Memories of a Receding Past: 15

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The school can wait for the time being. Some more memories are streaming in.

More than three quarters of a century ago I think we Indians were very simple people – honest, sincere and loyal. When I look back I find these very values in several of my father’s students who were not only tremendously respectful towards him, they were also truly very fond us.

However, I do not recall the same attention towards their children by the students any of my father’s colleagues. Maybe, I never tried to find out. Nonetheless, our next door neighbour, for instance, was my father’s colleague and was professor of Hindi. He too had five children; the eldest one was a year younger than me. But I did not find any of his father’s students taking him out. In fact many of his father’s students were more frequent visitors in our house.

One of the names that readily comes to mind is Shiva Mangal Singh “Suman” who later became a leading poet in Hindi Literature winning several literary and national awards. A robust and handsome man, he would come and spend the evening talking to my parents and the children and occasionally would recite his poems or have whatever was cooked by mother. Much later in early 1970s I met him at the UPSC where I used to be Dy. Secretary. He introduced me to his companion who was the legendary Hindi poet, Ramdhari Singh “Dinkar”. They had been invited by the UPSC to act as experts for recruitment against some senior level posts.

The Saxena brothers Bajrang and Girdhar, along with Bhim Sen who used to live close to us were always solicitous and very friendly. They, with another Saxena boy, Gauri Shankar, would take us along in the evenings for strolls. I distinctly remember the antics of Gauri Shankar on his bicycle on the dry bed of Katora Taal , a pond that is still there near the college. He was an excellent cyclist and could perform numerous antics even as he was astride the bike.

Likewise there were others like Deep Narain Singh, Panna Lal Chaturvedi or Brij Kishore Dixit who would come to visit father in the evenings. I remember Brij Kishore Dixit would take three youngest of us out to his room in the hostel that was not far from our house. In summers he would get small cups of ice cream for us from a shop in front. After giving us a treat he would take us back home.

In today’s somewhat wicked India this kind of solicitude would be viewed with suspicion. Those were innocent days, people used to think and act straight. There was nothing ulterior about it as father could not have done any favour to them at the exams as those were conducted by the university at Agra that had colleges affiliated to it from Rajputana to Western UP and Malwa to Gwalior and Mahakaushal. Their attitude towards our parents was traditional guru-shishya (teacher-disciple) type, purely respectful and committed – a very straight and honourable relationship.. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who went on to become the prime minister of the country, actually used to address my father as "Gurudev".

I visited the zoo many times in the company of these boys (they were boys then, now they are all gone).Gwalior used to have a well stocked zoo which was inside a very extensive green area known as Phool Bagh. They would take us there especially on the day when a buffalo would be let in to the tigers’ den. There would be a crowd in front of the building of two levels where tigers used to be confined to witness the gory sight. It was nothing much; the buffalo had no chance against a couple of hungry tigers who would attack it simultaneously. Many years later in 1966 I saw a similar sight in Kanha National Park where till then they used to put a buffalo out as live bait for visitors to witness the kill.

Phool Bagh was a huge complex of gardens, a zoo, an aviary a bara dari and a Theosophical Lodge sited on a small hillock. Father’s colleague, Professor Badri Narain who used to teach History and perhaps also was Theosophist used to live on the premises. He was a very welcoming person and though he and his family used to live in relative isolation away from bazaars they had always something to offer to us. His daughter later married Shriman Narain who was the president of the grand old party the Indian National Congress for some time.

What was the most unique feature as we saw it then in Phool Bagh was a building having in it as many as four places of worship for four different religions – a temple, a mosque, a church and a Gurdwara.. I wonder whether it is still there. This only exhibited the pronounced secular trait of the princely state. I have in my lifetime travelled practically in every state in the country but have not come across such an evidence of a culture that was so pronouncedly composite.

The structure was located plumb on the road that led to the Jai Vilas Palace only to be obstructed by its massive steel gates. Through these gates also used to pass a narrow gauge railway line that used to connect the Palace with the Gwalior narrow gauge railway station. The Maharaja’s own luxury carriages would come right into the Palace to pick him up whenever he would go out for hunts to Shivpuri, Kuno, etc. When Marshal Tito, the president of now-defunct Republic of Yugoslavia, came to Gwalior he travelled on this line marveling at the kind of luxury Indian princes enjoyed. He was taken right on to the platform inside the Palace portico.

Phool Bagh also had within its confines Moti Mahal, the State’s secretariat. It used to be a very beautiful building with a central hall and offices all around. It was surrounded by greenery, ponds and fountains. It used to be deserted when we would happen to go there as the offices would by then wound up their work. In any case, the working hours used to be very short as, I imagine, there was nothing much to work on except administering the State. Those were leisurely times and everybody would take things easy. Planning and development used to be on the back burner. The short working hours used to commence from 11.00 AM and run up to 4.00 PM, just five hours and yet the State was considered to be very well administered. Nonetheless, one of our neighbours used to leave just five minutes before 11.00 and start running to make it to his office before the scheduled opening hour – an effort that was everyday destined to be hopeless.
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More by :  Proloy Bagchi

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