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Dalanwala: Then & Now

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By Col JC Sindhwani (Retd)

For those of us who have lived and grown up in Dehradun (Dalanwala), here are some comparisons to relive and cherish in our retirement. To start with, the area called Dalanwala comprised living units which were only large bungalows spread in 5 Bighas or more of land. They had mixed fruit gardens. Apart from the usual rains to irrigate them, water was released from the once very abundant East Canal, on payment, by the city board authorities. This water also fed the hedges along its path to various bungalows and kept them healthy and green. The bungalows were systematically numbered, even numbers to the right and odd to the left of the roads from the starting point.

NOW, multiple types of flats have come up all over the area, numbered most haphazardly in fractions. Huge walls have replaced the hedges. The East Canal has been pushed underground to make the road wider to accommodate ever increasing traffic. Wonder if it still has any water.

THEN, there were only Cycles and Tongas to be seen on the narrow, unmetalled roads of Dalanwala. Children or elders, all rode cycles to school or work. I remember my tuition teacher, Mr Mahadeven, went around to various houses on his bicycle. A true Gandhian in all aspects, he lived in a one room cottage on Mohini Road, had a tax token issued by City Board fixed on his wheel, used a kerosene lamp fixed on his handle hook for riding after sunset to alert other road users. He used an ankle clip to keep his trousers from getting caught in the chain while cycling. Such was the self-discipline of this great teacher. He had left his home in Madras to come here and take up educating the youth because he could not tolerate the fact that his father and brother, both lawyers, worked to save criminals in court rather than get them to reform after punishment. One other such elderly cyclist of those days, a regular sight, was Mr Rick who stayed in a similar one room cottage on Municipal Road. He owned an 8 mm projector and carried it around and showed pictures in boarding schools. Our favourites were cartoons of Micky Mouse, Laurel and Hardy films. And, yes, Western Cowboy/‘Red Indian’ and Tarzan movies. Most amusing was to see youngsters (our school mates) imitating the characters and screaming like ‘Red Indians’ or howling the famous Tarzan cries of ‘Tarzan Bundolo Kreeeghah’ and chest beating like his pet Gorilla! What wonderful times of the 1950s…

NOWADAYS, it’s a mad rush of Cars, Scooters, Bikes with screaming exhaust pipes and no cycles. The children, with their eyes glued to mobiles, even while riding!

High-rise buildings have replaced bungalows. The few vacant plots where the ‘Gwalas’ took our cattle for grazing on daily basis have disappeared. The old Dalanwala, which was a purely residential area, has now got umpteen number of Schools, coaching centres, Nursing Homes with medical shops. Numerous high-rise housing complexes with cars parked all over due to paucity of space….

There was only one shop, Dalanwala Store on Municipal Road where Dr Alok Ahuja lives. The lone big store, then.

I remember, in the silence of the evenings, one could hear the howling of jackals quite often. Early mornings, one would wake up on hearing the neighbourhood Rooster giving a loud crowing call. Also, a popular sight was the ‘Koylawala’ calling out “Koyla lelo, Koyla” carrying a ‘Kandi’ of charcoal on his back.

A room next to the kitchen would be exclusively for storage of coal and firewood, which was the fuel for cooking and heating those days. The domestic Hamam, a barrel to heat water with a fire chimney in the centre, would provide bathing water for all. Similarly, a room to keep all the cycles of the family was also allotted.

And, yes, every evening the Night Soil collecting sweeper with his dump cart would go around collecting. That was the norm those days of the City Board.

All schoolmates would gather on our bungalow lawn every evening to play. Games varied from ‘Pitthu’, ‘Gilli Danda’, ‘Marbles’, etc., for some, and football, badminton, etc., for others. The little girls would play ‘Stapoo’ and so on. Thankfully, there were no mobiles then and all play was in the open.

Some of us grownups would take cycle trips to nearby picnic spots like Lachhiwala, Raipur Canal or Robbers’ Cave and Sahastradhara. In fact, we would even plan to go up to Rajpur on our cycles and keep them at a paid stand and walk up to Mussoorie and back the same day. Then, roll down on our cycles in the evening.

All this may seem very strange to the present day generation but we have done it all in those lovely carefree, pollution free, traffic free Golden time of our youth.

I am sure a lot of readers of our vintage would relate to the events given above, and much- much more of those times. And when compared to the present happenings, developments and state of affairs, perhaps wonder, which was better and in which ways…?

Our grand-children often wonder if it was really so or is it the imagination of our minds.

There is always a common expression heard when old timers get together, and recollect old days… “Woh bhi kya din thhey”!

(Col JC Sindhwani, Retd, is a resident of Dalanwala since Partition, whose family migrated from Sargodha. He was educated in SJA before joining the Army and retired in 1992)