Children’s Park Then the Aashiana Now…

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During my childhood the names of the places signified the meanings they held. The nomenclature was simple enough for all to understand without applying much of the energy on the guess work! If the Ladies Park was meant for the women to relax and gossip then the Children’s park was the place for the children to play and regale. Simple. In the evening my parents would take us to the Children’s park and the reason why they would not go to the ladies Park was that men were simply not allowed to enter the gate of the then Ladies Park! But Children’s park was different as here both my parents would sit and chat while we played and played, occasionally going to them if we had a dispute to settle or seek money for buying roasted grams put in a tapering paper cone.

We would slide on the railing on both sides of the stairs leading to the nearly round structure that had slate roof overhead. It was quite later that I came to know that this seemingly round structure was in fact an octagonal structure! The open, octagonal structure had eight open spaces each having an alcove where we would play “oonch-neech” (High and Low)! Running from one alcove to another and all the time trying hard not to be caught while trying to ascend up the next alcove, is an experience that cannot be described in words! Occasionally, we would peep under this octagonal structure as the ground below was empty and unkempt. We would be afraid of going out there, little knowing that very soon this place would be a well known restaurant of the HPTDC!

My father used to tell us that this octagonal structure was used as a Band-stand during the Raj days and we would be happy enjoying the bliss of being free and playing where the Raj Bands used to play! There was no entry fee to go inside and the park had some beautiful flowers and green grass as well. There was a fountain that oozed water and we would be happy to play beside it.

After sometime, we grew up a little and now instead of playing, it was just sitting there that became our mainstay. Gradually some transformation started taking place. The pitcher carrying statue, in metal, of a Pahari damsel was the first piece of art that found place in the Park and it was not less than a miracle for us to drink water from the pitcher that this statue of a Pahari woman held in her hands! The Park, if my memory seves me right, at this point of time was named Daulat singh Park!

Next came the Goofa restaurant, an apt name for the structure as one had to descend down to get in. It was a good relief to all. The college students, that we were at this time, enjoyed sipping a hot cup of tea in this restaurant. I remember that it was a time when the Dogri folk song “Bhala Sipahiya Dogriyaa…” sung by Lata Mangeshkar was making much news and the Goofa Restaurant was doing a lot to popularize it. Everybody kept on humming this song irrespective of the language on used to converse in. The band-stand of erstwhile Raj days had changed to Song-stand of the then period.

The park above had a ticket entry and had become a hot tourist spot where the photographers made money taking pictures of the tourists along with the “damsel with pitcher”.

Now the Children’s park had become away from the reach of young children as who would pay money everyday to enter the park?

And gradually the upper portion, too, was converted into Aashiana restaurant! During the recent visit, I was sad to find the place changed into a commercial setting wit placards and all.

But it is the old timers like me who would rue the loss of a Children’s Park and find restaurants where once children used to run and regale among the green grass, when their parents sat gossiping!

May be the loss of one generation is the gain of the new generation! Who Knows?

 

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Combermere Then and Cumbersome Now…

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Combermere, the name would instill in my little mind a mixed feeling—a feeling of awe and fear that the deep canyon, down the bridge, fills me with; and a feeling of peace and tranquility that would fill my mind with a relief! If on one hand, I would dread looking down the abyss that looked perilous to my little mind, the little red and green post office building will fill my heart with warmth, love and care. And why would it not as all Post office buildings were like a second home to me—my father being a post office employee!

Walking from the Mall towards Chhota Shimla, we would stand at the Comberemere, a place where we would part company, my friends would return and I would be walking home alone. Sometimes we would stand gazing at the place that was so different from the Mall as it was calm and tranquil. Like Hardy’s “Far from the Maddening Crowds”. Thus, the Combermere would be a dividing zone. Not only literally but symbolically, too, it was a dividing zone—between awe inspiring deep abyss on one hand and life giving source of perennial water, situated at the back side of the Combermere Post office, on the other hand. Here after I would walk alone and at peace with myself.

Often, would I stand looking deep at the gorge and wondering at an old building, housing so many families that seemed so precarious. I was concerned for the safety of the families and wondered why they lived there and how did they cope up with living next to a danger zone as I had heard of numerous episodes of attempted suicides at this spot!

But the red and green ancient looking Post office building would fill my heart with hope and Life! The natural water source with its spring water would invigorate me and with an added zeal, I would march ahead toward Chhota Shimla. I had heard from the old timers that this water source never goes dry even when all the water supply systems would fail the Shimlaites in the old days. Yes, there was another at Shankli!

