I have returned back to the place where we were born, grew up, went to school in our own village of Manimajra, then to college and university in Chandigarh. Graduation and post graduation became possible because of the proximity of Chandigarh. Had this not been the case, there was no chance of my getting higher education in science. Even at that time, some 60 years back, our village was the largest of villages around Chandigarh. There were agricultural lands all around the village. The fields were irrigated with the water from Ghaggar river which flowed nearby emanating from Shivalik hills. There are two very large temples of Godess Mansa Devi where people from all over the nearby places flocked during the annual fares. There are many historical Gurudwaras in the area. One is inside the village is called Mata Raj Kaur Gurudwara after the pious lady who left her husband Guru Ram Rai after she felt the her husband has tweaked some lines from Guru Granth Sahib during recital. Ram Rai established himself with his disciples and properties around Dehradun. Another famous Gurudwara is on the periphery of Panchkula and is called Nadda Sahib. Here tenth Guru Gobind Singh stayed during his journey from Paonta Sahib to Anandpur Sahib in Punjab. The person who played the host was known as Naddu and after his name is the name of the place and Gurudwara. There is another Gurudwara called Bawli (step well) sahib located in the village Dhakauli. With the education which I acquired, I found a job in ONGC: India’s leading E&P petroleum company. Since it’s operations extend all over India, it provided me a chance to work in different places like Dehradun, Silchar jutting with Bangladesh and located in South Assam, Sibsagar in upper Assam which was once the capital of mighty Ahom kings which gave the place the name Assam and Mumbai the city maximum and economic capital of India. Assam the North Eastern state of India possesses unparalleled natural beauty. Since the industrialisation has not spread in that area, the region I dun polluted. When you fly over the area, you find tea gardens, Areca nut tress, bamboo groves running over miles and miles. There are rivers like Brahamaputra and Barak rivers which provide the best fish. Whatever vegetables are available are grown on the river beds and grown naturally and are thus purely organic. This provided me the opportunity to watch these diverse cultures and people from close quarters and try to understand their cultures in different points of time. Whereas the Assam took the mind to older quaint times with minimal pollution, natural beauty and innocent people, there was Mumbai which was so fast paced, situated on Arabian Sea with beautiful beaches, coconut palm trees, pav bhaji and bada pav and it’s incessant rains which never stopped in the monsoons. I for the first time came to learn that not only paper document are parcelled but eatables like food from hotels and coconut cream etc is also parcelled for home delivery. Mumbai has developed a peculiar practical language which is the result of mixing of languages from all over India which migrant people to Mumbai has carried along with them. A lot has changed here and it should not be any surprise. Change in Mumbai is minimal now as it has become saturated. Here a complete change in demography also seemed to have taken place. There has been influx of people from states around it and also UP and Bihar. Crime which was almost unheard of is now very rampant. This is due to the high aspirations, comfortable lifestyle and sky rocketing prices of living spaces, everyone wants to become rich overnight.
I am 61 years old now and retired from the service. 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 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 army 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 no 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.
Such were the days. A carefree life not affected by lack of money. There was hardly any pollution. No gadget like television, radio etc which keep us engrossed at home and we miss the nature’s beauty and surprises which wait us outside.
It is 05:30 in the morning. Only a few die hard health freaks and those to whom doctors have advised are walking on the peripheral road. Some are going clockwise and other anticlockwise. In the temple, the woman who reads like a parrot from religious book, has not come yet. In the meanwhile, till the woman gets ready for the temple, for the benefit of those who also discharge their duty of genuflecting before the God, the caretakers of the temple start the tape recorder which recites the “Gayatri Mantra“. People come and ring the bells. There are crows which sit on the roof of the temple and tamarind tree looking for the early worm.
Different people come at different times and this continues. A group of 3 people walks and talks. Talk is mostly centered around the work and about the bosses. There are dogs in the groups and sometimes they look too menacing. Besides this there are milk delivery men on cycle and scooter. Mostly the road is empty.
It is approaching seven O’clock and activity begins to hot up. Everywhere there are school children and teachers coming to KV school on buses, scooters, motorcycles, cycles, vans and on foot. It is all a melee and utter confusion. Students are running pell mell. Many are totally uninterested to come to school. The stage which was having very few actors an hour before is now bustling and overcrowded. Till 0730 when the bell rings declaring the beginning of the school, it is like that.
As soon as the school commences, again the scene changes and streets look barren except some people coming to fetch the milk from a van. You realise the the bard, that supreme author called Shakespeare, was dead right when he said that “All the world is a stage and we are all but actors”
Another scene is enacted on a mammoth scale. It is at the VT or Church Gate railway stations in the evening. There are thousands of actors taking part in a scene which lasts hardly for few minutes before the another shot is ready. Whenever a train lumbers into the station, commuters run, jostle, crush each other to board the train and occupy the sitting place. For a moment, the station platform becomes completely empty. This is only for a few moments. The fresh crop of human beings begins sprouting and within no time all the places are occupied and people seem to the crop which is rich. This process continues late in the evening. Weak willed persons can get swooned at the sight.