A True Daughter to my father….

Come the summer vacations and my mind is full of devilish plans to get-set-and-go to the mountains! Every year I tell myself that next year I would rather go for a much easier trek but end up searching for a challenging trek to take. There sure is something wrong with the way I get ad reline rush while thinking of Himalayas and its myriad mystic folds up the mountains.I did some hard thinking as I wanted to find why these peaks have always enamored me so much…rather, to be true, not always, but since last few years. I tried to seek an answer to these “whys” and tried to rummage through the blind alleys of my mind for the first image of the snowy peaks that I still carried with me, lovingly and passionately, even today when I am about 59 years old!

Simla 1963

I could smell him. It had to be his body odor mixed with that of the diesel odor of the long bus journey that he might have taken. But my eyes sleepy with dreams would not open and it was in the morning that I finally saw my Bauji.  He had come back to Simla after spending about six months of official tour in Kinnaur district. I had missed him, missed him a lot during his absence from home. I had waited for him each day.  Or perhaps I waited more eagerly for all that his small trunk would carry from Kinnaur. So, finally he opened the box, the much awaited box. It had Chilgozas that I loved so much,  kala zeera that helped Amma to use as a much desired spice in her kitchen. There were some paper thin yellowish translucent and fragile leaves. Bauji said, “these are Bhojpatras and all our sages used to write on these when there was no paper”! It all seemed something belonging to a world that we never had heard of. I waited for some more precious jewels to tumble out of the humble box. But the box was nearly empty. There were none more gifts in it. But, no, there was something else. A thin packet which seemed to hold some papers! Perhaps it was a  big Bhojpatra, I thought. Bauji opened the packet much lovingly.

It was a black and while photograph of snowy peaks of Kinnaur Kailash that my father had carried in his tin trunk when he returned from an official tour of Kinnaur! He had painstakingly kept it folded in many layers of newspapers so that it may not crease and crumble during the long journey that entailed from Kinnaur to Simla way back in 1963. As his doting daughter of seven years, I remember watching intently the high peaks which Bauji claimed to be Kailash Parvat! I was mesmerized and my Bauji, in my eyes, rose to an herculean figure who had been to Kalash Parvat.

The pictures were large, very large, of the size of around 30” by 20” and I could see the minute details in the pictures. Perhaps it was not the enormity of the Kailash parvat  but that of the size of the pictures that impressed me more. They were big, very big, indeed, too big for the small house that we lived in, Bauji wanted to get them framed and be displayed on the wall.  But as the pictures were very big and the walls were already crowded with calendars and pictures, Kailash Parvat had no chance of getting displayed in our house. Or perhaps the cost of getting them framed was much more that my prudent Amma would have found to be a sheer wastage of money. Whatever may have been the reason but the pictures were destined to be put in a tin trunk…my Amma’s “locker”! Those pictures were, very lovingly, put inside another tin trunk which held Amma’s few valuable possessions. And whenever the trunk would be opened we would get an opportunity to relish a look at the Kailash parvat that lay hidden in a trunk in our small home in Simla.

Gradually everyone forgot about those black and white pictures of the Kailash Parvat and even when we had bigger home with plain walls; no one thought of getting those pictures framed and displayed. Why would anyone when there were pictures much lucrative and detailed available everywhere. A click to google Kailash and thousands of references would open up but to me the initiation was the day when I saw a black and white picture of Kailash Parvat brought by my Bauji!

Looking back, I honestly wonder how much in love he had been with the Himalayas that he carried, of all things from Kinnaur, some pictures of the Himalayas. Though the pictures were locked in a trunk but they had made an everlasting imprint on my mind about my father’s love for Himalayan peaks! And being a true daughter to my father, I stretch myself beyond my limits to wander in the Kailash parvat in search of those peaks that were in that picture.

It has been more than twenty-five years that my Bauji left for his heavenly journey but I am sure that his spirit roams in the Kailasha peaks that he so loved and the yearly ritual that I undertake to trek to some part of these mountains is the tribute that I pay to indomitable spirit of my Bauji. Perhaps he watches somewhere from behind the cloudy mist on the peaks at his daughter who carries that black and white picture of Kailash parvat  in the deepest abyss of her heart!

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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!

Rain retrieves remembrances….

It rained today. A much awaited rain it was. The fragrance emitting from the parched earth when rain drops touched it refreshed not only our soul but also refreshed many memories. Surprisingly all these memories take me back to my childhood. And the smell of frying pakoras emanating from the kitchen of my Amma still fills my nostrils with a never-ending desire to have more and more of crispy golden pakoras with chutney! Electric Mixers and grinders were unheard of during those days and it was the ever faithful Kundi-danda that did the trick of transforming green mint and coriander leaves, along with other spices,  into  smooth  chatni.

Perhaps Amma wanted to restrict us to our small little home by alluring us to lip smacking eatables. With a life bereft of TV, video games, computers or in short all those screens that keep modern kids immersed in their own little world, outside world held greater charm to us. And we would run out of our safe home to explore the outside world. I learnt to enjoy and appreciate little joys of life that didn’t cost a penny but have become a source of happiness to me even today.

Today when I came out in the verandah to enjoy the rains, I was hooked to the sight of raindrops glistening like pearls on the green leaves. Watching the dazzling water drops I was transported to the world of my childhood when we would see the same magical diamonds on green leaves wandering around Shimla green areas.