            I carried the same childhood impression about the Combermere and felt happy cocooned in my old world. But a recent visit to Shimla when I was able to clearly see the changes that, in the name of development, have brought to the place, made me question the harm that we are doing to pristine beauty of Shimla. The place where I had seen many a film shootings taking place was now the Combermeer Hotel that had nothing of its old charm. I am not over critical but am able to write it as I have a relative picture in my mind about what Combermere stood for an old timer like me.

            And the least said about the imposing structure called Khel Parisar, the better it would be. I vividly remember a small pond of water at a place nearby where I had seen someone having been drowned many years back but today when I started imagining the place where it was, I just was clueless about its location. If on one hand big buildings are erected at this point on the other hand the holes have been filled. TheComberemere
Bridge had the pristine Post office building at one corner and a Photo studio and a restaurant at the other corner. I remember having coffee in that restaurant many a time and watching the post office building.

 

            And today I had to search hard where the Post office building was! It was lost in the shadow of the imposing structures surrounding it with. And it was painted red, with green roof—an obnoxious red—I would say. What has happened to the aesthetic sense of the planners, I wonder. It looked like a poor cousin in the company of much richer cousins whereas in good old days it reigned majestically in the entire landscape!

The buildings and the people made the entire area cumbersome and I felt like an alien in a different place and at a different point of time.

            There was nothing like walking away from the crowds as the crowd seemed to have stretched to this corner. The tranquility and peace of the earlier times was difficult to find. I felt like finding a familiar place or the feeling but all I got was a feeling of suffocation. Where had gone those beautiful days and the places—my heart wanted to know. No answers. I was so tired and drained of energy that to find the perennial source offspring water seemed like a futile effort. I didn’t even try to find whether it was still there or was sacrificed on the way to development? Why do we search for things that are no longer there?

            With a heavy heart, I realized that it was Combermere then but was cumbersome now!

Today, tradition meets enterprise and its spirit lives on in our

Ladies Park Then and Rani Jhansi Park Now…

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“The Himachal High Court has banned political rallies in the
Ladies Park (also known as Rani Jhansi Park), saying such activities defeated the purpose for which the park was developed.”

This news made me go back to theLadies Park traveling down my memory lanes! What was the basic purpose behind the setting up and development of theLadies Park? I think, no one, in our times thought much about the basic purpose behind all the facilities that were being provided. It was just taken for granted. During our childhood, we lived in the Lower Bazaar area of the town where the open space for playing was really limited and Sundays not only meant freedom from the weekly regimen but an opportunity to go to the Ladies park and play for endless hours. Looking back, I find that this was a matter of convenience for my parents as well to have some time to them selves when we would be away!

Revisiting Shimla…

 

I am simply ecstatic! I am revisiting Shimla.
What makes me look forward to this Shimla visit is the feeling that when I come back, I would b a changed person. Rejuvenated. This is what Shimla does to me. I feel young both at heart and spirits, if not in other spheres and this good feeling comes to me from breathing the very air of Shimla. When Long back I read “Gone with the wind”, I liked it immensely for two characters—the practical Rhett Butler and the undauting Scarelett! Though the end of the novel made me sad but the positive outlook of Scarlettt filled me with hope. She felt that a visit to “Tara” her home, would make everything alright. I, too, feel the same way when I visit Shimla! It is always like a homecoming for me, the place where I spent formative years of my life. Every place fills me with memories and a surge of emotions overwhelms the very being of mine!

I am simply filled with exultation!

 

Love Weaved in a Pashmina Shawl

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“This is the last Pashmina shawl that I am giving to you” said my Ma, lovingly handing me a shawl whose thread she herself had spun. It was a beauty. I was suddenly choked with emotions to realize the kind of hard work that must have gone into spinning the Pashmina wool and whole of the process dedicated to it. My Ma continued, “My eyesight is failing me these days and then when your papa was there, it was a different story but now…” Yes. I could understand how much she misses my Papa when it comes to sharing such small things as making balls of Pashmina threads and all.

I remember watching them sitting near the fire during the cold weather of Shimla and doing mundane jobs related to preparation of Pashmina wool. Pashmina shawl made from the hair of the Pashmina Goat carry a long story of love and care that goes into their making. In summer, the wild Himalayan goat sheds its fleece on the high mountains. This fleece that is the Pashmina wool is covered under rough hair and this is how the raw Pashmina came to our home. It would carry the smell of the mountains and the goats as well. Sniffing our nose, we would smell trouble ahead as the arduous task of “Project Pashmina Shawl” would embark.

