Shimla or Simla?

    What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.    

        —William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet


Shimla or Simla? For old timers like me it sure is SIMLA, that generates the warmth of the place in spite of what the present day Shimla may stand for. I really wonder do the young people even remember that Shimla once was known as Simla and it was a great effort for persons like me to write this new spelling of “Shimla”!

Though as a young child, I often wondered as to why what we called Shimla in Hindi was spelled Simla in English and took it to be another  nuance of the English language. But finally when the name was corrected(?), I felt uncomfortable. I don’t remember exactly when this renaming took place but have a rough idea that it must have been at the time when I too was renamed from Saroj Kumari Rajput to saroj Thakur, after my marriage!

What’s in a name? Rose even if called by any other name would smell as sweet. So lets discuss a place that we love irrespective of how it is spelled.

At least can enlighten you about Shimla between 1956-1978, the time that I was there. And as I often visit Shimla quite frequently even today, my earlier impressions about the place find a comparison to the present day Shimla.

Among the places that every Shimlaite would vouch for, the pride of place goes to the Mall. So lets begin from the Mall. I remember The Mall where we would play all the time during winter vacation as the lower bazaar where we lived had narrow alleys and the Mall had a special charm as a place to watch people and roam about. But it was the Evening college that was at that period residence of the headmistress of a Govt. school that had the mystic charm to play hide and seek therein. Later it was changed to Govt, Arts college and I remember vividly roaming inside the class rooms and outside in the lawns and collect all the small pages where some budding artistes would have made paintings and sketches, and keep them as treasures. Today when someone asks me where I learnt painting from, I would silently thank all those unknown masters who like Dronacharya taught me the art of painting, an Eklayaya

And if you wonder how could we own all that territory, the answer is simple, my father worked at the General post office and the Post office residential colony was just a wall away from the Arts College which during the evenings would be our playing haunt. And sometimes some Arts college students would be benevolent enough to invite us to their work area and to let us have a look at the masters at work. I learnt painting and drawing watching them.

The majestic Green and Red Post office building was another favourite haunt for all of us as kids. There was a recreation room that had a carom board and a few almirahs full of books and I could get books issued from there. We felt a part of the post-office family. I wonder if they still have those books and the same recreation room? I am afraid such things are considered wastage of time in the present work culture.

The Gaiety Theatre was another place that holds memories of the past. The Post office recreation club had some budding artistes and many of them would participate in many functions. Once we were trained in a national song “Hum hain is sansar ke nanhe sipahi, ham kisi toofan se darte nahin…” that we performed at the Gaiety theatre. During the rehearsals we would meet the members of the amateurs Dramatic society of Shimla aand sometimes when they would need someone to play the child role, it would be given to someone from our group, though never to me as I was not good looking by their standards.

And yesterday, during my short visit to Shimla, the renovation work at the Gaiety theatre brought back all those memories associated with it surging center stage. How I wished they had not touched the building established in 1837!

I am being carried away and am reliving all those memories that lay buried inside me and came surging out when I found this group on ORCUT. Ask about any place and I would give my own perspective on that from the view point of an old timer.


8 thoughts on “Shimla or Simla?

  1. Jaswinder Singh

    I was born in Simla but brought up ion Chandigarh.Remained in touch with Simla.Word Simla has a special place in my life.The Mall,Lower Bazar,Ripon Hospital,Combermere Bridge,Clarke’s Hotel,Simla Club,Snowdon Hospital,Faridkot House (Presently Himachal High Court),Lakkar Bazar,Sita Ram Channe Bhature Wala,Mehroo Halwai’s shop,Baljee’s,Alpha’s Samosa,Nathu Halwai’s Dudh Jalebi,intoxicating snowy winds near Christ Church on Ridge.That small bus from Simla to Chandigarh,Wooden black and white wooden railing,The night view of Simla from Clark’s Hotel,The smoke from Clark’s Chimney.
    All these memories of Simla and a lot of faces still rotate before eyes,Indira Gandhi,Benazir Bhutto,Zulfikar Bhutto,Abdul Majid,Y.S.Parmar,Bansi Lal,Actress Ranjeeta,Dharminder,Dev Anand strolling on The Mall without any security bandobasty.

  2. I am from Simla, (that is how they spelled it then). I was born there and I went to DAV High School, SDB College from 1947 till 1959.

    It is no longer what it used to be. It makes me cry. My school is gone, it has become a different school, my college has been made into something else.

    The road near Regal started to sink, long before you described it. When I came back from Chandigarh Engineering College from 1962 and later, the first step to Regal Cinema lobby was already a foot lower than what it was when I left. Regal building was still standing.

    That pleasant Mall walk which our parents forced us to take in the evening is no longer fresh. The buildings are in disrepair. Every now and then a car or jeep is there to disturb your leisurely walk. The Ridge which was flat and straight is now full of statues. There was only Gandhi Statue and before that a twenty foot high Gandhi sign board. These all blended. Not these statues, these are unneccasry burden on scenery all around the ridge.

    Like you I spent five minutes trying to look for Commbermere Post Office. It is not where it was. It has moved 30 feet forward in an ugly quarters.

    I picked up my guts and went to the Police Reporting Room next to the municipal building to report, some years back. I asked to lodge a complaint. A moustache officer wished to know the nature of the complaint. I very politely told him that forty years back when I left Simla in their care, it was neat and clean, also liveable. It is dirty, uncared for and ugly. I told him that is my complaint. He could not stop laughing and was still laughing when I left five minutes later.

    I am not going to tell you anything about Lower Bazar and Ram Bazar (previously Chor Bazar). That is where I lived. I am a local Lala’s son from Gunj Mandi. Most Lala’s lived in the vicinity. It was alright including going to school. It is impossible now. Sides are occupied by merchandising stalls and fresh air is completely blocked. My father is in the next world, if he is alive he would cry, as he sees the shape of roads, buildings, steps and businesses except, people are more prosperous. Buildings are in poor shape because rents are frozen at 1948 and 1967 rents. Nobody wishes to repair, neither the tenant nor the landlord. Municipality collects taxes based on very, very low rental as well property value of forty years ago, hence have no money to fix it. Himachal Government is poor and depends on central government sending them money. Whatever they get, they pay it to, too many civil servants (Babus) hence nothing left to fix Simla or any other place.

    My Simla, that town where people came for rest, recuperation and leisure is no longer there.

    I have written a book on Simla. It is named as “Enterpreneurs of British Shimla”. It has good description of not the British but the little guys, all Lala’s who came from Kangra and built Shimla and ran its commerce for one hundred years and still do.

    Now I live in Canada, and come to visit Shimla every year. Each time I feel sad. There is a need to change the management of Shimla. Politicians have to be ejected. Shimla made into a hill station as it was supposed to be.


    1. Fairbrass

      My family on my mothers side lived in Simla for many years. My grandmother and mother were born there after my great grandparents settled there. I think they would be very sad to know the decline in this place they spoke so fondly of.

    2. Every time I read your comment, it opens up with a new picture of a place that we loved! I still miss my Simla days but dread visiting it for the fear that all those wonderful memories would be distorted by the present picture that it presents. Would love to read the book penned by you as when we lived in the Lower Bazaar, Ram Bazaar was a few steps away and my Amma would send us to get so many things from the Ganj Market. So in a way it was an extended family area for us. It was a pleasant surprise for me when some shopkeepers in the lower Bazaar or Ram bazaar still give a smile acknowledging a face of sixty plus that they knew of in sixties of a sixteen year old girl…
      Saroj Thakur

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