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!

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!

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!

Small Beauties of Shimla that we miss…

Surplus Surprises that Shimla showers….

Shimla is unique in more than one way but only if you keep your eyes and ears open while walking the already well-treaded roads of Shimla,  who knows that you may come across a thing of beauty that may be a source of life-time of joy for you!

While visiting a tourist place during vacation the real pleasure is in roaming around on foot, watching around with a childlike curiosity and unabashed interest in all things queer and simple. I am sad when people don’t seem to look beyond what is apparent to the naked eye and go back as ignorant as they were when they reached that place.  They might take a few pictures using the famous places as the background to impress friends but they lose a lifetime opportunity to rejoice in the local flavours and simple bounties of nature.

It is spring season in Shimla and the nature is at its best to shower surplus surprises to visitors. But how sad it is that so accustomed have we become to the superficial realities that anything beyond remains un-deciphered to us. I found hordes of visitors to the famous Indian Institute of Advanced Study appreciating the historic monument. The flower beds smiling boldly with flowers of various hues, the verdant lawns, the walks around the terraced gardens! And they are not wrong as it is a scene worth watching. Even I would do the same thing during my stay at the IIAS. So focused would I be on the top of the building that somehow my eyes would  sadly miss some very fine gifts of nature that abound the vicinity of the Observatory Hill on top of which IIAS is situated.  Whichever way you select, you have to walk up to IIAS and to look around for wonders while walking up is a bonus point.  I had this blissful insight one spring morning!

It was the rhododendron flowers, red and fresh, paving the way to IIAS that made me look at the wonder of nature. These flowers added a rare red hue to the metallic black charcoaled road as if soul was added to a body. I stood in a trance-like situation and admired the beauty lying scattered under my very feet. For a moment I felt like a princess walking on a road strewn with flowers. Ah! What an adder it was to my ego. I felt and walked like a queen there after and somehow unconsciously was waiting for a bouquet of flowers coming my way! And Lo and behold I could see a shy beautiful flower smiling at me from a nook in the stone wall that sided the road. I stood mesmerized watching how life can sustain even amidst the worst of circumstances. The nook held little mud in the crevices but that was enough to put life, shy and beautiful, in a seed.

I felt humble at the power of nature and looked down. The surprise of surprise awaited me—the various hues of flowers waited to be catching attention of lost onlookers and I was surprised to see violet banafsha flower peeping from the surface.  I remembered having collected handful of banafsha flowers during my childhood.  We would bring back home small fistfuls of banafsha flowers as Amma used to say that the flower was used in concoction and was good for cold. Instinctively I tried to reach out and pluck the flower but held my hand back and left it smiling shyly from behind the leaves so that it might fill some other trotter’s heart with joy as it had filled mine.

From behind the cracks in stones came out an amalgamation of ferns, flowers and various leaves, all unique and loving. The Bittchhuputti plant still makes me shiver but the solace that antidote to it is nearby makes me assured of small wonders of nature where all things are balanced! It is a real surprise and a great lesson of life. And the Saamp ki Butti with its red shining corn would make anyone run for a cover. As these plants are seen only at an altitude similar to or above Shimla’s and as these plants appear for a very short duration, they do deserve a second look. But sadly these creations of a lesser God don’t even get a much deserved first look.

When I reached IIAS, I found, as usual, groups of tourists admiring the well-kept green lawns and the flower beds and I rued remorsefully why human mind has been so conditioned as to look for ready-made surprises instead of searching for surprises that nature so bountifully showers around us.

But then we are the cultured human beings capable for paying for retreats for our eyes and ears!

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.

Shimla: No Longer a Walker’s Paradise

During a recent visit to Shimla, I was unpleasantly shocked to see a large  number of vehicles parked on the road near CTO. I was shocked to learn that all these vehicles had access to the restricted roads and very proudly displayed the passes stuck on the vehicle! I couldn’t understand whether the Shimlites had lost their stamina to walk or whether the long repressed inclination of  Shimlites to display their financial status had overruled their good sense to walk on the roads of Shimla!

Whatever may have been the reason, but I was much shocked to see such a great number of vehicles that the once-upon-a-time pristine and peaceful zone! The area near the CTO seemed more like a vehicle stand and less like a restricted area for vehicles that it used to be. The benches on the other side of the road were full of people, more of the younger lot  than the oldies, waiting for the HRTC taxi service started specially for the senior citizens. I thought that the present youth of Shimla lag behind in stamina that young and old of my times used to have. We just used to walk and walk and enjoy every little moment of our walking.