Even we were not spared. My Maa would give us a small portion of Pashmina wool and we were supposed to finish separating the fine Pashmina wool from the rough hair that it was covered under. It was a tedious job and we would decry our mother for being so harsh upon us. But looking back I find that this small exercise made us learn a great lesson that what we come across in life has very little substance, covered under the seemingly fogged exterior. And to separate the chaff from the grain is a sign of a cultured mind. Thanks Ma for having in grilled this great truth through such a small everyday lessons.

My Papa would get Pashmina wool from the higher reaches of Kinnour where he used to go for inspection work and during holidays both my Ma and papa would be sitting together, working over the various stages of the making of a shawl. A rare togetherness indeed.

These fine strands of Pashmina would be combed on a specially designed comb having iron bristles to straighten up all the rough edges and to give it a smooth texture. Reflecting upon it I understand that the smooth life is a result of having undergone the process of torture under the rough wheels of life and not a bed of roses that it is commonly taken as. What an analogy!

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 The Wheel that Reels

Now onwards it would be my mother’s job to spin the wool and make small cones on the Spinning wheel. I remember moving the wheel of the “Charkha” and often breaking the thread that made both the wheels coordinate and would be punished for it. Once the cones would be ready, my father would make a ball of the same and now it would be ready to be given to a handloom artisan to weave a shawl; out of it. My mother would, painstakingly, select a design to be crafted on both the ends of the shawl.

And after some days, a shawl would be delivered in our home. What a pleasure it was to touch the shawl. So exquisite, soft and warm!

Taking the shawl in my hands, I could feel the same feeling that overwhelmed me as a small girl and looking deep in my mother’s eye, I could see the same love that she had for me long back.

When I wrap the shawl around me to ward off the cold, it is not just cold that it saves me from but the protective arms of my mother seem to protect me from all dangers that lurch in the unknown!

A Sister Speaks on Rakhee Day

I remember sitting along with my father and my elder sister on the dewan, long back, deep in contemplation as it was a Rakhee day and I had no brother of my own. I was barely 8 years old and could see the happy expression on the faces of all other girls who were just ecstatic for having tied a rakhee on the wrists of their brothers. Or was I more sad because I hadn’t got any money that my friends boasted of having accumulated!

Money made a big statement even in those old good days though it would be just a fiver or a tenner that you could hope to get at the best for tying a rakhee. My father would give us some money on this day so that we did not feel being at loss so far the money part was concerned but to make up for the emotional loss, he could do nothing except making us tie a rakhee on his wrists, a rakheee sent by my Bua from Palampur. It would make me all the more sad.

I would now wait for our family priest to come. He would come without fail every year with a big bag hanging from his shoulders and would scoop inside the bag to bring out so many things that interested me. And today being the Rakhee day it would be the colourful rakhees that he would bring out of his bag! With a fervent religiosity he would tie a band each on our wrists to ward off any evil that may befall us during the year. I would be so happy to have this band as a shield on my wrist. Though honesty speaking I never liked the bands that he brought as they were the cheapest sort and displaying them would be a little insulting to me. Though they had colourful silken threads attached to them but the colours would come out the moment water touched them. Howsoever Ihard I would try to keep them covered, my wrists coloured in different hues would give them away. I thanked God for the Shimla weather where sweaters were a must throughout the year and I would hide it under my sweater. When he would tie these bands on our wrists, he would chant in a very clear and audible voice:

“Yen Baddho Baliraja, Danvendro Mahabalah,

Ten Baddhnami aham, rakshah mam, rakshah mam.”

I would ask him to repeat it and would write it down in my copy. It gave me immense satisfaction to have not only the security band on my wrist but to have the mantra to ward off evil as well in my arsenal. We were told to wear these wands till “Sair” that would be about 2 months away and it would be on this day that we would put this off, to be put away in flowing water. Such sanctity was attached to a mere thread of purity!

My Maa would come out, with her face covered, to touch Pandit Ji’s feet and to seek his blessings to have a son the next Rakhee day. A brother to her two daughters!

He would regale us with the stories of the magnanimity of Lord Shiva and how he bestows all with what they crave for. A real Bhola Bhandari, easiest to please among all gods. My little heart would swell with gratitude for Lord Shiva and would make a silent fervent wish to grant me one little brother. I would ask Pandit Ji about the easiest way to please him and he said, “Pour water mixed with milk everyday on his Lingam during the month of Saavan and He would be pleased.” “Not a difficult task by any standards”, I thought as we lived in the Lower Bazaar area and the Shiva Mandir was a small distance away. Perhaps my father had also some plans to beget a son and he decided to undergo a month’s fast during the month of Saavan.

