Time Zone- 1956 to 1960
I believe that I was born on an auspicious day . My mother tells me that I was born on the day of Dhanteras which normally falls a couple of days prior to Deepavali. Dhanteras is an auspicious day associated with prosperity in life. So that gave my family an additional reason to be happy about my birth.The confirmed date as per the English calendar was October 31 in the year of 1956. The time of my birth is not known precisely but my grandmother used to tell me that it was time of Godhuli . Godhuli is the end of noon session and the beginning of the evening- the time – when the cow herds return from their routine of daily grazing in the fields. The dust which swarms the atmosphere due to the walk of large groups of cows and buffalos has given the word Godhuli in hindi. ‘Go’ means cows and ‘dhuli’ means the dust clouds. The boys of the village- some grown up and others growing up used to be the masters and supervisors of their herds. After a hectic day in hot summer days, some of them would ride the back of the buffalos. They enjoyed a friendly relationship with their animals. The newly born calves always used to be the centre of affection not only for the boys but also for all the animals of the herds. So that was about the time of my birth. If we try to guess the time, it will range between 4 to 4.30 pm. Therefore for all practical purposes in my later life,I have assumed my time of birth as 4 pm.
I was not delivered in a hospital like all the children of present times. In fact no child was ever born in any hospital in my village Sherda, in Rajsthan, in those days, and even in the prior era. In fact there was no hospital in my village to support the maternity process. That does not mean that children were not born in those days; I was born as I mentioned. The birth of a child was handled by a specialist lady of the village. In hindi such ladies are referred as ‘ Dhay’ or ‘Daai’ . They can handle pulling out of newborn out of their mothers’ womb with great ease. I do not know whether the process was more painful for the delivering mothers’ in those days. In fact nobody ever bothered to check this aspect as there was no alternative of that process. Surprisingly no one ever heard of a Caesarean delivery in those days. A delivery is much more complex in present times than those days in the village.
So I was telling about the place of my birth as it was not a hospital. Let me share the practice of my family with regards to child birth in those days. We had a pakka (brick made) building as our home unlike majority of the houses of the population of the village. Masses lived in small houses built with mud and clay blocks and were surface treated with cow dung mixed with mud. Our building was known as ‘Bheli’ ( which I am sure is a distorted pronunciation of the hindi word ‘Haveli’ which means a pakka residential building made of bricks generally of two stories ). Our bheli had two floors – the ground floor housed the entrance hall- called ‘darwaja’ ( which served as a drawing room ) , two rooms ( called ‘kotha’) belonging to my Dadaji (Grandfather) and to my buddhi dadi (Old Grandmother- I will explain later) , a kitchen called ‘rasoi’ , having a ‘chulha’ (cooking oven) made of mud on the floor , an open to sky central square, which was called ‘aangan’ and a very tiny room squeezed between the kitchen and buddhi dadiji’s room. Apart from these there were two facilities- one was like a niche having shelves , which was the place for storing the ‘Ghadas’ ( earthen pots for storing drinking water) , this facility was called ‘paindy’ ; another was an earmarked area called ‘rakhunda’, which was used for washing the utensils by rubbing those with the ash , remaining in the chulha after burning the wood and ‘Gosas’- the cowdung cakes for cooking.
On the first floor there was replica of the ground floor- the hall made on top of darwaja was called ‘baithak’, two rooms on top of two rooms of ground floor were called ‘Chaubara’ – they belonged to my mother and my aunty –one each. The room on top of the kitchen was like a dump room. The staircase connecting the ground floor and the first floor was called ‘Paidkala’ and a thick iron chain was fixed to the wall of one side of the staircase which served as the support for holding while climbing up the staircase.
Having explained you the geography and architecture of my bheli , I will focus my attention to the small room squeezed between the kitchen and Buddhi Dadi’s room- this was called ‘jachha ghar’ (delivery room) . ‘Jachha’ in our language means the pregnant female - delivering a child. This room was meant for deliveries of children. The room was not larger than about 8 feet by 6 feet . It housed just a ‘khat’ (also called khatiya) made of a wooden frame with four strong legs and a weave of ‘moonj’ ( jute ropes). The moonj had very rough texture hence something was required as a cover on that. A ‘dari’ was good enough cushion covering top of the khat. Most of the kids around my time were delivered in this room. So was I!
My mother gave me birth in that tiny room with the help of a maid as described above; she was known as ‘kotwali’ in the whole village. An expert in this child birth matter ! Her name was something else but she was always addressed as kotwali due to the fact that her husband was called- ‘Kotwal’. Though the origin of this title is not known to me ; however my logical thinking suggests that his father or may be earlier forefathers might have enjoyed the position of a ‘Kotwal’ during the times of ‘Rajwadas’ (The Royalty). In a royal system a Kotwal meant the Chief of Police of the kingdom. Our village- Sherda was located within the ‘riyasat’ (Kingdom) of Sri Ganganagar, which was named after its Maharaja – the ruler- Sri Gangasinghji .
Coming back to the story of my birth; my birth was a great event of joy in the family. Initially the euphoria started within our bheli but finally spread throughout the village. It was as if I was born as a child of the village. The reason was my Great Grandmother. A very old and highly respected lady of my village! Almost everyone in the village addressed her as ‘Dadi’ ( Grandmother) as if she was the oldest woman in the village. Only my ‘dadaji’ (grandfather) and ‘dadiji’ (Grandmother) addressed her as ‘Ma’ (mother). When I grew up, I also started calling my Great Grandmother as Dadi, like others. But my confusion was that how do I address my actual dadi. The confusion got sorted out gradually, as I started calling my Great Grandmother as ‘Boodhi Dadi’ while my grandmother as Dadi.
My birth was celebrated by distributing ‘Gud’ (jaggery)– the most handy form of sweet in the village, to all visitors. She drummed on a ‘thali’ ( metallic plate for serving food ) with a serving spoon standing outside the gate of the bheli. This was the ritualistic announcement for birth of a son in the family. The birth of a male child was a matter of celebration in any household those days. Fortunately, in my family, even a girl-child’s birth was welcome, even though the announcement would not be with so much fanfare. The villagers would have found it weird, if we displayed our happiness on the birth of a girl child; hence on such occasions, the happiness was contained within the bheli.
