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!

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!

Kitchen of my Amma and her Rituals…

Angithee and the Agni Dev

During my childhood, in early sixties, in Shimla, for my Amma, a routine job like, cooking food was not less than religious ritual. Amma would  cook food on a Angithee which would have coal in it. Old iron buckets would be used to make this Anghithee.  The ironsmith would cut a hole on one side of the bucket and would fit an iron grill at the center of the bucket. Mixture of fine clay and shredded drass would be used to line the inside of the Angithee and the top would have three round projections to hold the cooking vessels and also to let the air and fire flames pass from below!

The last kitchen chore that my Amma would do was to give this Angeethi a fresh coating of clay. Even this was a ritual worth explaining. The used coals, still hot and buring, would be put out from the Angithee and the Angithee would be prepared for the morning use. Amma would give a fresh coat of clay to the Angithee. The liquid clay would at once dry as the angithee would be so hot even when there were no burning coals in it. The vapours would fill our small kitchenette with a smell which no perfume today can compensate for.

And why did Amma do all these rituals! For my Amma, and most of the women of her generation, Angithee was the abode of Agni Dev. Amma would purify her Angithee every time after cooking food. When she would cook food, the first offering of the food would be made to Agni Dev! Such was her belief that Agni has to be fed the first thing before serving food to anyone else. The food had to be pure! Nothing could or should defile food while being cooked.

During my recent visit to my Amma, I saw an old Angithee lying in the storehouse. No one ever uses it. It lies discarded lamenting, perhaps, her golden times.  I thought of all the ritualistic performance that this Angithee had seen and paid my obeisance to it for having been instrumental in feeding us.

I wanted to peep through relics and memories of my childhood—some old paraphernalia, books, papers and yellowed black & white photographs! I thought of annual issues of Purana, published by Gitapress Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. I craved to find them.

“Amma, where are the old Puranas?” I shouted while searching for the old heap of books and paraphernalia that seemed so out of place in the marbled new construction that is my Amma’s proud home now. I had asked her as I was not able to locate the old books that during my childhood had made a small abode in Shimla, our home! I was searching for a part of my childhood that still was alive in the yellowed papers of the old books.

All those Puranas lay peacefully in a steel trunk lying in a corner of a room that had all the old unusable paraphernalia spread in it. I opened the trunk and scrambled through so many old papers, each of which had something or the other to remind me of. And then I came across Agni Purana. Now this was a Purana that I remembered only glancing at during my childhood as it didn’t have any stories in it! I loved reading anything and everything that had a story  but AgniPurana had description of many of the tricky religious practices. So this is the Agni Dev that my Amma fed everyday during her daily ritual.

But now when I had reached an age where such religious practices and methods interested me a lot, I picked up this Purana and went through some of its pages to have a look at it. The Purana had Agni Dev as the recite of various Akhyanas of the Purana and I found tits and bits of the Purana very interesting. The Purana was in a very bad shape. Its pages had yellowed, the paper cover had come off but luckily the inside was intact and in good shape. I wanted to carry it back with me to Hamirpur to read it and to find why my Amma religiously fed the god of the Angithee, the Agni Dev. And what I found in the Purana was nothing less than a miracle to me.

To be continued…..

Life in Rear Mirror…2

When I started to write a post I suddenly remembered about another blog that I started in 2005 and had written something about my childhood. I thought of reading that today and ended up pasting the same post to my readers:

The Real Me…

by Sarojthakur @ 22/09/05 – 11:35:47

Unmasking the real self would be a torture and I never would have thought of doing it had it not been to see my real self. I think that I have hidden myself behind so many masks that even I would have to meet my real persona through this blog.

Have I really grown or it is the same old girl inside me that has refused to grow with time. I am old and have three kids of my own who look at me for inspiration and safety but I am really baffled at times as I think that I am not what everyone thinks me to be—a strong person.To find answers to as to why I feel like that I have to peep inside my innerself and this self realization through self-questioning would help me, perhaps to see the real ME. The quest may go on and on and I may not find answers to questions that trouble me.

Should I start from the very beginning when as a child I starting introspecting myself as an entity different from my parents and having an identity of my own! The feelings, emotions and dreams that I had at that time would perhaps help me find the real me.

I remember myself as a very young girl who was called Kaloo as she was not as fair as her elder sister was and the first memory that I carry is quite negative in its inception. Wait there is another flooding the gates of my memory and I can vividly see my mother and my aunts talking about me and laughing at the THING that I was during my infancy.

I remember hearing a number of times the story about me being so frail and weak during the early months of my childhood that my mother took me to a Peepal tree and bathed me under one of its roots that had somehow above the ground leve as according to some hearsay that would make me healthy.This story made me love my mother who had a real concern to see me healthy or was it just to make me look at least somewhat respectable so that noone could blame her for neglecting her second daughter. I am really happy that there was no such concept as a small family during the days of my childhood otherwise I would have blamed my parents for all that I hold against them– to their frustration for begetting a second daughter when they aspired for a son.

