I sincerely wish that I had kept my diary in which I used to make some entries! As it would have made remembering the dates so easy at this time when I am trying to write something from my association with persons and places of Shimla where I spent so many years of my life.
When I close my eyes and start thinking about my first impression about Shimla, I see a small girl, who would wait for her father to come home in the evening. Now what is so surprising in it? Every child does the same. But it was the excitement of what we would do after his arrival that made it different. And then all four of us i.e. Amma, Bauji, Pappa my elder sister and I would go for our daily evening walk. As we lived in The Lower Bazaar and Bauji’s worked at the Head Post-office which was just few steps away from our home, he needed to straighten up his legs in the evening by going for a walk and we looked forward to this daily walk, less for the exercise, and more for the stories that he would recite on his walks—stories from the past!
And, honestly acknowledging, there was another attraction—the “Pudiwallah” who would be on the Ridge and we would buy sometimes the salted groundnuts, or mixed or Channa, Poodi which was in fact a slim cylindrical cone of paper holding these roasted delicacies.
He would tell us stories from the past referring to the incidents about the buildings of Shimla or people of Shimla. But most of the time the stories, by and large, came to focus on the topics that he loved to tell us the most, our freedom. Though it was the reference to the present that he would dwell in the past and to make these connections, we had a glimpse of the past while looking at the present.Even today almost all old buildings of Shimla bring forth a surge of emotions as every stone used in exterior of their walls, seems to tell me the stories from a different world, a different era. All deeply etched in my memory.
The Scandal Point, romantic rendezvous, would remind me of the Patiala King with an amorous appetite which, in spite of having so many local beauties, craved for even the girls of the white masters! And finally the English banned his entry to Shimla because he tried taking liberties with an English damsel. It created a big scandal and uproar and had the place not being named as the Scandal Point who would even remember the story about the lust of a King? While at this point, I would always imagine the fair and beautiful English ladies walking the Mall and the scent in the air would filter down to the Lower and the Middle bazaar where the lesser mortals lived.
Another source of our information about the past was one of the old timers from Shimla Leela Behanji, as she is known among all her acquaintances. I remember sitting cuddled near her to listen to stories from the past. She would regale us about those days and we would listen to her mesmerized by the past. Behanji is around ninety and talking to her generates the old world charm even today. She would tell us as how as young girls, they would go up the stairs leading to the Mall and would try sneaking at the English ladies and the Gentlemen taking a walk around the Mall which was banned for the Blacks! And the whiff of the scented air would travel down their nostrils to be savoured for a long time and sometimes if they would be lucky, they would surreptitiously move their hand over the glazy satins of the long swirling skirts of the English ladies. This childhood image was recreated in me when I read Mulk Raj Anand’s “Coolie” and was in a position to comprehend the British life through the eyes of an Indian coolie.
Listening to her escapades, my little mind would be filled with the romance of the eras gone by and at the same time would be so relieved to walk over the Mall as a free citizen. Perhaps it was because of this feeling of good sense generated by the freedom all around that we felt a deep sense of obligation and gratitude for the Heroes of the freedom struggle. This fervour for the freedom struggle was kept alive by the Public Relation Department that showed us pictures like Shaheed, Maharani Lakshmibai etc and made us, as small kids, vie for the British blood. We had become so biased towards everything British that all those English people who had chosen to stay back in Shimla, were looked down by us and scorned at as well. Looking back, I acknowledge remorsefully to have made fun of one such English lady as she represented for us–The Raj!
Not only this, I hated everything that had the least concern with British Raj. And today after so many years, I see myself roaming around the Lower Bazaar market on Sundays where a number of books would be displayed on the pavements, books that would attract me no less those days as they do today! But as these were the books left by the British, in their hurry to go back home, I would not even touch them. Though, today it brings a smile on my lips to confess that had I even touched those books, it wouldn’t have made any difference as I would not have been in a position to even understand the titles! But it shows the intensity of the feeling of hate we had for all British things.
The course book of English in my second or third class, if I remember exactly, The English Reader, was printed and published in Great Britain, and how I hated the book, especially the name and place of the publisher!
Yes, we were second generation free citizens of India and carried the agony of the Freedom struggle, though vicariously, along with the pride of being Free and sustained this mixed feeling with a fervour that made us different from the present day generation. We were proud to be free and grateful to the people who had sacrificed their life to make us free. All the persons having association with the freedom struggle had a special place in our life. I remember, as a child, having learnt about Nathuram Godse who was kept in Boileaguegunj Jail after the unfortunate killing of Mahatma Gandhi. But my sympathy for Godse was raised manifold when I heard from the old timers that during his confinement, he would be busy typing on a typewriter all the time, but all those papers never saw the light of the day. How I wish to read all those papers that would reflect his thoughts to all of us who wanted to know the truth. He was not insane to have killed Gandhi for no reason.
It was a time when our parents and teachers valued the freedom because all of them had been born in a slave country and inculcated in us the importance of a freedom that their generation had achieved by paying a heavy price.
On the other hand, our generation gradually immersed itself so much in making progress and bringing our country at par with others, that all the values that needed to be imparted to our children, somehow were relegated backstage. A sense of new found equality and freedom made us self centered. In order to provide our children all those luxuries that were denied to us in our childhood, we became focused on materialism. And during all this, the celebration of the National events came to be just an yearly affair or to be crude another holiday to enjoy! We forgot that one cannot enjoy the present if he doesn’t take along the best of the Past. Myths and memories of the making of our nation were somehow not being a subject being discussed at home or school. We have not been able to keep alive the National past and war memories. I think we have become so accustomed to look at the Government to do something in all regards that our personal sense of duty has vanished somewhere. All these Days would be celebrated if there is an official notification about the same from the Government otherwise we would not even as much as mention them to our children and students.
I feel that many of us have failed in our duty for not having imparted the same feeling in our children and the indifferent attitude, towards National Heroes, shown by them is our failure.
I don’t know about others but I accept, with deep sense of remorse, My failure as a teacher, a parent and as a person.