An excerpt from an oilman's biography- A SLICK LIFE
The charmed life that was Dun - 1950s
At any given time we were around 12-14 people living in our house. These included my cousins from my grandfather’s two brothers (who had passed away) families. Relatives and friends from far off villages, hills or who lived far away from the town came over to sell their farm produce or collect their rations for their homes and the traffic would continue throughout the year.
I had three siblings –two sisters-Suman and Sudha and a brother-Girish for company. The girls as was wont in those days restricted themselves to housework except Suman who showed an inclination for studies. From an early age she knew precisely that she wanted to pursue education and not settle down early as was the custom then. Our father taught us English when he found time from work. The house moved like clockwork when Baba was home. Ma’s face would wear a tranquil countenance as Baba took over some responsibilities and she gained a breather from keeping the house and us in order. My father undertook to give as much education as anyone wanted to pursue and this was not restricted to his children alone. He had an ear for music and had brought musical instruments like the violin, harmonium, tabla, and sitar on his return from England. He encouraged us to take lessons in it. A teacher was employed for this purpose and he taught me to play the sitar while Suman took violin lessons.
I do not remember how but I had taken a liking to the flute which I had started buying from the annual fair called the ‘Jhandeji ka mela’. It runs for seven days with devotees offering prayers at the temple and the new mast that is changed every year. We the children would be more interested in the fancy stalls erected or laid out by the roadsides that displayed colourful toys, bows, and arrows, idols of deities, the bright mounds of vermillion powder, wooden kitchen sets, clay dices called ‘gittu’, paper flywheels and lots more.
For me it was a flute vendor that drew me to the fair every year. He came from Haridwar to sell his flutes fixed on a bamboo pole like an umbrella without its fabric. Like Pied Piper he would attract everyone’s attention by playing beautifully the bhajans and film songs that were popular then. I would stand rapt in the melody and by the way his fingers moved over the holes. For some time now, I’d been buying flutes out of my pocket money for an anna or two and the constant racquet emanating out of my efforts to bring out a decent tune from them was adding to my parent’s woes especially Ma since she was always the one at home to bear the brunt of my tuneless efforts. When I would exhaust in my endeavours I would begin playing the then current favourite song by Ashok Kumar and Leela Chitnis -‘Chal chal re naujawan.....’ which was a fairly straight tune and did not need very many modulations.
We were a regular band here with the usual riff-raff’s happening. I was probably the one out of the four of us who shook things up a little bit in the house. Sudha and Girish being the younger ones were largely mothered by all. Suman being just a year younger to me, we sparred as equals. It was difficult to win an argument from her as whether right or wrong, she always stood by the stand she took.
During winters Baba would make us all sit around sigri with red hot coals to keep us warm, eating roasted groundnuts and rewri, singing songs, enacting a skit, telling jokes or Suman playing her violin and me, my flute.
With most of our relatives both from my father’s and mother’s side being closely located, one could always hop over to this or that relative’s house without so much as a forewarning.
On most days we had our cousins with us to play when our relatives dropped in. I enjoyed the most when I was with my cousins Bhupinder or Bhuppi bhai- my mother’s sister’s son and Dhirender or Dhiri bhai-my mother’s brother’s son. Both were as different as chalk from cheese. Dhiri bhai being an only son of his landed family had a rather sober, delicate and aristocratic bearing who had things got done for him rather than have any exertions befall him. Bhuppi bhai was the exact opposite and a major prankster who went to great lengths to make us do them. He was oldest of the three of us and therefore the unchallenged ringleader too. We were inseparable whenever we got the chance to be together. Bhuppi’s arrival always caused some amount of flutter as we rejoiced his being with us while the elders saw him as a bad influence on youngsters like me and Dhiri.
Once in the middle of summers we were at my maternal grandparent’s house in Nawada which was at that time inundated with juicy mangoes bundled in straight from the orchards.
My maternal grandfather whom we called Baoji, always had the desi variety of mangoes, considered very good for the body, soaked in buckets of water, ready for us to gorge on. There would be fresh milk sitting on a boil which we had to take after we were done with the fruit. I don’t think we had the usual fare of meals three times a day in all that time! We would compete with each other as to who could eat the most and this was measured by the number of mango-stones piled by us.
As we once prepared to seat ourselves in front of our buckets full of mangoes, Bhuppi bhai came up with the bright idea of taking the lot on pundit Sohanlal’s terrace for our feasting. Pt Sohanlal was a priest at a temple close by and a confirmed bachelor. He had a small room near our house and disliked any disturbance in his disciplined life. As a boy I had always found him shouting and scolding all children within his periphery. It always puzzled me as to why he should hate children so much though now I think I can understand him better.
He was a man who observed a lot of do’s and don’ts, matters of purity and impurity and basically took his duties as a pundit quite seriously. So we all picked our buckets and did a wonderful job of spoiling his terrace with mango peels, stones, and the sweet juice trickling down our hands on to the floor.
Very soon there were hordes of flies swarming the roof and also inside the room. We were still enjoying the fruits when we saw a raging pundit snarling and heading towards us. We threw away the remaining fruits and tried bolting from the scene of crime. But the terrace had only one entrance from where we could see death itself coming at us. Seeing no other way out we jumped all the way from the top to the ground, which was a big thing for me as I was the youngest of them and therefore had the greatest height to cover to our great escape.
