Two pairs of loving eyes watch three pairs of feet on a rainy day…

When my eldest born wrote on Facebook to my youngest born that it was more that four years that both of them had met, my middle born daughter put this picture to overcome the nostalgic feeling that overwhelmed her.   I, sitting miles away from my kids, was watching all this interaction taking place among my three musketeers!

But this picture revived a surge of memories of good days that we had spent together, trekking to various places in Mandi and around. This picture was taken on the bank of lake Parashara where we were walking barefoot in mud, water and grass. It was the month of June and it had rained heavily that day turning the whole path into a deep muddy pothole. All of us were covered in mud as almost everyone had had a fall in the slippery mud but the ecstasy of togetherness would put all these petty handicaps to backstage.

When the mud was washed off the feet, all three of them cried, “Oh, how clean our feet look!” All three of them stood together looking at their feet and I found it to be a right moment to click a picture of three pairs of feet when two pairs of eyes lovingly watched the little but sturdy pairs of feet that had miles to go in the world beyond our small nest!

And today when these three pairs of feet are trotting the globe, I sit here in my empty nest watching the great strides that all three of them had taken. I am still looking at the picture of the lovely time that we had together, the time that we all cherish and value even today. I am happy that despite many compulsions we had the good luck to spend time together and enjoy small joys of life!

Perhaps it is this strong bond of being together that holds us connected to one another while we are thousands of miles away from one another!

Amen!

It is great to be a Nani…

Three years ago, almost at the same time early in the morning, as the first rays of Sun lightened up the small hospital room in Hamirpur,  you arrived to brighten our life! You are rightly named Aarush—the first ray of the Sun!

I became a Nani. Before this day the word Nani would connote to me the feeling of warmth, protection, story-telling and love. And when I became a Nani myself I could feel a great responsibility on my shoulders as you, too, would expect the same from me,  I wanted to prepare myself for being a Nani to you, the real Nani.

You made me feel old. Suddenly, I became what a Nani has to be–old and wrinkled. Rather it was not that you made me feel old, it were the people around me that made me feel old. “Oh, now you are a Nani!” they would say and give a second appraising look which said  what they would not otherwise say. The words that they left unsaid, and the words that I made myself to believe that they never intended to say, were spoken by my own daughter. “Why do you still color your hair?” and would add emphatically, “now that you are a Nani!”

I started feeling old! I would watch critically at my clothes, and would ask myself, “Is it the right dress for a Nani?” I would not walk briskly as was my brand style but would walk slowly the way a Nani must walk as Nanis are supposed to be old and frail not young and strong! 🙂

But whatever changes I thought of bringing in my personality, I would be asking myself what kind of Nani would you have loved? Young and strong or old and weak, You are not having any clear cut ideas on your choice of a Nani and you have got a Nani that you are bound to love and accept and this Nani is young and strong.

I feel great to be a Nani. I love it to be a great looking Nani. One who walks briskly, one who jogs 3-4 Kms every morning, one who wears what she loves to put on. You cannot tell me whether you like to have this Nani or the stereotyped Nani but I am sure if you could tell me you would have love your Nani the way she is,

You have made me a different person. I love your antics, your moods and your twinkling eyes that speak volumes about your feelings. Your non-stop blabbers humor me!

I want to tell you stories–stories of my life, my times and even much old times!

I would leave behind stories for you that you might read one day and say, “I love you Nani!”

Happy Birthday dear Aarush!

Simla Sustainers: Khans, Chaudharis and Coolies

Amma would send us on errands at all odd hours of the day and why she would not as Simla of my days would be such a place where whole of the Lower Bazaar seemed like an extended neighbourhood to us all.

