Memories of a Receding Past: 8

On summer nights we used to sleep out in the open on the terrace over the second floor rooms. It was a biggish terrace which used to be cooled with a lot of water earlier in the evening before the beds were made up right on the floor. We had a water outlet on the second floor and it used to get the public supply with enormous pressure. There were no personal tanks or pumps for water those days. It was 24/7 metred uninterrupted supply with such pressure that it would facilely climb on to the terrace. What is more, we could drink it right off the tap without any fears of infection; it was so well filtered and treated. It seems to be crime today to have wasted all those hundreds of litres of water for cooling the cement terrace that relentlessly received the heat during the long summer days from the overhead sun. But, there was no alternative. Separate lines for untreated water were just not there. Nonetheless, a feudal order had thought of uninterrupted 24X7 filtered water supply for its subjects which, alas, was discontinued as soon as the democratic regime took the reins in its hands.

From the terrace we could see the famed Gwalior Fort that was built on a 300 to 400 ft high hill dominating the town on the north. Its ramparts used to face us. Beyond them were the Houses which had the dormitories of the boys of the Scindia School, a public school for the children of the feudal gentry or those who could afford those high expenses on their wards. One such House was visible from our terrace with its dim lights. What was, perhaps, more interesting was that guns used to boom twice daily from behind the ramparts marking the hours of 12 noon and 9.30 at night. I wonder whether these would boom were meant to tell the people the time as most of the households could not afford watches and time-pieces or whether it was a practice continued since it was an army cantonment of the Scindias. The guns ceased to boom after the state was merged in the Indian Union.

The Fort remained a mystery for quite some time until the family went up to meet a former neighbour who was appointed a teacher at the School. The Fort has two approaches – one from the north that steeply climbs on to the Fort through a series of gates ending at Man Singh’s Palace. The climb was so steep that no motor vehicle could make it to the top in those days. One daring Air Force officer posted at Gwalior during the fag end of the Great War drove his station wagon up to Man Singh’s Palace creating quite a flutter in the town. However, for those who did not have motorised conveyance this was the access that was used as tongas would go right up to the entrance around which the Old Gwalior town had developed. Likewise, for the return trip tongas would be available down below. I remember going with the family climbing the steep slope on foot and then trudging about a kilometre and a half to the House where our acquaintance used to reside being the warden of the dorm.

The other approach was from the west and it was a more gradual climb to allow motor vehicles to go up. It climbs on to the fort with precipices on both sides with thick vegetation down below where tigers were reported to have been seen. On one side, across the precipice, there were huge rock cuts of Jain Tirthankaras on the rock face. This approach was the access for all those who used to visit the Fort or the Scindia School. I have fuzzy memories of the historic monuments located on the Fort but I clearly remember the elation I felt on spotting father’s Victoria College as I looked down from the parapets at the town sprawled in front. The Maharaja’s Jai Vilas Palace, of course, could very easily be spotted with its expansive grounds full of trees and manicured lawns.
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More by :  Proloy Bagchi

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