I was born after my elder sister Savita ( about an year later after her birth) ; hence it added more to the celebrations at the time of my birth. I was the apple of the eyes of all in the family. Every day my eyes were decorated with a thick line of ‘Kajal’ ( the home made thick black sticky paste used as eyeliner, perceived to be good for eyes) with a signoff mark of a black round spot , known as ‘kala teeka’ , on one side of my forehead. This practice was universally prevalent with all young mothers as the general belief was that a kajal ka teeka would shield the child from all evil looks – ‘buri najar’. All small kids were also made to wear tiny wristband of black thread with black and white beads roped in on both hands’ wrists. Sometimes similar anklets also on the tiny feet! This special ornaments of a small child was called ‘ Najaria’ . All this was for the same reason- to protect the child from Buri Najar. Male child was also made to wear a black thread around his waist which also had some tiny harmless small bells, called ‘ghungroo’, roped in. This thread was called ‘Taagdi’. Perhaps one more recipe of anti- buri najar !
Life in village- Sherda
My parents were living in Kolkata those days. My father was managing a family owned textile shop in the crowded Burra Bazar market of Kolkata. Initially my father had gone to Kolkata to help my Grandfather in his trading business, later on my mother, along with my sister Savita also joined him to live in Kolkata. My boodhi dadi insisted to keep me with her as she was extremely fond of me. So I stayed back in my village to live with my boodh dadi along with my Grandparents in the bheli . I was too young to understand anything or miss anyone. The other members in the family were my uncle Satyanand and my two buajis Snehlata and Shakuntala. These three members of the family were the unmarried members of the family from my father’s generation. They looked after me, fed me milk with the glass feeding bottle which was open on two sides – one sided fitted with a latex nipple and the other end had a flexible flat cap also made of latex.
A special mini khat – called ‘khatola’ was specially designed and made for me. The khatola was made by weaving cotton strings of different colors to give it a soft feel and attractive playful look. The khatola was more used during the day time as I was made to sleep on that and it was kept at a central location of the bheli , so that all the members of the bheli could have a look at me while moving around. The purpose was my safety as well as their continued opportunity to shower love on me. During the nights the arrangement was different. It was mandatory that I sleep with my boodhi dadi on her khat. She was like my mother in those early years of my life.
My dadi ( not the boodhi dadi) used to bathe me in a metal pan called – ‘tasli’ , the kind of vessel used at construction sites for carrying the concrete mix. This was the tub of my childhood. And it was no less fun than a swimming pool those days.
The climate in Rajasthan was and still is extreme – extremely cold in winter and extremely hot in summer; in fact the summer heat was unbearable as it was dry climate with almost no humidity in the air. Stormy winds were routine in those days in Rajasthan. These hot storms were full of sand and were called ‘Loo’ . A loo meant something very uncomfortable for a person who was out in open during day time. Loo was dreadful as at times people working in the fields got killed under its power – heat and sand blasting. Every gust of wind would fill the bheli with layers of sand; sand on almost everything. Our village was surrounded with sand dunes ( called ‘tibbas’). From distance they looked like sand mountains. A gust of wind would make the sand layers to fly along with it. Interesting textures were formed by the wind on top of those tibbas. The only practical method to cross those tibbas was by riding on the ‘Oont’ (camel) back. Camel was the house hold animal in all village houses. Feet of camels are designed by nature with strong padding, working as insulators, under them, which protect the camels’ feet from the heat of the sand. The most complicated part of a camel ride is when the camel stands up after loading its passenger on its hunched back. The rider inclines towards the back as the front legs are first raised by the camel, while the hind legs still remain folded. And when it unfolds its hind legs again the rider gets thrown towards front. A reverse process happenes at the time of disembarking. The camel would fold its front legs first throwing the rider towards front, and then bending the hind legs, a reverse motion for the rider. However people never fell off the back of the camel out of regular practice.
The sand storms sometimes blew during the nights too. In summer time almost all villagers used to sleep on their ‘khaats’ - out in the open- either on the terrace of the house or in the ‘nohra’. A nohra was a multipurpose enclosed yard, which was useful for parking the kettles like camels, cows and buffalos; the animals were tied to the thick nails or staff which was grounded deep inside the earth. In front of the animals there was normally a brick enclosure of four walls of small height ( called ‘thaan’) in which the hay and eatable stuff of the animal was served. Needless to say that the animal attended to their nature’s call in the same areas. The only difference was that that strong odor was not considered a ‘stink’ by villagers. In fact the cow dung produced daily was removed to one collection point; which would be used as raw material for producing ‘Gosa’ later.
A nohra was also used for storing the grains, hay stocks, cow dung cakes etc. Most of the people installed the hay cutter machine which was like a wheel, which was rotated by hands and the hay-stock was pushed as the feed under the moving blades for cutting the hay into small bites to suit the animals. There was one more use of the nohra – whenever there was a wedding of a girl in any house of the village , the barat (the groom’s marriage party) used to come to stay in the village for as many as 3 to 4 days. The accommodation for these guests of the village was shared between different houses. Nohra used to be a handy place for putting up the guests. Khaats were put in the nohra . the responsibility of the hosts was to provide only the bed to sleep. Food was cooked centrally in the house of the bride- not only for all barati but also the families of the hosts of the barati. You must be wondering – what about the toilet facilities for the guests in such an open air accommodation. Hold on! That’s another serious topic, which I will discuss later in this book.
Did I mention that there was no electricity in my village? When I say ‘no electricity’ – that does not mean that there was power cut , the fact is that there was no technology called electricity in the whole village. In fact electricity was unheard for all those villages which were surrounding our village. Some lucky villagers who had opportunity to visit the nearest town, that was the town of Hisar, had an exposure to the function of electricity while for others the subject was just a mystery.
The source of light in the evening used to be laaltens (lanterns). There were regular positioning of ‘diyas’ (clay lamps) and lanterns at strategic points. A peculiar smell of burning of the oil used to fill the whole bheli in the evening; however that was not disturbing at all as that used to be an usual aroma for evening. Another aroma in the evening used to be of burning of wood and the cow dung cakes in the chulha. But to top all aromas was the smell of food – especially of cooking of Bajra ( a grain) khichdi , a standard evening food in Rajasthan for dinner. In fact the dinner time was called ‘ khichdai ka bakhat’ (Time of Khichdi ).