I would love to tread away to anywhere at mere wish of my Amma , her wish would be a command to me, but when she would ask me to go to Pandit Ji’s home, I would be a little hesitant. Pandit Gangasagar lived in the middle bazaar just below the stairs near Beekays adjacent to the Scandal Point on the Mall. Whenever Amma would have any query regarding whether it would be Ekadashi or Sankrati the next day, she would say, “go and ask Pandit JI.” Though I loved to go  to Pandit Ji’s home at any time of the day as he would always fish out from hid big Jhola some sweet for me so it was the greed that led me to his home jumping and running but going to his home during late evenings would give a shiver to my little heart. The reason was that I had to cross two alleys to reach his home and just near to the stairs leading to his home from the Lower Bazaar side, there was a dahra (accommodation) for the Khans. As Amma had instilled a fear in my heart that the Khan would pack me inside his big Pheran, I was so afraid of coming across a Khan during late evening hours.

I would be in a dilemma. On one hand the eateries that awaited me at Pandit JI’s home would be a great temptation and on the other hand the similar big pheran of a Khan would be a great detrimental! But greedy as I was, I my salivary glands would win over my adrenaline secretions and chanting Om Namah Shivah vigorously I would rush past the dahra of the Khans. I never treated them close enough to talk to them. Neither did any of the Khans living in a nearby neighbourhood made any attempt to befriend anyone. They were different. I would watch many of them lying in a room that was their night shelter. Many would be sitting outside to have some fresh air as the number of Khans that lived in that small room would not leave any space even for some air!  Some enterprising among them would have a transistor and listen to filmy songs on Vividh Bharti. Some would be washing their utensils after having taken their meals. The utensils would be a big copper plate and a big copper bowl. Sometimes I would catch a glimpse of very big Chapatis cooked on firewood chulha and some liquid curry in the bowl. I would wonder how many chapatis would a khan eat. The number would be exaggerated all the time when we discussed the same at school.

I would wonder who cooks the food for them when all of them go during the day for the labor work. Pandit JI, the nearest neighbor to the Khans would be our source of information. It would be a wonderful sight to see Pandit Ji in his Dhoti and Janeu, complete with a tilak on forehead,  standing at his door and talking intimately to the Khan standing at the door of his dahara. So most of my information about the Khans would come via Pandit Ji. Like all Pandits, he too, loved to talk and talk and found in me a good listener! He would say that these Khans take turns to stay at home and cook. Cooking for such a big number of persons with a very heavy appetite must not have been an easy job.

And sometimes during day time I would watch the Khans on cooking duty busy in preparing the vegetable, The aroma of the cooked vegetable would be no different from the one that emanated from my Amma’s kitchen and I  would wonder why would they take me in a back pack if I would be naughty and troublesome to my Amma. I would sometimes watch the by-turn-caretaker to mend clothes with needle in his hand and I would look at his big rough hands, so big that needle would just not suit them! Sometime he would sing in alien language some song while mending his old and torn away clothes. Music does not need any language and the very tone of the song would make me feel close to the Khan. At such a moment, my feminine curiosity and compassion would overtake all  the feeling of fear and I would make some small talk about their women folks, who, I was told, live back at home in Kashmir! Pandit Ji’ talk had instilled feeling of faith for Khans in my heart and I could now see them not as someone to be afraid of but someone who had same feelings as we had. But I would be afraid of my Amma finding me talking to a Khan as I was told to keep away from them. Amma had her own fears which I could never understand. And the Khan’s big hands, still bigger feet in sturdy leather sandals would substantiate her fears and mine as well.

But when it was time to get a quintal of coal from coal companies situated near the Bus stand, these very Khans would be the ones to carry our loads and keep the fire burning in our hearth. With sweat drops trickling down his forehead, the khan would bring the heavy load of coal and would take the wage decided upon. I don’t remember my Amma offering him anything to eat which she would offer to other collies when they were hired to carry some other load! Did Amma discriminate? Perhaps she did or to be true the Khans never did become a part of social life that existed between the masters and the coolies in Simla. The Chaudharies, the turbaned and bearded hefty Sardars, monopolized the Gunj market the same way as Khans were the sole coolies of the Coal market. The Chaudharies would load and unload big sacks of grain in the grain market. Speaking chaste Punjabi and wearing a cotton Lungi they, too, were alien to Simla populace but still seemed much closer as compared to the Khans. And the third were our very own Pahari coolies who would love to sit by road sides mostly around the vegetable market waiting for sundry jobs. They would carry much less weight as compared to Khans and Chaudharies.

