Memories of a Receding Past: 4

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Even the Public Health officials would periodically visit the same crossroad. There used to be a water hydrant embedded in the un-metalled road generally overlaid by dust. They would sweep away the dust and screw on a fairly thick upright pipe that would stand up about couple of feet from the ground. To it they would attach a hose of compatible dimensions and switch on the tap embedded in the hydrant with their implement. Water would gush out of it with a huge force which they would direct to drains on both sides of the roads. The hose used to be long enough to cover most of the drains on the four lanes that I could see. The government of the princely state was obviously quite keen on cleanliness and sanitation.

The operation would be performed, if I remember, twice a year or so. That the drains of even the lanes like ours used to be washed and cleaned says much about the civic administration of the city of those days. Surely, the main roads too were given similar, if not better, treatment. I recall seeing upright hydrants sticking out of the pavements in some areas like Jayendragunj, like I saw later in Bombay and much later in Central London. I believe not many towns of the size of Gwalior had either drains or hydrants to clean them or to fight fire. In another decade or so, with the advent of independence and, I dare say, demolition of the princely order, all these niceties of municipal services were progressively given a go by. No one knows what happened to the hydrants or to the underground pipes that were connected to the supply source.


Another interesting activity used to be of Abdullah, the tonga-walla who used to live in the basti in the lane that went westwards. He used to have a dark, elegant looking horse and he used to take great care of it. After the day’s rounds of carrying people to various places in the town he would leisurely bring the tonga (horse-drawn cart) to his place and prepare feed for it. Later he would walk the horse to the crossroad down below and let it have a good roll in the dust. Obviously the horse would like it and with gentle persuasions from Abdullah it would continue its roll from one side to another with apparent relish. After it had done with its rolls Abdullah would walk it back to its pad near a tree where he would tether it for the night. In the mornings we could see him massaging his legs before he hitched the horse to his impeccably-maintained tonga for the usual daily grind.

Abdullah used to look quite formidable yet he was a very friendly sort. Tall, dark with a sword-like mustachio he would always be in his white, what is now known in the subcontinent as the, Afghani dress. He would also always have his maroon fez cap perched on his head with tassels hanging on one side. Fez caps have virtually disappeared; now no one seems to be using them. I am not sure but it seems to have been replaced by the crocheted white skull-hugging cap. Abdullah would always look up at our veranda as he went past the house in his tonga and as soon as he spotted me he would call out to me.

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More by :  Proloy Bagchi

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