The Sanp ki Buti would fascinate and terrorize us at the same time. Its proud green hood like a serpent would make us shiver but the water droplets shining on its bright green surface would dazzle us. We would go near it with a trembling heart. afraid that a snake may not be lying hidden nearby, but there would be no snake around. And the child who would go and touch those deadly beautiful saanp-ki-buti would be acclaimed a brave-heart!

I moved close to the ornamental plant whose leaves had retained the dazzling water droplets on it and lovingly touched the water! Instinctively, I moved away, watching around for a snake lying hidden nearby and realized I was much away, in time and space,  from my childhood.

The fist splash of rain in Hamirpur had retrieved many remembrances of my childhood which belong to a period of golden past!

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!

The Great Divide: The Two Different Worlds

Revisiting Shimla…..

When I went visiting Scot Hass, one of my blog friends, to Mashobra and asked him about the places that he loved in Shimla, I was pleasantly surprised to hear him say, “I loved Lower Bazaar!” Scott is an author who loves visiting places of tranquility where he can sit back, relax and read and write. “And didn’t you like the Mall?” I asked him with a real surprise in my voice. “The Mall is just Okay, it is like any other place but it is the Lower Bazaar that holds the spirit of real Shimla!” he said with an emphasis. This was nothing less than a revelation to me as I had seen countless tourists roaming on the famous Ridge admiring the timeless beauty of the Chirst church, strolling languishly on the Mall, and reclining on the fashionable benches to rest a while instead of rubbing their shoulders with the ordinary people of Shimla in the crowded Lower Bazaar. Though the Lower Bazaar Shimla to me, a person born in a narrow alley of lower Bazaar, held a special charm but such a remark coming from an American tourist and that too a writer of repute was nothing less than a great surprise to me. Yes, he was so right. The Lower Bazaar is the essence and the life of Shimla. With a sense of remorse do I think that why don’t we write about the Lower Bazaar as we write about the Mall? I thought of the pictures of the Mall that I have stored in my camera but when it comes to the Lower Bazaar, only a few are there.

And this led me to  think about how I feel about the great divide which separated the Mall from the Lower Bazaar. This divide is not a figurative physical divide but a great mental divide as well. Whether you walk from the eastern side of Shimla i.e. from Chhota Shimla  or from the western end of the town i.e. Chaura Maidan side, one common similarity is seen at the point where the road bifurcates. The upper road proudly leads to the Mall and the Ridge but the lower road shyly meanders to the Lower Bazaar. From the Western end it is at CTO that the road to Lower Bazaar starts. This long road is connected to the Mall through a number of stairs which frighten persons with a weak hearts and weaker limbs. The buildings situated on the Mall, towards the Lower Bazaar, are unique in a manner that the one half of these buildings faces the Mall and the other half descends down towards the Lower Bazaar. In between a portion of the building touches what is known as the Middle Bazaar. This segmentation in higher, middle and lower categories of the building is what reflects in the life of the people living in these very areas.  As a young girl born in Lower Bazaar Simla, I have experienced my early years of girlhood in Lower Bazaar and this divide was more pronounced for us as many of my friends lived on the Mall! The Mall always remained the other world– formal, refined and elite whereas the world of Lower Bazaar was homely and informal. And now when I am thinking of my life, I am reminded of many symbols that stood for life in the Lower bazaar, the symbols that meant nothing at that point in time. If the Mall and the Ridge had Takka benches and the famous green benches made of solid wood, the Lower Bazaar, a poor cousin to the Mall had  solid almost square cement blocks of the height of three feet whereupon the cooleys could rest their backs by balancing the heavy load on those blocks. I had watched many cooleys resting a while and  catching a breath while sweat drops would trickle down their forehead. Perhaps as I had grown up watching these scenes every day of my childhood they had become very common for me and I never  ever found anything absurd in these.  In the same manner I would not blink my eye when I would see people reclining on benches that abound the Mall. It was a well earned rest for the strollers when they get tired of roaming on the Mall. Thinking of all these scenes that are still fresh in my mind today after a gap of some forty years, I am able to see with a sense of detachment that how  human mind learns to take for granted something which is never questioned. For me the labourers carrying heavy loads,  the pahari natives carrying fuel wood, the Khans carrying big loads of coal on their backs, was as normal as were the strollers on the Mall, men with a walking stick in hand and coquettish women pretending to be so tired of walking and catching their breath on the famous benches of the Mall, perhaps trying to catch the attention of the onlookers! Intrigued by the great divide theory I asked one of the old timer of Shimla who is at present in her late eighties, “Did you ever see Memsahibs coming to the Lower Bazaar?” Since my acquaintance, a dear aunty, lives at a strategic point in the Lower Bazaar and has grown up watching the present Shimla emerging from the Simla of the Raj, her memories are worth mentioning. “Yes, they would come sometimes to the book market.” I was surprised to learn about the book market. Watching out from the window she looked at the Arya Samaj Mandir down and said, “ a number of book shops eisted from Arya Samaj Mandir to Dr Jagat Ram’s shop and some teachers from the convent of Tara Hall would come sometimes to these shops.”

The present day Shimla still carries the legacy of the Raj days and the present day Sahibs and Mem Sahibs emulate ways of the yore and it is not very often that we find the fashionable crowd of the Mall mingling with the majority of ordinary men and women of the Lower Bazaar.  And Shimla, even today, has maintained  great divide introduced since the days of Raj and even today we have two different worlds silently co-existing complementing each other.

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!