C for car and D for dream…growing up in Simla of the Sixties
We didn’t see much of vehicles especially cars, during our childhood, plying on the roads which were our playing arena. Though there were plenty if one could watch movement on the cart road! Never ever in the Lower Bazaar and s numbered ones on the Mall.
As the Mall road was restricted to only the dreaded ambulance with red cross on both the sides and at the rear…. We would be filled with empathy for some very sick person being carried to the hospital. The red coloured fire brigade vehicle with fierce big brass bell tolling and the firemen standing in the vehicle would send a chill down our spine. Though we had never heard of Hemingway’s ” For whom the Bell tolls?” Yet my heart would be filled with fear and dread at where the fire must have engulfed a home! On the contrary the postal Dak carrying vehicle would regularly, without fail, make a friendly appearance at fixed timings carrying tidings good or bad to connect near and dear ones. I loved this one as it was very close to my very being …my very own!
Though once in a while the Governor’s entourage would pass the Mall road, much admired by us, the kids, as it hadl national insignia in place of a number plate. We were much in awe of this long and big car symbolising power and authority.
It was a blessing, indeed, for the kids raised in Simla of the Sixties that the very few people who must have owned personal or official cars could not drive those to be anywhere near the Mall. This provided the much sought after equity to all people irrespective of their station in life, at least some equality and equity in appearance! Everyone strolling on the Mall, more or less, seemed at the same horizontal level of stratification in social hierarchy at least on this account.
So, under these circumstances I never nurtured a dream of being in a car…or to go on a long drive, leave alone owning one!
It must have been early Sixties when the film “Dil Ek Mandir” was shown by the Sound and Drama Division. One particular scene that vividly stayed in my memory was of the beautiful car with open roof wherein Rajender Kumar and Meena Kumari drive to a point and dance around trees singing the song “Yahan koi nahi tera mere siwa…”! I loved that car!!! Perhaps I enjoyed vicariously what I could not otherwise!
The year must have been 1974 or 75 when my Bauji was taken to the hospital in an ambulance while I accompanied him. My very first experience of sitting in the dreaded vehicle though it was such a relief to get him admitted in the Snowdon hospital with very high blood pressure. As many of my class-fellows, both boys and girls, had got admitted to Medical college Shimla so they would drop in to inquire of his welfare. Honestly, I would be ashamed, embarrassed and angry in their presence when they acted like real doctors, flaunting their white overalls. Bauji lay in the bed as a patient and I stood at his bedside as his caretaker! My frustration was as I had not been anywhere near the list of candidates and continued going to Sanjauli college.
One evening, one of my class-fellows came and sat for a long time with us. It was time for me to go to Chhotta Shimla where we lived those days.
We walked towards the kuchha road leading towards Lakkar Bazaar when this boy suddenly opened the door of a white Premier Padmini car and offered to drop me at Chhota Shimla! A student owning or druving a car was very rare those days. I was really taken aback. That was my first car drive in Simla. Though I was happy but also afraid that someone may not see me sitting in a car with a boy!!!
The second that I remembered was when Kaka, Sulakshna Arya, who was a councillor, offered to drop us , my daughter and I who were walking towards IIAS. When my daughter showed a little hesitation, Kaka said in her unique style, ‘ You don’t know bachha what a privilege it is to drive through these restricted roads of Simla!” It really was! Then few more car rides followed…alongwith my younger brother who was Dy. S. P. City and once or twice I accompanied him in his official car.
But to be honest during all these car drives on the restricted roads of the Mall, numbered though they were, I felt guilty….extremely guilty of polluting the sanctity of Simla roads and the tradition of non- plying of vehicles on these roads. I had, in a way, disturbed the culture of equality and equity which to me is the hallmark of pedestrians strolling on the roads of Simla! It felt like going to the Puja room with your shoes on! Blasphemous!
Growing up in Simla of the Sixties made our generation value and uphold the traditions that made Simla a unique place but sadly it is no more so!!! Though how I wish it were so!
( The post surfaced out of my latent memories because of the pic of the multi-storey car parking posted by Nanda ji)