Monday, March 17, 2008

Lazy Summers In Chandni Chowk

Every summer vacation my mom would travel with us three kids to Delhi to spend time with our nana-nani (maternal grandparents). It would be the height of summer and Delhi would be dry, dusty and unbearably hot.

My second brother would scoot off to my Dad's uncle within hours of landing in Delhi and my eldest brother and I would stay back with mom at her parents' home in Chandni Chowk.

My nana owned a quaint two-storeyed building in one of the winding bylanes, on the mouth of a narrow alley. On the ground floor was a tyre godown, on the first floor were two tenants with large joint families. The entire second floor housed just four persons: my grandparents and my aunt and her husband.

The floor between the first and the second story was a jaal, a see-through floor comprising half-inch-thick iron railings. You could sit on the second floor and casually look down into the bustling activity in either tenant's home! It was a bit like being in a special zoo which had horizontal railings. You could not only listen and watch domestic squabbles erupting downstairs but, if you wished, even participate in them.

The tenant families were fond of my mom though they couldn't suffer my aunt. If my mom happened to be sitting by the jaal they would look up and chat with her about her life in Bombay, about our school and our academic performance, and about recipes for Gujarati snacks and Bombay bhelpuri. My nani, a kind-hearted tyrant, took her role as landlady rather seriously and frowned upon my mom's easy banter with her "bothersome" tenants.

Buildings in Chandni Chowk are stuck to one another and you could probably travel all the way to the Red Fort hopping from one rickety terrace to another.

We kids would stay indoors throughout the day, sheltered from the singing heat, whiling time chatting with my nana or my aunt, playing chess with my uncle or reading books from the Delhi Public Library. But come twilight and we kids would go up to the terrace hauling buckets of water.

As we sprinkled water on the smouldering terrace, it would turn almost instantly into vapour, releasing mellow fragrance of wet earth.

Then we would fill up surahis (narrow-necked earthenware pots) with drinking water and place them next to each charpoy (string bed). And later, when the sun was finally down, we would unroll the bedding on each charpoy and make the beds so that they would be cool by the time everybody came up to the terrace to sleep.

As night descended, there would be a gentle, cool breeze wafting across the bustling terraces. The lights in the neighbourhood would begin to flicker alive in sleepy succession, from one household to another, and the sound of the cars would seem to recede into the distance.

If you lay down on the charpoy you could see the moon framed in a clear sky and a rich spattering of stars. And you could see the feeble light and the fluttering chrome yellow flag atop Sisganj gurudwara. Occasionally, you could hear faint strains of Sukhamani Sahib.

Those summer nights on the Chandni Chowk terrace were serene, soaked in quietude, almost blissful. And you could lie there dreamily till nani or mom hollered to get you down for dinner.

1 comment:

shival said...

Reminds me my summer days back in Gujarat. Almost same - blissful, peaceful, full of games and stories.

Good to see you after a long time. Hope to see more articles from you.

Thank you for this wonderful article, dear Shunyayogi :).