul was the best to happen to me. To top it up Bauji would read to me stories from the Puranas; especially the Mahabharata, the Kalyaan and the all time favourite blue colored hard bound the Arabian Nights! How would I wait for him to read to me. Sitting close to Bauji, watching his lips move while reading aloud the stories,  and I would be transported to a world which only a child’s brain is capable of creating uniquely for her!! Today I can literally imagine so many neural pathways developing while imagining all those outlandish scenes that I had never believed to exist anywhere in the world!

As Bauji could not be there all the time reading stories to me….I learnt to read at a very young age. Perhaps starting with small story books and gradually moving to bigger ones. And once I learnt to read there was nothing to stop me. Any piece of paper with a written word on it would enchant me! I was hooked for life….life of reading!
And now Bauji’s job was to make us read read from the books….he would just listen. When I would read from books in English he would translate the stories into Hindi, giving us the meanings of difficult words in Hindi. And it led him to give us his dictionary and making us look for the meanings ourself!
We were supposed to memorize spellings of difficult words underlined in the page that we would read. Amma would take dictation of this difficult spellings. It makes me laugh today to remember how difficult I would find the spellings of the word “obediently”!! 

This was not specefic to me as we, the kids raised in Simla of the Sixties, had little to do during long winter months except reading and sharing stories, learning new words, memorizing spellings and taking dictations!  There was no television and no spellcheck…. luckily for us….a blessing in disguise though we learner all this in a hard way!

Looking back I wonder had there been tele-screens to hold me to….. would we have waited and cared for someone reading stories to us? Above all during the long cold evenings sitting around Angithee reading and sharing stories was a beautiful way to pass time in those cozy little homes of Lower Bazaar in Simla of the Sixties.

Looking back all dots are falling in line…one dot connecting to another and another and I can see Bauji smiling in his most affectionate way at his daughter who still loves to read!!! Bauji’s best gift to his daughter raised in  Simla of the Sixties!   

C for car and D for dream…growing up in Simla of the Sixties

C for car and D for dream…growing up in Simla of the Sixties
We didn’t see much of vehicles especially cars, during our childhood, plying on the roads which were our playing arena. Though there were plenty if one could watch movement on the cart road!  Never ever in the Lower Bazaar and s numbered ones on the Mall.

As the Mall road was restricted to only the dreaded ambulance with red cross on both the sides and at the rear…. We would be filled with empathy for some very sick person being carried to the hospital. The red coloured fire brigade vehicle with fierce big brass bell tolling and the firemen standing in the vehicle would send a chill down our spine. Though we had never heard of Hemingway’s ” For whom the Bell tolls?” Yet my heart would be filled with fear and dread at where the fire must have engulfed a home! On the contrary the postal Dak carrying vehicle would regularly, without fail,  make a friendly appearance at fixed timings carrying tidings good or bad to connect near and dear ones. I loved this one as it was very close to my very being …my very own!

Though once in a while the Governor’s entourage would pass the Mall road, much admired by us, the kids, as it hadl national  insignia in place of a number plate. We were much in awe of this long and big car symbolising power and authority.
It was a blessing, indeed, for the kids raised in Simla of the Sixties that the very few people who must have owned personal or official cars could not drive those to be anywhere near the Mall. This provided the much sought after equity to all people irrespective of their station in life, at least some equality and equity in appearance!  Everyone strolling on the Mall, more or less, seemed at the same horizontal level of stratification in social hierarchy at least on this account.

So, under these circumstances I never nurtured a dream of being in a car…or to go on a long drive, leave alone owning  one!

It must have been early Sixties when the film “Dil Ek Mandir” was shown by the Sound and Drama Division. One particular scene that vividly stayed in my memory was of the beautiful car with open roof wherein Rajender Kumar and Meena Kumari drive to a point and dance around trees singing the song “Yahan koi nahi tera mere siwa…”! I  loved that car!!! Perhaps I enjoyed vicariously what I could not otherwise!

The year must have been 1974 or 75 when my Bauji was taken to the hospital in an ambulance while I accompanied him. My very first experience of sitting in the dreaded vehicle though it was such a relief to  get him admitted in the Snowdon hospital with very high blood pressure. As many of my class-fellows, both boys and girls, had got admitted to Medical college Shimla so they would drop in to inquire of his welfare. Honestly, I would be ashamed, embarrassed and angry in their presence when they acted like real doctors, flaunting their white overalls.  Bauji lay in the bed as a patient and I stood at his bedside as his caretaker!  My frustration was as I had not been anywhere near the list of candidates and continued going to Sanjauli college.
One evening, one of my class-fellows came and sat for a long time with us. It was time for me to go to Chhotta Shimla where we lived those days.
We walked towards the kuchha road leading towards Lakkar Bazaar when this boy  suddenly opened the door of a white Premier Padmini car and offered to drop me at Chhota Shimla! A student owning or druving a car was very rare  those days. I was really taken aback. That was my first car drive in Simla. Though I was happy but also afraid that someone may not see me sitting in a car with a boy!!!

The second that I remembered was when Kaka, Sulakshna Arya, who was a councillor,  offered to drop us , my daughter and I who were walking towards IIAS. When my daughter showed a little hesitation, Kaka said in her unique style, ‘ You don’t know bachha what a privilege it is to drive through these restricted roads of Simla!” It really was! Then few more car rides followed…alongwith my younger brother who was Dy. S. P. City and once or twice I accompanied him in his official car.
But to be honest during all these car drives on the restricted roads of the Mall, numbered though they were, I felt guilty….extremely guilty of polluting the sanctity of Simla roads and the tradition of non- plying of vehicles on these roads. I had, in a way, disturbed the culture of equality and equity which to me is the hallmark of pedestrians strolling on the roads of Simla! It felt like going to the Puja room with your shoes on! Blasphemous!

