There is something infectious about this hill town.
The craving to come back here has escalated remarkably with each passing year. Thankfully, the period of deprivation and constant yearning ceases with the arrival of summers. The soul instantly rejuvenates amidst the healing deodars and the calming breeze, the steep slopes and the meandering alleys. It finds solace even in the clusters of haphazardly built homes and the traffic chaos, the crowded roads and the flood of tourists. Yes it does!
My yearly summer sojourn in Shimla is a stress reliever and reminiscent of the days that have shaped me into what I am today.
The other day, as I watched a bunch of school children with visibly heavy bags on their backs, climbing the narrow alley uphill and with hardly any sign of exhaustion on their faces, it took me back into time when I carried more or less the same expression without a complaint.
We had a school routine that stretched beyond the normal hours of the day and homecoming, entirely at the mercy of weather gods and the obsolete Himachal Roadways school bus. Notwithstanding the fact that the after school hours were mostly deficient of the evening play and largely devoid of recreational space and the left over energy squeezed by the never ending home works; I can’t recall cribbing being part of the hills.
The way life sculptured in this hill town was in fact a reward in terms of ‘simplicity of existence’. The less was more indeed. Our initial two room rented accommodation was our abode for a long time. I grew from a child to a teenager in that little space with all the big dreams.
It amuses me even more, as I recall those times when commuting was a struggle in itself. It used to be a long wait for the local buses and securing a seat in the overcrowded sole public transport then, was an achievement in itself.
Life wasn’t all plain sailing, yet it was far more uncomplicated and desirable. The compensation lay in the little gratifications.
A stroll on the Mall road, a horse ride on the Ridge, a visit to my favorite pastry shop, and coming back with a mandatory cone of vanilla ice cream in one hand and an eye on that irresistible yet out of reach expensive dress in one corner of the famous showroom opposite Gaiety theatre, made for those priceless childhood memories.
The weather in Shimla was one significant aspect that altered our moods and choices turning it pretty much mundane; a perfect example of which was the three month long boring winter vacations that made us visibly entertainment starved. Social media and television expansion was yet to take off, so life was at the mercy of Doordarshan and the Hindi film video cassettes that we occasionally hired to elevate our bored senses. We probably were the few enthusiasts who willfully bribed our wilted hearts at that time with the condolence that ‘a bag full of excitement was waiting at the onset of spring’ as we waited in anticipation for the new school session to begin. Ironically, that is what I miss terribly today. A time when aimless conversations and sticking around each other mattered over fingers on gadgets.
The fact that these extended holidays coincided with a spell of heavy snowfall, candle light dinners and candle light conversations inevitably became part of the ‘nothing else to do routine’, courtesy the state electricity department. Probably I can’t forgive them for making our lives- the habitats of the frozen city, utterly unappealing and uninteresting in those days.
For that matter, the rains in Shimla have a knack of cheering me up even now, when I am miles away. Although, usually the clouds here relieve themselves with full force, nonetheless its mystical, refreshing and has the power to generate a plethora of emotions. It triggers nostalgia and memories cascade when friends post pictures of the monsoon laden city. The dense fog crawling gradually over the hills and every bit of the city drenched in vibrant hues post the life disrupting rains, exudes a raw charm that once uplifted our spirits despite the disarray it brought with it.
Once a calm and serene abode, Shimla has certainly metamorphosed into a set of unplanned & muddled structures taking away the sheen off its pristine beauty, however, the peace it still offers is unmatched.
Growing up in this small quaint hill town (although now it’s no more a small town) was a gift and a privilege, the realization of which dawned quite late in life. And sometimes I ponder, what if I was born in this age of life saving gadgets and the new found luxuries? What if I could escape all the dull moments then? But if that would have been the case, I wouldn’t have probably emerged a more accommodating and a tougher being.
I actually learnt my lessons in survival in every possible way; in the scarcity of amenities, in the exhaustion of climbing slopes, in the endless wait for buses, in the wintry discomfort, in the disrupting rains and in the absence of resources.
I am a proud product of the hills and my strength and perseverance for life has a lot to do with my spare parts being greased with the dis pleasures and hardships of life here. Yes, it made a big difference.