A walk through Memory lanes in the lanes of Lower Bazaar neighborhood
When I walked past Snowdon hospital on way from Sanjauli to the Mall, alongwith my brother and my daughter, my brother looked up dreamily and said, “there is my school.” My eyes, too, moved up and saw clouds having hidden the Kendriya Vidyalaya Jakhu’s building which was thus could not be seen but he could see it as it came alive to him—in his memory. My younger brother and I kept on refreshing each other’s memory by talking about every corner and curve on the road.
My daughter simply slogged along without even looking up in the direction of her Mama’s school. She was constantly asking us, how long we still had to walk to reach the Mall and having no other choice just trudged along, though grudgingly! To her it seemed like a long distance that we had already covered and still the Mall was nowhere in sight. “We walked from Chaura Maidan to Sanjauli and then back everyday,” I said to her with a little of irritated tone in my voice. We had reached the famous Lakkad bazaar and I regaled her with the account of big paintings that we always looked at during our walk to the college everyday. As we neared the famous Chole Bhature shop of Sita Ram, my nostrils filled with the aroma of Chana simmering in the big paraat that he used as a cooking utensil, my mouth watered, salivary glands working extensively to produce memory of a taste we so loved! But we moved ahead with a promise to come in the evening. The Regal standing almost the way we had left it. Though missed watching the familiar face of Chunnu but there were many Tibetian girls knitting docks and friendship bands on the sides of the road. That really interested my daughter a lot!
We had almost reached the ridge when I saw the Poodiwala sitting near the famous tree. It seemed as if his tree and the poodiwala sitting underneath had become synonymous with the Ridge. Anyone without the other would render the Ridge an incomplete look. My eyes wandered towards the tree and could not help thinking that the tree did not look as big to me as it looked during my childhood. What had happened? Had the tree outgrown it’s maximum capacity and was on verge of decline or perhaps now I was watching it from the critical eyes of a seasoned mature person and not a small girl who seemed to be in awe of such a big tree on the Ridge! On the other hand, the poodi that cost 10 paisa during my childhood cost 10 rupees now. Shrugging off all these thoughts we marched further and went down the stairs to the Mall.
Near the Golcha Restaurant where the steep stairs lead to the Lower Bazaar, we looked down at the maze of stairs and side lanes criss-crossing through the middle Bazaar to the Lower Bazaar. I looked at my brother and without even exchanging a single word we started towards our small friendly neighbourhood. “Who would be there to remember you?” protested my daughter. It was almost sacrilegious for her to walk to someone’s home, unannounced. “But that is our childhood neighborhood” and I added “a home”!!! But deep inside even I was a bit apprehensive, I was walking to the neighbourhood after some twenty years. Much had changed during all this time, but a small little girl inside me was speaking boldly and lovingly, “go, meet your soulmates” and I decided to go.
Scared at the thought of descending into a hub of small structures, seem to be grown on the sliding side of a hillock, and that through such steep stairs, my daughter followed us, though much grudgingly as she knew her mother was stubborn.
“We used to run countless times up and down these stairs!” said I in a reproaching tone, as the little girl inside my old frame had taken over everything else. The small girl in me wanted to run the way I used to almost four decade ago! My knees and legs felt sturdy and I wanted to gallop down the stairs to the labyrinth of lanes where my childhood memories lay still fresh!
Down we went. My brother and I full of exciting chatter and my daughter grumbling at, what she considered, the precarious stairs! It was quite early in the afternoon and ringing the door-bell at such a time was not, by any means, a good manner. But that was my neighbourhood where every time was considered a good time to call upon neighbours. I rang the bell. The door opened instantly and I could see her sitting by the side of a window. I had nearly overlooked the pretty young woman who had opened the door as I was literally dying to meet my childhood role model—Leela Bhenjji!
I was overwhelmed to see her. She was still the same—beautiful, graceful and ever smiling! Though it seems sacrilegious to me to name her by first name but this is how we have been addressing her ever since we became conscious of her existence. I ran to her open arms when she acknowledged me saying, “Kalo”! My childhood name never sounded good to me but it seemed musical to me at that moment as I seemed to find a way in the labyrinths of the maze of my childhood memories.
My daughter was mesmerized by the pure and simple love flowing between us. Her uncertainty and doubts of walking to a stranger’s home vanished away. The young pretty woman, the daughter-in-law of my beloved bhenjji was equally graceful and welcoming.
While the young one went to the kitchen to prepare tea, Bhenjji was nostalgic for the good old times, for the old friends and for so many other things and the tales that came from her enthralled us for their plain simple truth. Even my grumbling daughter sat quiet and absorbed in all that she heard. Stories and tales of a different time, a different world that was so different from the world she had seen and experienced. She marvelled at the friendly neighbourhood, the warm and pure bond of live that bonded us, the simplicity of taking up the threads where we had left them. Despite visiting the neighbourhood after a gap of two to three decades, it was as if we had been there all the time!
And we were all were at HOME, my daughter the most! This is the beauty of having lived in a simple humble neighbourhood in Simla of the Sixties….you are hooked for life!