Going to Sabzi Mandi via Mall..escapades in ordinary life of an adolescent…. Growing up in Simla of the Sixties!!!!
Life in Simla of the Sixties was beautiful….it still is, perhaps, but for us the generation of an old era; life in the Sixties was serene, peaceful and happening as well!
Growing up in Lower Bazaar neighborhood kept us grounded to our reality, rooted to our very basis… but never ever restricting us from dreaming big…as the stairs up to the Mall needed nothing much except the will to go up and the strength in your legs, and of course a decent dress!
The maddening crowds in the Bazaar, incessantly chatting women in the neighborhood and the pheri-wallahs snatching whatever quiet moment we would like to have, made us seek solace in the nooks and corners of the tin roofs where we would find a spot, a spot our very own…a personal domain! A place where we could read a storybook or listen to the girlish gossips in hush-hush tones or to listen to some stories of the films and our entire body becoming all ears when some romantic scene would be described in full details!
But the Massis or Bhenjiis would keep a strict vigil over us….some of them would come to the tin roof on the pretext of putting something in the Sun or to take a dried cloth home but whatever may have been the reason the hidden agenda would be to keep a hawk’s eye on the escapades of the young girls even though these escapades were just platonic ones!
Under such a vigilant matrons it was well-neigh-impossible to have any escapade or even to think of it. If at such a time either Amma or any other neighborhood massi would ask any one of us to go to any shop in the Lower Bazaar….it would be a much awaited godsend opportunity for us. We would have an escapade…a much awaited one!
The best that we could do was to all dress up in our best and have a round of the fashionable Mall even when Amma would send us to the Sabzi Mandi to fetch something! Amma would cry, “What’s the need for a change of clothes….you just have to go a few stairs away!” But we would hurriedly get the “Bahar wale kapde” hanging from an iron peg on the back side of the door and get into them. Another problem would be how to hide the jhola for the vegetables while we would be strolling ladylike on the Mall! Those days carrying a jhola for groceries and vegetables was a rule rather than an exception. The humble jhola which would be an integral part of every person in the Lower Bazaar would become persona-non-grata on the fashionable Mall. How could we display it openly while strolling on the Mall. We would fold it till it would be small enough to hide and become a non-entity and walk up the stairs to the Mall! The selection of the appropriate Jhola while we planned to have a stroll on the Mall would be done in a painstaking and judicious way out of the many hanging at another peg in the wall.
Ready to face the world, Jhola well hidden we would astride the Mall. Walking slowly in measured steps, affectating delicacy we would walk ladylike, in no hurry at all as if everything in the world could wait! And would cross whole of the Mall oblivious to directions of Amma to come soon.
This would be the time when we could talk without anyone keeping an eye on what we were talking about, laugh the way we wanted to…. make a mental note of all other known and unknown faces on the Mall. We would get down from the narrow stairs besides Gainda Mull Hem Raj shop to our own domain of Lower Bazaar. As soon as we would try to get down those narrow steps thrugh Yash Woolen Depot…our leisurely gait would change to hurried walk down…jumping the stairs. All the directions of Amma to come home soon would start to reverberate in my ears. These stairs led us straight to the Sabzi Mandi. But sometimes If we had more time we would stroll till Naaz, come back to the Gainda Mull shop, once again, and descend down to the Lower Bazaar!
As the stairs touched the Lower Bazaar, the entire ambience would change to the hawkers shouting at the top of their voice for vegetables and fruits that they wanted to dispose off before calling it a day! The faithful Jhola, meticulously hidden hereto, would be out proudly opening to fill in the vegetables! With the Jhola full of vegetables there would be no chance, whatsoever, to have another round of the Mall…and we would walk past the surging crowds of the Lower Bazaar to the safe haven of our humble friendly mohalla…carrying the Jhola, of course!
During this walk through the Lower Bazaar we would learn to walk past, narrowly making way, the evening crowds thronging the Bazaar. We would wish politely all those Massis and Bhenjis out in the market on a similar sojourn. And walking up the Jain Dharamshala stairs or the Baljees stairs we would meander past the maze of alleys of Middle Bazaar to our home. It would be an evening walk well spent!!
Looking back I can see how it developed me as a person. I learnt to derive my inherent strength to merge with the crowds in a Bazaar and to walk with head held high on the pristine and fashionable Malls of any place! The bandwidth to make adjustments in a jiffy of a second, so natural to all those born in Simla of the Sixties, comes from these small and seemingly banal everyday sojourns of Sabzi Mandi via the Mall!! Thank you Simla of the Sixties for making us learn to adjust, adapt and be adept!!