Stubborn as I had been since my childhood I, too, decided to undergo a month’s fast to have a brother by next Rakhee. I would not listen to anyone and nothing could deter me not even my frail health. Looking back I find that I was always strong on the mental side. So it was a month of absolute devotion, piety and sincere pleadings that I underwent through! I would go, along with my father, to the Shiva temple that is some steps down near the Baljees’ on the Mall. Greedy as I was since my childhood, I would be dismayed not to get any prasaad in this temple. But over some time the priest of that temple became my friend and confidante and I would share my feelings and dreams with me. I still remember him. A tall and hefty man who would wear a long robe. The reason Iremeber him lies more in the fact that he would give me some prasaad everyday that he would not give to any other devotee. I was a special visitor for him.

The temple doesn’t stop to mesmerize me even today. Whenever I go to Shimla I make it a point to visit this temple to revive some of the devotion and piety that I had felt long back in its sanctorum but find that over the years it has been replaced by a sense of doubt and uncertainty. Perhaps this is the reason that Lord Shiva is not that bountiful towards me as he was during my childhood!

The next Rakhee day I had a small brother to tie rakhee on his wrists! Everyone commended my parents to have such a daughter who would take a month long fast to have a brother. But I did it to have a brother and get some money on the Rakhee day and also to test the veracity of Lord Shiva’s shakti!

Today, I am sitting at my PC wandering through the lanes of the past and reminiscing the sweetness of innocence that was my hallmark those days. I have posted Rakhees to both my brothers along with a yearly letter to them, wishing for all the best in their life. I have called them on their mobiles to convey, once again, my best wishes. They would send me some gift, if they remember, some day and then the same story would be repeated the next year. I wonder where have we lost on way to maturity all those small things that gave us so much of happiness, once upon a time. I want to go back to my childhood where all acts were pure and innocent, coming straight from the heart, whether it was a month long fast or praying to have a brother!

Today there are just two of us at home. With nothing much to do, we sit reading newspapers, watching TV and waiting for a friend to drop by. No Pandit Ji would come to tie a rakhee thread on my wrist and the little girl in me still craves for a band as a safeguard against all the evils that may befall me during the year!

The designers’ Rakhes and the hype that goes along with the day and the gifts that transact this day, make me all the more nostalgic and I wish to have the same very band that I so disliked to wear, because of its cheap quality, to have on my wrist and flaunt to all those who matter!

Because of the purity and love and care that gave its threads a lifetime strength.

My Childhood War Experiences…

The year was 1971 and I was barely 15 years old when Pakistan suddenly declared war against India. Prior to this there had been 1962, 1965 and 1968 wars as well and I carry some faint but indiscernible memories of all that we went through at those periods.

  

 

It was evening time when suddenly the blaring of hooter took all of us by surprise. This hooter was a regular feature of Shimla as it would blare at ten in the morning without fail and seemed to run the lives of the people of Shimla by its regularity. But this untimely blaring made everyone listen to it, first with curiosity, and then with indifference. It was assumed by all and sundry that some mechanical problem was the root cause of its untimely sound. Once again the hooter was sounded but now the sound became too jarring to the listeners as it was something that had spoiled the ambience of the place by breaking a practice. How irritable we all become when an established practice is broken! For us, the children, it was a exciting moment. A truth has dawned upon me today, after almost 35 years that what irritates the adults, is taken in an exciting spirit by the children. We all were playing outside and assembled to discuss the probable reason for this sound and making more noise than was ordinarily made by us. We were excited by the unconventional!

  

 

Suddenly the lights went out. Now there was real commotion all around. Mothers starting calling their children to come back home. Some adventurous  children had gone to the Telecom office, the source of the excitement, to collect first hand information about the eventful happening. As it was the month of December and the darkness had suddenly enveloped whole of the town, people became anxious of the, unwarranted, power break down.

  

 

As it was a period when LPG stoves were not at all common and coal hearths were the lifeline for all Shimlaites. The evening was fast becoming dark and many small kids of the neighbourhood were still untraceable and moreover the evening food was to be cooked in all homes, so the level of commotion all around can best be imagined. We were assigned the job of finding the children and make them sit quiet till the cause of sudden power failure could be ascertained by the elders who suddenly took responsibility upon them. People started putting fire to the coal angeethis so that the homes could be made warmer as well something could b cooked as well.

  

 

It was at this point that someone came with the shocking news that Pakistan had declared war against India and has started the air strike. To be more specific, Pakistan had launched a premediatated air strike at 5.45 pm on a number of Indian airfields. As Amritsar airfield is considered close by hence the power cut was enforced as a precautionary measure and more so as the earlier hooter warnings had gone uncared for.

  

 

This news changed the mood from pure commotion to grave concern and people started shouting at others who had either lighted candles or had fire glowing in the angeethis. As if on some cue, even the small children became quiet. Such is the fervour of love for nation that personal concerns evaporate and general concerns take over.

