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?

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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!

Hindu Marriage Ceremonies: Invaded by Photographers

We are by nature easy-going persons and not very meticulous planners. This attitude reflected during the first marriage in our family when we regretted having overlooked many a details. During the marriage of my eldest daughter in February 2006, we came across many a situation where we seriously thought, “Oh, we should have taken care of this.”

One such situation was that we were not able to find a good photographer for her marriage as it literally over slipped our mind that we need one at Palampur. The local photographer at Hamirpur showed his inability to escort us to Palampur as he had planned to cover so many marriages on the same date.  So we had to take a last minute decision and that was to use the handy camcorder for video recording and to use our newly acquired Sony digital cam for still photography. As it was the first marriage in the family and also because we had to manage everything on our own at a new place, it was decided that pictures would be shot by whosoever would be free at that moment. I have been feeling guilty for not having a professional photographer at the marriage of my eldest daughter. But the recent marriage season has made be healthier (by eating free food), less wealthy (by gifting a lot) and wiser by learning a lesson or two.

Having watched closely the nosey interference of the professional photographers at marriage ceremonies and having seen the marriage ceremonies taking place at the sole direction of the photographer, I no more feel guilty that we didn’t have a professional photographer at the marriage of our daughter.

The pictures we have clicked are light years more authentic and real as compared to the make-believe pictures taken by the so-called professionals! As there was no outsider photographer to record moments, the marriage ceremony was conducted in a homely ambience where only relatives and friends gave us company. Later looking at the pictures I find how original and how spontaneous they are. My son did a wonderful job clicking the right photograph at the right moment. But being a naughty child he had captured some such moments which I would have kept a well-hidden secret from the outsiders! J

Looking in retrospect and at the positive outcome of not having a photographer I am glad that we didn’t have to dance to the tunes of a photographer and the marriage of our daughter remained a family affair the way marriages should be! There was no taking direction from the photographer to move this way or that way, to smile while looking at the lenses of the camera when the occasion was solemn and personal! Some of the best pictures are before the marriage ceremony. They are wonderful indeed as my son used to capture some very interesting pictures that show the real situations in a family where the marriage of the daughter is at hand! Some are really hilarious!

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…..

Missing my three musketeers on Holi…

Today while going through the old pictures, I came across many among my treasure. I looked and looked at this picture and was able to relive those days when all three of you would tire me to death because of your hyperactive lifestyle. Kids in those days used to be real kids and mothers the real mothers unlike the ones that I see around these days. Howsoever small a demand of yours may have been, nothing came to you easily. You had to earnestly demand it and then the decision would be ours whether to grant your wis or not. Even this small, seemingly, cheap toy truck  would seem to like a much sought after item as it never came to you easily. You learnt to value money and the material that money could get. It is for this reason that I am critical of new-age kids and new-age mothers who get anything and everything that their child may put his hands on, at the drop of the hat. Not that I am critical of anyone but looking at this picture with fond memories of the golden past (the past always seems golden), I am grateful to you for giving me something to remember, something that sustains me today. It may be as simple as this plastic toy truck!I can vividly remember the blue and white check shirt and nickers that Ashu is wearing and the army-green colored plastic toy truck in his hands that he would constantly ply on any, preferably, smooth surface.

The smile on the faces of all three of you in the rays of the morning Sun is deeply etched in my memory! Nidhu and Anshu are so excited to go to school though they walked themself to the school. The new school bags that they put on their back the previous evening and ran around the neighbourhood would still be in their memory though the numerous Reebok backpacks that they later bought and discarded may never have been registered in their memory. It was my Click III camera that I had used to take this picture. The picture turned out excellent and so have you!

I am happy that I have a treasure full of memories and of old pictures that fill my, otherwise, placid life to excitement and happiness. Today, on Holi, my life seems to be full with colours of pleasant memories of the past that you have lovingly filled with. Do I need any other colours of  Holi that I would try to wash off the moment someone would apply them on my face? You have coloured my life with true colours.

I remember all three of you today and need I say that I miss you as well!

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!

My middle class sentiments: sensibilities or shakles???

