A True Daughter to my father….

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

Simla 1963

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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…..

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.