As the winter of 1990 set in, we moved to a newer better place. This was the third move. The place was in a mohallah of old Jammu city known as 'Chogan Salathian', overlooking the Tawi river from a high ground. The area is just next to Mubarak Mandi palace in Jammu, the power seat of old Dogra kingdom.
A century ago, in this mohalla lived the administrators and relatives of the old Dogra ruling class.
By 1990, some of them had already moved on to other destnations, leaving only their big old houses behind. At this place, we took on rent a diwan hall of an old haveli known as 'Diwan Ki Haveli'. It cost us nine hundred rupees a month. Given the conditions in which most pandits were living in Jammu at the time, it was the most luxurious place that money could rent. That hall is still the most specious room I have lived in, ever. I felt like a royalty. It still amazes me that more than a decade later when my father moved to Noida, Delhi-NCR, he took a hall on rent, quarter in size with no windows, that cost him around fourteen hundred.
The room came with no furniture. Previous owner had only left a copy of Gita and a small bronze statue of Krishna.
|New Door. The place was locked, no one lives here anymore. So, I couldn't go in.|
|Door of the house just opposite the haveli. The old door of the haveli looked something like this. It had those protective metal spikes.|
We carved three room out of the hall using bedsheets and curtains. In the first room: kitchen and parents. In the second room, the middle one: my parents and sister. Third room, near the door: uncle and guest room. I was free to live in any one of them. I liked the outer room the most in the day. It had a big old window on which you could sit and watch monkeys steal cloths. At night I would sleep in the kitchen, nestled between my grand-parents.
We also had an extra room. Under the stairs that led to the hall from the coutyard, we build a bathroom. Given the number of people living in the haveli, access to bathing space was going to be an problem. So building our own private bathroom was a good option. There was no shortage of water (at least not in winter), haveli had a big water tank, that looked like a white tiled walled swimming pool. Toilet, however was an issue. The entire Haveli, for its about fifty inhabitants, had only one. Of course, the door to it had no bolt. I now realize, it is a deliberate ploy. This way, whoever is inside, is always under threat of being forcefully removed if one does not get out in time after the first few warning knocks on the door.
|The window would be the one at absolute top (not clearly visible)|
The haveli was proving to be a mysterious playground for me. On the roof top, under a mud mould, I once found a bag of marbles. There must have been five hundred of those multi-coloured glass balls inside it. I didn't know how to play Kanchey, so I just kept giving them away to random people. I made friends. There was a Dogra boy in that house that used to make torches using match-boxes, pencil- cells and LEDS. Just opposite the hall, on an outer 'chajja', balcony, of the haveli, lived a family of 'Bhats' comprising an middle aged couple, a granny, an adult son and two young daughters. The son, jobless and with nothing to do, would often join me on the high roof in the evenings to watch the setting sun. From the roof you could see the entire old city covered in gentle red glow. He could play flute beautifully. He was a cross between Anil Kapoor and Jackie Shroff for his hair style and moustache. But he would never play that 80s tune.
I remember watching Aashiqui on a VCP in the haveli. The system had been brought on rent for viewing Bua's marraige cassette. The last time we had borrowed VCP, I had watched Rakhwala. It was summer of 1989. In 1991, Aashiqui with its songs was the rage in town. There was even a brand of Gutkha named after it. It still exist. The general rule back then, and still applicable, was: stay away from people who carry Aashiqui. It was flavor of anti-socials.
I had my first taste of racism here at this place. On the day we moved to the hall, me and my sister noticed a small park near by. We never had parks in Srinagar near our house. We played in house and not in public parks. Park was a novelty. In Srinagar only the newer colonies like Chanpora had them. We wanted to explore the park. However, I remember getting chased away from the park by kids. Moments ago they had been teasing monkeys. And now they were on to us. As we enter the park, they told us we did not belong to the place. That we were outsiders. Kashmiris. They wouldn't let us enter. Their language was new to my ears. In that moment, it was the language of primal violence. We ran.
A few months later, I celebrated my first Holi at the same park. There was no Holi in Kashmir, atleast never like the one in Jammu. When I first heard what people in Jammu did on Holi, I thought of hiding away. There was no escape. On the day, a toli reached our place. Uncle had his kurta torn away. He was blue. I was red. Everyone was drenched in water, some mud. There was much dancing on the street. I think some of the men were drunk. A few years later, I was among the Holi toli people.
|The monkey park|
|Way round the house.|
|The place nearby where a relative lived. The room on the roof is gone and the house|
|House of monkeys|
The only other significant event that occurred during over stay at this place, also involved an animal. Grandfather game home one day with a swollen hand. Billoo Bhel, Billoo The Great Bull, had swung his tail at him. Tail had barely brushed past grandfather's hand but given him a swelling. Billoo Bhel was a legend of old city. The size of Billoo Bhel was just as huge in real life as it was in tales about him. And as nasty was his temper. If Billoo Bhel took a nap in the middle of the road, the road would get blocked, but no one could dare to get it to move. No one would even honk the horns on their cars. They would just for him to move. Every one knew what Billoo was capable of when angry. There shops in the area that have broken furniture laying about, a victim of Billoo's blind rage. It is said once an army vehicle tried to get Billoo to move. National business could not be stopped on account of a sleeping stupid bull. Billoo didn't care. He just rammed their vehicle off the road. Billoo Bhel ruled the area like a king. Everyone knew him, everyone was afraid of him, everyone cursed him, but everyone knew a tale of two about him and liked to talk about him. To honor him I stopped wearing red as he was always said to be offended by that color. But that didn't stop him from chasing my cousins once even though they were not in red. Billoo Bhel was a freak. It is said he was poisoned (or shot dead) a few years later.
|Billoo Bhel's spot|
|Galli Wazir Sobha Ram, wazir under Pratap Singh.|
|I saw things in Jammu that I would not have seen in Kashmir|
Thing that never seize to amaze me
The day we left that hall for another refuge, while packing things up, I accidentally knocked the Krishna statue over from a shelf. It's base fell off. Inside the hollow of the statue, I found a dozen old lithographs depicting various scenes from Hindu mythology done in what I now recognise as basohli art. I can't say how old those lithographs were. I packed them back inside the statue and left them as they were. Sometimes, I still wonder if I should have stolen them. I wonder if it is still there.
|A town fascinated with 'Kala Bhoot'|