Life at Chaura Maidan Post Office Residence under the Blessings of the Benevolent Spirits
We came to live at Chaura Maidan in 1973. Perhaps we, the kids, had been pestering Bauji for a long time and he acceded to our demand by taking a transfer to Chaura Maidan post office, Simla. What a relief it was to me, but initially only…to have a big home to live in and that, too, on the Mall!! Up the beautiful stairs to the first floor of the Chaura Maidan Postoffice building, was this new home. I walked to our new home with excitement mixed with anticipation of freedom of having finally, “a room of my own”! . Inside were all wooden floors, big spacious rooms, galleries on both sides..the washrooms as big as the rooms we had in the Lower Bazaar home! Everything was big! I looked out of the window..the calm and peace all around was a much needed relief to me, as compared to the noisy and nosy neighbourhood, I had left behind. “Noisy” because there was so much commotion in the Lower Bazaar neighbourhood, everyone would be shouting at the top of her voice even when a mere whisper would do to convey the message, the communication was free for all to listen to! Clattering of utensils in the next home would be audible to us, we knew someone was cooking and whether it was a simple tea or a full meal…what fine discernible senses we had developed. Noisy neighbourhood adds to fine tuning your senses and this helps you a lot in the long marathon of life! Not only was it “noisy” it was “nosy” as well! There was nothing like a free will. Neither did I have a room of my own to stop the onslaught on my auditory senses when I needed silence of mind; nor did we have free will for simple activities. The Bua Ji of the Mohalla who, somehow, had the most strategic house in the entire neighbourhood had an hawk’s eye, may God pardon me for saying so for a departed soul. She would keep her vigilant scrutiny over each and every household in the entire mohalla and its people. Such was her authority that we were supposed to reply to her every query like…”who were you talking to?” or “who was that person who came to your home?” and if we thought of wearing some dress, in vogue, at that time, we had to come out of the house when Bua had gone to the washroom or kitchen to avoid her criticism about how good girls must dress up. So much so that if your cardigan was left unbuttoned, she would scold any young adolescent girl about the proper way to keep the cardigan buttoned up, and to start using dupatta to keep yourself fully draped! I was so happy to be away from all that “nosy” scrutiny every single second of my life!
There was openness in my mind and around me. Peace in my mind and around me. But was it the way it seemed initially to me? The house we came to live in was spacious, sparsely furnished and secluded. With nobody to talk to, I would stand behind the window so that people from outside would not be able to see me and would gaze and gaze at the horizon outside. Looking back, I think I had turned like the same “Bua” of my old mohalla that I so criticized ..keeping an eye on everybody on the road. The only difference was that I kept all my judgmental remarks to my own self as I had none to share them with, could not even shout them at everyone! (I feel they are coming out now on this page :)) The back of the house had a narrow verandah but I could see only the Himachal School Board building (the present Kotshera Boys’ College) and nothing else; so the view from the front was always better. There was a police post, the small round one, in the middle of the open space. I wonder what would the policeman do throughout the day as he had not to manage traffic the way his brethren do these days on the Mall. The only vehicles that we could see plying on this restricted road would be the ever faithful Mail Vehicle and some ambulance once in a while and the vehicles of the governor’s retinue that would be a sight to behold! One or two black ambassadors of some Brigadier who lived in the vicinity, up the road to the state museum, would be seen; or a car of the Speaker who lived nearby. To cut it short the police walah had little or no job except to give the place a semblance of a high profile area.
There was a Rickshaw dhara nearby, rather next to our home, on the way to Ava Lodge. I would watch those people with interest…how they would clean and wash their Rickshaw in the morning, at the public tap nearby. And sometimes I would watch some of them sitting with a Chillum or Hookah in their hand and enjoying it sitting on the roadside, and talking of the rains back home in their villages. And the policeman who stood there in the Gumti at the center of the Chaura Maidan would be as much engrossed in watching all this as would be I, standing behind the window!
Himachal Pradesh University had recently started M.Phil. classes at Ava Lodge and the group of scholars would come in the evening in a big group. I had come to recognize all of them as I would watch them every single evening. A very beautiful tall girl, very tall, would walk shyly alongwith an equally handsome and tall guy, perhaps from Summerhill. They made a very handsome coyote together, I would wait for them. And there were so many more that I knew so well, albeit, being invisible to them, the way I had watched people from the stairs from the Mall!
I had become really like that “Bua” of my Lower Bazaar neighborhood! I had the freedom of being away from the nosy and noisy neighborhood but what did I like it. No. I was alone, very lonely. I was missing my old lively and loving neighbourhood, was missing the moral-policing neighbors of my old habitat. I had believed that staying at the big house, having a room of my own, or to display the added shallow prestige, if any, it would add to my persona! But I found it all to be a sham…a big sham. We remain what we are at our heart and we become what we have been conditioned to become, the values instilled in us guide us throughout our life, wherever we may live. Though, I had the freedom but the invisible “dos” and “don’ts” that I so abhorred earlier, were now guiding me to conduct myself.
I was blessed to be under the constant blessings of my good-hearted neighbors who had been instrumental in raising all the kids of the entire mohalla. The old timers talked about a big tree where the Police post at Chaura Maidan. I remember vaguely hearing a story about a tree that used to be at the place in the nineteenth century. It was said about this tree that it was abode to a benevolent spirit and whosoever wanted to have some wish to come true, would hover round this tree! The tree was cut, much to the dismay of old-timers. I feel that the same friendly spirit was there as my guiding friend to guide me.
Though I don’t know where exactly that tree was but as I remember having seen the Police post, I wish to make a record of it so that we remember the evolution of the then Simla to the Shimla of today! In fact I had taken this picture not as a keeps-sake but since it was the last picture in the roll and I wanted to exhaust it before giving it for developing so I extended my hand out of the window, and without even focussing on anything, clicked the picture. And this is perhaps the only picture of Chaura Maidan taken from the window of the Post office Chaura Maidan. And also to invoke the blessings of that benevolent spirit if it is still hovering in the area and is listening to me!