Memories and Musings

My memories which have remained with me over so many years, coloured with my thoughts, and tempered by my experiences.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Delhi:1950 Onwards

While the British were ruling our country there were only two buildings to contain Government offices: the North Block and the South Block which were on either side of The Viceregal Lodge (now Rashtrapati Bhavan).Till 1942 Simla was the summer capital of the British Raj. The offices and the officers were shifted to the cool place of Simla every summer. This practice was given up once the war stretched to the East thanks to the Japanese.

Once the Congress came into power and started governing the country many new ministries were formed. This meant more buildings and more manpower to work in these new ministries. This created housing problems also. People started sharing flats. There was the problem of resettling the refugees as well. And on top of all this came the shocking event of Mahatma Gandhi’s murder.

The one-and-odd year old government did not lose heart or courage. New residential areas were planned and built. The first ones were the small flats in Kotla and Sarojini Nagar first named in those days as Seva Nagar and Vinay Nagar and later changed to their present names. That was the time when New Delhi started to expand and it still goes on with the process of expansion. Part of the Pandara Road flats were built at that time and again we were one of the first occupants of those flats in 1952.

If my memory can be trusted, Sujan Singh Park and Khan Market were already well-known landmarks at that time. Khan Market was upmarket when compared to Lodhi Road Market. It was in this Khan Market that I was first introduced to the English Magazines Woman and Home, Woman and Woman’s Weekly. From then onwards these magazines became a part of my life till about 2001 when they became too costly for me to afford, nearly Rs. 100 each .When I started collecting these magazines in 1952, the prices of all the magazines were within Rs.One and eight annas. Apart from good serials and short stories these magazines also carried many household hints and recipes for baking and cooking. The main attraction for me was the knitting patterns.
Babuji got these magazines regularly for me. When we moved over to the South in 1955 for a period of eight years we found that we could get these magazines only at the Higginbotham’s counter at the Railway Stations. So every week wherever we were we did not miss a visit to the Railway Station to buy them. Thus my knitting also started and gradually this became a passion also. My children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well as friends benefited from this passion of mine.

The magazines also helped me to improve my knowledge of English and understand other people’s life styles too. Babuji was an avid reader of magazines and good writings of well-known authors. He had a good collection of P.G.Wodehouse works and it was he who introduced me to such writers.

Here I have to tell you of an incident that Babuji experienced before we got married. He was in the Home Ministry and as an Assistant his job was to draft official letters and to provide information in condensed form from all official files to his immediate boss, an Englishman. One day this boss sent for Babuji. Babuji, while narrating this incident to me at a later date told me that he lost his composure and started shivering in his shoes before he entered the boss’s room, for this was the first time he was facing the boss.Seeing Babuji in such a nervous fright the boss told him, ‘Young man, relax! I am no Bengal Tiger to eat you! I merely wanted to congratulate you on your good knowledge of the English Language and your style of writing. Keep it up!’

The 1950s saw a lot of events taking place for the first time. The first General Election was held in 1952. So were the first Republic Day Parade and celebrations related to that, the first Air Force Day, and Air Mail Services were introduced. The first ever election in Independent India was in 1952. Every one was excited and happy to see his or her name on the Voters List and was waiting impatiently for the Election Day to dawn. It was like a festival day with one and all moving towards the voting booths with pride and happiness written all over their faces. Looking back it seems so funny. For there was only one single party, the Congress. The fight was among its own members. There was no Opposition party. Still, there were people who were interested to pick and choose whom they considered the best of the lot to represent them in the Parliament. Maybe this was the only election in which the whole country as one used the right to vote.

Gradually this enthusiasm gave way to indifference. Many rich people and high society members started thinking it below their dignity to stand in the line with others who did not belong to their class and wait for their turn to cast their vote. I am not exaggerating when I say some women-- then and now-- could not stand the indigo ink on their nails!! Then came indifference; a kind of apathy among many people. It did not matter to them and did not make any difference to these people whether it was Rama Rajyam as promised by the Congress where milk and honey flowed or whether it was Ravana Rajyam where there was goondaism and everything ugly and evil happened!

If only all the intelligent and educated citizens of India who can think with a level head and distinguish between good and bad and who have the ability, the wisdom and the right mental attitude came forward to use this franchise, India would have been a better country now.
A lot of changes took place in our family life also. We moved to Pandara Road flats in 1952 when Viji was a six month old baby. There were only about thirty to forty flats in those days. Compared to Lodhi Colony flats, these flats were bigger, with a drawing-cum -dining room, two large bedrooms with attached bathrooms, a spacious kitchen and a front and back verandah. Babuji’s brother who was staying with us till now had got married and moved out. Babuji’s parents left Trichur for good and joined us in Delhi to spend the rest of their lives with us.
Life in Pandara Road Flats was very different compared to the Lodhi Colony. Lodhi Colony was like a community kind of life with everybody walking in and out of everybody else’s flat.It was there that I learnt cycling and had my first salwar kameez suit made. Some forty years later I switched to salwar kameez to make my life easier, when I was in Singapore with Raja and in U.S. with Bala.

