Traditions and culture in Lower Bazaar of Simla in the Sixties
The British called it the “Bazaar ward” where natives lived. It was contrasted to the “station ward” which habituated the elitiest of the elite during the Raj period. I don’t know how and when the Bazaar came to be known as the Lower Bazaar… But whenever it may have been and for whatever reasons, one thing is certain that the prefix “lower” stands in comparison to “upper” or could it be the superlative form of the adjective “low”? I assume that it is “Lower Bazaar” as compared to the “Upper Bazaar” called the Mall! Or even the bazaar which was there on the Ridge before it got destroyed in the fire. There surely would have been a Bazaar catering to the native population living in “rat burrow” houses on the precipice facing the Sunny side of Simla.
Whatever may be the reason for this terminology which placed the natives living in the Lower Bazaar at comparatively lower socially stratified positioning, the lively lower Bazaar remains thr hub of life, the real life, of Simlaites, especially in an era which I can recollect, the Sixties!!
The Lower Bazar was not only the hub of Indian commercial activity but also the residential area for one-fifth of Simla’s total population. But here, in these narrow bylanes, bathed in Sunlight, lived about “half the
Indian clerks and peons serving in the Government offices; about one third the domestic and menial servants; more than half the artisans, carpenters and tailors; and about three-fourths of the city’s shopkeepers.”
The Sood community had travelled to Simla since the inception of the town to set up business as “retailers, wholesalers and money-lenders”. The
wealthier amongst them controlled the wholesale trade in foodgrains and pulses carried on in the heart of the Lower Bazar, rather a few steps down the Lower Bazaar, in the Gunj Bazaar. Therefore, it was but natural that our humble neighbourhood in Alley No. 2, the lower Bazaar, Simla was a mini representation of the entire Lower Bazaar. There were Sood shopkeepers and business owners, the clerks working in Government offices or banks. There were artisans as I remember many a carpenter shops a few flights of stairs above our mohalla. There were two or three daharas of Khans, the backbone of life in Simla. Then there were a few Vaids and Hakeem shops, the famous gol-guppa maker Prakash who lived a few alleys away…where he prepared his mouth watering panipuris!!
Pandit Ganga Sagar, the person whose benign smile would set our fears of bod omens away. How I waited for him to come to any house in our mahalla for Satya Narayan Katha when I would wait for the Leelavati story as it was soon after this that prasaad was distributed. Everyone loved eating with the help of a coned paper spoon the sumptuous dry atta turned golden yellow in desi ghee and mixed with powdered sugar.
We loved it so much that this was the first sweet puffing that we learnt to make stealithly when Amma was not home!
The lower Bazaar neighbourhood was an amalgamation of people from diverse backgrounds but did we, as kids, ever thought about it.
Actually, it never crossed my mind that anyone, living in the neighbourhood, was, in any manner, different, except , ofcourse, the khans living in a dahaara or the Guru ji teaching sitaar to budding music lovers! This was based on human brain’s simplest mechanism in making categories of “us” verses “others”. This was based on my understanding of basic human progression through life… Childhood, youth, marriage and kids as a result of marriage. But Khan’s lived in huge groups in their dharas. Where were their families, I would wonder. It was only when I saw the movie Kabuliwallah that I could understand that they come here for livelihood. diversity I could gauge was because of whether someone had a family and kids or lived without a wife? And the ones who lived without a family presented a queer picture to my mind. All other families were, for us, were just similar, albeit a few differences!
I don’t remember much interaction amongst the men folks of the neighbourhood though women and kids had a lively life. Never did anyone differentiate the others as the others were named as “Bijli wale”, “hotel wale”, “Rang wale”, “Patialia”, “Bank wale”, “Dak khane wale”, “lohe wale”, “Store wale”, “Boot wale”, Jild wale” etc. etc.
Despite all these different nomenclature ascribed to every single family, there was one common identity…of the relationship of good neighbourhood! One single common identity…identity of being an integral part of the family and the bigger family of the friendly neighbourhood of Lower Bazaar in Simla of the Sixties.