Being all alone these days in Shimla, am back to my favorite pastime of watching people in the evening. I try not to be intrusive but just observe the happenings around. My day or the evening starts at the Shiv Mandir just below the Mall. After darshan the babas sitting outside do not even look at me as I take out the chillars, normally the 1 rupee coin. This is a daily chore to relieve the wallet of the loose change. The best part of this temple I like is the self service feel to it. You do the darshan, collect the parsad yourself and there is no priest standing and looking down at you.
Coming back on the Mall, a round till the Toys shop and a dekko at the Asia Book House for a look at the latest best sellers. This place used to be a great store house of books, magazine and greeting cards. Now no one reads books and sends greetings using the postal mail. The shop has turned into a stationary shop. Their pen sales must be more than all the books combined. Thank god technology still has not taken pen, pencil, writing book from the class room away. There is a decent collection of best sellers from both fiction and non-fiction. The prices are prohibitive though as they sell mostly the international editions with prices mentioned in pounds and dollars. I remember back in college days, I would marvel at all the books. The prices were too steep for my pocket money then which was not even $5. The cover price would give me heart attack. After selecting a book, my hunt would take me at the Sunday market where I would find the same book in the following weeks at one tenth the original price. Now a days, I only find school and college guide books in the Sunday market. Either people have stopped buying books or seldom sell those books, like myself!
Out of the book shop and a glance at the Barista filled with all the PYT and HDG (handsome dashing guys) it is time for a cup of coffee at the Baljees. This place is more relaxed now as earlier it used to be a Barista for the youngsters. Now you get a table easily in the evening. The food is decent, nothing to rave about but the place is good enough for my sensibility. They play the satellite radio old hindi film songs. The owner Mrs. Baljees keep a tab with a CC TV installed at all corners. This is a perfect place for observing people. In evening hours you find the deals being stuck with the babus to get the file moving in the office. The local MLA visits this place regularly and there is a big crowd at his corner table. You have Bengali tourists visiting this place these days. The wife is talking about the shawl she saw in one of the shops and the husband telling her to forget it as it is just waste of money. “You not going to use a shawl in Kolkata”. Some more brooding and then a compromise being reached, “We will get one from Darjeeling as it is cheaper their.” All this is in chaste Bengali and here my four years stint in the City of Joy comes handy as I am quite conversant in the Bhadralok bhasha. Then there are the occasional foreigners nibbling a sandwich and reading all about Shimla in their holy book, The Lonely Planet. Though the first thing they check is all the below 300 rupee hotels listed.
The best part of leaving Baljees is the commotion of paying the bill. As soon as one guy picks up the bill, the other three try and snatch it from him. Two of the three are reluctant actors and there effort is just for the sake of the act. The other two are now wrestling with the piece of paper. Suddenly one guy takes out the wallet and asks the waiter, “Kitna hua?” and hands over the 100 rupee note. Seeing this the other guy pulls the money back from the waiter and instead hands him over his note. Very very funny indeed!! This scene is enacted at least three times over my cup of coffee.
Scandel point is a dampner these days. Remember the tall burly bunch of policemen with the best moustache in the entire force manning this corner. They are all gone and instead there are these chocolate policemen with a new uniform. These boys, they don’t look like men, I would rather call them chikna, as they call in Mumbai lingo. Gone is the elegannce of the khakhi and the big turban with red and white border. Instead these chaps look like the band-baja types in the new uniform. My 20 month old kid goes upto one of them clutching his leg! In my childhood I would get scared just looking at those big moustache and parents would put fear of those men for I being absolutely naughty on the Mall.
Coming back home the Chicken soup-boiled aandey chap is tending to his business, rather brisk business. The horsemen on the Ridge give me company back home and the cows too trudge along through Lakkar Bazaar. It is when all the cows and horses return home that I too find my way back. The family is away in Kotgarh these days so it is a milk and sandwich for dinner. The house misses the chirpyness of the little one. Sitting on computer is not fun anymore. I miss the mails getting deleted, the keys going missing, my phone getting lost, the walls becoming drawing board. I find it irritating finding things exactly where I left them last evening! Infact I miss the overall dis-order of the house.
So what has been keeping me off from the blog these days. Work of course and then I am catching up with all the reading as I have all the solitude. I am reading a mamoth 933 page Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. I have finished 700 pages and am inching towards the end now. I shall be updating you with my visit to Dalhousie and Dharamshala very soon, once the madness of the house resumes as it helps me concentrate on my thoughts in a proper fashion.
Wishing every one a great Dushhera. Let us all burn the Ravan within and leave this place a better one for our kids!