Khans, chudharies and coolies were so commonplace in Simla of my days that their existence had become a part of life for Simlites. So integral to life in Simla that no one gave them a second look. It is with a sense of shame that I acknowledge today how insensitively we took them for granted, everywhere and anytime!

Lady Irwin School for us: My take on it…

Dayanand Public School: Some Interesting Facts

I wonder why my father decided to send us to Lady Irwin Girls School when there were a number of schools at stone’s throw away from the house that we lived in. As we lived at the western end of the Lower Bazaar, Arya Samaj Girls School was a few steps away from our home. This school had a creditable reputation and strictly followed the precincts of Arya Samaj ideology. The girls of this school in light ochre colored school uniform looked beautiful.  Everyday it would be the Manta recitation from the Arya Smaj Mandir that would wake up from our deep slumber. And those days it was not the pre-recorded cassette or a CD that would be inserted in some machine to play but real human beings would chant the Bhajanas and mantras in the very early hours of the morning. Perhaps Bauji thought that his daughters would turn into mantra chanting women if they were sent to this school though  it was barely two minutes walk from our home.

At some distance was St. Thomas Girls School with white and green small checks  uniform of its students, The morning assembly of the  students would be held in the open visible from the road above. Many would watch the assembly to find out what kind of prayer these girls sing, whether to Hindu Bhagwaan or to Jesus Christ? I am sure my Bauji wanted us to imbibe something of free thinking spirit and so neither did he send us to Arya Samaj Girls’ School and nor to St. Thomas Girls’ School!

This was a period when Singh Sabha had school for Sikh students, Arya Samaj catered to mainly Hindu philosophy. The Arya Samaj with its Shuddihis and havans at the Arya Samaj Mandir was more in conformity with spread of Vedic education. I think Bauji thought much above these sectarian divides. Though, sadly, I never happened to discuss all these issues with him at any point in time. As Bauji had joined General Post Office Simla as a clerk in March 1947 and he must have wanted his children to be kept away from caste politics he, in all probability, chose Lady Irwin School for us.

But the question as to why Bauji selected only this school over others for us remained an enigma for me though I loved the school and its small blue and white checked uniform! Even this school worked in co-ordination with the DAV Lakkar Bazaar but there were no Havanas and Mantras to be chanted in the school. Though I remember whole of the girl students once being taken to  DAV Lakkar bazaar Boys’ school for some Havana. But that was it and nothing more. We got values, the best of it, in moderate manner. But Bauji never knew of the inside  functioning of the school at that time but then why did he prefer this school for us?

It was while reading a book recently that I came across a very interesting fact about this school, and I got an answer to all that might have led my Bauji to select this school for us.

The Indian clerks in Simla represented a cross-section of English educated men who on one hand assisted the English Government to run smoothly and on the other hand developed an attitude and way of thinking that their proximity to the power hubs helped develop. As Sir Harcourt Butler School for boys opened in 1916 and Lady Irwin School for girls were “popular English-medium schools where Indian clerks sent their children”, Bauji also must have wanted to send his daughters to Lady Irwin School!

I remember some of our relatives commenting on this choice of school for us as for them it was sheer wastage of money to spend a good amount of school fee on girls when they would go to some other home later on. But Bauji persisted despite pressure from many relatives and refused to enrol her in sarkari schools which, too, were very close to the place where we lived.

I think these must have been the reasons that we were not sent to many other school  though they were  in close proximity to our home.

Lady Irwin School Shimla: Today’s Dayanand Public School

Whenever I pass through the Mall near State Bank of India and look fondly at Hotel Dalziel, I am transported to a different era, the days of my childhood, when I was admitted to Lady Irwin Girls Higher Secondary School known these days as Dayanand Public School. I stand a while and relive many of the glorious and not-so-glorious moments of my school days. I remember my teachers and owe them a silent thanks for making me what I am today–a non conformist and a rebel for a cause! I need to pay my homage to all those people and places that helped me develop a character and an attitude!

