Teenagers’ dilemmas in lower Bazaar of Simla in the Sixties

A Sixty plus woman, raised in Simla of the Sixties wishes Happy Women’s day to upright individuals!!

To all those enlightened people who taught me to live as a human being irrespective of the fact whether you are a man or a woman….long back…in the narrow lanes with sunny rooftops in Simla of the Sixties…a very happy Women’s Day!!!

During our childhood…. women’s day and the hype
associated with the word was unheard of but all the women that I grew up having around me were super duper enlightened one and so were the men supporting them, albeit there was no word for it. No tokenism and ni label attached to it.

Amma would go to evening classes to complete her education and Bauji supported her like anything. Amma would not sometimes be home when Bauji would come back from his office tired and spent out after hours of pouring over big and thick registers in the Post-office. But he would change his clothes and would light up the Angithee so that when Amma retured from her evening classes, the home would be warm and welcoming for her. We never thought that Bauji was doing a job earmarked for the housewife only. Same way when Amma would be home and Bauji would come home from the Head Post-office where he worked, with his feet tired snd swollen, because of cold and long hours of work, Amma would wash his feet, lovingly, in ” lohe ki Baati”, used only for washing feet, but we never thought that Amma, in any way, had become inferior to him. It was a beautiful relationship of mutual respect, live and comraderi, without any frills attached to it.

Same way when Bauji cooked mutton in the big heavy bottomed “Bharti ki pateeli,” on Sundays, he would thoroughly enjoying being the cook….and Amma would assist him in small ways, sitting close to the Angithee and enjoying the aroma enamating from the pateeli. Not only this, after the sumptuous and fulfilling meal of mutton with rice, he would scrub the big thick panned pateeli clean, rubbing with coconut hairs smeared with hot coal dust, using his strong and robust hands and turn it shining golden!!! And we never thought that he had become a henpecked “poor husband” by cleaning the utensils, a job earmarked for the soft hands of the lady of the house!!

When Pinku’s mummy of my mohalla, from a well-to-do Sood family, would bring sweaters to knit, on order, it was not that she did something wrong to add to family income…or she bragged about being made to work overtime along with being a full time housewife!!! She did it with love and passion and we, the kids, would help her make balls of tangled wool. And enjoyed it so much.

When Shakuntala massi, the fat and short woman, along with her three young daughters, would peel sweet peas or cut any other vegetable, to be cooked at the Deepak Bhojnalaya, she was not bring harsh to her daughters to make them work….neither her husband was treating her or the daughters as beasts of burden!!! And many a times, we would contribute to the process as well when Shakuntala Massi would say in her authoritative voice, ” Have you aplied henna on your hands…that you are sitting putting your hand on hand?” The bowl of the cooked vegetable with reddish curry over it would make our mouth water as it was the easiest way to get hotel-cooked food without paying for it when a mundu from the hotel would bring it to us.

When the elderly “bebe”, the fair smiling matron of the Sikh family having cotton works shop, would sit in the Sun needling the stuffed cotton quilts along with her daughter-in-law, chatting and laughing in between…. the daughter-in-law, was not being ill treated….at all!! We learnt watching them that how beautiful and loving the relation between the mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law could be!! Moving across the length and breadth of the quilt, sliding on their toes, would be the best example of physical agility. Though the words like “physically agile” or “mentally strong” were not a part of vocabulary in the narrow lanes if Lower Bazaar of Simla of the Sixties.

When Sudha and Shashi, the young daughters, of Sharma family, would help their father in the Electric shop that their father manned….no one raised an eye about it. Even we wsnted to learn the tricks of mending the kerosin stoves that they mended so deftly using basic ranch and plass. When Reva didi would make dolls on order for Himachal Emporium…it was fun watching her for all the kids of the Mohalla!! No one would say that she did it to earn money…it was acceptable and not-to-be-talked part of arrangement which made it so normal for us, the kids, to watch and imbibe.

Everyone, each one from highest to the simplest, in the family had a role to play and they all played it well…very well. They all worked in teams…husband, wife, children and even the grannies….and had so much close relations to one another. We never heard about anything called Women’s rights…as all were equal. And children’s rights??? My foot! Had someone questioned about it the answer would have been a big slap….so much for rights!

When women of my mohalla born much earlier to 1947, would reminscence about listening to some great leaders coming to Simla…attending and watching jaloos in the Gunj market or Lower Bazaar…they were never stopped by the men folk… How would they sit huddled up at all available spaces in the windows in the buildings facing the Sanatan Dharam mandir. A few bold and brazen ones would sit huddled in the crowd, towards a side, before the leader. No one raised an objection to it. Neither were the women discouraged if they wanted to spend their free afternoons listening to Satsang in the Sanatan Dharma Mandir in the Gunj when some Mahatma ji would come for discourse. It was the choice that they made for themselves!!! So much for free will though we never heard the word “making a choice” or “free will”!!

And no-one, no single girl child, in the entire mohalla was ever deprived of education. Going to school and a college was a routine matter not even to be considered special!! All the elder girls of my mohalla went to college….
No one made a big deal about “Beti Bachao aur Beti Padhao”…life was simple and straight.

Women worked as hard as men… Men, women and children worked as a tean though such terminology was not heard of!! Women and girls got education as a very basic everyday affair…no big deals about it. And women as well as girls, on their part, did what they could to be an important part of family.
There was no Women’s day celebrations…no tokenism as everyone was treated as an respectable entity, disregarding the gender one was born as. Yes, sons were preferred, but girls, too, were loved…loved a lot!!

Such was my Simla…the small mohalla in the lower Bazaar Simla of the Sixties!!

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