Coming back to the subject of ‘no electricity’ – just by mention of these two words I have ruled out the knowledge of all electricity based gadgets like – fridge, air conditioner, oven, geyser mixer, toaster and anything which could run with electricity. And the fan ! In the summers of 45 degree plus Celsius, even the fan was a future pleasure only. There were hand driven fans of different kinds. Small fans like the Japanese fans – not as fancy as those, but made of cardboard or bamboo etc, were handy everywhere to beat the heat. I am reminded of an incident!
During the summer afternoon, my Dadaji used to take his usual nap of 2 hours after lunch in a room, located in our ‘purani bheli’ (old house) , (Did I discuss that so far ? Perhaps no !). There was another kind of ceiling fan in those days, which was installed only in that room. The fan was made of a thick frilled cloth which was mounted on a wooden shaft. The shaft was hung from the ceiling across the room , with the help of ropes. The cloth frill use to hang from it like a straightened skirt. A rope was fixed to the shaft , which was made to pass over a pulley installed on the frame of the wooden door of the room. He had appointed a village chap whose duty was to reach at the given time , sit on a stool and to pull rope continuously like a cradle for two hours. This movement made the long fan of frilled cloth to wave from one side to another. Below the fan was the bed on which Dadaji used to sleep. This was a duty of 2 hours every day for the villager, and he was paid handsomely for that in the form of a ‘chavanni’ (four annas - equal to one fourth of a rupee). One day that fellow did not come. I asked Dadaji – ‘ if I do the swinging of the fan in his place, will I get the chavvni ? He said- why not, you will get a chavanni for your work’. I asked to do the job for a day. He permitted. He slept after few minutes as per his routine. But gradually my palms were hurting by the rough feel of the rope. The skin was also getting brutally rubbed causing lot of discomfort. I must have been 5 years old at that time. However leaving the job unattended was not acceptable to me for two reasons- one, that dadaji will get disturbed and will wake up and two, that I may not get paid for half the job done. I somehow completed the desired duration. When dadaji woke up and saw my condition, he felt very bad about it. However I showed my brave face as if it was nothing much. And, of course, I received my first earning of the life. Perhaps that event built the thought into my mind how difficult was it to earn money!
Water- a luxury
The most scarce commodity in Rajasthan was water in ‘those days’ . Why I keep on repeating the phrase ‘those days’ is because things have changed drastically in India. The hardship of those days ( see I used it again) cannot be imagined by children of current generation.
There were no water tanks or pipelines in the houses. Even if those things would have been present , those would have been useless as there was no supply of water to the houses. There was no supply system because there was no water available for such distribution. Water was a scarce commodity hence people used it miserly by rationing the same in their families. Water for drinking as well as cooking had to be carried to homes in earthen pots called ‘Ghadas’, on the head for distance between 4 to 6 kilometers. But the womenfolk of the village would never complaint of this job , as it was like an outing for them with their friends. Women in groups used to gather together before leaving for the water management. On their way up and down, they would discuss all sorts of happenings and events of the village. Newly married women would share their sweet and sour experiences of their ‘sasuraal’ (husband’s family place)
Around the village there were two sources of water- one was a well out of which the water used to be drawn in buckets by suspending the same deep down the well. There was a big wooden pulley installed on the ledge of the well. A thick rope was made to pass over the pulley, with a metal bucket tied to the inside-the-well-end of the rope. The outside-the well-end of the rope used to be pulled by a group of men . When the bucket full of water would rise to the level of the ledge, one of the men would walk close to it and pull the bucket out along with the attached rope. There used to be a queue of village ladies with their ghadas in hand. The buckets were emptied inside the opening of the ghadas. Generally each lady had 2 to 3 ghadas , which she had to carry on her head , one on top of another thus she would carry three ghadas on her head – all full of water ! And she would walk with such load for those 4-6 kilometers with ease. The rope pullers were generally the men of the village who used to pull the water bucket as an act of social service. In absence of all such men, the women had a tough task of pulling the ropes by themselves. Three ghadas would accommodate at least 60 litres of water, hence weighing more than 60 kgs.
I remember my mother too carrying ghadas on her head as long as she was in the village; however my grandfather was a thinker and he did not like the idea of women carrying so much burden every day twice. He got a trolley made from town of Hisar. I distinctly remember travelling to Hisar with him on this particular trip. He explained to the fabricator the size and design of the trolley. The top surface was to be made with wood planks. Four wheels of bicycle were to be fixed for movement. On one side there was a handle bar for pushing the trolley. When the trolley reached the village, it was handed over to the family servant called Bahadur. Bahadur was explained that he had to carry six ghadas on the trolley and push the same to the well and bring it back after filling up with water. The thing worked really well. I don’t remember any lady of our family carrying ghadas after this great gadget in our life. The whole village used to see this invention with great envy.
This herculean task was the routine of all village ladies. Strange thing was that this job was exclusively assigned to the ladies. I do not remember any men carrying such loads of ghadas. Its not that the men of the village were lazy or something, the fact is that they had harder duties to perform. They would leave their houses with their hal and bail ( hal means plough axe- the hand tool for plowing the field and the bail means the bullocks) quite early after having their fixed breakfast of the bread of bajra, cooked on previous nights and the Chaas (watery butter milk). Bullocks were sometimes substituted with camels also. While the men worked at their fields, the women would cook their lunch. There was not much difference in the varieties of food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Generally Bajra was the commom factor. The rotis or the khichdi of bajra was the basic meal, accompanied by kadhi , or some gravy based curry of dried and stored stuff along with onions and home churned white butter called ‘chuntia ghee’ . A piece of gud (jiggery) would serve for the dessert after food. Green or leafy vegetables were unheard of in Rajasthan being the desert area. In the name of fruits , there were just two items available- one was called Mateera which was a derivative of water melons and the other was called ‘Kakdia’. A ripe kakdia would have very sweet smell. Lots of seeds in the central cavity when cut. Kakdia was eaten as a fruit as well as a curry component when dried in the sun and stored. So the ladies would carry the cooked meal to the farms where their husband or other members would be sweating their day out.