As children of my age group had had prior experience of war, we became hyper active in instilling “do’s and don’ts” among the younger children. And suddenly all the prior memories came flooding to my mind as they have come today after such a long gap.

  

 

The earlier wars had made us learn certain things that would come handy if somehow there would be some calamity like air strike.  All the residents of Shimla were taught about the hooters and the two different mode in which it was to function. A sudden rise and fall in the frequency would mean a danger of an air strike and all precautionary measures were to be implemented immediately. The sound of the hooter with a consistency in frequency conveyed that the danger was over. How would my little heart tremble when I would listen to the first kind signaling danger and how relieved it would be when the second hooter was heard!

  

 

Practice drills became a common feature of all schools and institutes and the home-guards became a common feature of all localities. All the window panes in homes as well offices were criss-crossed with strips of paper so that in case of an air strike the glass splinters don’t do much damage. We were instructed to stand still against the retaining wall, if the hooter would go, while we were on roads. Lessons in basic nursing were given to all school students, house wives and others. In case of emergency, the way to revive a seriously injured person, was instilled in us. We became so confident!

  

 

Though the war times made all people come together and a new camaraderie developed among all, there was one negative impact as well. It is only during these testing situations that the best and the worst of the human nature comes to light. I regret to say, with all humility, that I had become so suspicious of the Kashmiri Pathans who lived in Shimla in large number. So much so that we would run away on seeing a Khan (as they are addressed). Rumours mills were busy bringing out new rumours day in and day out. We as children learnt about Pakistani spies, Transmitters and even poisoning of water sources in Shimla.

  

 

If war experience taught us to come together as a people, it also taught us to distrust others. This was first time in my life that the concept of the “other” was introduced  to my mind and honestly confessing, it has stayed there till date.

Walking Among the Greens

For old timers, Shimla generates the image of roads free from the hassles of vehicular traffic where one can take long walks peacefully without being disturbed by the honking of the traffic. When I think of Shimla, I think of the Ridge with its green coloured benches where people would be lazing through in the sun, after having walked the roads in and around Shimla that were in aplenty giving a wider choice and a more peaceful ambience to those who enjoyed walking.


Driving a vehicle through the roads of the Mall was considered to be an unpardonable sin. The only time that I remember to have seen a caravan of vehicles plying on the Mall was the famous Bhutto’s trip during the signing of the Shimla agreement. And I remember that many diehards for the beauty of Shimla were less against the signing of the agreement and more hurt for the damage it had done to the a long established tradition of Shimla!


This was a time when even the high officials and dignitaries valued non-plying of vehicles on the Mall and it was a sanctity more that a rule! The Private vehicles were a rarity during my days and no vehicle except the fire brigade vehicle, the ambulance and the post carrier of the post office was ever allowed to ply on the Mall. Yes, official functions were an exception. We all loved walking. And recently when one of my old time friends in Shimla offered to drive me through all those roads that were prohibited for private vehicles in my time, I felt offended rather than privileged.  She flaunted her official status and my heart cried to see what Shimla had come to be. Getting special license has become a status symbol that old timers would never would have thought of. We loved Shimla for its pristine beauty and queer ways of regulating this beauty.


Walking through roads surrounded by lush green forests on both sides was the reason why we would walk all the way from Chhota Shimla to Sanjauli–my college! local buses were very rare those days and even if they suited us, we would rather walk and meet each other at the Ridge and then would walk to our college. The walk from Chotta Shimla to Sanjauli via Lakkar bazaar and then back to Chotta Shimla was a daily affair, twice a day, that we really enjoyed. The whole of our group would meet under the tree on the Ridge near Goofa restaurant. We were never tired of walking, rather enjoyed it. There was no vehicular traffic at all on this road, occasionally we would have an ambulance and would cross our fingers seeing it which we would uncross only when we saw a black dog. Oh! Sometimes it would take such a long time to see a dog as Shimla could  boast of having a number of pet dogs but stray dogs were again a rarity like the vehicles on the roads. And crossing the fingers when one saw an Ambulance was considered to fulfill one’s wish!


The road to Sanjauli had another rare sight on it—the bicycles! This was the only road in Shimla where cycling was possible. I regret never having tried learning cycling. But I was afraid of balancing my weight on two slim wheels when there were deep gorges one could fall into, if slightly careless. There were two cycle stands—one at the Lakkar Bazaar and the other at Sanjauli and one could hire a bicycle at one end and hand it over at the other end. And believe me people riding cycles looked so brave to me! One of my friends, Jassi, who had come from Chandigarh would ride a bicycle occasionally and we all would be awestruck by her feat!


