Cultivating open minds in  limited spaces of Lower Bazaar of Simla in the Sixties

Cultivating open minds in limited spaces of Lower Bazaar of Simla in the Sixties

Summers in Simla were very happening time as we would get more than our due of the outings and playtime. Summer evenings would allow us to play till late hours and we would return only when we would watch the Sun going down behind the western sky…deep redfish yellow Sun disappearing fast. Sometimes we would be playing at the Arya Samaj Mandir…going up and down the stairs. The empty and silent vast open space which vibrated with girls during the day would, once again, come alive with our shouting.

Sometimes we would walk towards the Kachehri side, the Telegraph office, and make a straight beeline for the area around Chhotta S.D. School…. The small dusty path towards Kachehri from the Lower Bazaar side, just opposite to the Indian Coffee House stairs had a lot of open space. At the starrt, there sat a cobbler in his small corner. There were a few shed like kutchha houses in a row lining one side of this path but otherwise there was enough of greenery. We would search for dried thin stems of palak which would have a hole in it and there would be plenty on a small open land with rough foilage and bushes. And we would use this as a pipe to make soap bubbles. Now to smuggle soap solution in an empty bottle of Afgaan Snow for this evening outing was not easy especially as Amma had an hawk’s eye. Some children would bring a glass pipe brought stealithly by their elder sibling from the school while making siphon of the glass pipes bending them slightly at right angles over a spirit lamp. As the tenth class was held in what used to be the science lab in Lady Irwin School there used to be many glass pipes lying there. But as I could not get them, the pipe made from the paalak stem was good enough for me. How indigenous we were as kids and how freely we moved at every inch of available open space around Lower Bazaar Simla!!

Once done with our games and while thd Sun would be going down the western horizon we would get down through a maze of stairs passing through primary section of Chhotta S.D. School and would reach either near to the Shahi theater, or near to St. Thomas School depending upon which stairs we would come down from.
Making a hurried choice of taking up the road to the Telegraph office from the Western command side or to go up from the Ram Bazaar side we would rush back home before it was too late for us!!!

Sometimes it would be the Chhotta DAV school, very near to our home, where we played. The games would be “oonch neech”, “Posham Pa” or “I spy” and honestly we never learnt the names of these games, kept on mispronouncing them till someone recently spelt them in the group. But how did it matter, what mattered was that we enjoyed playing these games.

Neera Khanna, one of my school friends, lived in a house in the building in the Masjid compound. She would join us to play at Chhotta DAV school and sometimes I would walk to her home to have some quiet games. The entrance to her house was from the main gate of the Masjid in the middle Bazaar. How Intrigued I would be to go to her home. Playing with marbles or skipping a rope making least possible noise, and watching around the Khans paying their obeissnce was such an experience!!! But I used to go alone to Neera Khanna’s home and would play small little games just outside her home entrance and not beyond. as this was not a place where we could shout or run wildly.
Again it would be dimming light of Sun which would signal us to return home. And we would quietly enter home lowering down our exhilaration and excitement of the evenings spent so well.

Amma would, as usual, start with her tirade of calling us “rakaat” and if really angry would call me “loorii” that is one who goes about “loor-loor’ …all the time on a move! But not caring much for it we would hurriedly wash our hands and feet in the “chala” taking hot water from the Tarmayada kept on the Angithee. And sit quietly burying our head in the books and waiting for Bauji to come home from his office. The wait was worth it as the next round of our Summer evening walks would be after the evening meals. But we would have to fulfil a few conditions before going for this walk….Amma had to give an okay report that we had done our homework!!

We were early diners as Amma would, usually, keep both the home and the hearth warm by the time Bauji returned home from office. And after finishing with the daily chores Amma would get ready and all four of us would go for a long walk towards any end of Simla, would return when we thought it was enough for the day. We woukd walk past the Mall which would be full of tourists and locals alike and seeking quiet roads would walk further.

Sometimes it would be walking towards Oakover, at other time would walk towards Chaura Maidan or even Sanjauli… Those were the most precious moments that we all shared as a family. During these long walks we, the sisters, would hold a hand each of Bauji and he would be telling us stories…stories of the past. Amma would be just walking silently, listening to the stories and in between would admonish us for being un-ladylike , while walking on the Mall. Sometimes we would sit in some “hawa ghar” where Amaa and Bauji would have some peaceful time ehen both of us would play around the benches.

When we would return it still would be early and Bauji would get us either an ice-cream or a bottle of “soda water” or sometimes the famous paan of the paanwala near the path to Ram bazaar near the lower Bazaar tunnel.

It was such a simple life. By the time I would hit bed I would be dreaming of all the places we had seen during our long walk…I would recapture all the images and the stories that Bauji had talked of!! But I would, sometimes, think of Amma’s admonitions as well…why she has to be strict with us. Why does she shout when I forcefully stomp my foot on the ground to show my anger? Why does she keep telling me not to jump much or to talk loudly or to laugh with a big guffaah…. Why would Amma tell me not to go to dangerous heights to fetch clothes that monkeys would have carried to when I could.

But leaving those questions, I would, once again, delve deep into the stories of the buildings, the persons that Bauji would had told us during the walks. I would have much to think of despite being exhausted physically but Summers were the only time when life in lower Bazaar of Simla of the Sixties would bring about so many happy outings opening up our horizons of thinking!! Simla in the Sixties was surely the best learning place for small “rakaat” kids of the Lower Bazaar!!

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