The complaint went to Baoji, who tried pacifying him and as penitence offered to get the whole thing cleared and cleaned. The order was passed from him to the ladies of the house and from them to the girls who were told to do up the cleaning, period. Suman and Bhuppi bhai’s sister Meenu reluctantly went to do the job with a lot of baleful glaring, muttering, and cursing.
We avoided crossing their paths that day.
The pundit wasn’t the only one we were unpopular with. The water bearer to the houses in the village, called the ‘jhiunri’, was the unhappiest when our trio made an appearance at her idyllic locale. Her painstakingly filled pots of water that were left under the huge peepal tree were the unfortunate targets of our well aimed pebbles at the behest of Bhuppi bhai. For the record, I feel greatly apologetic of my doings now.
Somehow whatever was mundane got a new appreciation because Bhuppi bhai showed us the light.
Movies were the latest novel experience of modernity influencing our way of life. He was very fond of watching movies (as were we!) at the Jagat (now Lakshmi) cinema hall and would exuberantly narrate and interpret the story to us as he understood it. We were too young to be allowed such extravagance as 5 annas for a movie and so greedily lapped up whatever story he doled out. He was much taken up by the fight scenes of ‘Hunterwali’, ‘Bhagta Bhoot,’ ‘Tatar ka chor’, and such like. He would tell us the action scenes for us to enact and make Dhiri bhai and me wrestle like those actors and sometimes even joined in. If we tried saving ourselves using our own moves, he would immediately retort with-“Did I tell you to do this? This is not how it was in the picture. Just follow as I say!”
Once while visiting Baoji, he spotted a one-eyed mare belonging to the washer man, grazing serenely near the lower end of the house where its master lived. We were already there at Nawada before Bhuppi bhai’s arrival. Having assessed how things stood, he informed us about a movie running in the hall that week. He asked us to collect whatever money we had so we could all go. We fell short of money by 3 annas and became resigned to not being able to see it after all. Not one to give up we were reminded that there must be some money kept in the pooja room and I was sent in to retrieve the required amount. Pocketing the 3 annas, we slipped out of the house and one by one climbed up the mare’s back who patiently stood near the ‘khala’ or the nullah where her master had left her in the morning to graze. We trotted across the Rispana river, followed the railway tracks along Ajabpur, reaching the jungles near Kodikhana where the railway station was (still is!). We left it there on a grassy patch where it continued nibbling the grass as if it had brought us there regularly, while we went inside the hall. The national anthem played itself out as we stood still and I especially took this time to calm my nerves at the consequences of this adventure. Then the trailers of other new movies to be released soon appeared on the big screen and I forgot all about Baoji, the washer man or the mare.
The puzzled washer man in the meantime had already reached Baoji, having worked out what must have happened.
“Baoji, do you have any idea where Bhuppi and Dhiri beta are?”
“Now that you ask, I haven’t seen them since noontime.”
“Ah...what do I say baoji? I too haven’t seen my mare since noon.”
When we came out, we found the mare having fed to her heart’s content, standing patiently for us near the station.
We came back home the same way we’d gone, preparing for what was in store.
Let’s not get into that!
~~~~******~~~~Music was a big part of our lives. Dhiri bhai had a lovely voice and also knew how to play the drums while Bhuppi bhai had a great talent for playing the flute. Observing his giftedness a well wisher once advised Bhuppi’s father to provide for special tuition or classical training to hone his skills. In response the well wisher was met with almost a rebuke for putting forth such a ridiculous idea and “If he plays this, how will he feed himself?”
But playing in Nawada was an experience in itself! The notes coming from the flute would float liltingly through the air between one oak tree to the next, filling the whole forest with its echo that somehow became so out of this world! The lush forests bore a great variety of wildlife and it was a common sight to see a herd of barking deer make its way to the khala. It indeed was a place fit for the ‘rishi- munis’ of the yore.
Jungles were fuller with greenery and hence the bountiful wildlife in all of Shivaliks. Come evening and there would be scores of rabbits dashing their way towards where our fields stood. It was the same at my paternal village, Nakronda too. They along with pigs, deer, fowls, porcupines would dig out the vegetables growing in the season, from the earth and create havoc generally.1 To discourage such unwanted visits, Narinder mama- himself a very good shot, would hand over his gun to me to target the raiders.
Whatever kill we made was then brought home to be cooked but separately- away from the main kitchen. I must confess I had developed a great taste for the non-vegetarian food and always partook of it heartily.
Going on such hunting trips provided me with the outdoor settings I so loved to be in- roughing out in adverse surroundings, the thrill of the wild, the alertness required, the silent trek for hours on end so as not to alarm our hunt- all this excited me a lot. Whenever anyone planned a trip, I was automatically included in it.
1 The Forest officials permitted license holders to hunt for those foraging animals whose population had increased and were damaging the farmers produce. In the village, it was not uncommon then for people to go hunting from time to time. The restrictions came later when the wildlife started getting depleted by the senseless killings for fun or by the poachers. In the British times whenever any British officer visited Dun, special hunting trips were organised in their honour. This custom was carried on for some time even after the British had left India. The forests were then replete with barking deer’s and the Barah Singha stags but the latter are seen no more. Many an old house may still possess the grand antlers of the stags that were used as decoration pieces. The harmony between nature’s abundance and man’s requirements has been broken irreparably not just due to human greed but also by the indiscriminate allotment of licenses for hunting.