Simla, March, 1961                 My School Days

I was perhaps four years  old when my Amma decided that it was time for me to go to school. I had recouped from leg fracture and had a strong hind limbs courtesy the oil massage that Bauji would do to my legs in the evening, Perhaps Amma’s recipe of giving a little of mixed in milk also had done wonders to give strength to my bones. Two months stay in the Snowdown hospital known today as IGMC Shimla had given enough rest to my body, especially legs! Whatever the curative treatment may have been but when I was able to walk properly, after my plaster was removed and the doctor pronounced me hale and hearty,  Amma and Bauji wanted to send me to school , and why won’t they decide to send me to a school where my elder sister was already studying.

Looking back I can see that  perhaps  Amma was overtired by my incessant demand for stories and an urge to know more a la, “keh maa ek Kahani..Raja tha ya Rani…” Perhaps exasperated with my curiosity to know more and more about anything and everything tired the lady more than the household work would do and it was a wise decision on their part to send me to a school. Stories kept me hooked to the house otherwise, as Amma would tell me later on, I was more of a vagabond child, always on a look out for more adventurous expeditions in and around our neighbourhood.

Story telling which started as way to hook me to the periphery of my small house became a addiction for me and pain in the head for my Amma! Thankfully I had become considerably notorious for my adventure of taking a jump from the second storey of the house, landing straight down in front of a shop that everybody knew me for good or bad reasons. This made my Amma carefree that I would lost myself in and around my house. I was a known figure, the girl who jumped to fame! Looking back I can see clearly that my jumping from a window, a feat that no other child could undertake in my mohalla, had given me advantage over other children for whom I was courage and bravery personified, a girl like Jhansi ki Rani in valour! Those were the days when if you were good you were compared to great National figures and if you were bad you were derided and compared to the Angrez Saabs, cruel and manipulative. Luckily for me I had come to share dias with the known Indian figures and that, for a while, made me a heroine, though dark in complexion. I was truly an Indian heroin!

It was in the month of March when admissions in schools take place in Simla and I was taken to Lady Irwin Girls’ High School where my elder sister would give me company or competition. But this time I was the one who came with added qualification tagged to her name. “This is girl who jumped from the window!” Teachers familiar with my Amma would ask her, eying me with a bewildered look. I thought them to be admiring my courage and would give them a broad smile whereas my Amma thought them to be sneering at my foolish act. My Amma was afraid that I may not be denied admission on the ground that who would handle a girl who had bad precedents attached to her name! Amma displayed my saleability by telling the teacher, “she knows all the alphabets A, B, C …. and one, two, three till hundred,” and added gleefully, “she can even add and subtract and knows tables also!” The teacher was a wise one and after asking me some questions about what my Amma had claimed my knowledge base to be, she talked to my Amma in a friendly manner, “Why you want to get her admitted to nursery class when she already knows so much.” Amma felt bewildered and thought that it must be an intelligent way to decline admission ot her truant daughter whose anecdotes had already made rounds of the school! But the teacher was genuine in her concerns and suggested, “Why don’t you admit her in K.G  class straight way, she will save a year.” Amma was happy, very happy and in her happiness she never noticed that I was, once again, deprived of the pleasure of being in nursery class of Lady Irwin School. My sister had talked so much about that room which housed the nursery class that I wanted so much to be inside that room. It was a spacious room, just opposite to the Principal’s room. The room had a big window or perhaps it was a big door with big window panes opening to a small area where the other door opened to the main part of the building. The window panes to the nursery area had white net curtains and inside was a dream world that any child of my age would love to enter. Groups of four small wooden colourful chairs around a small table, kept at some distance would made the class of nursery stand apart from all other classes. For a child like me who had come from a tiny small house in Lower bazaar, where we didn’t have one single chair in our small holding, sitting on such chairs was nothing less than occupying Viceregal chair! It was a life that I had dreamt about all the while, perhaps it was the only temptation that school life held for me. And what to say of toys that lay scattered on the carpet covered floor of the nursery class—they were just wonderful! Toys the like of whom I had seen displayed in the show window of Janki Dass and Company’s shop.