Bajra , called ‘pearl millet’ in English grow in the form of long sticks, which was called Sitta in local language. A very interesting snack was made by roasting the sittas in fire and than removing the bajra beads with hand. A crisp snack used to be made which was storable In nature. A similar process was applied to may be the only green product of farms, that was green chick peas , called choliya in local language. Roasted in direct fire, the outcome used to be almost burnt chickpeas. These stored snacks were handy in leisure times.
Evening meal was rather early. The cooking process would begin when the sun was still there; for the obvious reason- to avoid cooking In dark. Men normally returned from the work by dusk. After a tiring day, a good meal used to be their reward. Post dinner activities included relaxing on their cots with their hukkas by their side. Hukkas had an interesting structure. There was fire on top in the form of simmering coke pieces. Burnt tobacco would be pulled through a pipe into the mouth in the form of a tobacco smoke; this smoke travelled through a water filter. The smoke used to create bubbles in the water bed creating some very funny sound of water bubbling. Because of this sound, the process was called ‘ hukka gugudana’.
Coming back to the issue of water – there was another water body called ‘ Dhaab’ . It was a small lake kind of enclosed deep area which was usually filled up with water out of rains, whenever and for whatever duration that happened. This stored water was a multipurpose reservoir of water. The cows and bullocks used to take bath in this. There was a structure on one side of the dhaab, which was used by village children like the point of jump into the water for swimming and fun. The water could be used for all other purposes except for drinking.
Kurdi – the community toilet
It sounds so strange ! In fact funny ! But It was a reality of villages in Rajasthan. Before I explain you how, let me explain you why ! Water was the most scarce commodity in the villages in those days. No house had a water tank on top or anywhere in the house for that matter as I have already explained. No house had any toilet built in the house ! Not even around the house! Yes, you read it correctly. No toilet facilities anywhere inside the village ! The entire population of the village used to walk to a place called ‘Kurdi’ with a metal pot called ‘lota’ filled with water. Kurdi was a tibba (a sand dune) –flatter in comparison to the mountain like sand dunes around. People would walk into the kurdi area , will find themselves some place to sit and defecate . The cleaning process included a dry wipe with sand , followed by a wet wipe with water. Sounds disgusting – but is a reality of those days ! Reason- scarcity of water! Water had to be used with precision. Generally separate areas were earmarked for gents and ladies at the kurdi.
The visit to the kurdi , at least once in the morning and once in the evening had a very special significance . Though the main purpose was to attend the nature’s call ; however such visits served as a great purpose for socializing . Ladies would go into groups with their heads and faces covered with the scarf of their dress , similar to their visit to the water body for bringing water home. As there was no weight to be carried on their heads, they would enjoy this trip of gossips more. Spicy gossips also made rounds in these kurdi visits . We can compare these visits to the kitty parties of the women in cities nowadays. Gents generally did not move around in groups during such visits. In fact they used to go much farther from the designated Kurdi, which was mainly used by ladies.
The sand dunes served as the natural sewerage system at kurdis. A nice sand storm would bury the daily loads of human excreta under its layers of new sand; keeping the place all set for next round of use. The heat of the day would kill all possible germs in the garbage. A natural system which worked !
My Childhood Games
As I was born in Sherda and continued to live there for next five years; my whole world was my village for me. There was nothing beyond that small habitat for me. Contrary to general perception, I feel that that was the best part of my whole life. I enjoyed every moment of being a small kid. There was no pressure on my childhood. No one trying to force etiquettes or discipline or even education on me unlike small kids of present times! There were no toys, amusement parks or kindergarten nurseries too. That does not mean that there was no entertainment. Only the resources were different.
Being a boy my favorite play article was a ball which was called ‘gindi’ in local language; but there was nothing called a ball available in the village. No-one had a rubber or plastic or any other ball. My uncle created a ball for me. He took some waste pieces of cloth cuttings. Rolled them together in a spherical form as tight as possible! After that he tied cotton strings all around the sphere with full tightness. In its final form what one could see was strings only as the cloth ball inside would shrink and get hidden under the net of strings. A long tail of a string would continue to pop out of that ball. Lo ! The ball was ready to play. Making such balls was considered a work of skill. The games included catching the ball, hitting each other with the ball and so many such things. Great fun ! Guttha Gindi, Paano gindi , Pitthoo etc were some of the variations of playing with gindi.
In rainy seasons, the kids of my age used to play called Nisarni. Nisarni was a maze which was drawn on the wet ground with a finger or a prick. The idea was to jump across the maze in different ways, somewhere one legged, somewhere by jumping off the square etc. The word Nisarni means a ‘Ladder’. The maze drawn on the ground somewhat resembled a ladder. When I have grown up now, I understand that what we played innocently as Nisarni in those days is an International game of kids called Hopscotch.
As I have mentioned earlier, Gobar(Cow dung) was treated as a useful material in the village. Gobar mixed with clay was used to be rubbed on the walls of kachha houses. The same mixture was applied on the Chulhas – the clay base ovens for cooking. Dried cakes of Gobar were the regular source of energy for burning in the chulhas. These cakes were calleds ‘Gosa’ in the village. In fact Gosas were made in huge quantities at a time. The procedure was simple. A heap of cow dung along with clay and water would be mixed thoroughly by hands or feet. Once the paste was ready, handful of the paste was pasted on the kachha wall. Each such handful will shape up like a cake on top of which finger marks would be imprinted. Hundreds of such Gosas would be made. These Gosas were stored also in a very specialized manner. All the gosas would be stored in a vertical heap shaping like a flattened pyramid which was called ‘Batoda’. All the walls of the pyramid would again be covered with a thick layer of the same mix which was used for making the Gosas. The Batoda was left to get dried. When dried, an opening was made from one side for pulling out Gosas as per the requirement. Such Batodas were made either in the Nohras or the Khets.
