The day my father used to bring home a First Day Cover, I would be ecstatic! The world of unknown would unfold in front of me and I would be busy, for a while, reading the information on the brochure of the first day covers. Bauji had only one addiction in his life and that was to buy the new stamps being released by the Postal Department! I could never value this as a child but was happy as it satiated my curiosity to know more and more. Even today when I look at any stamp, somewhere in the window of my mind comes the image of having seen it as a maiden stamp!
But there is another reason, a more solid reason, that the First Day Covers have left a stamped impression on my mind!
It so happened that during my childhood I became a victim to an obnoxious habit. But as my mother used to say in local dialect “why to blame the dog for eating it up, if you leave the Kheer uncovered?” I feel it was my father’s mistake that he would hang his coat every evening at the set place and the pocket of the coat would be bulging with papers as well as money. Though we were not denied what we sought during our childhood but still our each and every demand, too, was not fulfilled. It must have resulted in some dissatisfaction on my part as I wanted so much which neither God nor my Bauji would be liberal to bestow on me. I must have wanted to be like some other girls who spent so much money in the school tuck shop.
I don’t know what happened, perhaps I would have been reprimanded for making more demands that could be fulfilled, but once a thought came to my mind, “what if I get some money out of the pocket of Bauji’s coat, he would not know about it.” Moreover I thought, “What difference would it bring to him, if I take just 10 paisa out of his pocket.”10 Paisa used to be a big amount for a school going girl. I am talking of sixties! I stole my first coin, one fateful evening, when no one was around. Looking back I find that the job required real courage as we lived in a Lower Bazaar house that was quite small and anyone could have turned up at any moment! But I was not caught. I was jubilant! Ad what a pleasure it was to spend that 10 paisa Today it may seem unrealistic but in those days the famous Nathu Halwai of the Lower Bazaar Shimla would give 2-3 pieces of Barfi for 10 Paisa! So one can imagine how good I felt owning such an amount.
And what began as a one time affair, sadly, became a habit. Everyday, stealthily, I would walk to his coat that seemed to invite me and put my slim fingers inside the pocket and would take out whatever coins it would hold to. I had no qualms for the 10 paisa coins even and even fifty paisa coins would be stolen! But luckily I would never take anything else than coins, no currency notes.
I was never caught as Bauji was not a very organized man when it came to money matters. My mischievous courage had no limits. I became a favourite among my school friends as I was spending money. Money sure buys you, among other things, friends! But there was a problem and this “problem” was my elder sister who was a year senior to me in school. She became alarmed on finding me surrounded with “fair weathered” friends and threatened to report home about the bad influence it may have on me. Fortunately she was not able to know anything about my spending spree. But my fertile mind wanted to tackle the problem before it became a real pain in the neck so I shared some goodies with her, too, one day. Her eyes were full of questions but I told her that I found a coin somewhere on the road and, simpleton as she was, she believed. But how to make the same excuse everyday, was weighing heavily on mind. But the lure of money and the goods that it bought for me, made me take such a risk everyday.
Unfortunately, my day arrived. Like any other day, I stole some coins and was happy. But it was the fateful day when I was caught. My Ma asked for some money as she wanted to buy vegetable from the vendors who came from the local surrounding areas, early in the mornings, with fresh supply. Bauji tried finding some loose chillers in his pocket and was surprised to find them missing from there. I was sitting comfortably as I knew that he won’t know. But he knew that day and asked, “Who has taken money from my pocket?” Everyone was surprised at this question, even I was, as I never thought him to find out about some missing coins from his pocket. No one answered. I, too, pretended to be innocent about it.
When the questioning became stringent, my sister told him, “She finds money everyday near the Telegraph office.” As we studied in Dayanand Public School and walked past the Telegraph office everyday, hence I had been telling her this as a spot where I occasionally would find money! My Bauji, the epitome of love, suddenly transformed into a man that I had never seen him like and even today I can feel the pain of the thrashing I got that day. I didn’t go to school that day, rather could not just go owing to marks on my face and back! You can imagine what must have happened. Parents of my time were real parents who had the right to beat us for solid reasons!
It had so happened that the earlier day, Bauji had bought the First Day Cover and Knew exactly the amount of loose change in his pocket and had the good chance of catching the culprit. I cursed his habit of buying the First Day Covers! Even today, when I buy stamps or put stamps on an envelop, the pain of his thrashing resurfaces somewhere in my being.
But it made me a different person, henceforth! The “stamps” left a stamped impression on me to last my life!