Growing up in Simla of the Sixties made our generation value and uphold the traditions that made Simla a unique place but sadly it is no more so!!! Though how I wish it were so!
( The post surfaced out of my latent memories because of the pic of the multi-storey car parking posted by Nanda ji) 

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From Face on the wall to Buddha on the wall….growing up in Simla of the Sixties

From Face on the wall to Buddha on the wall….growing up in Simla of the Sixties

The small little houses, in narrow lanes of Lower Bazaar, invariably had at least one wall that would be damp with plastering peeling off the wall resulting in shapes and figures open to countless interpretations!  The white lime on the wall would discolor, the underneath material would result in various shapes on the wall….filling the fertile little minds with imaginative characters weaving around those shapes. That was a game for us…the kids…  raised in the Simla of the Sixties as fortunately we didn’t have any tele-screens to ogle at!!!

I think this happened after we read the story “The face on the Wall” which, if I am not mistaken was in one of our course books…. though don’t recollect exactly…which class it was!  But after reading that story all the damp impressions on the wall would make me think of clouds, elephants and whatnot on the not-so-plane   surface of the damp wall with bits of upper crust of plaster coming off at places! So when I say sitting with a book in my hand and pretending to do my school work I would be watching for new imaginative faces or objects coming out on the wall and perhaps weaving a story!

It is so strange that this memory raised its head when I was planning, in my new house, to use the space under the stairs. I didn’t want this space to be used as a small bar or a display rack for knic- knacks or worse a shoe rack hidden under the stairs.

The reason was more for practical reasons. I  had carried to Palampur, despite protests from my kids to dispose it off, the big iron sheet box storing some ten big quilts… And I wanted this big “peti” to be put somewhere but not to mar the looks of the mouse, it had to be hidden away from the common view and common space. I was on “Peti Bachao” mission as I knew that if I don’t find an appropriate place for it….the poor thing would find a way out as the quilts had a better place to be stored in…the box beds!!

I thought hard and Lo I got the solution. What a better place it could be then to fit it under the stairs and cover up the front part with plyboard planks in the style of folding doors of old style shops of Simla of the Sixties!
Next was what to do on the plyboard …to cover it with Mica or some other veneer or plain paint or polish?

It was then that I thought of the images on the wall which I loved so much during my childhood. All thanks to Simla memories churning out because of this lovely group interactions.
So it was a big Buddha face which I wanted to adorn my under-the-stairs area with!!!
I started with sketching, drawing on big sheets, cutting those sheets and pasting on the folding door of this area till I was somehow satisfied of the right size and shape.

The project is still going on…I still devote some two hours to it but it has filled my house and my very being with peace and tranquility. The umpteen times when I go up and down these stairs the Buddha face fills me with a feeling which I cannot explain in words … the feeling of being at peace with myself! Is it not what we all crave and live for!

Having come a long way from the face on the damp wall in the small house of Lower Bazaar in Simla of the Sixties….to the serene and peaceful Buddha…is a long journey full of struggles, dreams, failures and intrigues of friends but nothing in vain! Learning my lessons from my life journey I wish you all Happy Buddh Purnima …may Buddha enlighten our life with peace and love!

Missing Mixed Namkeen….and the mixed lovely neighbourhood of Simla of the Sixties

The Mixed Namkeen….the mixed lovely neighbourhood of Simla of the Sixties
Sometimes, Amma would send me to get Daal-seviyaan from a shop between lower bazaar tunnel and the stairs to Nai Factory. It would be, invariably,  when some guests would come and Amma wanted to serve chatpati Daal seviyaan in the small white china clay plate. We always called it Daal seviyaan and never Daal bhujia!!

I would be so happy. How excitedly I would reach the shop, in a jiffy, with a few coins in my hand, perhaps four chawannis or two athaanis or a two-rupee note!!

This shop, with big thaals placed in an ascending order so that one could watch all the different types of fried channa daal, seviyaan, fried moongfali daana, fried moong, was a universe of its own kind. It had everything! The pride of place would be ” kooje wali mishri” perched atop all the displayed varieties of mixed Namkeen. There were different varieties of Gachhaks as well…. So many….of them!
That shopkeeper would sit on a small space surrounded with all these items kept in front and to his left. The one big thaal would have all these items in different peace meal segments….elongated and triangular in shape  ….converging at the top. And when I would give him the money….the magic would start. He would scoop a little of channa daal, a little of seviyaan, very little of fried moongfali daana and some other tit-bits. How would I  pray and wish, in my small little heart, fir him to be liberal whole scooping moongfali daana!! He had a very small taraaju with him and the weights, too, were very delicate….. Perhaps in the denomination 50 gms. or 100 gms. and if I remember correctly he had few stone to be used as weights as well for 25 gms. ….   He would weigh the mixture on that small tarajoo and very deftly would transfer the mixture to a paper cone. Now making of this paper cone was such a tricky thing but he mad it do deftly…. He would make a cone out of a paper taken fron an old copy, role it with putting one hand inside it, and folding the tiny point neatly. Putti g all the mixture in that cone….he would add all those spices, one by one, just a small pinch of each.  These spices would be which would occupy the wonderful place of pride in his shop… neatly displayed near his seating space. The last touch of the magical mixture would be squeezing a few drops of lemon juice from a half cut lemon waiting to be squeezed!!
He would very lovingly fold the protruded corners of the cone, securing it tightly and hand it over in my small hand. … I would run back with that precious bundle of magic in my hands.