But it was always walking for us that we loved! It never made us tired rather invigorated us to walk more. And it was real fun. Looking back, I am really surprised at the quota of strength that we possessed as many a times we would go to the Mall in the evening as well! Must have walked miles and miles in and around Shimla. This habit of walking has stood me in good stead–and I walk a lot even today–and that too at a pace that may put many youngsters to shame. Thank you Shimla for many things


It is walking through the “roads less traveled by” that I am reminded of right now! It was 1972 or 73 perhaps when the road between Lakkar Bazaar and the Ridge started sinking and was declared dangerous. So much so that it was blocked and all the buildings in that area were vacated as a precautionary measure. The Regal building, DAV school and all those other shops closed business. The stairs leading to the DAV Boys’ school had sunk deep and had to be supported from down below. The road was actually closed and one of my friends whose family used to live in the Regal Building had to vacate the house and shift to a portion in “The Embassy”, the bar and restaurant, that they owned!

We, as college goers had to walk through ways, earlier unheard of and we really enjoyed the newfound freedom in un-exploring new ways and pathways leading to our destination. It was wonderful indeed. We would ascend up to somewhat near to the KV Jakhoo and would descend down and reach the Ridge at the Public library building. Not only we learnt about the new pathways of Shimla but we learnt new things about Shimla as well. It was at this time that we came to know about an adage about Shimla—Beware of three W’s of Shimla—weather, women and ways—all unpredictable! With malice towards none, especially the not-so-fair sex, we coined another adage–Beware of three M’s of Shimla—Mall, men and monkeys!


It was really bad at that time. But we enjoyed the new found freedom in exploring the new ways in Shimla as we really were ignorant about the gravity of the situation. We just loved walking and covering more unexplored pathways of Shimla.


It was this initiation in walking along the unfamiliar areas that we planned to walk to Chotta Shimla through the road leading from below the  Ritz through “Three Benches” and it was at this point of time when we came to know that the road is known as “Lovers’ Lane” and was frequently hunted by the lovelorn couples, that we stopped the process!


But during my recent visit to Shimla my heart bled to see a number of vehicles parked near the Telegraph office and at the other end of the Mall road as. People with power and influence would do anything to get license to drive through the roads which were the virgin roads of Shimla. I remember old people who would rather walk to hospital than to call for an ambulance as it hurt them more than the sickness! The number of vehicles with red lights atop them has become such a common sight that people don’t even notice. In our days it was a memorable sight to see a vehicle with red light to ply on the roads of Shimla.

And still worst is the apathy of the people of Shimla towards what I consider the rape of the pristine walks of Shimla surrounded on both sides by lush green trees!


 

Why We Failed to Impart Values to the Young Generation?

I sincerely wish that I had kept my diary in which I used to make some entries! As it would have made remembering the dates so easy at this time when I am trying to write something from my association with persons and places of Shimla where I spent so many years of my life.


When I close my eyes and start thinking about my first impression about Shimla, I see a small girl, who would wait for her father to come home in the evening. Now what is so surprising in it? Every child does the same. But it was the excitement of what we would do after his arrival that made it different. And then all four of us i.e. Amma, Bauji, Pappa my elder sister and I would go for our daily evening walk. As we lived in The Lower Bazaar and Bauji’s worked at the Head Post-office which was just few steps away from our home, he needed to straighten up his legs in the evening by going for a walk and we looked forward to this daily walk, less for the exercise, and more for the stories that he would recite on his walks—stories from the past!


And, honestly acknowledging, there was another attraction—the “Pudiwallah” who would be on the Ridge and we would buy sometimes the salted groundnuts, or mixed or Channa, Poodi which was in fact a slim cylindrical cone of paper holding these roasted delicacies.


He would tell us stories from the past referring to the incidents about the buildings of Shimla or people of Shimla. But most of the time the stories, by and large, came to focus on the topics that he loved to tell us the most, our freedom. Though it was the reference to the present that he would dwell in the past and to make these connections, we had a glimpse of the past while looking at the present.Even today almost all old buildings of Shimla bring forth a surge of emotions as every stone used in exterior of their walls, seems to tell me the stories from a different world, a different era. All deeply etched in my memory.


The Scandal Point, romantic rendezvous, would remind me of the Patiala King with an amorous appetite which, in spite of having so many local beauties, craved for even the girls of the white masters! And finally the English banned his entry to Shimla because he tried taking liberties with an English damsel. It created a big scandal and uproar and had the place not being named as the Scandal Point who would even remember the story about the lust of a King? While at this point, I would always imagine the fair and beautiful English ladies walking the Mall and the scent in the air would filter down to the Lower and the Middle bazaar where the lesser mortals lived.


