Sweet memories of my Childhood in Jammu Tawi by Anurag Sharma
After reading a friend's memories about Jammu & Kashmir, I thought of writing about my early life in Jammu. I loved the the place then. And it still fascinates me. I wish to go there and meet my childhood friends and revisit all the areas where I lived and roamed around.
I lived twice in Jammu city. Once when I was five. Second when I was in fifth grade. This is the fourth city I remember since my birth. Because I was there at five, I remember a lot more compared to the other three. Mostly sweet memories with one lethal accident. First time when I was in Jammu, we lived in a neighborhood called Talab Tillo.
There were several canals in the area. These were tributaries of the Ranbir canal. I remember passing by some of the fast flowing streams with my father. My father worked for a paramilitary force which was looking for a large tract of land to establish a new campus. Those days, his office was in temporary tents on the banks of the Tawi river. The city of Jammu got its official name "Jammu Tawi" from this river which merges into Chenab somewhere near Akhnoor. The river wasn't too far as I remember going there on a school picnic besides several visits with my father. I have some of my earliest memories of attending a school in Jammu.
Mr Khajuria was our landlord. I don't remember about his job but I know that he was a part time life insurance agent too. He had two sons Shivkant and Ravi. Ravi was my age. This was the first house where I saw the first luxury of my life, a huge ivory white ceramic bath tub. The area was still coming up. Most of the houses were new. The roads were being built. The region was full of wild bushes with colorful flowers with wild fragrances flowing in the air.
I have many scattered pieces of colorful memory of those days. One scene is about a Lohri celebration when girls presented a short skit probably on a religious theme. That was one of the most fascinating scene I could remember from my early life. A huge bonfire in the middle of a large square and a group of lively young girls wearing yellow-orange dresses with red ribbons tied on their forehead. The melodies were floating in the air. "Hille ni maye hille, do beri pattar phulee, do phull payian khajooran...."
I still remember a sad young boy standing outside his house alone and telling every passerby, "your brother died". Later I came to know that the only brother of this boy got flushed away in the river when both of them were enjoying cool water on a hot afternoon. Since then he kept repeating the same sentence everyday. Knowing his mental situation well, nobody objected his words.
There used to be a song "Khush hai Zamana Aaj Pehli Taarikh Hai" on radio fist day of every month. "Bindiya Chamkegi, Choodi Khankegi" was another popular song of those days. There was some celebration at school, probably that of the Independence Day. I decided to sing "Bindiya Chamkegi" on stage. But my mother convinced me that this kind of song was not appropriate for the occasion and my song got replaced with a patriotic song. I did my performance pretty well. To my shock, some other boy sang "Bindiya Chamkegi" on stage and that too in much worse voice than mine. I was really upset with my mother who stole my chance of shining for that song.
Fireflies, berries and hopscotch
It was in the Jammu city where I developed an outlook about life for the first time. The credit of whatever I am can be passed to this city. The city enriched a five year old child emotionally and intellectually. This is the city that taught me to fight with death. How, we'll see later.
It was here at Tillo Talab, that I noticed the horizon for the first time. Looking towards the direction of my home while coming back from my school, I saw the sky meeting the Earth almost at my home. After reaching home when I tried to find that meeting point, I was disappointed. But then I saw the same phenomenon taking place almost at my school. The magic of seeing the sky meeting the Earth at close distance and disappearing when you arrive there was wonderful. It was almost like magic. The magic kept entertaining me for pretty long time.
Every day provided an opportunity of finding something new and exciting. There was a lot to learn from my surroundings. I still remember the feeling of curiosity that always remained with me in those days. Anything new excited me. During daytime, we used to play in creeks called Khadd in local language. The Khadd-Yatra was our mini-trekking. We used to explore the flora and fauna of the Khadd. Occassionally, we found exotic stones there. But our favorite were Garne. Garne is some kind of tiny wild berry which used to taste pretty good those days.
Fireflies still fascinate me. Now a days I don't see them at all. Probably we killed all of them with indiscriminate use of the pesticides. In the 1970, evenings were brightened by the fireflies. All children used to run after them. Girls use to wrap them gently in their chunni/dupatta. Besides capturing fireflies, the girls used to play a local version of hopscotch called Stappoo.
They also did rope skipping. I still remember my mother playing with the girls in the neighborhood.
A good Samaritan
A big hole was being dug in the backyard of Mr Khajuria. It was cut in shape of a circle and looked like a well. It was not too deep as I came to know later. But it was big, at least for a five year old. We were asked not to get close to the site. Ravi was a little daring. That's why he always had some wounds either on his hands or legs. Once he even got stuck into a narrow metal cylinder and was taken out with help of a professional. He being the bravest had actually peeped inside the well and told us that it was so deep that even if an elephant falls into it, it won't be visible.