And before I forget let me share how greedily but patiently we would wait….eying, from behind the curtain, the white plate with colorful spread of those beauties….and watching with horror the guests picking up the best of the pieces. We would be wishing for them to leave and would pounce upon the plate even when the visitors had put only one foot out of the door! We were really bhukkhad but what a joy it was. I pity my grandkids for missing this joy when each one of them would have their own Haldiram’s Bhujia packet in the hands. How would they learn all those beautiful lessons of life that we learnt in the alleys of Lower Bazaar of Simla of the Sixties!!! I wish I could let them experience the joy of watching the magic of real Daal seviyaans in that little shop.

I would admire each and everything in his shop… I couldn’t understand how did he prepare all those things all by himself …how could he manage to display all those items in such beautiful manner where each item, even when being part of the whole, would maintain it’s individual identity… And how did he know that the real taste of Daal seviyaan would be when each of the ingredient would be mixed properly! 
That was just like our Simla of the yore …Simla of the Sixties where all people lived together but at the same time maintained their individual identity….so many alleys, so many neighbourhoods but for the real savouring of the soul of Simla we amalgamated like the mixed namkeen to relish magic of real Simla…in the narrow lanes of Lower Bazaar of Simla of the Sixties!!

Biscuit wala kanastar emanating aroma of homely Bakeries near Sabzi Mandi….growing up in Simla of the Sixties

Biscuit wala kanastar emanating aroma of homely Bakeries near Sabzi Mandi….growing up in Simla of the Sixties

It has been years but memories raise their head evoked by a name, an aroma or a crunching sound….memories of growing up in Simla of the Sixties….and savouring the bakery biscuits with all my senses!!!

Life back then was simple and basic… We never had heard the name of a confectionary store…rather the word was not  a part of our vocabulary during childhood. There were, for sure, confectionary stores in the Lower Bazaar but we called them “biscuit wali dukaan” or “Toffee wali dukaan”!!
For us…the morning round of the Double roti wallah in all the mohallas of Lower Bazaar was a walking confectionary store, a store at our doorsteps…. fresh and colorful!

Despite the daily ritual of listening to loud voice proclaiming the arrival of “Double Roti wallah” at our doorstep and peeping greedily at his Tin wallah Baksa, I would excitedly wait for a visit to the bakeries near the Sabzi Mandi ground…. bakeries wherefrom the soft and fresh double roti would reach every nook and corner of Simla. What a name it was…Double Roti….double or rather 10 times more bloated in size than my Amma’s humble fulka!! I would wonder how they made it and the place where they made it was always an enigma for me. So I would eagerly wait for a visit to a bakery at the end of Sabzi Mandi along with my Amma.

Every month or second month Amma would take Atta, a little sujee, desi ghee, sugar and a little milk in a lota to a Bakery where someone known to her was working. We would leave the material with them if they would be busy and return after some hours to take the freshly baked biscuits….our only confectionary delicacy!!!
But I would rather wait and see the magic of all those soot covered earthen ovens, with red light of Amber’s,  had in the labyrinth of their maze. How the fluffy, bloated, steaming hot bread, buns would come out of the magic maze and fill my nose with an aroma which even Amma’s chapatis lacked!! The upper crust would be golden brown in colour!!
But then I would wait for the biscuits, with a star like design on the top, would be fresh, crispy and would melt in my mouth with an initial crunching sound. I would wish the bakery- wallah to hand me over a few while I sat there but he would not. He would put, very deftly, tin trays inside the hot oven and bring them out after a while….changed in colour, texture and size! It was a miracle to watch. I wish my grandkids watch how biscuits are made….at least once!vhow incredibly lucky we have been as kids!

Once the job was done and Amma paid the amount for baking…we would carry them back in a cannister. Looking back I wonder why we never felt ashamed of carrying a jhoka, a cannister or even a lota full of milk in our hands and walking whole of the Lower Bazaar to its eastern end! Was it the greed of getting  a few biscuits… No it was not greed but it was that there was no such consciousness of presenting a delicate and sophisticated self in the busy market of the Lower Bazaar. But gradually as I grew up, I remember bring conscious of carrying a jhola full of groceries in the Bazaar or a cannister of biscuits. I would prefer taking two trips carrying biscuits in smaller containers… inconspicuous, in our hands! Or would cross over to the first stairs from the Lower Bazaar to the Middle Bazaar  and  take the meandering stairs that happily connected both the ends of Lower Bazaar. But such was the charm of freshly baked biscuits that we would carry it home despite many distractions.
Once back home….the Tin Kanastar would be put at its dedicated place ..close to the kitchen where big trunks were kept. It would be under the scrutinizing eyes of Amma and no one would be able to steal a piece from it.
We learnt self-restraint as there was no other choice but when Amma would sit in the Sun gossiping with neighbouring “Bobbos”….we would try our hand at stealing a few…removing the paraphernalia kept on the Tin Kanastar. In small houses every available flat surface was to be put to use be it the small square top of a Tin Kanastar. And then we would wipe clean our face for any remnant of a speck of sooji or atta left at the corner of our mouth. My sister would be there with me to keep watch on sudden appearance of Amma but luckily Amma would be busy basking in the Sun.
The Biscuit wala tin Kanastar taught us to acquire restraint and also to steal when we could!! And the biscuits inside were heavenly. Getting two in our hands was a bliss. I am surprised at the great choice which the present day generation Z kids have but they crave for more and more choices. We had none but we’re more satiated and content.
I still crave for the aroma, the crunching sound and the feel of freshly baked biscuits of the bakeries at the far end of Lower Bazaar….the bakeries that vanished with the passage of time leaving only the memories in young hearts of oldies raised in Simla of the Sixties!!!
( The picture credit as well the memory credit goes to Sanjay Austa)

Sense and Sensibility in Simla of the Sixties….Kaajal….homemade ….pure and ingenuous

Sense and Sensibility in Simla of the Sixties….Kaajal….homemade ….pure and ingenuous

Amma would tilt a Kansa thali on the Diya that lit our home on the Diwali night!!! The light of Diya would simmer through the reflection of reddish golden surface of the thali and fill our home with a soft hues of golden light through our the long Amavasya night of Diwali.