Amma was so biased towards me, so prejudiced that she would do anything to deprive me of what I had dreamed of all the time ever since my sister had described this new world to me! “She doesn’t love me,” I rued! I was angry, almost in tears that I would not be able to sit and enjoy a world that signified to me the world of Angrez Sahibs! Why this partiality? Perhaps all this may not make any sense to a reader today but I am talking about an era when Kursi or a chair was always associated with Angrez Saab! Many a times, I had heard a sarcastic remark in almost all the households of our neighbourhood, “You want a chair, are you a Laat Saab?” There was a strong connection between chair and a Laat Saab and here my Amma had deprived me of a chance to sit on chair, be it nursery chairs!

My tears dried in my eyes and no one noticed them. One noticed tears when they came out from green coloured eyes and find their way down through rosy white cheeks but who cares when the tears wet a dark hollow cheek. Prehaps my hollow cheeks had absorbed my tears! Amma was happy that not only she would be able to save a year’s tuition fee but her daughter would complete her class tenth at a very young age. She was just ecstatic as she would have something great to share with my Bauji when he would come in the evening from the office. And nursery fees was more as compared to the fee that one had to pay for K.G. class. But K G. Class had desks and benches that one shared with other students and not individual chairs that one occupied majestically in nursery class. But who cared for what a small girl had dreamed of and was looking forward to. I was admitted in K G class of Lady Irwin Girls High School, Simla!

Diametrically Opposite wavelengths…

“Maa! There is a clearance sale at Macy’s!” the excited voice of my little one distracted me from the ruing and anger that I was experiencing in the kitchen. I had been out for some days and two garden fresh pumpkins that I had kept on the kitchen slab had rotten. I was angry with my husband KS and still angrier at my little one who had let the pumpkins rot away. How very careless of them both! But suppressing my anger, mumbling a few not-for-your-ears words, I answered her euphoric call. Adding some sweetness to my voice, so as not to let her know how angry I was, I put on a brave mask of a sweet mom!

“Yes Darling, what’s new?” Now when she would be with us for another forty days only, I had to maintain a no-war-situation though it meant suffocating myself to death at times. My little one, who is going to do her MBA from Rotterdam Business School in the Netherlands, has been busy as a bee preparing her to-do-list and clothes are her top-of-the-list at this point in time. Her happiness was clearly audible in her voice when she answered me back, “Macy has some dresses on a clearance sale!” I was happy that she was still looking at the screen of her laptop and didn’t look even for a second at my face otherwise she must have sensed the diametrically opposite expression on my face, the expressions that my sweetened voice tried hard to conceal! “Maasi?” I asked, “which Maasi?” “Oh, don’t you say that you don’t even know Macy’s?” Her look clearly showed her disdain for an ignorant me. But she enlightened me on Macy’s as a famous US Department stores’ chain that had recently started selling goods to customers in India, Online!

“Maa, you know I need daily-wear dresses for the business school and also the formal dresses for many official functions.” And I remembered that she had been enlightening me, since months,  about “the little black dress”, “the …, the……” etc. etc. And now I could see reed thin models displaying all those dresses on the screen of her laptop. My Little one would enlarge the selected dress and would closely and critically watch it from all possible angles. While she focussed on the dresses, my eyes would search for the price tag which would be not less than 10k for a simple “Kameez” which she kept on calling “the dress”! I wondered what kind of “sale” is that if even after discount, the dresses easily cross-over 10K price! When she would like some “dress” she showed that to me, her voice like a child who wanted her first ready made dress when all the child had earlier the home made dresses! These sleeveless, above-knee “dresses” made my head swirl, in fact it was the price tag that did the trick. “But of what use are these “dresses” when you say that it could be snowing at Rotterdam and the temperature already is zero there, and can go sub-zero!  And then comes the pat reply, “Oh, thanks you reminded me, I need to buy good woollen over-coats and trench coats!”  “But why do you have to buy these costly little “kameezs” when you will anyway buy even costlier over-sized over-coats?” And then I added, diplomatically, ” These figure-hugging “kameezs” doing great justice to your hourglass figure would be hidden under the shapeless hags, what you call coats!”. And there I saw a potential “argument” building up, which I had been avoiding all this while, as she reacted, “Do you want me to die of cold Maa?” “Cold? Anshu you already have two BIG suitcases unopened of all the shopping you did in the US and do not forget the luggage allowance!”, comes my reaction, as I fail in holding it inside me. Poor KS, as is the case nearly always, silently sees us both getting ready for another war, and he still is unsure if the rotten pumpkin is the trigger or something we both saw on the internet!

