Life in Shimla in early sixties…
One of my friends working on a project on Life in Hill stations during (Nineteenth and Twentieth Century) remarked casually that she didn’t come across any material on life of the natives living in Simla though many books devoting to life of English masters were available. I thought of recording all my memories about life in Simla from my perspective. Having been born in Simla in 1956, I recall life in Simla from early sixties till late seventies that I was there.
Angithi used to be the most essential part of life in Shimla–be it Angithi for cooking or as a room heater. Life in Shimla seemed to evolve around Aginthi only! Living in a friendly neighbourhood of Lower Bazaar in Shimla, I still carry many a memories of life revolving around angithis. Ah! What a lesson whole of the process has been during our formative years. A chnace writing abour angithi in my previous post opened the floodgate of so many instances that lay buried, God knows where in my deep unconsciousness!
Apart from getting the Angithis ready for kitchen, the need to collect the material to light these Angithis with was as essential as the Angithis themselves. I can see vividly, even today, more than almost forty five to fifty years back, short and stout pahari men coming to the neighborhood carrying loads of wood on their backs. Amma would come out and check the quality of the wood, its weight and its moisture contents. Drier, weightier the better it would be. The man would unload the wooden load in front of our house and would take some time to straighten his back. Drying his sweat that would be on verge of dropping down from his forehead, he would carefully fold the rope used to tie the wooden bundle and counting the money would put that in inside pocket of his dirty undershirt. My Amma would offer him water, invariably, and sometimes if she would be free from her chaotic morning chores, a hot steaming cup of tea. He seemed to have travelled a long distance with this load on his back.
We learnt, by default, how to differentiate between the good firewood and the bad firewood as we kids would watch with interest what were the qualities to look for in firewood. The fresh resin drops trickling down some of the freshly chopped firewood would remind me of the sweat drops trickling down the poor man’s forehead. I would deeply inhale the smell of the fresh resin though Amma would be shouting at me for not touching the firewood. The resin would stick to my small fingers and I would secretly rub it off with any rough surface. There being only one challa in the small kitchen it was a difficult task to wash my hands with out Amma noticing it. Today, when all kids in the family need to have a personal space and a personal bathroom this may seem as belonging to an unbelievable world. My father, on his weekly off day, would chop this firewood to small pieces that would fit the Angithi’s upper chamber. Ah! What an operation Angithi it would be. These wooden pieces would be neatly stalked at their designated place.
Procuring good quality coal was another job that was of paramount importance in Shimla of those days. You just needed to go to different Coal depots to check the quality of the coal and order a quintal of coal of the quality that you wanted. A hatho would, the same day, carry the load-full of coal at your doorsteps. This coal would be in various size and shape and just like the firewood it also needed to be broken down to manageable size. This job was done by the women in the neighbourhood. Every home had a iron hammer, specially designed to break big coal pieces into smaller ones. Many helping hands would join to break the coal into pieces. The coal dust would settle on our face and hair. Amma would admonish us for keeping the head uncovered. The coal would also be stacked neatly at its designated place. I am really surprised how did Amma, and many other women in the neighbourhood, had everything in place and place for everything, in such small establishments called homes!
And the waste material, left out of the coals fine enough to pass through the grill of the Angithi would not be discarded. The fine clay would be mixed along with water in the coal powder and it would be rounded off to “Gole” of manageable sizes, just equivalent to the size of the coal pieces used in the Angithi! These “Goles” would be dried on the tin roofs and then neatly packed at some appropriate place. When these “Golas” would be put in the Angithi, it would burn slowly and some special dishes that required to be cooked on slow heat would be cooked by Amma.
Next job would be to procure rough papers needed to ignite the wooden pieces set in a proper for in the Angithi. Our old notebooks, rough pages, used paper bags would do this job. Once the wood will catch fire, coal pieces would be put on the wooden pieces so that they would catch fire from the wood and ignite. The papers would burn to ignite the coals and coals would ignite to cook food for the family. Sometimes a little of Kerosene would be used to enhance ignition process. It was a chain reaction and the use of a catalyst to enhance the rate of reaction that we learnt through this exercise.
Cooking, in those days, used to be a fulltime job and was done in the most devoted manner. All members of the family would put in their mite to help cooking process though on the surface it was the woman of the home that did the cooking. Oh! My dear Angithi, you have really taught me so much in the field of management skills!