In the morning Amma would very cautiously scrap the carbon soot deposited on the golden surface of the thaali and put that in a small dibbi. She would melt a few drops of ghee in a spoon and add just a drop of melted ghee to the carbon powder. With the backside of a matchstick she would mix both and the Kaajal would be ready to use. She would say while we watched over her shoulders, “You have to be careful while adding ghee drops….a little more and the Kaajal would run down your eyes….down your cheeks…!” and would add giggling, “making you  look like a Bhootni!” As Amma’s finger would be smeared with newly made Kaajal …she would apply Kaajal to our eyes, saying, “Kaajal made on Amavasya night is so auspicious. I don’t know whether it was true or Amma in her prudent and frugal ways made use of the pooja lamp to make kaajal!!!

This Kaajal dibiya would find its place in the Tikka Bindu dabba of Amma. Kaajal was an integral part of Tikka Bindu dabba of Amma. She, too, would put a little of kaajal on the tip of her middle finger, stretching the skin under her eye downwards with her other finger and glide a fine line on the inner side of her eye!!! Eyes would come to life with a touch of fine line! I would sit watching her closely and she would rub the same finger on right side of my tample and say, “Ab nazar nahi lagegi!” She would put a little of it in our eyes if we happened to run around her while she opened this dabba during her makeup session! I would be around her most of the time….

In the Simla of the Sixties….eye makeup consisted of simple Kaajal and that, too, in a much simple form. Kaajal would be applied only to the inside of an eye…a little extension outside the eye would make one seem fashionable. Just a small tail attached to the eye and you were labeled much fashionable! “Poonchh” it was called…though some daredevil girls would apply one or three dots to the “poonch” of the Kaajal!

Bhenjji was very fair with round face and chubby cheeks…. I would sit close to her when she would open her Tikka Bindu dabba. When she would apply Kaajal in her eyes…her eyes would sparkle with a beauty which no eye makeup can match. She would find in me a great listener and would say, “When I would apply Kaajal in my eyes, I would keep my eyes downcast while talking to Bauji!” Bhenjji lived in her natal home and talked about her Bauji, the Vakeel babu. I would be surprised as what was there in applying Kaajal to your eyes. But that was how life was in the Forties when Bhenjji must have been young in a young Simla of the Forties!

It was in late Sixties that we came to know about “Eyebrow pencils” …. And how we craved for it. It revolutionized the freedom of eye makeup. One could carry it in one’s ba if she so wanted! This pencil would be used to darken the eyebrows and some girls would use it as Kaajal to be put to magnify the shape of their eyes! A few would use it on the eyelid as well….just a thin line extending to the outside! What ingenuity we would have with the humble eyebrow pencil.

The Fancy Store in the Lower Bazaar, D.R. Vohra’s show windows and even Gainda Mull Hem Raj displayed eyebrow pencils in neat rows held with an elastic bank on a thick paper!!!  Eye makeup was revolutionized by this small black humble eyebrow pencil!

Amma’s Kaajal Dibbi, perhaps,  suffered some inferiority complex by the advent of Eyebrow pencil but all the women of my humble mohalla used only Kaajal in their eyes! This Kaajal would be sufficient for whole of the year and on next Diwali….once again Kaajal would be made! Kaajal dibbi was a very essential part of Tikka Bindu dabba. Though I never noticed it at that point of time but looking back I remember that almost all women in our neighbourhood would apply Kaajal in their eyes! Akhrot ki Datun would colour their lips and a big bindi on the forehead and that’s all!!!

Eyebrow pencils were a rage with the growing up girls but true to the dictum “Old is Gold” Kaajal is still a rave with old fashioned people like me.

Treading the footsteps of my Amma, I, too, make Kaajal every Diwali and put a little thin line in my eyes in the morning when I make Kaajal. When I look at the carbon deposited on the plate and scrape it on a paper ….I travel back to the lanes of Lower Bazaar where we watched it prepared.
Every Diwali night, just like my Amma,  I would put a thaali tilted at a particular angle on the Diya and would collect carbon soot and would make Kaajal from it! Later on, after my marriage, I found another interesting way to make Kajal more effective by women iin my village. They would put the kajal on banana leaf and wrap it up. This would be put in some banana stem by ripping it a little, just a little so as not to harm the plant. after a day or two the Kajal would be brought out and stored in a dibbi. I was told that this Kajal, when applied to the eyes, would give such soothness to one’s eyes! Some innovative ideas our ancient wisdom practices had which we have lost in the quest for modernity.

Though my daughters grew up watching me make Kaajal but I am not  sure whether they would ever make it on their own. In our times….in Simla of  the Sixties the poor Kaajal had to compete with an eyebrow pencil, eyeliner and mascara but these days the humble Kaajal has to defend itself from an army of eye makeup products invading the market. But it is the purity of the Kaajal that has made it survive despite such an onslaught on its very survival by the new products.

During those days there was not much of eye infection or the one caused by Kaajal. Every newborn baby would have a steak of Kajal out in her eyes and a small black for on the eyebrow or tample!! But these days all such things are old-fashioned and obsolete. My kajal dibbi would lie neglected in one corner as no one wants to make any use of it.