In Lodhi Colony in winter months the ladies of every block gathered on the lawns with their small children once the men folk left for office to enjoy the sun along with Gol Guppa, moongfali and oranges supplied by regular vendors. And in summer by dusk all the charpoys were out on the lawns and the people dined, gossiped and played Pithhoo till midnight before they fell asleep.
Here in Pandara Road flats rank distinction was very much evident. Mostly everybody kept to themselves, like the Americans who occupied about six flats. Our downstairs neighbour was an Englishman who was a Press Reporter. He was a friendly type, not overly friendly, but just on a hello hello basis whenever we met.

Six years later when we were in Pondicherry, we came to know that this same reporter Mr. Atkinson was murdered. It was a shock for me to know that he was gay. That was a very hush-hush word which was not openly spoken in those days.It seems he had picked up two boys from Khan Market and brought them to his place. Those boys murdered him for a sum of Rs.25 which they found in his purse. What a shame. Rs.25 was a big amount in those days.

Another foreign reporter, an English lady, was occupying the flat below that of my neighbour Mrs. Sharma. This reporter was a very unfriendly and a querulous type, always picking up a fight with Mrs. Sharma over petty things like children playing or the sound the stone grinder made while making batter for idli and dosa which was a must in all South Indian homes. As Mrs. Sharma was not very good with the English language, many a time I had to fight her battle of words with the English lady.Anyway this lady moved out of our locality very soon.

I made friends with one Mrs. Uppal, a very refined lady who was a grandmother. We found so many things in common to talk about. Even now after so many years when I think of her I get a warm feeling. It was a short but pleasant friendship.

The first Air Force Day was celebrated on April 1st, 1954. It was held at Tilpath Range, a distance of about ten kilometers from New Delhi. Rehearsals were going on for more than a month. One mid-morning there was a big booming sound which was frightening and which rattled all the window panes. I heard Mr. Atkinson shouting for me by name and telling me to rush downstairs with the children thinking it was an earthquake. It was my turn to tell him that it was only the rehearsal for the Air Force Day. In those days earthquakes were common in New Delhi immediately after the monsoon, and there used to be minor tremors by the end of winter. I was really touched by Mr. Atkinson’s concern for our safety and thanked him profusely.

There were more changes to come in our life which we were not aware of at that time.


  • At 1:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    And benefitted how! I am waiting for it to get a bit cold here to pull them out.

  • At 3:53 AM, Blogger Raji said…

    Yet another gem!
    I did not know that Mr. Atkinson was a reporter
    And who is the 'anonymous' who has benefitted from your knitting? :-)!

  • At 2:53 PM, Blogger Sivakami said…

    hats off to your memory maiji. thanks for sharing the information.

  • At 10:19 PM, Blogger Karthik Narayan said…

    whoa.. to begin with - have all these been journalised down somewhere or are you simply recalling it from memory.. If that isnt the case, thats one hell of a memory! going back 57 years to the minute details... I cant remember what happened 57 minutes ago... Where were you when they released the list of the New 7 wonders?

  • At 11:41 PM, Blogger Mohan and Poornima said…


    Your blogs fill me with nostalgia. Great to know that you're so cyber savvy!
    Mohan Narayanan

  • At 11:25 PM, Blogger Abraham Tharakan said…

    I read this post as well as 'Those bygone days'. You write so well and on interesting subjects. I have bookmarked your Blog.
    May I invite you to visit Song of the waves - Parayil A. Tharakan Blog on which I posted an article 'The last of the Travancore Maharajas'to day. I would be grateful if you can kindly correct factual mistakes if any.
    I look forward to more posts from you.
    The URL of my Blog is

  • At 11:12 PM, Anonymous bharat said…

    What a remarkable journey through time... It is so fortunate that you have the cyber skills to put it down here, so we may also get a peek into a world now vanished. Just by the way, did you know my unmarried grand-aunt, Dr. Subhadra Chitale? I think she too lived in Pandara Road flats in those days...

  • At 8:07 AM, Blogger Ashvin said…

    Dear Karthik, if you think Maiji's memory is remarkable, you would be truly surprised at how the 87 year old Maharaja of Travancore His Highness Sree Uthradom Thirunal (younger brother of Sree Chithira Thirunal mentioned in Maiji's blogs elsewhere) recalls events, dates, names and places from his CHILDHOOD !!! Accurately, with accompanying anecdotes and details.... he can identify every single individual from group photographs from the late 1920s and 30s, with their names, titles, designations, locales...... I have personal experience of this.

  • At 8:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hi Mam
    Read ur blog while searching the net for the first republic day. Ur write-ups are really engaging. I work with The Times of India and would like to talk to you for a feature story. I know these blogs were written more than two years ago. But I am still trying with lots of hope to find you. If possible, plz mail me at


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