Growing concerns of growing up girls in Sixties’ Simla

My little one was a bit perturbed to look at my weathered black boys’ shoes in the family picture. She said with all the emotion her voice, “but why didn’t Nani buy you sandals?” And added, “I wish I could travel back in time and get you the best sandals.” I reassured her that these kinds of things didn’t matter during our growing up years in Simla. Buy she persisted, “Why not, I can see that you have tried to put one of your foot back in the picture!” And continuing her critical examination of her mother’s photograph said “tell me, were you embarrassed?” I told her that I was NOT. Perhaps the flashlights in the Roshan Studio must have made me temporarily aware of the whitened, peeled off leather from my shoe toes…but it was nothing. I must have run at double my strength, kicking more at anything, on my way down the stairs in my euphoria for having been photographed at the studio…my first studio photograph.

We got to discuss the concerns that a young girl, entering her teens, had during her early sixties, especially if she lived in the lower Bazaar. “Was it clothes?” She asked with interest.”No, not clothes” I thought we were happy to have two to three “Bahar wale kapde” clothes which were to be put during special times. Our needs were so simple. But when it came to “inner wear”, we, the growing up girls, during the Sixties of Simla, did have serious concerns, The first was where to and how to buy inner clothes. My Lower Bazaar coyness and middle class sensibility would not make me use the right word for it, even today when I am almost Sixty-four!

Oh! It was a  hush word which I never even heard till I was an adult.. Some neighbourhood aunties would be kind and adventurous enough to get one for the girls…the size and shape was of no importance as long as you got one! So in a nutshell the rule was these were the items not to be spoken about and should never ever be looked at, even if hanging on a cloth string to dry. 

Have you ever wondered how women got these dried when Simla used to have such a humid and wet climate for more than ten months in a year? Ah..that is another interesting story. If taken to the roof, or put on the cloth string, these poor clothings where to be covered by a muslin chunni or a cloth so that they were not visible to anyone. And if these could not be taken to sun, these were dried at night by putting a Dalda tin container, cut from both sides, on the dying coals of the hearth. The poor thing would dry and also would smell of smoke.. How unpleasant that must be! We smelt of smoked ones instead of the fragrance ones!

And then Comarson happened. Comarson, a fashionable shop on the Mall selling lingerie. We girls would prefer this shop as it had a saleswoman, who would deal with women customers. The man in the shop would look the other way round. Even when there was this woman selling us these not-to-be-named items, I still would not be comfortable purchasing it. When the all-too-difficult-task taken care of and holding the small paper bag with Comarsons written on it, I would bring it home and would feel as if I was the princess of the Lower Bazaar, having donned something which my Amma could only dream of! 

We, the growing up girls in the Lower Bazaar, in the Simla of Sixties had real serious concerns and where was the time for all those teenage anxieties that the youngsters today are worried about! 

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