“But” I added cautiously as I knew I was treading on sensitive areas, “don’t you think these “dresses” are little overpriced.”  “No, on the contrary the original price is much higher, these are on SALE!” she added emphatically. Now honestly speaking those dresses were nothing more than the “Kameezs” that the Bollywood heroines of the Sixties had worn in all the pictures but our heroines, sensible that they are, always made a point to wear these with  Chooridar pajamas, the models in the pictures seemed to have forgotten wearing chooridars with the dresses and had garish stockings and Robinhood-like shoes to go with them. I ruefully thought, these models have no dressing sense and wanted a give them a lesson in how to dress. My little one engrossed in some pictures finally selected a few dresses that she wanted to order online from the Macy’s!

I was shocked to look at the price tags and wanted to steer her clear of her temptation  when she was making a very unprofitable purchase!  “But these are “kameezs” and I can stitch for you any number of them.” The shocked expression on the face of my little one made me add as a bonus, “Or we can find some good tailor!”

“Are you out of your mind?” she cried, “what has happened to your dressing sense?” I knew I had to convince her now otherwise it would mean a great tear to our hard earned money. I ran to my room and brought my black and white photographs of the early seventies when as a teen-aged girl, I was wearing the similar “dress” but of course with a chooridar! There was something in her eyes that caught my attention. She was wavering between two worlds. I had to teach her the ways of the Business world before the Business school erased all the common-sense that I could fill her with!

And I am waiting for her coming back to the fold and am keeping my fingers crossed till then. I know she would go for Macy’s but I do know one more thing that she understands that dresses are not as costly as they are made to  be and she would make all purchases with this truth in mind.

I have given her the first lesson in Business and marketing!

Aarush Turns Two Today…

If I say that Time flies, it would not be an overstatement. Time really does fly leaving behind memories–good and bad. Not exactly memories but a strange pinch of feelings of pain and pleasure. And of these happy memories bring a full smile on my face. Aarush, my grandson, came to my life exactly at a point of time when I needed something great to happen in my life so that my mind could be diverted from the petty selfish happenings, taking away all my positive life force, could be slowed down. I forgot about everything else and focused on a small bundle of joy who seemed so vulnerable and weak. But gradually I learnt that Aarush has got his fighting genes from his Nani and he fought everything, be it a severe jaundice during his early days of birth!

Iam so proud of you my dear and today when you turn two years old and smile back at me i thank God for being so good to us. Despite what all that the ignorant may term as very “bad” ever happened to me, i do not stop thanking God every bit of my life for being so caring and merciful for us. He knew the best for us and gave us the Best. What more could I have ever asked for?

Happy Birthday dear Aarush for being a ray of light in our life when we were literally  groping in dark!

Slavish Mentality of the Public Servants…

My father’s official communication, written in June, 1947, opened up the visage of an era that we have long forgotten. People of my generation who were born in the early years of independent India had the privilege receiving information about many anecdotes from the first-hand experiences of our parents’ generation. Sadly the younger generation, having taken freedom for granted, have not been exposed to what it felt like growing up in a slave nation. Luckily I grew up listening to stories about the Raj as well as the Gulami of our nation.Looking back, I can see, for sure, the reason and the factors making me the person that I am today. If you look at the official communication of my father intently and read the last closing line of the letter you’ll find that he closes it with the expression:

“I have the honour to be your most obedient servant”