Now I guess that probably the hole was being dug for a septic tank and might actually be as deep as Ravi described. Anyway, then all we knew that we were not supposed to get close to the place. One evening, when I was playing, I heard loud noise from the backyard. Curious as I was, I rushed towards the venue. I saw a large crowd around the well. People were dropping stones, bricks and the sandbags inside the well as if they were trying to fill it up.
I was puzzled. First they dig up a hole and then fill it up. Why at all they have to do it if they don't intend to keep it? Ravi, as usual, quenched my thirst for knowledge. "Our cow Gowri fell into the well". he said, "...they all are trying to reduce the depth of the well so that it can come out easily."
The good Samaritan inside me woke up. In fact that is the first time in my memory when I stood up to help another creature. I picked up a piece of a brick and marched towards the well. There were people all around me. They all were much taller. Some of them were so engrossed in the scene that they didn't even notice a little boy coming to help them.
With my brick, I reached to the edge of the well. Careful not to peep into the well, I dropped my brick and ran away from the well. I heard the cow mooing as if she thanked me for my first act of bravery. At the same time, I heard shoutings from the humans too. They all shouted about some naughty boy throwing a piece of brick that actually hit the cow and it cried in pain. Nobody could recognize the naughty boy who did it though. That was first time when I realized that we may end up hurting others even when we believe that we are helping them
Duniya se jane wale
That was a carefree time. I did not know about responsibilities. No ill-will against anyone, just the state of eternal bliss. Playing games, humming songs, talking to friends was all I did most of my time in those days. I mentioned about Bindiya Chamkegi earlier. That song was popular. But the song I sang most was different. My favorite song then was "Sawan ka mahina, pawan kare soar" originally sung by Mukesh. I did not know the singer nor the name of the movie. All I knew was the joy I got from singing that song repeatedly.
My parents are fond of Hindi cinema. They always enjoyed Hindi movies. I remember watching two films in Jammu, Geet and Pushpanjali. I remember many scenes from Geet but it was Pushpanjali that left a lasting impression on me. That was the first time when I thought about death. Everything in this world was mysterious at that age. And the death was even more mysterious than everything else taken together. The song "Duniya se jaanewaale jaane chale jaate hai kahaan" from Pushpanjali became the verbal representation of my curiosity about the end of life. Even today I find myself singing these lines in my mind. The mystery of life and death still puzzles me with the same intensity as it did decades ago.
The thought of death made me feel sad. While looking at death on silver screen, I had no idea that I was going to face death soon.
Somersaults with death
I don't remember the exact date or the month. All I know that it was either second half of the 1970 or the first half of the 1971. It is more likely to be 1970. It was a nice bright day. No rains, not even a cloud. The team was out for some fun and adventure.
Ravi was with me. Others formed a group of their own. I don't know who all were there in other group except Shivkant, Ravi's older brother. Now I guess that it was their adventure trip. They were probably not aware of the fact that two little creatures were following them. We passed through very interesting areas full of scenic beauty. There were some patches of barren land, probably plots for housing. But mostly all our path was full of butterflies and wild flowers of various colors.
We arrived at an isolated road. It was a narrow road surrounded by trees. Similar to those seen in cantonment areas. There was a canal adjacent to the road. The canal ran parallel to the road. The sound of the flowing water was like music to my ears. The water was crystal clear. I could see the bed of the canal through the flowing water. I can tell you that I had never seen such a beautiful place in my whole life.
There were two or three steps from the road into the river. The gang stepped into the water and started playing with it. Ravi and I sat on the staircase and looked at the happy souls. After some time Ravi too dived into the water. I followed him. I did not know anything about water or swimming. I still remember that I was fully dressed when I jumped into the water. Even my slippers were on. The water was not too deep. It probably came up to my shoulders. But it was cold. And it was flowing very fast. Much faster than my imagination. The flow did not let me stay at one place. The current was so fast as if someone was pushing me from behind. Within moments, it started taking me away with it.
I struggled hard to stay at one place. The terra firma was not firm at all. My feet went deep inside the sand. They shifted from the place whatever hard I tried to anchor them. I saw my slippers floating before my eyes. The water kept pushing me and I kept resisting with all my strength. I did not want to die without exploring this beautiful world. Finally, the forces of the flowing water and my resistance formed some kind of equilibrium where I found myself doing somersault in the stream. I don't remember what happened next. I am completely blank about anything after my somersaults in the lap of the goddess of death. It seems that the gang noticed my struggle and came to my rescue. I don't know if they could do it on their own or took help from any adults. One thing is sure that they succeeded in saving my life. That is why I am able to go back and write this experience so calmly. I don't have any memory of my parents' reaction to it. I remember only one thing. My first promise. Either while losing my battle with the stream or sometime after regaining my consciousness, I made a promise to myself. I pledged to learn swimming.
© Anurag Sharma