So it was a mixed feeling for my mother that I have a recollection of even today. A feeling of love or gratitude for caring for a daughter who was sick, frail and weak during her infancey and a feeling of anger that she still could laugh at my looks and finally the name they gave me -Kaloo-substantiated the second feeling.

I have not written anything about my father till now, but what I remember about him, is that he really cared for me. Though I feel that, looking back at him today, I find myself again filled with mixed feelings for him as well. He always addressed me as Saroj Singh. By adding Singh instad of the official version of “Kumai” he made me feel like a man. Was it his frustration at having sired another daughter when he waited for a son? But thankgod all these questions never raised their poisonous head during my childhood and I really loved him for making me what I am today.

I find that during early childhood, I developed a tough exterior as compared to my elder sisterwho was the apple of everyone’s eye whereas I was a son to my fahter that he really wanted to have. This tough exterior hid inside a weak little girl who was scared of her fraility, her looks and her weakness as a girl.

See how useful this self analysis has been as I have been able to find some answer to my persona that has started troubling me at this age when I am 49. Even today behind the so called striong womabn resides a young girl, still unsure of herself. When my colleagues comment upon me that I am the only woman employee who has the guts to take abny challenge and question the wrongs of the power that be, I realise that it is the tough exterior of SAROJ SINGH–a masculine persona –at work. But is it the real ME?????

Life in Rear Mirror…1

I think I became conscious of my ugliness first than of my good looks! And why won’t it happen when I, along with all kids of the neighbourhood, would be fed upon stories of my ugliness during my childhood. It still surprises me why would they do so. “They” here refer to all those people who had known me as a small kid—a small sickly weak kid who would cry non-ceassantly until she was picked up. And who would pick up a child who was not cute by the standards that they had for cuteness. The standards “they’ had for a cute baby were sure tough standards to keep as I am talking of fifties when our elders had the Gori Mems for the personification of beauty and cuteness. I failed miserably to keep up with those standards especially when my elder sister, a fair rather very fair kid, gave me stiff competition. I don’t think that I might have felt this when I was an infant as how did it matter to me whether I was picked up or not but all the stories about how my sister was preferred to be picked up and cuddled, made me wreathe under unexpressed anger. Even today while writing all this I can feel the surge of anger that might have played havoc with my persona while I was growing up!

Amma had an interesting story to tell about my elder sister, “she was born in January and there was snow all around and she was such a fair baby just like white snow!” And would add, without paying least attention to what her outpouring did to me, “Our Jamadaar named her Barfu after the Baraf that is snow!” All the while my sister would listen to these stories about her perfect beauty whereas I would ask God why was he so unfair to me, for making me so dark coloured. Later when I would relate these stories to my friends they would look at me in astonishment and would exclaim, “But you are so fair, why would your mother call you dark?” How could I explain to them that it was not the complexion that she was referring to but relativity of complexions! My complexion was measured in comparison to that of my sister. Now that was unfair. I started hating Angrez Mems as my elder sister would always be compared to Mems, angrezi Mems. Perhaps like multitude of Indians, especially the ones having seen Angrez mems in person in the forties and also having heard a lot about their pinkish-white complexion, nothing else could redeem their prestige than to borne a child as fair as an Angrezi mem! It seems my mother had, with one stroke of delivering a white-as-snow baby, had vindicated all the Indians of her Lower Bazaar Mohhalla that had lived under the shadow of the British Raj not much far from their humble dwelling places. Under these circumstances it was no surprise that my mother would brag a lot about her first born fair child than rue about the second born dark child, especially when both the kids happened to be girls!

Under these circumstances it was not surprising that I became aware of my ugliness much before being aware of what sex I was born under. No one rued or repented the fact that I was the second girl born in the family. Luckily for me at that time complexion and looks were much more important than being a boy or a girl! I don’t blame my mother or our neighbours for flaunting my sister’s fair complexion as I can well understand, today at least, that it was a proud feeling of having turned the tables on the British by siring a child a fair as they were. I can laugh today freely to think how much proud all would have been to have a fair child with golden locks and green eyes! My bad luck that I could not bring the same sense of pride to my parents and my neighbourhood aunties!