Incidently, I was talking of my play equipments. The name of the game was ‘Gobar- goli’ This Gobar mixed clay was also a great source of games. Two , three or more kids would play it together. In a small heap of gobar mix, a rounded stone (marbles) would be mixed. One of the players will totally mix the heap In such a way that the stone ball would become invisible. Than he will make three or more portions, same as the number of players, of the whole stuff by dividing into number of heaps. He will invite all colleagues to select one heap each, he himself would get the last one left. Now the play was to search for the stone ball mixed in the mud. The winner was one who could locate it in his portion. A game of luck ! Just fun !
There were many other ideas of fun. One of them was hiding a treasure which was called khajana. First a treasure would be collected. Generally a treasure would include small pieces of glass or glass bangles, some nails, may be a piece of stone, a button, an empty match box or for that matter whatever could be picked from the lanes of the village. Grown up kids would write some message on the broken pieces of earthen pot also to add to their treasure. A hole would be dug in an isolated place by each treasure owner. The whole treasure was hidden into such holes and the holes would be filled with soil again. Some marking would be done around the place as a reminder that the treasure is hidden here. Then invitations would be exchanged between different teams to enter into each other’s territory to search the treasure. The team who could search early was the smart team. If someone could not find the treasure, the original owner at the end will take them to their own treasure to boast about their smart hiding.
Another very interesting game was ‘Pulthi Aavan Jaavan’ . It means ‘movement back to your area’. In this game there were two teams. One player would be the captain in each side. Each of the player was given a piece of chalk or coal or something which could write. The two teams were given certain geographical area as their own side called ‘Baas’. The planning of the Baas was such that both side could not see each other’s Baas. In our case we had our Bheli along with another bheli by the side and on the two sides of these twin bhelis there were two small lanes with dead ends. On both sides there were few small kachcha houses , mainly of farmers and carpenters. On declaring start of the game, both sides would change their locations by going to each other’s Baas. A hypothetical time limit was set, as there was no device for seeing actual time with anyone. Members of each team after entering the opposite sides baas will start marking some secrets on things available in that area, may be a corner of the wall, a pillar, a tree, equipments like bullock carts, plough axe etc. Each team member will mark small parallel lines like a barcode in such positions which cannot be detected. The goal was to mark as many lines as possible. Some players smartly picked up broken pieces of earthen pots, or a broken twig of a tree, or even dried leaves of trees and filled those with parallel lines with their markers. After a self realized sufficient time limit , Captain of one team will start yelling- ‘pulthi aavan jaavan’ repeatedly. Hearing his voice his entire team will start yelling the same slogan and will run to their own baas. Hearing the shouts of the other team, the second team will also hurriedly stop their work and would start yelling the same slogan. Both processions cross each other and reach their own baas. Now the job is to detect all the marks made by the other side and cross those with their own markers. All team members will do their best efforts to locate all such hidden markings to cross the same. After some time, the team which feels satisfied with their findings would start yelling the same slogan –‘pulthi aavan jaavan’ and likewise the other team responds. This time the two processions would meet in the middle of two baas, in our case it was right outside the gate of my bheli. A joint inspection would be carried out. Team members would take out their marked treasures which could not be crossed by the other team members. Lines on each saved article would be counted. Counting would be noted and then the markings on the saved article would be crossed. Same audit would take place in the other baas. The team which could save maximum lines would become the winner.
I remember of another game which called ‘Bhutni ka ghar’ – means house of a ghost. It was not as frightening as the name sounds. The equipment required was an ordinary metal glass full of water and lot of sand which was available everywhere in the village. The game was managed by one of the smart person of the group. The group would sit around a heap of sand the heap was moistened by pouring some part of water. The manager of the game will smartly put the water filled glass upside down in such a way that inspite of some quantity of water getting spilled, much quantity will be retained and arrested inside the glass. He would raise the level of sand all around the glass in such a way that no leakage is possible. This sand castle would be called – Bhutni Ka Ghar. The manager would whisper and say- ‘ let us enter the bhutni ka ghar and see what the bhutni is doing. He would remove sand cautiously at one point on the periphery of the sand dune. When his finger would remove the sand touching the rim of the glass, water would ooze out in form of small bubbles making a bit of noise too. The manager would immediately close the opening with more sand declaring – ‘It is dangerous now as bhutni is taking her bath ‘. In this fashion he would go on making up the story and finally lift the glass declaring to release the bhutni . This was more of an art of storytelling then a game.
The scope of making friends was limited to a radius of about 50 meters from our bheli. The reason was that being a small kid, I was not expected to go beyond the limit of view from my bheli. My boodhi dadiji used to sit outside the bheli right from early evening till dinner. She would position herself on a small platform outside the entrance of the bheli. Did I mention about these two small platforms just enough for a person to squat comfortably on either side of the entrance gate. These platforms were as high as a chair and were covered on top with a dome also. These platforms were called ‘Ghokha’. She would sit on one of these with her prayer beads mala. She would attend all visitors there. Sometime she would eat her dinner also on the Ghokhas outside. That was my time for play also, therefore she could keep an eye on me also. She was comfortable as long as I stayed around the bheli playing with friends.
Coming to my friends, I can recall many of them. The hut behind our bheli belonged to a Brahmin family. The head of the family Mr. Arjun Lal had two sons. I remember the younger son as he was my friend. His name was Ishvar but his voice being nasal as well as somewhat defective he could pronounce – ‘Ichban’ . For others he was a subject of ridicule but for me he was a friend. I used to ride on his brothers camel sometimes. I remember his brother Mahaveer was to get married. About a month before his wedding he stopped going to his agricultural fields. He was made to wear some red threads around his right wrist and was given a fancy metal stick to carry with him. This was all part of the wedding rituals. He was given special bath by the ladies of the surrounding houses. The specialty of the bath was applying a turmeric paste all over his face, arms and back. The dried turmeric paste was gently scraped off. I remember the bright yellow turmeric would turn almost black by removing layers of dust and clay from his skin. After the bath he became very fair. During this treatment woman-folk of neighborhood would sing song concerning his wedding. I enjoyed attending wedding rituals.
