Thursday, 14 August 2014

Nainital O, Nainital O !-2

Under the British Crown, the Public Works Department or the PWD (known locally in the north Indian small towns I grew up in, as Pildabru) was created in India in 1859 . When Nainital was being rebuilt after the Great Landslide of 1880, its engineers did a remarkable job . The Victorian and Edwardian period also proved to be a period of great prosperity for the Indian subcontinent and its impact is visible in many of the heritage buildings created from Mumbai ( The Victoria Terminus) to Kumaon ( The Nainital Vice Regal Lodge now known as The Raj Bhawan ).
On the 15th of October, 1891, Nainital  and Almora were given the status of two separate districts. The officers in chief executive and magisterial charge of the new districts were designated as Deputy Commissioners . After this the building of Nainital as a tourist and leisure resort for the officials of the Crown began in earnest . A map of Nainital ( corrected upto 1887) shows that 235 estates and buildings had come up within the municipal limits of Nainital District. The INTACH has now identified 31 of those as valuable heritage buildings. Some of these were the Old London House building in Mallital bazaar, Hawksdale, MES Inspection bungalow, the Civil Courts and the Collector’s Offices, and Balrampur House and Guerny House (abode of Jim Corbett) in Ayarpata side.
I grew up with my siblings and cousins in a large, draughty and beautifully constructed but badly maintained house on the Ayarpata hillside. It had a very British sounding name : The Priory Lodge . A fire reduced it to a shell in the 1990s and now a multi storied building is coming up in its place, too ugly to stop by and stare at.
The name Ayarpata comes actually from a Kumaoni word Anyarpatt meaning totally dark. This hill stands opposite the sunny side of Nainital and then had thick forests of oak ( Baanj), Deodar and Surai ( Angrezi name?). The highest peak China Peak from whenth the disastrous landslide had emanated, stood to our left and each monsoon shook up the town with minor to not so minor landslides which make it look permanently scarred. The other peaks, Snow View and Tiffin top were to our right and in front stood the Ladiya Kaanta .During winter months, hungry she- bears or small Bagh ( called Kukurbagh as they killed the guard dogs and dragged them into forests) would sometimes be sighted in the vicinity of homes . Shadows descended during summer months on this side by 4 pm, and even earlier in winters . In winters the snow on Ayarpatta side took the longest time to melt. I recall being escorted to the school bus by our old Chowkidar who carried a spear ( Ballam) that he buried in the snow before hauling us ahead by hand.
Each day at nine o clock a siren sounded and school children going to the givernment schools began a long descent towards the Flats  and the Ghoda Padav, where our school buses arrived unerringly at 9.30. They waited for no one and if you missed it you must either hire a rikshaw ( which we could ill afford) or walk it . My siblings trekked it to the local Convent Schools that stood towards the other end of Ayarpatta. 
All through the year, barring the monsoon months,  the roofs of the town that lay beneath us, sported various kinds of preserves that housewives made for the long winters. These ranged from Badi and Mungauris made of legumes, to pickled fruit and last, but not the least, enormous balls made by mixing charcoal powder with cowdung that were lit in square Sigris and kept the interiors warm during the long winters . In monsoon months the same charcoal balls were used to dry thick school uniforms and sweaters . The steam, mixed with the furry smell of dogs and cats was an inescapable part of most homes we visited.
Each dialect reveals its innate inventive powers when describing a local phenomena (In eastern UP, for example, they have over two dozen names for various kinds of breezes and even more for clouds.) Kumaoni is rich in words describing various smells that emanate from houses that must be shut tight against cold. So we have Kidain ( smell of moths and roaches ), Bhupain ( a roasty toasty smell), churain( smell from blocked toilets) Syaudain ( the odor from damp fungal material) Hantarain ( smell of hair or skin burning) and so on..
To come back to Nainital . At Mallital as we stood facing the Tallital, the Smugglers’ rock was to our right. The ancient Pashan Devi temple there had rows upon rows of brass bells that tinkled constantly. In front of us was the (relocated) Naina Devi temple and the Mosque, Rikshaw stand and the Ghoda Padav ( open horse stables) stood to our left . The bazaar used a chain of coolies from Nepal who were even poorer than the locals and came cheaper. They delivered everything from impossibly heavy trunks to live chickens to homes and schools along the higher side . They sported metallic badges, were indescribably dirty and happy. They loved singing and in the evening after they had finished their day’s work and gone to sleep in the open ( possible only half the year) in the bazaar they sang sad songs happily, nudging and falling over each other. One song I still remember:
Kurta mailo Dhoti maili Dhvedinya koi chhai na,Pardesh maan mari joonlo ve dinya koi na..
(My top is dirty, my lower garments are dirtier but there is no one to wash them for me . One day I will die in this alien land and there will be no one to give me a proper cremation.)

This taught me one valuable lesson . One must not go by the obvious joy upon a singer’s face and think, ah what joy ! The joy mostly comes from the notes of music. The words will often tell a different tale.    


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