Another source of our information about the past was one of the old timers from Shimla  Leela Behanji, as she is known among all her acquaintances. I remember sitting cuddled near her to listen to stories from the past. She would regale us about those days and we would listen to her mesmerized by the past. Behanji is around ninety and talking to her generates the old world charm even today. She would tell us as how as young girls, they would go up the stairs leading to the Mall and would try sneaking at the English ladies and the Gentlemen taking a walk around the Mall which was banned for the Blacks! And the whiff of the scented air would travel down their nostrils to be savoured for a long time and sometimes if they would be lucky, they would surreptitiously move their hand over the glazy satins of the long swirling skirts of  the English ladies. This childhood image was recreated in me when I read Mulk Raj Anand’s “Coolie” and was in a position to comprehend the British life through the eyes of an Indian coolie.


Listening to her escapades, my little mind would be filled with the romance of the eras gone by and at the same time would be so relieved to walk over the Mall as a free citizen. Perhaps it was because of this feeling of good sense generated by the freedom all around that we felt a deep sense of obligation and gratitude for the Heroes of the freedom struggle. This fervour for the freedom struggle was kept alive by the Public Relation Department that showed us pictures like Shaheed, Maharani Lakshmibai etc and made us, as small kids, vie for the British blood. We had become so biased towards everything British that all those English people who had chosen to stay back in Shimla, were looked down by us and scorned at as well. Looking back, I acknowledge remorsefully to have made fun of one such English lady as she represented for us–The Raj!


Not only this, I hated everything that had the least concern with British Raj. And today after so many years, I see myself roaming around the Lower Bazaar market on Sundays where a number of books would be displayed on the pavements, books that would attract me no less those days as they do today! But as these were the books left by the British, in their hurry to go back home, I would not even touch them. Though, today it brings a smile on my lips to confess that had I even touched those books, it wouldn’t have made any difference as I would not have been in a position to even understand the titles! But it shows the intensity of the feeling of hate we had for all British things.


The course book of English in my second or third class, if I remember exactly, The English Reader, was printed and published in Great Britain, and how I hated the book, especially the name and place of the publisher!


Yes, we were second generation free citizens of India and carried the agony of the Freedom struggle, though vicariously, along with the pride of being Free and sustained this mixed feeling with a fervour that made us different from the present day generation. We were proud to be free and grateful to the people who had sacrificed their life to make us free. All the persons having association with the freedom struggle had  a special place in our life. I remember, as a child, having learnt about Nathuram Godse who was kept in Boileaguegunj Jail after the unfortunate killing of Mahatma Gandhi. But my sympathy for Godse was raised manifold when I heard from the old timers that during his confinement, he would be busy typing on a typewriter all the time, but all those papers never saw the light of the day. How I wish to read all those papers that would reflect his thoughts to all of us who wanted to know the truth. He was not insane to have killed Gandhi for no reason.


It was a time when our parents and teachers valued the freedom because all of them had been born in a slave country and inculcated in us the importance of a freedom that their generation had achieved by paying a heavy price.


On the other hand, our generation gradually immersed itself so much in making progress and bringing our country at par with others, that all the values that needed to be imparted to our children, somehow were relegated backstage. A sense of new found equality and freedom made us self centered. In order to provide our children all those luxuries that were denied to us in our childhood, we became focused on materialism. And during all this, the celebration of the National events came to be just an yearly affair or to be crude another holiday to enjoy! We forgot that one cannot enjoy the present if he doesn’t take along the best of the Past. Myths and memories of the making of our nation were somehow not being a subject being discussed at home or school. We have not been able to keep alive the National past and war memories. I think we have become so accustomed to look at the Government to do something in all regards that our personal sense of duty has vanished somewhere. All these Days would be celebrated if there is an official notification about the same from the Government otherwise we would not even as much as mention them to our children and students.


I feel that many of us have failed in our duty for not having imparted the same feeling in our children and the indifferent attitude, towards National Heroes, shown by them is our failure.


I don’t know about others but I accept, with deep sense of remorse, My failure as a teacher, a parent and as a person.

Snowdown Hospital: Physical Ailment to Mental Healing

Shimla for me stands for, among other things, old buildings that seem to carry a story in each of its nooks and corners. You name a building and a story associated with it would be relayed to you by some one having some association with that part of the town. And these stories are deeply engraved in my mind. Today, when I walk past the once known Snowdown Hospital  which has been renamed as Indira Gandhi Hospital, I am reminded of the several commanders-in-chief of the British Indian Army, including Lord Kitchener, who stayed in this building. The new Hospital building might have added a number of things so far the facility is concerned but has definitely taken away the charm and magic of the old building.