I always blamed the month of August for my plight. Having heard umpteen times how my elder sister, born in January, had snow like complexion, I would want to know how a child born in August would turn out to be? I could never find any answer to it and I remember having put this question to my teacher when she read the first poem of our English primer in the class. The poem was “Monday’s child is fair of face, Tuesday’s child is full of grace…” I asked Miss, “It should have been January’s child is fair of face…” to be followed by a hearty laughter by whole of the class. I moved and inched inside my self-built cocoon to save myself from jeers and smiles of all those who knew my nick name at home, Kaloo! I could feel them laughing in their sleeves because they knew how obsessed I was for being dark in colour, and also that how jealous I was of my sister’s fair complexion! I was “the other” in the family, in the neighbourhood and in the school as well. It was quite late in my life when I overheard that having been born in the second half of August, I was Bhadron.born child. It had no meaning for me till I learnt the popular name for Bhadron—Kaala Mahina! Oh! My God! I was dark complexioned as I was born in Kaal Mahina—the Black month! I could see the pictures of dark black clouds hovering over the horizon in the month of August, I learnt about the songs about “Kaale Baadal and “Kaali Ghata” and could know why I was born dark! Why did my mother conceive me in a month to have me delivered in the month of August! I could find something fishy in all her planning. She delivered me deliberately and knowingly in the month of August, the Kaala Mahina so that I could be born dark complexioned, I rued. But, outwardly, I would try to balance the score with my sister by saying, “I was born in August, the month when our country became independent!” But not to be left behind, my sister would defend this argument by saying, “I was born in the month of January when we celebrate Republic day!” I could never understand the big deal about becoming a republic though become a free nation always had a special charm for me! It still has till date! The fights would go on and on taking different modes and moulds where both of us would be at our warring best. My mother would exclaim in exasperation, “Why did I read the Mahabharata when I carried both of you in my womb?”

I started hating my sister for being fair, to be honest, for being in a true coy of Angrez Mems. I can see for sure that I identified with the suffering Indians, the “blackies”, as they were called by the Angrez masters. Freedom of the country from Angrez masters meant a lot to my small little mind as it meant personal vindication for me! It was in this context that I would listen for endless hours any story or incident that related to the life of Angrez Sahibs in Simla as I identified myself with the all-time suffering Indians and identified my sister with the Angrez Sahibs. My parents by calling my sister “Barfu” among many of her other pleasant-to-the-ears names and by naming me “Kaloo” had, in fact, demarcated the colonials and the colonized in their very home though at that time, and even till much later, I didn’t have any inkling of these theories! I grew up in a small cozy house in Alley no. 2 of Lower Bazaar Simla, as a neglected and near abandoned child. At least I thought so, for a very long time, till I was able to see and feel clearly without any prejudice!

Winter Delights: Til-chauli

Every year during Lohri, I think of all the Winter delicacies that were, during my childhood days, prepared at home. And I start sniffing around for that familiar aroma when jaggery would melt into syrup in a karai put on coal angeethi. The patterns it would form while simmering on slow heat and the aroma that would fill our small house and our minds with, is something that is etched permanently on my mind!

So every year, as an annual ritual, to keep intact the tradition of making such delicacies at home, I try my hand at re-creating the world of my childhood days!

Til-Chauli, is one such simple delicacy which is considered essential in all Hindu households on Lohri evening. Though these days Gazak and Reori etc. have taken precedence over Til Chaui but still in many houses the oblation to the Lohri fire would not to complete if it is not offered Til Chauli. As the name signifies it is a simple mixture of Til that is sesame seed and chawal that is rice. My mother-in-law always would bring out some green paddy plants kept separately for this grand occasion. She would tell me that before the paddy is harvested, they would separately keep some paddy plants, with grains in a tender state, at home. This would be used to make Til-Chauli during Lohri. The grains would be soft to munch and crisp as well at the same time. These grains would be soaked in water, then fried in clarified butter and would be mixed with sesame seeds and sugar along with a liberal sprinkling of dry fruits!

I, on the other hand, make Til Chauli in a different manner as i don’t have these specially kept grains! I substitute it with Chidwas, the puffed rice so easily available in the market. I fry groundnut seeds separate, and finely grated or chopped coconut separately. I fry Chidwa  on low flame in a Kerai where I put a little ghee! When Chidwa turns crispy and turns golden in colour, I add fried groundnut seeds, grated and fried coconut, other dry fruits and mix all these well. I put off the heat and add sugar to taste, stirring the mixture well! The sugar gradually envelops all the ingredients and becomes one with the mixture! And Til-Chauli is ready to be offered to the sacred fire of Lohri and to be relished after that.

This mixture is healthy for the winters and has quite less calories than the chocolates that the modern generation gulps without any pangs of guilt for taking high calorie and high carbohydrates diet!

Enjoy eating Til Chauli! (I am finding it very funny that my daughter has taken Til-Chauli to her high profile, ultra-modern Google office and the imagination of her friends munching Til-Chauli there is keeping me much amused.)

Til Chauli has surely come a long way!

Amma’s maiden visit to Delhi…

Today Amma reached Delhi! it is her first visit to the capital of the nation! it may be surprising for many of you but it is true that my Amma has never been to Delhi. It is her maiden visit! She is always contended being where she belonged  to. No pilgrimages for her. No LTC tours though she retired as a teacher from Government jobs. Perhaps she would always  relegate backstage all such visits and would prefer to be with her children and grandchildren. I have written earlier that she traveled a motor bike on a rough and rugged road when she knew that I needed her. That is how my Amma has been!

Treat her well Delhi, with love and care, she is very special person! At least very special to all of us who adore her.