Searching for Old world charm of Simla of the Sixties

I stood near Nathu Halwai stairs…and shyly brought out my DSLR from my bag trying to take a picture of the stairs which were still vibrantly alive in my mind!!! The year was 2010.
I was, suddenly, very conscious of taking pics of the stairs. Why was I so conscious as I had taken so many pictures on the Mall just a few minutes back! Perhaps, not conscious but a little not very comfortable! I realised and thought of my childhood days in the Sixties when I would jump up and down these stairs umpteen times….would run to the top of the stairs in just one go, though the stairs were deadly steep at the other end touching the Mall! But we managed to go up and without even taking support of the green coloured  wooden divider in the middle of the stairs, where the gradient was much steeper. Such was our stamina and strength of our limbs…. I thought of a skinny dark small girl going up and down…watching with wide-open eyes at all the shops on the stairs, the wares they displayed and the men sitting manning those! I could almost  see, so clearly, all of them. The first shop on the stairs was what we called in common parlance ” Lohe wale” and some elderly women of the mohalla would call Bille di dukaan. Thete was all hardware items available thete and yellow mitti in big sacks would be displayed outside the shop along with white lime powder. And do many other paraphernalia.

Next to it was an old goldsmith. His turbaned head and round glassed spectacles resting on his nose, would be  bent over a lamp wherefrom he would be blowing on a black stone like object having small gold designs on it! I would be mesmerized by his magic….how could he make such beautiful ornaments would dazzle my little mind. It was very rarely that I got to see his full profile as he would be all the time bent over his lamp except when he talked to his customers.

Next was the Hakeem Pant ji… moustached stout man…sitting on a chair behind a table having pestle and mortar of marble. He would sit facing the stairs and his patients sat on a bench kept on one side. The whole wall was lined with medicines. The area of stairs in front of his shop was wide and we wanted to play there but would be a little afraid of him and would wait for him to close his shop in the evening when the whole area would be our free territory.

Next on the stairs was a tea shop and the Chaiwale uncle would be preparing tea for whosoever came to have a cup of chai. Mansu, the ever-present entity on these stairs had a place outside this shop as his permanent seat.
Sharing a common walll with Chaiwala was Himachal binders, the Chauhan family from upper Simla…. They had huge machines and such big ledgers along with books, would be covered in strong Jild at this shop
Of all these the Chaiwale uncle was the jolliest person. He would be having gupp-shupp with his customers all the time. Sosny people would come to his shop and whileaway time. He seemed to enjoy every moment of his life.

And here I was standing watching all those shops. Some were conspicuous by their absence from those stairs and some, if still  present,  had metamorphosised a lot…. The familiar faces were no longer there. And here I was standing in front of the “Sode wale di shop” which too had a different look.

Even I had changed. Here I was  attired in a loose Khadi kurta, blue jeans, big coin -sized Bind on my forehead coveted with loose flowing loose hair. And to complete the picture….a side slinging designers bag from which I had got my DSLR out to take a picture of the stairs…the entire lifeline!! I was completely the picture of a sham intellectual….seemingly indifferent about the world around….but deep inside I was the same old Kalo.

I desperately needed someone who could connect me to the old world of mine. The world lost….or did a part of it survive!

Hurriedly I went insides the “Store wali dukan” but looking at the familiar faces of Kamal and Kapil was a little reassured that my link with the past is still intact, though quite feeble it had become.
I introduced myself as both were not able to place me in their memory….was grateful that both of them could recognise me and we sat, in the shop,  talking about good old times.
Thete were no glass jars full of toffee of different types around me…neither was that magical soda machine….not a shred of my childhood memories could resonate with the present.
They had shifted to somewhere at the outskirts of Simla and didn’t live on the first floor of the building as they lived earlier. I could not hear any dound of Khadaon on the side stairs going up to their kitchen in the top floor.

Everything was different. And so was I. But deep inside everything was same….hidden under the thin veneer of sophistication. I wished the evening would draw closer, the shops would shut down and we could play “Oonch Neech”, “Langdi Tang” , “Stapoo” and “I spy” on these stairs…..one more time!!!

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