It was such a beautiful building. I remember it as it was a place where I lived for almost two months during my childhood when I had fractured my pelvic girdle! The building comprised of two parts—one the main building that housed the in-patient wards, the end of it being the children ward that had small beds and my Maa would sleep, during the nights, on a bed made of stools held together and the other part had a canteen as well as the mess. It also had the testing and diagnostic center. I think that this part housed the servant quarters of the British commanders-in-chief.


The beauty of the building was enhanced manifold by the direct sun that illuminated and warmed it during the days and it soothed the visitors as walking past the Water supply tanks always made everyone shiver with cold. It was a spot where the snow would not melt even with the advent of the summer. The flowers that bloomed around the beautifully kept flower beds were a sight to behold. 


But come night and everything would suddenly become awry. The ghost stories that related to a beautiful nurse who would come and give medicine to the patient if the duty nurse dozed off, made me wonder and question whether the nurse who came on call was the real one or the ghost? And I would wonder how to differentiate between the two or even more? Don’t they all look alike in their white uniform? Their uniform was another thing that needs to be mentioned. Stark white starched skirt—tight and shaped with white nylon leggings and not to forget sandals making tip-top sound on the wooden flooring of the hospital. I was afraid of all beings in white as I had heard that ghosts too wear white especially a ghost nurse! How afraid I was of a nurse in white with a syringe in hands ready to inject something in my veins, that would make me a ghost very soon, was a constant fear I lived with during my stay in the Snowdown hospital. 


A feeling of pure dread would submerge my being on watching the nurses on duty even during the day time. Who could stop a ghost nurse from joining them during the day duty, was my constant worry. An old uncle used to tell us the story about the regal past of the building when all Indians walking past the official abode of the chief of the British Army, would have to bow his head to show his respect towards the English masters. This would bring in me a strong sense of abhorrence for the British. But I wondered who would be watching the people walking past all the time and the uncle would tell us about the guards on duty all 24 hours of the day to march past the gates of the building. The guards who looked ferocious enough with a countenance matched along with the imposing uniform of the Army guards. And my little mind would start believing that many of those very guards have now turned into ghosts taking the form of nurses to keep watch over the people having negative thoughts about British masters.


Drenched in cold sweat, I would look for my mother who would be sleeping in a bed made from all the stools put together to give a semblance of a bed. Bone tired of the household work and numerous walks to the hospital, she would be peacefully immersed in sleep. As I didn’t want to wake her up from her hard earned sleep, but unable to sleep myself, I would keep a vigilant eye throughout the night for any ghost nurse that may come to the children ward. Amma had told me to recite “Om Namoh Shivaya” during such a time and I would recite it with a fervour that I lack today.


But in spite of the feeling of reassurance generated by the reciting of Mantra, I would be wondering if something happens and I would have to take care of myself, how would I run away as one of my leg lay hanging upward, tied to a rod, with a weight of plaster and God knows what else!


How I wanted to go home where I would be safe and secure with my Bauji to take care of me, was the feeling that constantly gnawed me. And the day I was relieved from the hospital was the day I remember being very happy. My leg was still plastered but at least it gave Amma some relaxed moments as my movement, a source of worry to her, were restricted now.


But the uncontrollable source of my energy had to be channelised in some manner as  I was becoming restless because of a check on my physical movements. Bauji would recite stories to me fro the Puranas, the Mahabharata. He brought a series of booklets about the Rajput warriors and beautiful Rajput queens and princesses. I was take nto a world of bravry and valour and my mind that was filled with abhhorence for the British would find the escape in learning about our glorious past. I would lament, though, where had all those men and women vanished and where was legacy that they were supposed to leave for us, the Rajputs!


As I wanted to learn more and more about such stories that made me feel confident about the inherent courage that lay deep inside us, I wanted to learn to read. As otherwise I had to wait for the evening for Bauji to come home and then read the stories to me. Though Amma would be doing her job of reading in between but so busy she would be with the household work and looking after two small daughters that it seemed a crime to pester her for more that she could afford.


 So it was a time when all my energy was focused on learning alphabets and numbers and this newfound joy in this activity made me explore the world of unknown and I realized that it is the “word” that would make many new things known to me. The stories that I loved to hear from anyone I could catch hold of, would now be available from the printed sources and this revelation made me go for learning like a passionate student.


And this quest for learning has stood the test of time and has become a companion for life just like the old memories that lie dormant in some corner of my being as come up on slight provocation.

Thankyou Snowdown Hospital for not only healing me of a physical ailment but also for being instrumental in my mental development as well. A blessing in disguise, I call this “fractured pelvic girdle” to be!