My other friends included two girls Savitri and Chameli from the families of the carpenter Mr. Meharchand , who was treated with respect due to his old age and good skill as a carpenter. These girls used to play with me a game of ‘Gattas’. Gattas was in fact a feminine game. It was played using a glass marble and some pieces of rounded stones. While the marble was thrown up in air the hands were supposed to do some activities by pushing the round stone pieces before catching the marble before it could fall on earth. They were also my partners in the game of swing, which was installed in our nohra . I have already mentioned about the Nohras earlier.
I had another set of friends from a jaat family of Mr. Ramjilal Dhindwal whose house was across our bheli. The family was of farmers. There were three boys around my age – harpal, kashiram and chaitram. This group served my adventure spirit, as they were quite outgoing by nature. Whatever I could explore about the village was in their company. We used to take long walks to the Dhaab, the well and the aushdhalaya (village dispensary) area. I tried climbing on the trees with them. I tasted exotic tree products like ‘nimoli’ – ripened fruit of Neem tree, ‘Pinju’ – a flower which was sucked for the nectar inside, ‘Paatdi’ – dried beans which tasted sweet etc. However my boodhi dadi did not much approve my playing with them as they were undisciplined (that is dadi’s word for my word- adventure).
One interesting memory , I want to record here. In the village no one was called by his original name- there was always a distorted name for calling; especially for young lot. This nick name usually was longer than the original name itself as a tail was attached to the main name. For example me i.e. Mahendra would be called Mahendriya, my friends were similarly converted from Harpal to Harpaliya,Kashi to Kashiya and Ishvar to Ishvariya. Girls name were distorted in a different way- like Savitri would become Savitradi and Chameli would become Chameldi.
My stint with village school was conservative and short hence I don’t remember having any friends from the school.
Though I was more close to my boodhi dadiji, however my Dadaji was a great guide for my childhood. Whatever I can remember about my Dadaji during my first few years of life which I spent with him in the village, now makes me feel extremely good and important because his guidance and teachings are in built in me as my strong qualities.
Every evening after dinner, there used to be a get together with him in which the participants would be the younger members of the family including me. Others were my uncle Satyanand Arya, my two buajis (aunts) Snehlata and Shakuntala. Dadaji was an avid follower of Arya Samaj. In fact he had adopted the principals of Arya Samaj, much against the prevailing systems of the village. After initial resistance from the village , he finally won their hearts over by spreading the true knowledge of Vedas through his bhajans. The subjects of our evening sitting with him were mostly about Vedas and Arya Samaj. He used to teach us first and then ask questions in subsequent classes. I still remember few of his questions-
· How many Vedas are there?
· Which one is smallest or largest ?
· Name the sages who wrote these Vedas as the message received from Ishvar through Shrutis ?
· How many lakshans are there of Dharma, name all !
· Questions about life of Swami Dayanand Sarswati .
Somehow his classes would make us feel important. I being the youngest was the last one to grasp his teachings. But I think , it is not so ! If I did not understand anything then how come I remember all that even after 50 years since then ? Hence I conclude that no age is small to absorb good things and bad things. Our mind just learns those sentences at that time, but our life gradually makes us understand their meaning. Let me explain this by another example. I remember that as a young boy (Not during village life but later when I was in Calcutta) I enjoyed listening the songs from hindi films. I did not understand the meaning of those songs then as the subject and even the urdu laced language was beyond my young mind; but I sang and hummed those songs. I still remember most of the songs which I could learn at the age between 5 to 10 years. The only difference is that now I understand the meaning of those words too.
Coming back to Dadaji, I have many fond memories of him during my life in the village Sherda. I remember one incident. As a child I had no idea what money was worth , but I remembered that sometimes my boodhi dadiji would send my buaji or chachaji to buy something from the village market ( I will explain that later) to buy some stuff by giving few coins. That made a basic understanding in my mind that the coins were to be exchanged at the shops to buy products. Once I came across a small coin lying in one of the aalas ( Did I explain that ?) . I curiously picked that up. Applying my mind logically, I pocketed the coin and walked to the village market, which was few houses away only. I went to one of the shops (there were two only- one belonged to Bhairon and the other to Chiranjee) . After examining the products on display, I made up my mind for the round striped lozenges. Stripes used to be in very bright colors. In fact I wondered why I never came here before. The lozenges were like magnet for me. I asked the shopkeeper to give me lozenges. He asked me – ‘how many?’ I did not know what to say. I gave him my coin and said –‘whatever’. He asked me whether I wanted for full value. I unknowingly said yes. He almost emptied his glass jar and offered me his palms full of those. I was shocked at that. I could not carry everything in my tiny fists. He offered to fill my pockets with those. He did. My pockets were full and so were my hands. I left the shop and started thinking what should I tell my folks at home. The power of lying was not installed in my innocent heart so I went to my boodhi dadiji and gave her my stock. I told her that I need few and the rest she can distribute among others. She was surprised. She asked me where did I get the money to buy those. I said I found a coin so I went to shop. She asked me where did I find that coin. This part I was not ready to disclose. I knew that If I told her that I picked it from the aala, she may not like it. After sometime she reported the matter to Dadaji. Dadaji took me in his arms and made me sit on his lap. He affectionately asked me the same question. By that time I had become firm not to disclose the source. He tried for some time but finally got angry with me and pushed me away from his lap. I started crying. It was impossible for me to bear the pain of being scolded by my very dear Dadaji. Dadaji became involved in his evening meetings with visitors outside the bheli; I continued crying inside the bheli.
Later when he came inside the bheli for dinner and found me still crying, he felt bad; he lovingly picked me in his lap. He said – beta, it is not right to pick up anything from anywhere if it does not belong to you. This amounts to stealing. I have taught you ten Lakhsnas of dharma – one of which is ‘steyam’ which precisely means not to steal anything; therefore if we do such a thing we are doing something which is against the dharma. That lesson got cemented in my innocent heart. The effect of that teaching is still so fresh in my mind that I cannot think of stealing anything in my life.
We had cylindrical seats made of canes. On one side the seats had cushions and the edges were bound by sewing with used cycle tyres , the other side was a hollow base. There were quite a few of them. Accidently I pushed one in a horizontal position; interestingly it started rolling being cylindrical. It was great fun for me. I started rolling it speedily all over the place. Children enjoy such things. My boodhi dadiji shouted at me, but I was not ready to give up my little play; so much was I amused by that. And entered my Dadaji. I was waiting for his reaction. He saw me for few seconds and then exclaimed laughingly – ‘ Great ! Roll it , break it ! If that one gets broken then break another one. Enjoy !’ Boodhi dadiji’s shout was not effective but Dadaji’s sarcasm hit me so hard that I gave up my play immediately and placed the cane seat at its proper place. Dadaji appreciated my gesture .
