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!

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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…..

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!

Clutters charm me and Aarush…

Aarush, my grandson is at his happiest self when he opens and explores a purse, a bag or wide range of clutter around him. He busies himself so seriously in all that interests him. He extracts things from the bags  and watches them. His little mind explores things that we find “useless’ in a very critical manner. Perhaps in his little mind, imaginative use of all that material might be taking shape the way it does in my mind.Watching his random pictures I find this as a constant factor.

I wonder where has he got this habit from! Thinking honestly, I can announce and acknowledge publically that he acquired this habit from me. In fact we have a tradition of touching the tongue of the newly born child with gold immersed in honey and write Om with that. And it is believed that the child takes after the characterstics of that person. As I did this fro Aarush so there is no surprise that he has taken after me!

I wonder what he be doing today when Packers and movers would be packing all there belongings for a journey abroad. He must be the one most excited about the trip not because he knows where he is moving to but because he would be excited by all the paraphernalia spread around him! Watching this picture when he had become a part of all that lay spread in my room, I can imagine his happiness. I can even imagine my daughter shouting hard at him for being a nuisance when she has so much to do.  The mere imagination about him makes me smile though I am sitting miles away from him and the thought that he would be still thousands of miles away from me by midnight breaks my heart!

Ever since I posted the picture of the beautiful wall painting, I have been thinking hard of the cluttered closet nearby where from all sorts of paraphernalia would fall down if one is not familiar with the over flowing nature of the closet. I have been thinking hard that why do I keep on collecting all the clutter and keep myself busy in finding things in that clutter. i have in that closet clothes of all colours and fabrics-clothes that I hardly ever put on but never would ever think of discarding even! I tried many a times to get rid of the clutter but found to my dismay that whatever I would discard, I would need the same thing a day or two after. But can the done be undone? No, it cannot be and I would be feeling sorry for getting rid of some of the so-called useless things. So everyone can well imagine that my life revolves around these things which luckily for the visitors to my home keep away from public gaze!

Perhaps it would be similar life journey for Aarush, my grandson, who would be ushering in a new life, at a new place among new people, away from us who adore him the most–his grandparents! He surely had taken after me, and this thought gives me such happiness!

Sweet memories make a Home a Sweet Home…

When my little one tagged me on a picture on her Facebook account, I was surprised to see a one of the pictures of our home that was taken in the year 2006! One look at the picture and so many sweet memories c ame flooding down my memory lane. All sweet memories of the happy moments having spent together, the quality time that we shared together. Today all my kids are busy in their own life but these happy memories keep us bonded together despite the distance in time and places!

I remember having seen a pillow cover with these figures at one of my colleagues home. I was so attracted towards them that I wanted to copy them anywhere on anything. So the first time I painted these little figures was on one of my Dupattas. The suit is long back discarded but I have kept the Dupatta tagged securely as one of  my precious assortments. The Dupatta was done beautifully and I remember my kids weaving stories about the characters on the painted dupatta!

I remember clearly that it was during Diwali of 2005 when all Indian homes get a new look. We had a new distemper on the walls. I saw to it that we had it in earthy pale colour as the kids were planning to paint the wall this time. We had kept it secret from the maser of the house. It had to be a big surprise! So one day we bought the dry paint in rusty brown colour, a pack of favicol and some brushes. A ssoon as KS went to his office, we started with our plan. First thing was to draw a straight line so that the wall painting had some symmetry! What a tough job it was. Everytime we would draw the line and then see it from some distance, one or the other would say that the line was not straight! But later we had a consensus and a line was marked. Another one was also marked so that we had inner area marked for painting. We started drawing the figures with white chalk which was in abundant with me being a teacher!

We just modified the design the way it pleased us. I remember always adding three small figures and saying these are you three. I was so immersed in the painting that it came to represent my life surrounded by my own three kids. I would draw a mother figure and three kids around her. The little one had her own designs and she would at times tell me that I was not being very neat in painting!

We started on a very excited note but by afternoon, we were very tired. My elder daughter was constantly supplying us with hot cups of tea to keep us going. She would be asked at times to lend a little of help in painting some figures. My son, too, would help but mainly it was the little one and I who constantly went on to the end! By evening the painting seemed to come to life and it was a beauty to look at. It seemed as it whole of the room had acquired a life of its own with figures on wall.

we kept on filling whatever space on the painting  area seemed blank. The pastoral life of prehistoric time came to life in the painting. i remember painting a human figure climbing a tree that my little one said looked like a monkey. The thing was that nothing could be erased once drawn, so we had to be very careful. it was creativity along with ingenuity that had its play at our home that day!

And after some eight hours of hard work, the painting was finally completed. And the master of the home had a full laugh watching the surprised transformation of a plain wall!  With a horrible backache and arms ache because of continuous upward stretching of arms for long eight hours, we felt like dead horses! But the sense of having accomplished something worthwhile,working together, was heavenly. We had this wall painting till two years when the next whitewsh cleaned our wall of the precious moments of our life. Pictures of our home, with this painting on the wall, are the only memories that we have today but the memory of the happy time spent together, even today, fills our hearts with a beautiful sensation.

And we spent many a happy moments under the benevolent gaze of the figures in this painting! I am happy that my kids would carry the fragrance of the happy time having spent together. An investment that we had very wisely and lovingly made during their formative years!

Happy Himachal Day: A Day to Reckon

the-ridge-shimla.jpg 

The Historic Place

January 25, 1971, the historic day when the hilly state Himachal got Statehood, still makes its presence felt in my memory lanes. I was in class tenth and honestly speaking had little knowledge about the status of our state. So when the elders at home would discuss animatedly about the ensuing historic moment, it would not register much to us children. But we were very excited about the visit of Smt. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of
India to Shimla and were making plans to have a close look at her.
Those were the days when only very significant functions would be held on the Ridge and it wore a festive look for that function. It was not like the days that anyone who was something would be allowed to conduct a function on the Ridge. As we lived near to the Mall and as the Ridge used to be a place to assemble for all the neighborhood kids, we would minutely discuss the new changes being incorporated on the Ridge. The erected podium behind the Gandhi statue got its present shape and design for that historic moment. Whole of the area, the stairs and the small flower beds near to the podium got a facelift much to our enjoyment. We would go in the evening and touch the water cascading down the shells used on the wall and the seven colors that would enmate from those shells! The Gandhi statue, too, got a face lift and if my memory serves me right it got a new pain as well; though we liked the earlier one. Everything was given a facelift!On the appointed day we all children dressed in our best clothes and were ready to go to the ridge. I remember that it started snowing and the weather was very cold. But the large number of people from far off places had assembled on the ridge to witness the award of statehood on Himachal. Little did we realize at that time the importance of witnessing a historic moment! We were mesmerized by Indira Gandhi who looked stunning in black colored overcoat that she had donned. I can still recollect her, wearing black coat when snow flakes were in the air and were setting on her hair and coat, addressing the people of Himachal! She looked magnificent and so did Dr. Y. S. Parmar the then Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh. People were jubilant and so were we watching everyone so happy. We knew that something great has taken place and now we would be a full fledged state. The ceremony was impressive though simple appropriate with the simplicity of the people of Himachal.