Teenagers’ dilemmas in lower Bazaar of Simla in the Sixties
We, like all other girls of our age, experienced the physical and psychological changes during our teenage. Though there is nothing special about bring different from the others but there surely are a few specific dilemmas that we had to go through.
Amma, as usual, would send me like an errand boy to the nooks and corners of the friendly neighbourhood. Sometimes it would be with a bowl of pickle, or some vegetable curry, or to bring a sweater for copying the knitting pattern and so on and on….
Not that I didn’t like availing any opportunity to go to any home but when she sent me to Indu Kiran’s home in the postal colony behind the Head Post-office, I would be a little hesitant. It meant crossing the Mall and I would not like to be on the Mall, even if it was for mere few seconds…in “ghar wale kapde”!! Amma would not understand this basic need of changing into ” Bahar wale kapde” when I had to cross the Mall, the famous Mall Road of Simla!
I would wait at the last point of the Nathu Halwai stairs, opposite to the Golcha restaurant, for the appropriate moment to cross over to the other side when it was a safe crossing. When no one I knew would be around and then very swifty would cross over to the other flight of stairs which were safe!
Not only this, sometimes while in he Lower Bazaar I would take up steps and alleys to avoid meeting some girls of my acquaintance dressed for the walk. And if it was a group of boys whom I could perceive to have any interest in following me, it was worse. Though being followed from a distance was okay but I wanted to be in my best clothes with my best looks on….But Amma would not understand all this and neither could I tell her this dilemma of mine.
The day my Matric result was to be announced the gazette was to be available at Gian Bhandar Book store near Arya Samaj. I had ran hundredth times to the Gian Bhandar to find out whether the person gone to bring the gazette had arrived or not….had been watching from the rooftop for any news of it as well. It must have been late…surely after dinner when people started assembling there…I, too, ran to the shop. And there came this girl from my school, my classfellow, with her mummy and daddy and her younger brother and even a pet dog…..
The family looked perfect, straight out of a story book to me, but I enjoyed talking to them despite being in my “ghar wale kapde”!! But the worse was when one of her cousin, a young boy of our age, joined the group….and suddenly I was full of embarrassment…to my memory this was the first time I had become conscious of my own self…. I can laugh over it today but not that day. When I wrote in a comment that I passed my matric in 1971and thought of the declaration of result in the gazette at Gian Bhandar….this memory of feeling embarrassed resurfaced suddenly.
Not only this …when I would pass through the Lower Bazaar tunnel where at the entrance of the tunnel would be big hoardings of pictures and the heroines in different postures would gaze at the onlookers….and the crowd, too, would ogle at the revealing pictures of heroines…I would avert my eyes and would look in the opposite direction. Bit Lo and behold there was a vendor selling inner wear for women and proudly displaying his wares handing from a pole….inner wears…in various sizes and shapes…pointed mostly, just like the busts of the heroines in the posters at the hoardings on tunnel entrance….
I would avoid passing through this point as well…not that anyone would notice me but the feeling was uncomfortable as Shakuntla Massi would tell us all, “sweater ke button band karke rakha karo!” And we started to feel it nothing less than a criminal act if you kept sweater buttons open!!
Then the Bus ji, the most daunting matron of the entire neighbourhood would keep a strict vigil on any girl and dhat was she wearing….moral policing was at its best without having its presence felt, though. The presence of all these dictums was in our inner self….always guiding and restricting.
And if, by chance, you were spotted talking to a boy or walking in a group with boys and a neighbourhood “aunty” would spot you….she would walk straight and would hand over a big jhola to me with the words, ” Kalo ye ghar pe de dena…main mandir ja rahi hoon!!”. It would be a double edged sword.,.telling me that go home…straight….and giving my secret….my name before the newly made friends!!!
Such dilemmas made up our growing up years full of excitement along with learning to dodge the mohalla moral policing platoon and changing only the bottom part of the clothing and covering the upper “ghar wale kapde” under a coat or a big cardigan completely buttoned up….and a colourful scarf or a muffler around my neck…
A new fashion statement where the dictums of the elders and the budding dreams of the younger lot tried to find a middle path….the path acceptable to both the parties!!!