Women buy Kajjal dibbis only to be put in Suhagi to be given on Karwachauth….these dibbis are never opened and I am glad that no one opens and applies them as who knows what kind of carbon these are made up of! 
I wonder that the soot collected in almost 12 hours is just 2-3 grams so how much oil lamp one would need to burn to fill one dibbi of kajal!

I am still following the traditions and practices and making a little of Kaajal every Amavasya night on Diwali as I still believe that it has the power to ward off any eveil eye cast towards you. It has proved its mettle….Amma would put a tiny dot of Kaajal on one side of my forehead even though being “Kalo” I didn’t need any!!!!

I wait for Amma to put a dot on my tample sayinh, “Ab meri Kalo ko nazar nahi lagegi!:

Long live the purity of home made Kaajal!  

Cleaning home, hearth and hearts on Diwali….growing up in Simla of the Sixties

Cleaning home, hearth and hearts on Diwali….growing up in Simla of the Sixties

Every home would be scrubbed clean…..every nook and corner would be rubbed of any dust…real or imagined. Amma would give a new facelift to the dear faithful Angithee….a new makeover of the “chikniest” chikni mitti!!

We, the kids, would get the photos hanging with the thin ropes from the the walls and scrub the dust off by cleaning it with a small piece of cloth dipped in water…but squeezed tightly before putting it on the glass frame! Ram, Sita, Lakshman and the Hanuman ji at their feet would get a new lease of shine and life by our tiny hands. I would watch critically all the faces of the gods who would be in my hands and imagine how coming of a god home made everyone so happy…..
The little white table cloth with  Dasooti embroidery would get a new lease of life.  The red and green pattern would sparkle on the bluish tinge of white cloth….Amma would add a liberal sprinkle of neel to whiten it during wash! After all it was Diwali cleanliness! The new bedcover on the wooden Takhtposh..besides the cleanest glass panes of the almirah would show clearly the proud set of mugs and a little china clay saucers stacked one over the another….waiting to be brought out when Amma would wish to impress some special guests.
The little house would come to life! Neat, clean and sparkling. The floor would be mopped clean by adding a few droplets of kerosine to the water in chilamchi and the shine would be really great.
Amma would have soaked some Serra in a bowl and we woukd wait eagerly for the yearly ritual of making patterns on the floor with tiny foot symbolising the entry of goddess Lakshmi to the innermost corner where Amma would put a new photo of Lakshmi on a wooden patda!

I would be in such an excited mode….running from one house to another…watching the designs in white being made by women of the house! Leela Bhenjji would make the best designs….minute and intricate and would cover an entire puja room whereas ours were small and simple.
In small houses…even Lakshmi ji had to tread carefully while making an entry as the same door was used for the mortals and the immortal goddess. She had to be satisfied with whatever pathway was designed for her in her special day. We would jump across so as not to spoil the design laid on the sparkling floors. As the cement floor would be of darker hue, the white designs would come to life when dried! It would look beautiful!
In this special day the small gods in the alcove on the wall would also come down to accompany goddess Lakshmi. And how we would make them sparkle by rubbing them with dry ash from he Angithee. No Brasso or Pitambari powder….just the simple warm fine coal ash would do the trick in our small hands! I would rub them till the peetal god’s would sparkle and shine like gold! Ah….Amma would put a few of her gold ornaments along with a Chandi ruppaiya bought on Dhanderas in the puja thali. “This is the day to worship Lakshmi….She visits every home today!” Such strong conviction she had of Lakshmi visiting our little home and why would Lakshmi not visit our home, I would think when we had cleaned it to the maximum possible!
A small puja if goddess Lakshmi where we all would sit around squeezing some space to accommodate all at one place at the same time. I would look at the kheel, batasha and the khillone along with a few pieces of Nathu Halwai sweets in the puja thali and wonder what Lakshmi would enjoy the most when She comes to visit our home!
Amma would put lots of oil in the diya as it had to burn the entire night. ..who knows when would Lakshmi come to our home! The Diya must show her the way…the designed path on the floor, specifically drawn for Her!
We would sleep with yellowish light bathing the entire house in a pale light. Though Amma would put a thali tilted at a specific angle on the diya to collect the black soot yet the light would find a way out from under it. Rather the reflection of diya light on the kanse ki thali would add a mystic touch to the yellowish light emitted from the humble diya!  I would try to remain awake for a ling time to have a glimpse of Lakshmi  when She comes but overactive day would make my eyes sleepy and I would not be awake when Lakshmi would have paid a visit to our home. In the morning Amma would distribute the sweets to us as the prasaad as she believed that Lakshmi ji must have tasted a little of the offerings made to her. Then she would collect the carbon soot and by adding a little of ghee to it would store it in a kajal dibbi. She would lovingly put a little of Kajal in our eyes and say, “This is to ward off effects of any evil eye!” And I would jump around whole if the neighbourhood in koheled eyes as I felt it had a magic potion…blessed by Lakshmi herself!
I believe it was the clean and pure hearts, beliefs and intentions that made us belive in the arrival of Lakshmi to our small house in the Lower Bazaar of Simla of the Sixties that made the trick.
Now the floor us pure white marble from Makrana in our house….would the white design visible on it? I try cleaning the house but have less of energy and conviction. I watch the neighbourhood where helping hands ar cleaning the houses….and I wonder when would these helping hands get time to clean thrir own houses. Then my mind is engulfed with another question… would Lakshmi  come to the houses in my neighbourhood or to the houses of those whose hands are cleaning these houses….