In order to observe the change in the pedestrian’s behaviour, I needed to sit and analyze the waiting-for-the-cab  group closely. I also wanted to observe the vehicles that came to the CTO and dropped their precious passengers. So I, too, took a seat on a bench and mind you, I have never had been so enlightened on the use or misuse of restricted road pass during the twenty long years having spent in Simla as I was during those twenty minutes! I watched with horror the unending flow of Government vehicles, some with red, some without, beacons halting before my eyes. If I waited for some Government officer, on official duty,  to alight from the vehicle, I was sadly very mistaken as these vehicles carried the “Memsaabs” for their evening stroll on the Mall. And as parking at this point is restricted, the vehicles would go away after deporting the passenger and would come back when “M’lady” had had her evening stroll on the Mall or may a cup of her evening coffee at her favorite place! 🙂 Mind you none of the privileged passengers alighting from the Government vehicles seemed sick or unwell, they were in best of their health and appearance, rather dressed too well!

Surprisingly it was not only the Himachal Government vehicles but the Army vehicles were also not left behind in this race and I could see some proud and patriotic army vehicles carrying the “Memsaabs” and “Baba logs” to this sacred point beyond which only the VVVIPs have access! I wondered if in the last thirty years Shimla has changed so much and private and public vehicles have attained access, to this level, to restricted roads, the days are not far off when these vehicles of the rich and the influential would be parked on the Ridge itself! God save the Ridge, I prayed silently!

The Simla of yore, the my own Simla, had a sanctity towards pedestrian and was a walker’s paradise. The only vehicles that we saw plying on the roads of Simla were the ambulance, the fire brigade vehicle and the Post office van. It was only the Governor’s official vehicle that could be seen plying on these restricted roads and that too not very often. But now we have changed. Simla of my days has changed to Shimla and from a walker’s paradise it has become a motorist’s pride!

And the fact that it is our money, the hard earned money of taxpayers, that is used to maintain these roads and to spoil the environment as well, I felt so sorry. I know my lone feeble voice would be lost in the corridors of power and would remain unheard in the buzz of the vehicles but still I would go on raising my little voice till it is not muffled, albeit, by an official order!

Annadale: The Magic still prevails!

Annadale, the bare name of it, opens up so many memories of a place that we would gaze at, longingly, during our childhood days. It seemed like a ovalish round open space the kind of which we had not seen anywhere in Shimla! The Sun rays falling on the ground made it shine like a jewel amidst the green dense deodars that surrounded it. The magic of Annadale held a great charm for us, the children, in the Nineteen  sixties as this was a place to be admired from afar but to be visited barely once or twice in a year!

My earliest memories of Annadale bring forth the grand spectacle of Dussehra, an annual feature, eagerly awaited by young and old residents of Shimla! My father would hold our small hands in his stout and big hands and my sister and I would tumble down  the great descent to Annadale. The descent was much easier for us as we wouldn’t like to waste any time on the passage. We wanted to have more and more time to have fun in the ground! In fact this was the day when our enthusiasm would culminate in a much happening event. As we would watch the raising of the Ravana, Kumbhkarna, and the Meghnath effifies from the very day when huge  bamboo structures would be given some shape for the upcoming effigies. And as the Annadale ground was clearly visible from the window of our class, in the  then Lady Irwin School. The school was housed in the hotel Dalziel building and its windows opened to the great valley down where Annadale shone like a jewel!

Our enthusiasm would reach its pinnacle on Dussehra day and we would happily stroll around various stalls selling toys and eatables and waiting for the evening when the local Ramlila inaction would culminate in Rama personate  killing the Ravana with an arrow! And then the effigies would be burnt! What a spectacle it would be. When my father would make all efforts to hold us strongly, I would with full might dislodge my hand from his hold and rush to get a piece of falling bamboos that made Ravana! As girls in school believed that keeping a semi burnt piece of bamboo, used in the making of Ravana effigy, would bless us with intelligence. And who didn’t want intelligence and that too if available in such an easy manner. In fact it was the hidden agenda that I had, in my mind, all the while when we went to Dussehra at Annadale! Though I was careful never to get a piece of bamboo used in the making of Kumbhkarna effigy! 🙂

Another memory pertaining to Annadale ground is regarding the annual Sports Meet of our school that was held in the Annadale ground. This would also be a great day, eagerly awaited as sometimes, if we would be lucky, we would watch from close proximity Army Helicopters that took off and landed in the Annadale ground. Once the Headmistress of our school Mrs. I. Goswami talked to some Army personnel and he was kind enough to allow all the girls go up and have a look at the interior of the Helicopter. We all were much impressed with the influence and skills of Mrs Goswami and looking back I remember with gratitude that it was my first chance to have peeped inside a “flying object”!

