I grew up in 'urban' west Delhi in the 80s, where the only car around was the neighbour's fiat, which had to pushed by 4 people, whenever it was started, once in a month or so. Most of the time it used to be covered in a tarpaulin. Many memories...the cricket on the streets, the stapoo and what not. Well...I am writing a book on that, so you will have to wait for those memoirs.
This post is not about Delhi but my connect to rural Himachal, while growing up in the Delhi. I belong to a small town called Hamirpur in Himachal Pradesh and that was the place where I got to spend my May-June school holidays. Yes...we used to spend about 45 days back home in Himachal away from the city hustle bustle. Yes...there was a lot of hustle bustle in Delhi back then. I dont have a word in my dictionary to describe the current status of things in Delhi.
This catapulting from urban Delhi to semi-urban Hamirpur was quite something, considering Hamipur was a town of about 10-15 thousand people back then and everybody knew everyone. I sometimes wondered how everybody in the bazaar knew me..every shop I went. And back in Delhi...I think only the local grocer knew who I was.
Well...my summer holidays went further deep into Himachal...to a small village called Makteri, about 22 kilometres from Hamirpur town...thats where my maternal grandparents lived. I would definitely spend a week or so here out of total quota of 45 days holidays.
Thats the first village I know on this planet. My Nana named Khushi Ram was a retired subedar of the Indian Army, Dogra Regiment, who had retired to a farmer's life in Makteri exactly what his father did (who was in the British Army) and exactly what his son/s would do some decades later (Dogra Regiment).
Now this post was not meant to be a family history one but I guess its turning out to be. Let me be a little more considerate even while I exercise the liberty because its my perosonal blog and not my travel or education blog.
I did a lot of things there...feeding the cattle and buffaloes of every other household in the village (in the goads or cattle houses) and trips to the forest along with my Maami's (maternal aunts...which is not an exact translation of Maami because a maternal aunt could also mean Maasi, which is Mom's sister. Let me just leave this as its complicated). These trips could mean a) to collect forest wood b) to cut grass to be fed to the cattle or c) to wash clothes at a local spring which we call 'cho'. There were no piped water supply to the village then and we had to go to a local 'baoli' or 'bori'...which we used to call 'baan', to fetch water.
Anyways...coming to the point...one of my favourite passtimes was to feed Neela and Bagga, the two ploughing oxen of my maternal grandfather (hence forth called Pitu...as thats what I used to call him). Pitu was very fond of them and proud too as he had got them from a village on the other side of the 'dhaar' or mountain range....walking. Neela was bluish grey in colour and Bagga was whitish I guess and that was the reason for their names. They also had fixed positions as to who would be on the right side of the plough and who on the left. I was very petrified of them as they were huge but I loved feeding them. I would uproot some grass shrubs around and throw at them as they would swallow them immediately making a strong breathing sound and bringing out their huge greyish black tongue out.
May June are the season for sowing maize in Himachal and it used to be big time work for the entire maternal family as we landed there for a vacation from Delhi. So, while my Mom would catch up with old friends from the village, who had also been married off but were back for a visit, I would tag around with some of my Maami's, younger Mama's or Pitu...off to the fields.
Ploughing the fields was quite a logistical exercise, which I wasnt a part off. When I would wake up and have breakfast, I would be told that one of my Maami's is going to a certain field (fields zones had names...my favourite was 'Budaan' fields) carrying tea or lunch. Pitu and Mamas would probably have been ploughing since 5 am...while I landed there around 9. Once I would reach...I would find a field being ploughed, Neela and Bagga at their job now wearing muzzles lest they get distracted by the grass on the 'beeds' or sides in a terrace field. Terrace farming is practiced in the mountains to create fields. My Mama or Pitu would be making interesting sounds as Neela and Bagga pulled the plough. My favourite was 'Alen Ha' 'Aleh Ha' and then it would be 'de kach!!', the meaning of which I knew...it meant 'about turn'... as the plough was pulled up from the field and the oxen turned about...it was put again in the soil to go to the other end of the field. Neela-Bagga knew all the commands.
There were would be lot of birds running around in trail of the plough to grab a moth or worm. They were mostly egrets or hill mynas. Oh...and I forgot...in the trail would also be one of my Maami...who would be holding seeds in a 'chakku' (a small basket) and dropping them one by one into the furrow to be eventually covered by soil spilled over by the furrow made right next to it, as the plough came back after completing one round. You would need to have seen a field being ploughed to probably make sense of what I am writing here.