A real dilemma for  Lakshmi for sure! But after all She is a goddess and knows it all….
I pray to her and tell her that whatever way I have indulged in cleaning….it is from the depth of my heart and to the best if my capacity without relying on any outside help. The nooks and corners may have dust to be cleaned but it is my heart that I try to clean of any dust or dirt!!!
She knows it all and may She bless us all today and everyday!!
Happy Diwali to all my FB friends….my FB family!!!

Esteemed pedestral that humble jhadoo occupied….in Simla of the Sixties

Esteemed pedestral that humble jhadoo occupied….in Simla of the Sixties

Amma had some very strict rules that we learnt to follow regarding the humblest of the humble…..jhadoo!! There were three very different and distinct types of Jhadoos in our home and such were the strict rules governing the conduct of these Jhadoos that none would  transgress the powers and area assigned to each one of them.
The Jhadoo used for brooming the living area was, invariably,  made of Khajoor leaves….very neatly woven and tied together at one  end in coloured khajoor leaves. The other loose end would spread like peacock feathers to do the humble task it was destined to! It would go under the books and corners of the small little house and bring out even the tiniest bit of dust out in the open. Amma would assign us, by turns, the task of cleaning the house with this humble jhadoo. I think that being petite and flexible we could easily slide under the bed and bring out all the little specks of dust from every corner. And how dedicated we were that even when Amma could not cross check performance of the task by gliding under the bed for inspection, she knew that we would do the job to utter perfection. All houses in the neighbourhood had the same cleaning process…. driving away every loose bit of dust out of the home! This jhadoo was having a very strong handle but was much flexible down the handle giving it mobility and flexibility to clean the narrowest of spaces.  The pointed fang like leaves of palm would be working better than a vaccum cleaner in our tiny little hands…. And no one had heard the words like “Child labour”….thankfully!! What life lessons this humble object had if only we could learn at that age and time! To be strong enough at the base to move around but with roots intact….and to have the flexibility and bending capacity to clean up any accumulation of untoward elements!!!

Once the task was done…the humblest jhadoo would find its place in a corner….behind the door or the lone side table that we had! It had to stand proud and straight but hidden from the gaze of others!!

To clean “challa” a different Jhadoo was used ..a jhadoo made of sharp “teellis”… This jhadoo would be much bigger in size and would be difficult to manage when new but over a period of time it’s pointed ends would become smaller, sharper and much pointed,   it would be tamed as per the requirement of any home. It would become small in size….to be kept in one corner of the challa. Amma would scrub the challa with its bristle like pointed ends…after cleaning of utensils, washing of clothes or any other mundane task when challa would be used. This jhadoo would drive away any droplet of water on the surface of challa by scrubbing it clean. Amma would sometimes scrub harshly at the points where she dreaded accumulation of any water drops! This jhadoo would be of darker hues when brand new but gradually it would become sharp and brighter in hue after use. It not only cleaned the dirt from the challa but got itself cleaned up in the process. What a deal it was!!! We would use its bristles to makr bows and arrows during the frenzy of Ramleela days reducing its girth to much slimmer proportions….so slim that Amma would notice and admonish us! It’s pointed ends would be used to put in ear lobe holes when the stem of Vudyamata, the fern, would fail to enter it. But of course a little snaring of kaura tel, the mustard oil, on it would make it slippery to glide in smallest of the holes. What a yeoman service it would provide to the ever ingenious pack of kids in the humble mohalla of Lower Bazaar in Simla of the Sixties!!

The third type of jhadoo was called “joodi” by Amma and it was the most prized one for her. A much smaller in size, it was made up of fine hairlike jute threads, the one used for rope making. Its prime area of cleaning was the tiniest area near the Angithee. It would never be taken out of the dedicated area and whenever Amma was done with cooking she would bring out this small “Joodi” and clean up the area. This small “Joodi” enjoyed immense power and privileges…it could clean up the spillover on the Angithee itself …a power nothing else had except the “Koochee” dipped in fine clay and goloo!!!
This Joodi would never leave the sanctity of the humble ara near the kitchen.
Surprisingly all the three different jhadoos had their own area to clean and none could take over the other’s area. Everyone, even the humble jhadoos, knew their boundaries and none were transgressed! 

These humblest of creatures enjoyed all due respect. Amma would say, “This is Lakshmi….driving away all the “dridar” from our home away!” If by chance anyone would put a foot on a jhadoo….he would instantly bow low and seek apologies… the same way as we did when our feet touched a paper or a book by mistake…. Amma would say…”A new jhadoo is always welcomed in the house the way a new bride is!!!” Later I saw in villages of Mandi and Kangra that a new “Jhadoo” or “Bonkri” as it is called at some places, is covered in red chunni along with a big jhadoo or even a stick….moved around a tree…just like the ritual of phere in a marriage and brought in with live and respect! And why not as this humble bring would be keeping your home and hearth clean of all impurities…physical or otherwise!
Sometimes sitting around the Angithee and listening to stories of the ghosts and Churails …Amma would tell how Daains or the Witches would fly over to Daain range of mountains on a particular Amavasya night using brooms as the flying carriers. We would laugh over it and look at the humble Jhadoo standing in the corner…..and would not believe a word about this story.  Much later when I visited Daain Park near Kamand Mandi I thought could it be true that all the witches would have an annual assembly here….coming from different parts astride the humble brooms?? Jhadoos were really enigmatic!

Where did we get these humble beings from in Simla of the Sixties…. What I remember is that all grocery shops had the “Teeli” wale jhadoos displayed in a corner of the shop but the other delicate ones could be bought from some special shops only.

