C for Car….C for Chaura Maidan
C for Car….C for Chaura Maidan and C for Clock….life in Simla of the Sixties
Simla is a Walker’s paradise. Everyone must walk…some, the so-called-elites, stroll on the Mall as a ritual and stroll is a leisurely walk for the Mall and others walk because they have to, runing for banal everyday errands. I belonged to the second category but when I came of age…I, too, learnt strolling or Malling!!!
I waivered between both the categories… …walking because I loved it and strolling when I had to act like a lady! And between these two was snother option…. enjoying a ride in a car like a real sophisticated lady!! But when even a bus ride was a once a year ritual and train ride a dream….a pleasure ride in a car was blasphemous to even dream of for us!!!
Cars, as such, were a privileged breed in Simla of the Sixties and people owning or enjoying a ride in a car were all the more rarer. But dreaming of a car ride, especially for us, ….the Lower Bazaar kids, was dreaming of unattainable!!
I used to look at cars plying on the Cart road when I happened to go to the Coal companies or sometimes to Laddakhi mohalla. Rather it would a day of exciting outing for me as I could see many vehicles on the Cart road! Or sometimes when I went to Ripon Hospital or the Bus stand I would ogle at cars. From some strategic points I could see cars plying on the Cart road near to the High court and these looked so wonderful! As my kindly sojourns were not permitted beyond Lower Bazaar and the Mall I would be so excited to look at a car anywhere. Only the Governor’s car with the national insignia would ply on the Mall road and that, too, once in a blue moon…else I was happy watching the red coloured fire brigade vehicle or the ambulance with a big red cross at the backside or the humble Dak gaadi plying on the Mall. No other vehicle was allowed on the Mall.
But we enjoyed watching cars in movies which were telecast by the Sound and Drama division in different localities. I remember the scene from Dil Ek Mandir where Rajendra Kumar and Meena Kumari ride a big white open roof car and sing a romantic duet…. how ecstatic I felt not because of the romance in the air but the white big open roofed car!!! The scene stayed in my memory because of that car!
So when we got to live in a big house, the first floor of Chaura Maidan Post-office building….more than the big house it was the plying of cars on the road that made up for the loss of maddening humdum of Lower Bazaar in my life. I could watch cars from the windows of the house. But by this time I had lost my interest in cars though the feeling that owning a car was beyond my wildest imagination and dreams, was still strong and firm.
But my brothers were barely 7 or 8 years old and it was their love for cars that was much obvious. The open space near the Post-office building, on the left hand side of the road to Ava Lodge always would have a car or two parked there. Some official vehicle it was! An official vehicle, during those times, used to be a very prestigious one!! Especially if it had the red beacon….on a white ambassador!
This place became the most favourite playing space for my brothers as they got an opportunity to get a view of a car from such close quarters as well. Bauji would not allow them to go near to the car as he always thought it unethical to even remotely touch someone else’s car. And this was an official vehicle! Ambassador car!
Once he scolded both Bittu and Palu, my brothers, for playing cricket near the car. And even said, “Get your own car if you can!” I knew that owning a car was not within their dreams as well and getting an official vehicle was much beyond their imagination. He was harsh to them but perhaps that was the only way he could keep them away from the car. And Bittu Palu would stay away from the car but would take a ride in the Mail vehicle sometimes….
Many years later….it was 2009 or 2010 when I was at Advanced Studies Simla and had a house of my own in Curzon Cottage near Boileaguegunj. Bittu had become D.S.P. and had come to Simla. He was staying with me that evening. We were so near to Chaya Maidan and missed the good old dsys. We talked a lot about some incidents happy or not-so-happt and then sat silent, each immersed in one’s own thoughts!! It has been about twenty years that Bauji had left us. We were staying so close to Chaura Maidan and all those memories were overwhelming us both. I was thinking of how worried he must have been when I was doing so bad in studies!! My brother say deeply immersed in some thoughts. Suddenly Bittu said, “Didi…let’s go out for a while!”
I was surprised but both of us went down to Boileaguegunj. Bittu moved towards his official vehicle and said, “Come, let’s have a ride!” Without saying a word, I sat inside. He drove silently and stopped at Chaura Maidan Post-office! Looking at the first floor which, once upon a time, in early Seventies, had been our home, he said, ,” How I wish Bauji would have been here…with us!” His voice choked and I said, “He is there…up there, watching us!” I thought of him watching me from behind the clouds when I walked everyday to my Study in the Advanced Studies and today he must have been watching us from up above and blessing us!!!
I thought of the early Seventies when I flunked my Chemistry paper when Bauji was dreaming of his daughter becoming a doctor. I thought of his admiration for the elderly lady, a Fellow at Advanced Studies, while talking about her and his wistful look at me!!!
Bittu must be thinking of his own struggles at competitive exams and Bauji leaving the world before seeing him succeed!!! We both stood still, the clock on the green walls of the Post-office was making a Tik-tok sound…the same clock…the click that ran our life long back. The clock that had seen our failures….the clock that saw us laugh and cry when I gazed at the world standing hidden behind it. It seemed to say….Cheer up….you have done well…
I thought of so many things….the mixed feelings of what could have been but didn’t happen made me sad but what happened later made me happy as well. Some cherished dreams…a few wishes….a little unspoken feelings….are all that we want our parents to see us achieve but only when they are gone!!!