Now this expression, “your most obedient servant” always generated a debate in our home. Though I had never seen this letter earlier but there were a number of English Grammar books and also Essays and letter writing books, belonging to my father, that I would read with great interest. All the official letters, in the Essay and Letter writing books,  had in the signature line the same very odd expression, “your most obedient servant”! As I grew up, in an independent India, inhaling the fresh and clean air of Simla, I would be very angry to see that government officials would resort to use such a language in their official communications. I would question my father, “Do you also write expressions like these while writing to your officer?” And when he would say Yes to it, my little heart would bleed with agony. My Bauji was epitome of dignity for me and the fact that he used such expression of obedience would just be difficult for me to swallow!  “But we were servants of the Angrez Sahibs” he would say laughing aloud in his open style laughter and would add wistfully, “we are servants of the public”. “Why have our books the same expression in all the official letters?” I would retort back, “Are we  not living in a free country?” People of my generation would recall that all our English Grammar books had this kind of concluding line. My father had no answer to it except saying, “Old habits die hard”. and would add. “gradually with the passage of time people will learn to use more dignified language in their official communication.

My father’s dream of  free people living in a free country has, unfortunately, not been realized despite being the fact that we have been free of the slavery of the British rule  for more than sixty four years now. But, sadly, the mental slavery to the master still pervades all walks of life.

I cannot say much about the corporate work-life but in the corridors of Government work-life it still remains, “your most obedient servant” though the style has innovated a little. People address the Director, invariably, in their official communication as “Worthy Director” or sometimes even “the  most worthy Director” and use so many “your kind attention please” in one single letter that would have sufficed my father an entire year of official communication.

Nothing has changed. “Public servants”, in the name of Government, make blatant misuse of power vested in them for public good and sadly no one, I repeat NO ONE, seems to mind. The chalta hai attitude has rotted the fabric of good governance. And under such circumstances persons like me who have grown up dreaming of living and working in a country where there would be no need to write, “your most obedient servant” are worst hit by the powers-that-be!

Bauji, I ask you today, why didn’t you teach me the tricks of the world? Why did you bring me up to be an upright citizen? Why did you fill my little heart with the feeling that all will be well in Free India?

Peeping at the world of my father through his words…

When I put my hands on the Agni purana, I held it with love, delicacy and affection as it was a relic of my childhood days. its paper had yellowed, the cover had given way but the inside paper was intact. i was lovingly going through its leaves when suddenly I came across some papers inside it. as I have always believed that you can come across treasure kept secretly in big old books, with abated breath, I unfolded the papers and looked at them.

I was dumbfounded when I looked at the paper as it was in my father’s handwriting. How could I ever forget long and drawling hand that he wrote in.  The paper was sanctimonious. My father has been dead for more than twenty-one years now and holding in my hands a paper in his handwriting moved me a lot. More surprise was in store for at the revelation that this paper held. It was my father’s official communication after he had joined at Head Post office Simla in March, 1947, some five months before India became free! The fact that the paper was more than 61 years old and the ink he had used to write in was equally old, the letters on the paper were bright and illuminated the way my father always had been!

I went through the paper and two things struck me at the very start–one was the impeccable style of writing that he had and the handwriting. As a teacher of English, I always look for mistakes in any write-up so unconsciously I was searching for one in my father’s official communication  as well but amazingly found none! There were no cutting, no overwriting and no mistake–grammatical or otherwise. it becomes more important when I think that his only grouse with life had been that he was not able to continue his studies. He wanted so much to complete B.A. but had the satisfaction of having completed only F.A.! But he always wanted us, his kids, to do our best in studies and did everything possible within his means to see to it.

Holding the letter in my hands I was able to peep at the world of my father through his words! The old world charm, held in Agni Purana, opened up a barrage of emotions in my heart which I promise to write shortly!

Some more about my Amma’s Kitchen…

Life in Shimla in early sixties…

One of my friends working on a project on Life in Hill stations during (Nineteenth and Twentieth Century) remarked casually that she didn’t come across any material on life of the natives living in Simla though many books devoting to life of English masters were available. I thought of recording all my memories about life in Simla from my perspective. Having been born in Simla in 1956, I recall life in Simla from early sixties till late seventies that I was there.