There was a quaint little shop opposite to the Chandel Medical store selling ropes, khadaon, baskets and the humble jhadoos. The old couple lived in the upper floor of the small shop. I was much intrigued by the shop as it’s books and corners are full of so many queer little things whicht seemed, no one bought  any more. But the old man would open his shop religiously and sit there. The jhadoos and khadaons and the ropes in different sizes and shapes were the hallmark of this shop.Amma bought her Jhadoos and “Joodis” from this shop. And then there was an old lady in Laddakhi mohalla who weaved baskets from khajoor leaves….she, too, would weave a jhadoo of khajoor leaves on order. I remember buying it from her as well!!! Jhadoos would be welcomed and initiated to the home on an auspicious day…and why would it not be when all cleaning was fond by the women of the house themselves!!
Our sweepress of the mohalla had her own Jhadoo which was much sturdier and robust….as it would clean all the outside space of the mohalla, the drains and the stairs. She had a dedicated place where she would keep her jhadoo once the job was done. We were strictly warned never to touch that broom, leave alone using it !!! How strange…we never questioned it! We accepted whatever was said by the elders of the mohalla!  Different jhadoos….had different positioning in cleaning stratification of the homes of the humble mohalla of Lower Bazaar of Simla in the Sixties!!!

Though I am trying hard to recollect but an not able to is regarding how these humble creatures were disposed off when they had outrun their utility .. I can neither remember nor can believe that they were treated as trash even when they were of no use …I don’t remember having seen a used broom put in the trash bin … Perhaps they were washed away in the flowing water to give them ceremonial goodbye  for the services they rendered when in working condition. Would be glad to know more about it from my friends in the group.
But whatever it may have been…looking back at the dimple and humble life in the mohalla of Lower Bazaar of Simla in the Sixties….I can vouchsafe that we learnt to value and respect each and every person or object and treated all as a part of a big loving family. There is no doubt about it….my gratitude to  life and the lessons it has taught us!!!   And my gratitude to the humblest jhadoo….though it was used at times to reprimand us as well!!!!  

Multihued and polychromatic character of Lower Bazaar of Simla of the Sixties

Multihued and polychromatic character of Lower Bazaar of Simla of the Sixties

My mornings would be started with the melodious singing of Prabhat Pheri which  a group of dedicated men and women would participate in…..every single morning, all seasons….in Lower Bazaar of Simla in the Sixties. I would wonder why they have to walk around whole of the Bazaar singing devotional songs….so early in the morning!! What drives them?  Sometimes to cater to my curiosity I would venture out and see this small group walking towards the Tar Ghar and then return there from….singing very soothing bhajans.  The melodious and serene voices just mingling to one single voice would herald wellbeing of all the residents of Simla irrespective of who or what they were!!! Who were those people comprising the Prabhat Pheri….I never knew nor had any desire to know as just like different voices mingling up to become one single voice, the whole group seemed like one single mass,  all were bound by something much above it.
Soon after the Arya Samaj Mandir would come to life and  chanting of Vaidik Mantras would be finding a way to my ears as Arya samaj Mandir was not even fifty yards away from our humble abode! My ears, soul and mind would seep in all this unconsciously while I would be busy in mundane morning tasks…. and waiting for Bauji to go to Shiv mandir in the Middle Bazaar.

The first thing that attracted me at the entrance of the Shiv mandir was the big  ghanta…hanging with the help of a very solid metal chain. I would jump up and would try to reach it…. The sound of the Ghanta would vibrate and resonate for a long time… Bauji would say that the sound emanating from the Ghanta of a mandir travels deep to one’s soul clearing it of all malice as the metal of the Ghanta had a mixture of so many metals….all becoming just one!

The Masjid, barely a flight of steps away, had its own daily azaan….  It’s big huge cavernous hall would be enigmatic for me. We would play near to the main hall  as Neera Khanna, my school mate, lived there. And while playing with Meera and Sheela, the daughters of Deepak Bhojnalaya, I would try to see the person who would be paying his obeibeisanc to his God!.
Sometimes it would be Daulat Ram Chauhan uncle, with big moustaches, sitting comfortably in the single-room  house of Shakuntla Massi, talking to us kids, when the evening azaan would be paid, It was as usual as it is to listen to a any other sound in the neighborhood….no fuss was made about it. Shakuntla Massi would be often sitting outside her home on the wooden Dewan made of rough planks and chatting to Hatoes who lived in the room nextdoor! No one thought of this as unusual.
In the evening we would run up the stairs to the St. Mark’s Church which housed Government primary school during the day and transformed into our playing space in the evening. Sometimes we would go to the Church near the St. Thomas school and play there as well. No one stopped us. 
Gurudwara Sahib was relatively far and one hadd to cross the busy Cart toad so ositing this was not very frequent but on some special occasions…the kids of my mohalla would run to the Gurudwara sahib and were awestruck by the sense of devotion and piety the sewaks had! The Nissan Sahib flying atop it would make us think of the supreme sacrifice….of his own sons…. by Guru Govind singh ji!!! 
When I get up and started college at Sanjauli….Jassi, our friend would take us to Sanjauli Gurudwara. I experienced the serenity and peace at this Gurudwara. Even much later…whenever I visit Chandni Chowk in Delhi…I must may my obeisance at the Gurudwara Sheesh Gunj Sahib!!! Just sitting there and listening to the soothing shabd in itself is so soothing for me even today….. I am reminded of the Prabhat pheris in the Lower Bazaar of Simla of my days!
We were the kids of a generation where stories from rich Indian culture were our staple diet. And these stories in black and white were experienced around us where there was love and harmony all around…..everyone coexisting….with pure bliss and peace!! I am so grateful to have been born in that small house and raised in the living neighbourhood of Lower Bazaar of Simla in the Sixties….for instilling basic human values in the kids of Simla of the Sixties!!! What else I could have asked from life……when I had received the experience of a lifetime!!! I am so grateful for being raised and groomed in the narrow lanes of Lower 6 Simla of the Sixties where my persona developed wide….open…and all inclusive!!!