Such is the magic of the world Annadale for all those Shimlates who grew up while the town still loved the legacy of the Raj on one hand and looked for indigenous development of free India on the other hand.

I fully support Save Annadale Drive launched by DYFI! As it is my childhood dream that I am trying to save! The dream about a place which still had fruit trees, flower plants and even some birds and animals that loved those dense deodars!

One for sorrow two for Joy…

Old habits die hard and the habits formed during your childhood never die at all! This great truth has dawned upon me when I saw a single black bird. Instinctively I started searching for a black dog as a remedy to forestall the tiding of a bad news as sighting a single black bird always foretold bad luck. We chanted religiously the rhyme during our childhood and believed in it from the core of our heart:

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One for sorrow Two for joy. Three for letter, Four for boy. Five for money, Six for wealth….. I hope someone would complete the poem for me or correct it if it is wrong. Even today when my glance falls on a single, seemingly harmless, black bird my fingers automatically cross over one another and my eyes start searching either for a Red Cross sign or a black dog! 🙂 Interesting isn’t it? During our school days if and when we would sight a single black bird( in facts the birds were brown with a sprinkling of black at some parts) it would be plane disastrous for our little hearts! And the antidote was to cross your finger and wait for some good sign so that you could uncross your fingers. I would search for sign of Red Cross and would wait for ambulance vehicle to ply on the Mall road so that I could uncross my tiny fingers which would become numb of the awkward position they were in!

It would be funny to watch many of our class fellows with crossed fingers waiting for the right antidote. Another antidote to fix the problem was to see a black dog. And if by chance anyone would sight a black dog the girl would shout at the top of her voice and all of us would rush to have a sight of the much awaited relief. Oh my God what a relief it would be to my tiny thin fingers. Even now I can feel and enjoy the sense of relief that I would feel!

And when one would sight a pair of black-brown birds, it would portend joys and happiness! How we would shout with happiness when we sighted “Two for Joy” and would seek some wish fulfillment and believed sincerely that the wish would be fulfilled. How small were our wishes at that time. “I may get good marks” or “Amma may allow me to play for more time” or “the teacher may not punish me as I had not put blue ribbon in my hair”! The list was simple but long and “Two for Joy” was a panacea for all the ills!

“Three for letter” would make me wait for the postman to bring a letter, any letter for that matter. And I would look expectantly at his Khaki bag to bring out a letter for me. What kind of letters would I wait for? We had simple life and simpler demands. The chewing gum that we enjoyed would have some stickers inside it and we would go on collecting them till we would come across the lucky mast which when posted to the address of Chewing Gum supplier would get an album through post where we would stick all those stickers thus collected. Such albums would be a craze and a precious treasure along with giving us edge over others in General Knowledge! 🙂 I would wait for the lucky mast to unfold in my chewing gum so that I could get the promised album through post! Such was my small simple world and its demands and desires!

But when it came to “Four for boy”, all the girls would open their mouth with a longish howwwwwwwwwwww and put their hand on the mouth in a shyful manner though with a twinkle in eyes! “Four for boys” would be a special prerogative for the pretty girls of the  class who would get an admiring look  from some boys of the local schools! And I, the ugly and the reed thin girl, would observe all such developments very keenly! We would discuss which boy has interest in which girl and who is always nearby at the time of school closing. Which group of boys would follow, keeping a safe distance, which group of girls! It would be talk of  the class during the free periods! The black birds “Four for boy” would again get credit for this development! How I would wait to sight four black birds together but it seemed as if two or three of them would fly off whenever I would put my eyes toward them. It seemed such a loss at that point in time and today I can laugh about it heartily.

“Five for money” would not result in much return as money was not something which we would get easily during our childhood. I would wait for some guest to drop in at our home fro staying for the night and would be so happy as the guest would surely put some money, may be a rupee, in the hands of the kids as a good will gesture. I would roam and skirt around such a guest and would be within his/her reach especially when it would be time for the person to leave. I didn’t want to miss the momentous occasion for any matter.And if I was lucky to have some money the three  black birds that I must have seen sometime would get all the credit for it!

Whatever may have been the belief system that we catered to but it was much relief to sight “Two for joy” and when I saw a pair of black birds in my neighbouthood I could not stop myself from crying in relief “Two for Joy”!