Sixty-five plus “girl” reminiscences about paradoxes of growing up in Simla of the Sixties!!!
Amma snatched away from me the pleasure of having been born in the Snowdon Hospital….by walking home exactly on the evening when I was to be born! And I was birthed at home…my small humble home in the lanes of Lower Bazaar! I was so angry with her, though much later, when I go to know that I could not enjoy the “Sponge ke gadde” that the wards of Snowdon Hospital had! Bauji got the birth of his second daughter registered in the records of Municipal Corporation office of Simla…25 August, 1956! The first record of my age!
But when Amma took me to Lady Irwin School for admission in Nursery class, once again she was partial to me…in a negative manner. Miss Ved Sood advised her that if my birth date was recorded as March, 1956 I could well be admitted to next class as I was suitably prepared academically. So, once again, I was snatched away the pleasure of enjoying the colourful ambience of nursery class of Lady Irwin School that I had so much dreamed of after listening to the small wooden chairs in varied colors for the kids. My elder sister would tell so much about the nursery section. But I was not to have the pleasure of its toys, chairs and see-through curtains! Age became another number for me…March, 1956.
But in reality age was not a static number back then…it was all the time changing! When we went to our ancestral home every year…Amma would tell the conductor that I was a year less than my actual age…to get a half ticket for both of us!! And how the four of us would try to fit together in the small tight seats of the truck-mouthed buses….can well be imagined! Lucky that we were not put in the big bags scrambling for space at our feet, rather I rested my feet on them.
But when I would ask Amma for some fancy dress, she would admonish me saying, “Itni badi ho gai hai!!!!!” And my plea would be rejected that I was too old for all those fancy styled frocks or dresses that showed legs!! What a paradox!
And when I would put cream on my face…the much sought after Afgan snow, whose fragrance and shiny silky feel I so loved…. Amma would know from a mile that I had tried using it stealthily! The admonishment, which would follow, could be well imagined and the terse lines would be, “Badi ho jaa phir lagana cream powder…jitna marzi!” I waited to grow into a young damsel to use that veneer of Afgaan snow cream on my face! And to look beautiful!
Not only Amma, all Maasis of the mohalla had natural claim in raising the daughters of the neighborhood! Shakuntla massi would comment, “Button up your cardigan” in a stern voice and everyone would button up the loose cardigans so that the growing body would look like a shapeless sack of wool! “Bade ho rahe ho!” she would say in a stern voice and we would feel ashamed of our own body! Age was a feeling….feeling of changes in our body!
But the moment we sought permission to go on our own, it would be, “Abhi chhotte ho!” I grew up perplexed whether I was young enough to decide for certain things or still small enough to be taken care of!
But youth has its own dreams and fancies…and when one of the girls bought a natural shade lipstick…we were so ecstatic! Rubbing a little to our finger I would apply it on my lips though honestly speaking it was no better than the veneer of glycerin diluted with lemon drops or rose water that was permissible in our home! Rather Amma would see to it that we rub a little of glycerin mixture on our lips to protect them from chapping. And then came the simple little Chap Stick that was permitted. But the charm of that invisible lipstick was like opening the hidden door to womanhood which we so craved for. But very secretly and very stealthily as the demarcation between whether I was old enough to apply it on my lips or small enough to keep it at an arms’ length was still blurred!
Then in the Seventies…the show windows of Gainda Mull Hem Raj displayed lipsticks in the shade of deep brown…chocolate brown bordering on black! It seemed as if darker the better became the mantra fro lip beauty! How I would greedily ogle at all those shades…how I would look at the glossy pages where the ads ran full page for those pouting brown arched lips…. But I could never dare to buy one for two reasons…one that those were very steeply priced, not within my reach and second, the more practical reason was that could I ever apply that when even natural lip colors needed a daredevil spirit to put on the lips! Could never fathom when I could be “old” enough to apply those lip colors!
When such a simple beauty aid like lip color was so difficult to get and apply…coloring hair was unthinkable and unpardonable! No one, not any woman, in the entire neighborhood colored her hair…or perhaps I could not make out between real and colored hair. The first time when I saw Bhenjii coloring her hair, I was dumbfounded! Coloring hair was done behind locked doors. Purchasing Godrej’s hair color was not less than sacrilegious. When Amma started coloring her hair…she would go to Fabcy General store and then would stand outside the shop, sending me in to buy the hair color. She did it because the man at the counter would not know who is going to color her hair as I was small enough to even think of coloring hair. Much later when I read “Gone with the Wind” and came across the character of auburn-tressed Balie Watling, the madame of a brothel…I could understand the disdain of humble and simple Simla women for colored hair! Imagining having streaks of colors in hair of those simple women makes me laugh today!! I would be surprised whether Amma was still young or had turned old to color her hair! And my mind would boggle!
These paradoxes regarding when I would be treated as still “small” and when I would become “young enough” depended upon the circumstances prevailing.
But that was a blessing in disguise…as I grew up thinking that I was still young enough to do many a things and would give my old bones a twist hair and a twist there. I maintained my flexibility…..not only the physical one but the mental one as well….and have maintained the same spirit till date…This is the spirit of growing up in humble neighborhood of Lower Bazaar in Simla of the Sixties!