Luxury of bulbs and a table lamp… lighting the life while growing up in Simla of the Sixties

Electric bulbs of 40 watts, sixty watts or a hundred watts…the choice was to be made! Perhaps this was the only choice we could have while growing up in the humble neighborhood of Lower Bazaar in Simla of the Sixties!. The exception was to have a fifteen watts bulb or even a zero watt bulb which we used, that too, covered with a cloth, hidden under the bed, when light was needed during curfew times….and Bittu, my young infant brother would howl if there was pitch dark. Though the choices were scarce, resources were scarce but the happiness was unlimited! Could a limited choice result in limited dreams or restrict our dream? No

Bulbs were prized household items. Sometimes when I would switch on the light…. and with a blurb and a flash the light would flicker for a fraction of second and would go off! Oh… the bulb would be fused! Amma would always ask, “Bulb kisne fuse kiya?” It was as if the culprit had fused the bulb out of shear pleasure….and the accusing fingers would be on the poor soul who had taken the finger to the brass up and down switch which was the real culprit! Else the current that flowed through the wires to the bulb. The best was not to announce that the bulb had fused but to pretend innocent and let some one else switch on the light and then shout…. “Amma isne bulb fuse kar diya!” Looking back I find it so amusing that breaking of a thermometer and fusing of a poor Sixty watt bulb or a much humbled china clay pyali would result in such a bedlam in the house….but this was how it was in our humble home in the Simla of the Sixties!

There was a loose electric cable with a holder on one end and we would put the fused bulb on that….look at the filament…and if there was any remote chance of joining the loose ends of filament…the bulb would be rotated at all possible direction till the filament joined and with a sudden sparkle the bulb would come back to life…. What a moment of happiness it would be…the mended bulb would be very cautiously unfixed from the cable and fixed on the place it was supposed to have been at! Ah…the movement had to be very precise and delicate as sometimes the poor filament would give way and the bulb would not light up! On some lucky days it would light up and there would be a cry of joy for saving an almost dead bulb! In bulbs we had a choice…the ordinary transparent bulbs and the milk-white bulbs emanating much brighter light just like a tube light! But you could not join the filaments in this milky white bulb as none could be seen so the choice would be to purchase simple bulbs!

The loose electric cable, a very ordinary red and yellow wire, was so handy. It would be used as a table lamp though there would be no table…it would be hung from a big nail in the wall and would act like our table lamp! We would cut a thick piece of paper  from the old copies or magazines and cut that in conical form to give a semblance of a shade to the bulb! No one had heard of night-shades or other filmy style floor lamps to give a dim lighted romantic ambience to the small house…. But there was much romance though there was no night shade!! The humble little bulb hanging from a wire pegged to an iron nail was enough to provide floor lamp illumination!  My elder sister had become conscious of growing teenager’s syndrome and would put the small mirror, surreptitiously, under the focused light of this bulb and critically check her face for the pimples! There was no dressing table or the washbasin with light to examine your face in the privacy of seclusion…she was lucky if she was not caught examining her countenance instead of studying for which the bulb was given to us! The wire would be neatly folded in the morning and would come out in the late evening when all other lights of the house would be switched off. We had it because we wanted to study when Amma Bauji would retire for the day!

How we wanted to have a table lamp… There were two that we had narrowed down our choice to….one that had a flexible metal under the shade… this could move at all possible directions because of its flexibility. The on-off switch at the rounded bottom would free us from getting up from the cozy warmth of the quilt and to switch off the humble bulb that worked for us so faithfully! The other was have a joint at two place….in the middle and at the top…giving freedom to move it at different angles! We wanted just one of these. The one with the flexible metal was cheaper so we decided for that! And how happy we were to acquire that table lamp though there was no table to put it on! It would sit proudly and gladly on heap of books or copies…balancing its rounded bottom on those, perfectly, during the night. And would be proudly displayed on the mantle along with other prized decorative pieces during the day!

Sometimes I would put a paper with holes cut on it before the rounded face of the shade and watch it emit patterns of light on the walls! The walls would come to life with this simple technique. Sometimes we would get a red or yellow transparent sheet and put it before the bulb of the lamp and light would become red or yellow! The dance of light would make us experiment with so many options and how we would come out with wonderful ideas! I wanted to make table lamps…to light up all the dark corners of the house! I would think of various materials which I could use to make a table lamp….my little fertile mind would be so full of ideas… The square wooden pieces lying outside the carpenter’s shop would give me so many ideas…though I could never put those to practice.

The story would not end here…The story has just started now or reliving another version of the story!!!I am surrounded, these days, with so much of material…electric wires, metal wires, adhesive liquids, the masking tapes, wooden pieces, concrete and wooden pieces in all shapes and sizes! And above all…so much of space where I can keep all the lampshades that I may make!  The best is that all those ideas which I developed as a young girl growing up in the small humble home in the narrow lanes of Lower Bazaar Simla….are still fresh and bubbling…bursting up my young mind in an old body….making my wrinkled hands itch to make the lamps… the lamps that would illuminate and drive away all the darkness!! So when I experiment with so much of the waste material lying around me, the little girl inside me is till going back to those alleys of the lower Bazaar thinking of red, green transparent sheets, guddi paper, a wire, a bulb and the wooden pieces from the carpenter’s shop in alley number three…. I am reliving my past….my girlhood… the dreams of my girlhood !!!!