Life coming full circle for a girl from Lower Bazaar of Simla of Sixties

Life coming full circle for a girl from Lower Bazaar of Simla of Sixties

The big divide between the majestic Mall and the Lively Lower Bazaar became so apparent to me very early in my life. Though I am still not sure that the difference was just a figment of my imagination or was it real…I am still trying to find an answer to this million dollar question. And if such a big divide did exist, where did it start from? Perhaps some other post for its historic origin from the Raj period. Here in this post  I can answer for myself but not for all and would love to know how it affected others, if it at all it did. 

For my little mind, it started the moment I would reach the top of the Nathu Halwai stairs and had to cross over to the other side.

But when did I become conscious of this divide? For my little mind, it started the moment I would reach the top of the Nathu Halwai stairs and had to cross over to the other side, covering a trans-section of the whole of the Mall with people, rather well-dressed people, coming from both the directions. When I was small, very small, and Amma would send me to Bauji’s office I would run along without bothering for anything. But as I grew a little, an unfounded fear came to my mind, a fear based on my perception that people on the Mall spoke English, only English. I became worried about what if someone would speak to me in English, how would I talk to that person, what if someone from Bauji’s office would start a conversation with me in English?  

I can have a hearty laugh over it, today, but back then it was such a tormented  top-of-the-mind-affair for me. Though something about, how I looked,  which should concern a damsel more, came much later to me. It is intriguing that more than how I looked, how I spoke my English was my biggest concern. I had learnt one sentence, “I don’t know how to speak in English,” which I kept ready in my  arsenal to shoot at anyone who would speak to me in this language. But thankfully no one ever met me who cared or dared to talk to me in English!! But this was the first feeling that I remember of where I was conscious of being the “other” as those who spoke English were different and of course, superior! 

Another concern which I developed was about my clothes, though it surfaced much later. We, in the Lower Bazaar neighborhood, had the vocept of  “ghar wale Kapde”.The moment we came back from the school, we would hang, neatly, our school uniform on a peg at the back of the door as where was the luxury of ironing clothes every now and then? And immediately change into the “ghar wale” clothes and our comfort zone. There was nothing unusual in that, everyone did that. But when I developed pre-teen consciousness and moreover had befriended girls from the high-end neighborhoods, there was an unsaid pressure on my mind while going to Bauji’s office, crossing the no-man-land on the Mall. I was afraid someone from my school may not spot me in those “ghar wale kapde”!  But Amma knew nothing about the theories of child psychology….how could she understand what I went through when I could not change into nicer clothes. Not that the “ghar wale Kapde” were not good but to my little mind they were not good enough for the Mall. That was my second big concern which reminds me of being conscious on the Mall, How would I  evace going in those clothes anywhere near the Mall or wait like a hawk to find a safe zone, brings a smile on my face, even today!

Later when we used to walk back from our school, Lady Irwin, talking leisurely about so many girly gossips, listening to stories of English movies, fashionable to talk about, boyfriends or the boys who followed some girls or threw some chitti towards some chosen ones, enjoying a world which was alien to me, yet endearing. I was slowly enjoying a vicarious identity, entirely different from the real one where I would light up the angeethi after changing into “ghar wale Kapde”! But at one point, once again, I would be in a dilemma when we would be near the Telegraph office, under the gaze of the Woman-in-Blue-Saree, whether to take the road towards the Mall or downwards to the Lower Bazaar side, though both leading to my home. I would take the upper one..the Mall road as it had another attraction…the full length glass on the show-windows, of almost all shops, where I could stealthy look at my whole body image, a rarity in my Lower Bazaar neighborhood. What an achievement it would be to catch a full body image…Moreover it would give me a few extra minutes to listen to scintillating tales from a girl of my class who was recently crowned Miss Simla. A proud achievement, more so because the girl was from Purusharthi mohalla!   How could I let it miss? The feeling of guilt of watching and admiring my tall and shapely sillohete in the glass panes was offset by the fact that if one of us could waltz to glory of being Simla queen, I could, atleast, watch my own image in the glass panes!!

At the stairs leading down to my home, I would run down when there would be no one around, especially a boy following the beautiful ones in our group, I would run down as fast as I could. But if there would be anyone around, I would go still further and walk down from the stairs adjacent to Roshan Studio or even Beekay’s or even further. I knew all the jigsaw puzzles of the stairs like the back of my hand and could dodge anyone on those terrains. 

Once in proximity of my home, I would heave a sigh of relief and change into *ghar wale kapde”!!! Was a bit ashamed of my home and it’s location…and would want so much to have a change of house!! A stage in my life when I was worried about how I spoke, what I wore and where I lived…such immense anxiety producing deadly combinations.

I was like the Alchemist’s Santagio taking my chances as they came my way ““A shepherd always takes his chances with wolves and with drought, and that’s what makes a shepherd’s life exciting.”

And today I don’t even bother how I would be assessed for my fluency in English,ironically the subject I teach, if I am understood in any language, preferably in the language of silence। And as for clothes are concerned, I don’t give a damn about what I wear as I learnt to wear my attitude on my sleeves for others to see. And finallly  at this stage of our life, we are constructing a house big enough to get a small girl get list in its cavernous expance, at a high-end  locality, though all we need today is a small home, bereft of clutter where we live as happy as we can in a quiet neighbourhood

 I wonder today as to why I worried myself to death chasing mirages when today life has come a full circle for me!! 

My question finds answers, perhaps, in the words of Paulo Coelho when asked “Why” by the shepherd boy Santagio. The answer that Santiago gets is equally relevant to the small girl from the Lower Bazaar of Simla of Sixties  ““When I have been truly searching for my treasure, I’ve discovered things along the way that I never would have  had I not had the courage to try things that seemed impossible for a shepherd to achieve.

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