It is a surprise that I still remember the stay of that small town so vividly. Being from Air Force, we were supposed to get accommodation inside the Air base but due to circumstances we were to reside outside in the city. We had to stay in a rented apartment on the ground floor and our landlord resided on the first floor.
Our arrival was welcomed into the bungalow with lots of women in bright salwaar kammez and Parandi in the hair(a very fascinating hair accessory). The landlady was holding a thali of Aarti and welcomed my family with tilak and garlands much to our delight. Can one imagine welcoming the tenant with so much honor and respect? Even though I was just five years old I was so touched. The bungalow was sprawling. Floor was tiled in marble unlike the usual mosaic flooring I was used to in the government houses. There was a quaint little garden with lush green grass and flower beds. It was a beautiful abode.
Right outside the bungalow premises was a part of city that I saw was quite novel to me. Unlike the secure surroundings of an Air force base where nothing ever goes wrong. What I saw in front of the bungalow was a main road and there were not many buildings on the other side. Unevenly scattered, some abandoned others in use. Maybe to me they appeared very very distant but actually the buildings might not be that far apart (my five year old self is remembering …)
Was never allowed to go outside the bungalow gate on my own as there was a lot a traffic passing by and especially to me as I was from a different background and wasn’t used to civil traffic at all. There was another reason, that road bridged the National highway to the heart of Sirsa. So all the commercial traders trucks used to pass at high speeds.
As our landlord was a businessman himself, he introduced my father to people of his community. Hence, we got an opportunity to explore their lifestyle. It was way different than ours. My father used to report for duty by 7 am and used to be back home by 2 pm. Whereas their day began only after noon. For me it was a cultural shock, I wasn’t able to imagine a life like that. Being in their line of profession their day used to end at midnight everyday.
Cotton was produced in Sirsa, there maybe many other things also; but here just mentioning what have myself seen. The cotton balls were extracted from the plant and all of it were gathered together in a commonplace. They kept it all in the form of heaps. Had been to such a place where all these cotton balls were gathered to form huge heaps. Also, remember playing in one of them. It felt so soft and bouncy and warm. Had never seen anything like that before. Saw all around there were these tall cotton hills and near them were the trucks that got them, parked. My father had made friends with some business men there and they had invited us over for dinner, where we had “Sarson da saag and makke di roti” It was so authentic and delicious. It was December and cold it was, having that hot Sarson da saag in that weather was so apt. “Food must match the weather”; is so true.
Their houses too were closely built, each house had a terrace that was accessible by adjoining terraces. At that time, the constructions were basic brick and cement. I remember, across the road, at some distance was the school in which my mother taught. Even that was a basic construction and nobody minded it.
One thing that distinctly stood out; was the fact that everyone was there for every other person. Maybe their houses were closely built but lives too were like that. They all lived together as a closely knit community. Maybe thats the reason so many people from the colony turned up to welcome us. Their sorrows, joys celebrations were all done in a group. They were all for one and one for all. That’s where the strength of the community comes from. There were no lone fenders. Inspite of all types of personalities that exist they knew how to merge in one-another. Such was the rustic charm.
The local markets offered so much variety of fresh vegetables and fruits. I was least interested at that time, the “Parandis” were the star attraction. Was so thrilled when I got one. It was then when felt ‘one’ of them.
Sirsa has extreme climates, very hot in summers and shivery cold in winters. It was a herculean task to get up in the morning, shower and alight for the school bus especially in the winters. It was only one day in my entire stay that the school bus was cancelled due to extreme fog and cold in the morning. It was so so thrilling to get back into the blankets. Still cherish those unexpected surprises.
Once were we taken to the cotton farms on the outskirts of the city, there we saw actually how the cotton balls in that heap that I played in, came into existence. We saw a huge unending spread of whiteness on barely visible stalks of cotton plants. When one is conditioned to seeing plants with green leaves and colourful flowers , this sight was not easy to assimilate. Such is the marvel of mother nature. One is always awestruck at her glory.Feel so blessed to have witnessed many of such wonders.