But this post is also not about this...but let me tell you one more funny thing before I come to the real topic of this post. Finally..when the ploughing and seeding of a field was done...it was all topsy turvy with some huge chunks of soil still lingering around (These chunks were called 'dheeman'). These had to be smashed flat with an instrument, the name of which I do not know but the process was called 'dheeman pannana' or literally breaking of the soil chunks. I would be given this instrument which was a stick with a boat shaped wodden shaft at the end. You just had to pick it up and smash the dheeman or soil chunks. All this would make the soil look like soil and not large chunks of soil around. I would do some and get tired.
But one last thing had to be done before the field could be left to the rain gods. It was 'Maira'...my favourite. So, you had to flatten or level the ploughed soil on the field to make it plain. This was done after having some snacks on the sidelines, a cup of tea or lassi and perhaps a nap. Neela and Bagga would also get a peda or a ball of dough as they have been working hard. The plough was now replaced with a special attachment....the 'maira'...which was a wooden plank at the end of the plough device. It didnt plough through the ground but just levelled the undulated soil. This meant that it could be done at a fast pace and Neela and Bagga could just walk and pull fast. The Ploughing man just stands on that plank to give weight as the oxen pull it. Now a small kid could definitely stand on the plough as well and enjoy this joy ride from one end of the field to the other. I just loved it and it is one of the most joyful rides I have ever had in my life, as I stood between the feet of Pitu or one of Maama's and shout in exhiliration as it moved....the tails of Neela-Bagga often brushing my face as I was short.
Now all this took place when I was between 5-12 years old...every year I was witness to this. And then I grew up...tractors somehow started reaching these terrace farms as Hamirpur is in the foothills ...people sold their oxen and now none are to be found in the villages... and so did the all the implements associated with ploughing....the plough...the harnesses etc...and I too grew up to be a college graduate rarely visiting Makteri and then into a job which would never give me so much time to be visiting Makteri. Pitu left us and so did Bobo ( my maternal grandma)...and now I visit my Mama's once in a while on some occasions. Nobody goes to the forest now and people have sold cattle except for one of my Mama's. Washing machines have come in and what not.
In one of my occasional visits I went to the 'goad' or cattle house where all cattle of the family used to be and on the walls perched amongst cob webs...I saw the 'hal' or plough of my Nana. I told my Mama I want to take it to Delhi...he started laughing and said sure. He thought I was joking. But soon it dawned on him that I was serious... I made him take it out and give it to me. I said I will put it in my drawing room (which was not to be). I put it in the dicky of my car and got it to Hamirpur (the town, where my parents live now and where I belong). It was again put in the 'goad' in our house in Hamirpur. Yes...we are amongst a few privileged in Hamirpur town to have a goad of our own...which is now a store room. I made a facebook post about it and had many likes including from my professor from JNU. But it remained there for a year as I started the process of convincing my wife to take it to Delhi and put it in the drawing room of our brand new apartment in Delhi... The luxurious (I call it janta luxuriuos) Mahagun Moderne (notice the 'e' at the end of Moderne). But she didnt seem impressed with the idea.
I told my wife...its going to be a trend...my boss put a used cart wheel in his drawing room. My boss proudly told me...this cart wheel has moved places. I narrated that conversation with my boss to my wife. But nothing could convince her as she thought its a misfit in a drawing room. And finally I got it when she said "for God sake its a drawing room and not a museum or art gallery!"
I got the point and started looking at alternatives. I found that I was doing agriculture in the balcony of my 16th floor apartment and may be the wall of my balcony would be a good idea. I shared it with my wife and she readily agreed. It still didnt happen for a month as I had to get it polished, which I did at the Amar Colony furniture market. I kissed the moist hands of the guy who polished it...they smelled of warnish..some bit of it got on to my lips. Later, I had to look for a right harness to fasten it to the wall so that it doesnt fall down.
In this duration as I was getting my plough done up and do all the logistics to hang it... my wife agreed to put it in the drawing... with one 'shart' or 'condition' that I would never every interfere in any other house furnishing matter, ever in my life. I thought it was too big a shart and decided to put it in my balcony.
and I am happy to announce that to the world now. My Nana Khushi Ram's (literally Happy Ram) hal (plough) has reached Mahagun Moderne from Makteri and I am ploughing happy (Khushi) thoughts.
That plough has touched every inch of soil and land that belonged to Pitu...everytime I touch it...I feel goosebumps.
P.S - Remembering Pitu, Bobo, Pampa, Paunu, Maddi, Giddu and So Mamas and all my Maami's. Love you all.