Dadaji was an important personality of the village. Every evening our servant Bahadur would sprinkle water on the ground outside our bheli gate. The purpose of the sprinkle was dual – to settle the dust of the ground and to cool off the afternoon’s heat because he would be preparing the place for the evening assembly of Dadaji. He would spread two, sometimes three khaats after that with neat bed sheets covering the grid of strings. Dadaji would sit one one of those with his favourite round pillow for support. Villagers passing across our house would wish him by saying – ram ram or Jai ram ji ki. He would respond to them. Some who had some work with him or who wanted to spend some time with him would come and sit on the other khaat. They would talk about all sorts of things- right from the happenings of the day in the village to the political developments of the country. Dadaji was the most informed man of the village as he used to listen to the hindi news thrice every day at different time slots. He shared his gathered information with villagers.
Dadaji was an elected Sarpanch (Chief judge of village small court called panchayat). All disputes and differences of the village would be discussed with him. Visitng dignitaries from neighbouring villages and district would also come to him. Such important people were offered tea in crockery. We had a set of white crockery with small prints for such occasions. Otherwise the standard utensil for tea was metal glasses. Some people used to drink in lotas also ( Lota was a metal pot with shape like a small Ghada). A lota must be equal to the capacity of two or may be little more than that of two metal glasses. The metal used for all household utensils was generally brass. Sometimes police officers visited Dadaji. Their uniform created lot of sensation in the villages; particularly their head gear which was like a navy cap with a row of small threads dangling on one side.
Later in his life, when Dadaji decided to shift from the village to live in the big town of Hissar, the villagers requested him to continue as the Sarpanch as he was very popular Sarpanch due to his impartial justice.
For me he was the ultimate personality of my childhood! He was my idol too!
My First School
My boodhi dadi always found me too young to be sent to school. Once my mother, who was living in the city of Kolkata at that time, came to the village. She was shocked to find even at the age of 4 I had not started going to the village school. She took up the subject strongly with Dadaji. It was decided that I should be sent to the village school along with both my buajis who were studying in higher classes ( School was up-to class eight only ) . My boodhi dadiji was worried about me; how will I cope up with such long walk to the school carrying slate and patti etc; how will I manage to stay in the school for several hours without anyone from the family in my sight etc. etc.
She did some preparatory work before sending me to the school. She called the school head master ( I still remember his name as Mr. Ganga Bishan) at our bheli. She instructed him that I was a small child who will be attending the school for the first time in life; hence he should see that no teacher ever scolds him and no student should make fun of him etc. The headmaster politely assured her that he will take best care of me when I will go to school. She was not completely assured; so she told him as a warning that if ever I would come back crying from the school she would summon him again for explanation. That’s how she agreed to send me to school.
The school had a pakka building with several class rooms. Every class room had a black board but only the class room for senior most class (i.e. Class VIII) was equipped with few benches. Other classes were supplied with a long strip of woven jute carpet ( called Taat Patti) , which was picked up by the students in the morning from the store room and was spread in the class room. Few such long strips were spread parallel to each other, and that formed the seating arrangement for the classes. Often these strips would be full of ink spots.
I was in the junior most class hence the way of teaching was more vocal than by writing. The day started with shouting some hindi rhymes in the top pitch in unison and the day ended with a recital of Pahadas (Tables) in a musical way. The group leader would shout at the top of his voice and the rest of the class would repeat after him. The yelling would go like this –
Do ekam do, do dooni chaar
Do ekam do, do dooni chaar
Do tiya chah , do chauke aath
Do tiya chah , do chauke aath
And so on………………………….
The first lesson of writing started on a slate. In those days chalks were not given to students for writing on slate as that would leave lots of powder on hand. A special type of writing marker called ‘barta’ was used. Barta was some kind of clay stick which will write well on a black surface, though not as bright as a chalk. After the slate was filled, it was to be cleaned with watery sponge of a cloth piece. Few students who did not carry such a mop, used to use spit as the cleaning medium. But when they were caught doing that by the teacher, they were punished as they were insulting the Vidhya ( Education). It was rightly inculcated in the minds of children that if a student insults Vidya by spitting or by tearing a book or by touching any knowledge stuff by feet will commit a sin and he would be punished by God by keeping him illiterate. May be this was a wrong belief installed, but it was for a great cause.
After few months in school, I was introduced to the use of a Patti. A Patti was a wooden plank with a handle fixed on one side for holding it. The wooden surface was made writable by applying a small grayish piece of a special type of clay which was called a ‘mate’. The meaning of mate is eraser. The clay was moistened and then rubbed all over the surface of the wooden plank. After drying the clay paste, the surface was used for writing by the ink. To write a cut piece of tubular cane would be sharpened on one end to make that look like a writing nib. This created nib would be dipped in the ink pot and then immediately after that it would be used for writing on the patti. Once the writing was done and examined by the teacher, the ink could be removed by applying a fresh coat of the ‘mate’. The patti would be ready for next lesson.
I recall two more teachers who were involved in educating me privately. Teachers were addressed as masters in the village. Mr. Hetram was our neighbor for some time, as he was temporarily living in the neighboring house, which I always called Mausiji’s house (Aunt’s house). The reason of calling that was that the house was owned by the real sister of my Grand Mother. She was Mausiji for my father and his siblings. I as a child also called her Mausiji. Perhaps she went out of village at a later stage and that is why Master Hetram was allowed to stay in that house. He would call me to his house and teach me the hindi varnmala (hindi alphabets) and numbers. Just like all the masters he too loved scolding and twisting the ears of the students. Master Hetram would have loved to treat me that way , had it not been for the fact that he was our neighbor and there would have been a big risk of my crying and my boodhi dadiji’s immediate intervention thereafter. Poor fellow managed to deal me without scolding or punishing in other ways.
