I am 67 years old now and retired from the service 7 years ago. In the ample time at my disposal, the mind harks back and reel of memory rewinds on the spool of time and this time it stops at the days of my childhood.
Our childhood was spent in the village called Manimajra. Nowadays it is in the Union territory of Chandigarh though at that time it was along with Chandigarh a part of Punjab.
We were like most others in the village poor peasants with small landholdings. Parents were totally illiterate. In those days, nobody was serious about the education and future of their children.
It was supposed that they will fend for themselves when they will grow up. In all probability would be farmers like them. If they went to school it was by luck.
Even I did not like the school. There was nobody to cajole us about the need of education to become something and live comfortably. But still we went to school.
After school and taking lunch, we invariably headed for our fields which were quite far away. It was all the way on foot through rough paths, streams littered with pebbles and thorny detours. We brought back the green fodder for our buffaloes.
But there were other outings also which we enjoyed most. One of these was going together to shrines of Mansa Devi which are about 4 to 5 kilometres away situated in the hillocks which are sub-systems of Shivalik hills. Usually the temples are situated in the hills.
There are two temples separated by half a kilometre distance. The lower one was constructed by the Raja of Manimajra and the other by Royal family of Patiala. The lower temple is older and was more aesthetic in design.
There were frescos depicting mythological scenes related to Durga slaying the mehsasur and also of Krishna Leela. I don’t know what has become of them because even at that time they were not in well preserved condition.
There were small shrines littered around the main temples. One such was at the foot of the stairs leading to the temple. There was a big water tank in front of it. Pilgrims took bath in it during the times of annual fares in which people from Punjab, Haryana and Himachal came to participate.
Farmers usually came in groups. There was at that time fashion of carrying a stick which was specially designed with a bend at the one end. Usually there were quarrels between groups and then this weapon was used freely. These people drank the country liquor and sweets like Ladoos and Jalebis were favourite.
But this was during the fare. In other times, there were very few people and it was very peaceful. We came many a times with our grandfather who was friends with a sadhu of the shrine. As they sat chatting and smoking hookah we played there for long time.
During other times, we came with friends and headed for the area beyond the temple. There were unending clusters of thorny bushes which bore the fruit “Ber” diminutive variety of jejube.
They were mostly sour and sweet. All day we ate those and collected for home. Other attraction was an air force helicopter which hovered over and many a times landed in the clearings of the bushes. We were awestruck with it and the way bushes swayed when it came down.
There was another attraction. It was walking along the Chandigarh Kalka railway line which passed in that area. We always waited impatiently for the train to appear. When it came rolling like a black giant which inspired awe and fear.
The engine was steam based with clouds of smoke from burning coal issuing from the exhaust. The goods train used to halt at the crossing of the road leading to the temple. Many women from nearby village came to fill pitchers of water from the engine. Sometimes the motorman also gave them the partially burnt coal for use in homes.
During winter, the cough usually pestered us. There were none of the counter medicines. There was a herb called Adusa which grew in abundance.
It bore white flowers which contained a nectar which soothed the throat. We sucked them and also brought back home because the cough became acute as the temperature dropped during the night.