Ah! Today when in the morning, I looked at what my Little one had to announce to the world, I was in for a big surprise! She had announced, uninhibitedly, her love for Simone de Beauvoir and her classic masterpiece “The Second Sex“. And i was suddenly reminded of my first reading of the book “The Second Sex” and identifying with much of the said and unsaid in the book. I realized after reading the book that women all over the world, of any nationality or creed, think in a similar manner. My second acquaintance with the book was when  I was in Hyderabad and my daughter had bought this book and flaunted it proudly to me and her Papa. KS was a bit uncomfortable looking at the title of the book but as he had had me as his wife of a considerably long time so these kind of books no longer surprised him much! Later we read together some of the portions of the book and had discussions about it. But all this happened inside the four walls of our home! I remember discussing about more explicit emotions and feelings during some very debatable seminars but then these seminars were also held inside four walls where like-minded persons discussed such topics. But when my daughter shouted at the top of her voice on Facebook how she loved the book, my middle class sentiments came rushing to me. The dilemma, whether these sentiments were sensibilities inbuilt in my persona during my growing up years or they were the shackles that stopped me from openly endorsing certain things that I would endorse in privacy of select few, be they my family or friends, faced me! Whether I was a hypocrite or only had my real self under wraps and covers which I would reveal to select few, made me uncomfortable. What was this middle class sentiments that had raised their ugly head when I was past middle age, made me think and think hard.

I had to peep, once again, inside the dark alleys of my childhood that took me back to early sixties when I grew up in narrow alleys of Lower Bazaar Simla. Why Simla, and why not Shimla? Because this past that i refer to relates to Simla and not in Shimla. Growing up in Lower Bazaar where we lived in a small house, the first house in a narrow alley, facing stairs. Stairs in Simla have always stood for me as vehicles to reach out–sometimes to reach down and sometimes to reach up. reaching up, metaphorically and symbolically always heralded positive feelings as it meant reaching the Mall from the Lower Bazaar and for any dweller of Lower Bazaar the Mall was the ultimate in everything–even in dreams!

The Mall signified freedom, anonymity and unbridled access to a life of dreams whereas the Lower Baaar meant shackles, familiarity and the harsh realities of real life! Where boys were either brothers or cousins and boy-friends were a creed of romantics that had to be talked about in hush-hush tones. Well, today some forty year later, when I am fifty-four, I can laugh at all those things which were so dreadful to me at that point of time. In our days, only “bad’ girls had boyfriends! If a boy from some other school would know your name you would have thousands of questions to answer HOW?? If your name was mentioned on a wooden desk of a class room, be sure that you were doomed for life as the name would be etched with a blade and nothing could undo the damage to the wooden desk or to the repute of the poor girl! If some boy called aloud your name, be sure to be censured by all the so called “good” girls! The boys in love were seen only in a movies and no doubt that “Bobby” became a hit during my college days! The most romantic of the boys would follow a girl till some distance on the road leading to her home, maintaining respectable distance. And still everybody else would know what was being cooked between the two! The examples are numerous and today might seem funny belonging to a world that has long been forgotten, even by those who lived in that world.

The Mall was the only place where a boy, and that too if he was a part of a big group of boys, could follow a girl,  in a group of girls, maintaining a steady distance! The only boys you talked to were your cousins or at the best your friend’s cousins! Life was interesting, very interesting! It was fun as no one would go to Facebook, the first thing in the morning, to declare his or her liking or love for a person, place or a thing!

That was surely “Love in Shimla” in the real way!

Amma:The Real Source of my Strength…

Sunday, 5 December, 2010

Talking to Amma in the morning and listening to her, full of life, banal details made me suddenly realize that here is the real source of my strength. She always has stood for me and is there when I need her. Her benign presence around me has always filled me up with a new courage. Whether it was when Nidhu, my eldest daughter, was blessed with a baby and I was all alone at Hamirpur to look after her, Amma came all the way travelling a distance of over 100 kilometers on a motorbik eas she could not wait a second when she knew that I needed her. Or whether at the time when I had to go to Shimla to consult a lawyer but could not leave behind Nidhu with a young infant, Amma was there so that I could be free to go to Shimla. Amma has always provided me with strength and courage whenever I seemed to dwindle and weakened!

I know where I have got this strength from. My courage, the stamina and indomitable spirit comes from my Amma! Though I was always closer to Bauji and was always his favourite but looking back I can see clearly that it was Amma who was the force behind even my Bauji.

Like all small girls I, sometimes, would hate Amma as she was so strict with us. She still is a perfectionist and does the things in a manner that puts to shame all the youngsters. Recently I have been able to see another aspect of her courage that makes her the most revered person in my life and I can say loud and clear that the genes that made me so strong, come from her!

Amma, I simply adore you!