I was not so fortunate about my other tutor Mr. Gangadhar, whose house was little far from our bheli. I used to go there along with my Buaji Snehlata and Shakuntala. Master Gangadhar was very strict teacher. He was not ready to acknowledge the fact that I was too small to remember the tables of different numbers which he expected me to cram. As a result he used to shout at me. Sometimes he slapped me too. I did not have to carry on with that ordeal for long as during his tutorship, it was planned that I would move out from the village and go to the city of Calcutta (Now called Kolkata) with my parents.
I remember, once at the end of the school time, all students were told by the teachers to bring a glass from their houses as the next day some Government agency would be offering some special type of milk to all students which would be made from some kind of powder. When I asked my Dadi to give me a glass to carry to school, my Boodhi dadi strictly said ‘No’! She said we don’t want to taste such artificial milk when we have enough milk in our house from our cows. I felt deprived but did not revolt, sensing some logic in her statement.
I think my education in my first school lasted less than a year as after that I got shifted to Kolkata with my parents for better quality of education in spite of strong protest of my boodhi dadiji. The decision of my moving to Kolkata was not an easy one. My mother, on her visit to the village, found that I had not learnt much though I had become five years old. She could compare my level with other children of the city of my age and that forced her to decide to take me along with her. Her decision was met with strong protests from everyone in the family who was at village. However she was able to convince my dadaji about the necessity of my education in Kolkata. The news was like a bolt from the blue for my boodhi dadiji. She was extremely fond of me. She chided my mother by saying – ‘ ok take your son away from me and make him doctor or engineer !’. [ When I became an engineer later in my life, my mother told me about that taunt of boodhi dadiji. ] I am not sure whether I should be eternally grateful to my boodhi dadi for giving me so much love in my early childhood or to my mother who put her foot down for my education. I love and admire both of them.
Every civilized society needs some mode of transport for going from one place to another. The village too had its share. The local movement within the village was on feet as the village was a close cluster of houses over an area of may be 7-8 square kilometer. The agricultural farms were located outside the village limits may be in a circle of a radius of about 8 to 10 kilometers from the centre of the village. The general mode of transportation to the farms was camels and bullock carts. Still most of the people used to walk to their fields. Our family too had two farms. One of them was smaller and was known as ‘Saadhi’ (A distorted form of the word ‘Aashadhi’ derived from the month of Aashadh.)
I too used to go to our saadhi at times. Generally I was accompanied by someone elder. I remember Chandu Jogi who was the incharge of our Saadhi; he would carry me on his shoulder for a trip of the saadhi. There he would find some ripe fruit of mateera or kakdia and offer me to eat. Mateera was like a water melon full of sweet juices, hence was my favourite.
I remember having travelled to far off places like the village Shivani and the big town of Hissar. Shivani we could go on camel back, however for going to Hissar there were two buses which used to operate on alternate days between Sherda and Hissar. Before we embarked on our bus journey it was very exciting, however the journey itself was not so great. It was a routine that the bus enroute will get sunk into the sand dunes. The tyres would rotate to throw the sand back and sink more instead of moving ahead. Sand storms would make it worst. Driver would ask all the people to get down lightening the load of the bus. Some strong people would push the bus out of the sand dune. There could be more than one stoppage enroute. No one complained as this was the routine thing. Similar was the situation on return journey. The driver of the bus enjoyed great respect of the villagers for exclusivity of his job. Young men strived to become bus driver.
Nearest railway station was at Barua, which also happened to be my mother’s home village. I travelled there for that reason. Whenever anybody was to come from Calcutta (Kolkata now) , the arrangements to receive him at Barua station were made weeks in advance. The reason was that the message of arrival used to come by post card, which took nearly a week to reach from Calcutta. A reply of confirmation was sent by post again. On the scheduled day of arrival, the bullock cart would be sent right in the morning to Barua station. Whenever the train would arrive the guests would get the ride to the village. There was no concept of fine tuning in terms of time. A date was good enough notice to plan such movements. It is beyond imagination how things woked on the basis of feeble communication system of Post and Telegraph department.
The village bazaar was close to our bheli. In fact between our bheli and the bazaar one major construction was the bheli of the Sheths. Sheth was not the name or title of the occupants of that bheli; they were called Sheths of the village because they were supposed to be the richest people of the village. Their bheli had two openings. One opening of the residential section opened near our bheli but the other entry opened in the bazaar and the sheths had their office at that entry. They had a chuntra (platform) outside that entrance and kept two takhat ( wooden frames ) on which were spread mattresses along with white sheets as covers. The Sheths would sit during the day time on those takhats with round pillows as their support. As far as the main reason of place being called a bazaar, there were two shops in that square. The two shopkeepers Bhairon and Chiranjeev used to stock almost everything required in the village households. Bhairon was more inclined to store food items like sugar, oils, ghee and spices whereas Chiranjeev stocked stuff like kitchenware, hardware like scissors, needle etc. He also stocked fancy stuff like lozenges, biscuit etc. I have already narrated about my great disastrous shopping of lozenges from Chiranjeev with my stolen chavnni.There were three temples in the village Sherda, out of which one temple was in the bazaar. This temple was built by the Maharaja of Bikaner . The temple was called karni temple after the name of Maharani Karni Devi.
The Bazar was like a chowk from where various lanes connected. As far as the commercial activities are concerned this was all about the shops there. From time to time vendors from other villages used to visit the village to sell their merchandise. The things which were sold by visiting vendors on their cycles which come to my mind are the ice candies and mangos. I remember one more vendor who used to sell the ladies garment which was decorated with golden and silver laces and beads etc with lot of artistic work done on a yellow fabric, mixed with red color and which was known as ‘Peela’ or ‘Piliya’ . These shawl like covers were used by married ladies on special occasions like marriages, festivals etc. The vendor of these products used to shout in a typical style , saying – “le lo le lo peela pomcha “. Another visiting service provider was a person who would roast the Chanas (Grams) in a specialized medium of sand by heating the sand and mixing the Chanas in the heated sand. He had a large sieve through which he would clear-off the sand from the grams and return roasted grams to the customer in exchange of few coins. Needless to say this was one of the most awaited service for a food variety starved village.