Angithi used to be the most essential part of life in Shimla–be it Angithi for cooking or as a room heater. Life in Shimla seemed to evolve around Aginthi only! Living in a friendly neighbourhood of Lower Bazaar in Shimla, I still carry many a memories of life revolving around angithis. Ah! What a lesson whole of the process has been during our formative years. A chnace writing abour angithi in my previous post opened the floodgate of so many instances that lay buried, God knows where in my deep unconsciousness!

Apart from getting the Angithis ready for kitchen, the need to collect the material to light these Angithis with was as essential as the Angithis themselves. I can see vividly, even today, more than almost forty five to fifty years back, short and stout pahari men coming to the neighborhood carrying loads of wood on their backs. Amma would come out and check the quality of the wood, its weight and its moisture contents. Drier, weightier the better it would be. The man would unload the wooden load in front of our house and would take some time to straighten his back. Drying his sweat that would be on verge of dropping down from his forehead, he would carefully fold the rope used to tie the wooden bundle and counting the money would put that in inside pocket of his dirty undershirt. My Amma would offer him water, invariably, and sometimes if she would be free from her chaotic morning chores, a hot steaming cup of tea. He seemed to have travelled a long distance with this load on his back.

We learnt, by default, how to differentiate between the good firewood and the bad firewood as we kids would watch with interest what were the qualities to look for in firewood. The fresh resin drops trickling down some of the freshly chopped firewood would remind me of the sweat drops trickling down the poor man’s forehead. I would deeply inhale the smell of the fresh resin though  Amma would be shouting at me for not touching the firewood. The resin would stick to my small fingers and I would secretly rub it off with any rough surface. There being only one challa in the small kitchen it was a difficult task to wash my hands with out Amma noticing it. Today, when all kids in the family need to have a personal space and a personal bathroom this may seem as belonging to an unbelievable world. My father, on his weekly off day, would chop this firewood to small pieces that would fit the Angithi’s upper chamber. Ah! What an operation Angithi it would be. These wooden pieces would be neatly stalked at their designated place.

Procuring good quality coal was another job that was of paramount importance in Shimla of those days. You just needed to go to different Coal depots to check the quality of the coal and order a quintal of coal of the quality that you wanted. A hatho would, the same day, carry the load-full of coal at your doorsteps. This coal would be in various size and shape and just like the firewood it also needed to be broken down to manageable size. This job was done by the women in the neighbourhood. Every home had a iron hammer, specially designed to break big coal pieces into smaller ones. Many helping hands would join to break the coal into pieces. The coal dust would settle on our face and hair. Amma would admonish us for keeping the head uncovered. The coal would also be stacked neatly at its designated place. I am really surprised how did Amma, and many other women in the neighbourhood, had everything in place and place for everything, in such small establishments called homes!

And the waste material, left out of the coals fine enough to pass through the grill of the Angithi would not be discarded. The fine clay would be mixed along with water in the coal powder and it would be rounded off to “Gole” of manageable sizes, just equivalent to the size of the coal pieces used in the Angithi! These “Goles” would be dried on the tin roofs and then neatly packed at some appropriate place. When these “Golas” would be put in the Angithi, it would burn slowly and some special dishes that required to be cooked on slow heat would be cooked by Amma.

Next job would be to procure rough papers needed to ignite the wooden pieces set in a proper for in the Angithi. Our old notebooks, rough pages, used paper bags would do this job. Once the wood will catch fire, coal pieces would be put on the wooden pieces so that they would catch fire from the wood and ignite. The papers would burn to ignite the coals and coals would ignite to cook food for the family. Sometimes a little of Kerosene would be used to enhance ignition process. It was a chain reaction and the use of a catalyst to enhance the rate of reaction that we learnt through this exercise.

Cooking, in those days, used to be a fulltime job and was done in the most devoted manner. All members of the family would put in their mite to help cooking process though on the surface it was the woman of the home that did the cooking. Oh! My dear Angithi, you have really taught me so much in the field of management skills!