By Kulbhushan Kain
I grew up in Dehradun in the ‘60s when it was a relatively small town compared to the bigger cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata or Chennai. My father had a difficult choice to make –whether to drop anchor in Delhi, where a number of relatives stayed, or in Dehradun. He chose the latter because of several reasons – good schools and excellent climate being two of them.
In retrospect, it was a wise decision.
I grew up in a city that had very close bonding between its inhabitants. We knew the shopkeepers personally. The barber came every Sunday to trim my hair, the baker came with his basket every weekend, the meat seller sent mutton on days specified, the tailor came home to take measurements when we wanted clothes stitched or altered. I also remember the “rehriwalaa”, who stood towards the end of Paltan Bazaar from whom my father bought fruits. Being a doctor, my dad would give him medicines whenever he fell ill. My father never charged him – though the fruit seller always gave my father extra mangoes or apples as a sign of gratitude! We even knew the names of bus drivers and conductors who ferried us to school daily.
In the absence of internet and cell phones, we would move around looking for friends to converse and gossip with. We would hang around shops gossiping with the shopkeepers and indulging in small time politics – running down someone’s action or eugolizing someone’s achievements.
“Did you hear this? Tandon was found drunk on the culvert and Mr Bhatia had to literally pick him up and take him home. And when he finally did so – his wife refused to open the door!” Or, “Mr Allen was saying that he was the one who shot dead JF Kennedy. Do you think it could be true? After all he was in America on that day!”
Amidst this atmosphere and lovely weather of Dehradun, the gossip, the clutter of tongas, the near empty main and arterial roads, I grew out of my shorts into trousers and jeans, and finally into suits made by Sensons on Janpath, Delhi.
I went to a college hostel which was impersonal, had boys from different cities. I yearned to be back home, to the security of its simple people, light sunshine, birds, sweet peas, the fireflies on the bushes,the green trees…
In Delhi, no one seemed interested in talking to me – let alone gossip. In the hostel, I found that the daily newspaper was slipped under our hostel door. I remembered Ali, our bald and overweight newspaper vendor in Dehradun, cycling everyday from Patel Nagar, nearthe Ice Factory on Saharanpur Road. Somehow, our dogs never seemed to like him – they always barked at him and he, like us, would wonder why. And when he would fall ill – we would not get our daily dose of the newspaper. One day, Ali had a heart attack and passed away. When we went to mourn his death – we found nearly everyone who read newspapers in attendance. It was as if a very important citizen had passed away – which was true.
Whenever I ate cookies, I remembered Shaukat. Shaukat was the “mobile baker”, who went from house to house carrying a small trunk over his head. He used to walk every Sunday, all the way from Dilaram Bazaar to sell cakes, warm bread and fresh biscuits. He often entertained us by dancing to incomprehensible English songs. The harder we clapped – the more vigorous would become his movements!
In college, I also found it strange that I never ever met the postman – like the newspapers, the letters would always be slipped under my room door. I often remembered having tea with the local postman in Clement Town once in a while in winter.
Unable to reconcile to the alien culture of Delhi, I ran away from college – only to be told that I am a “sissy”! But being told that I was a sissy did not take away “the sissy” from my persona. I found Delhi too impersonal. I yearned for my Dehradun!
Life trundled along but the habit of trying to bond with the people never deserted me. Sadly my interaction with the people whom we were dependent on got less and less. Now, everything is delivered at the gate by people wearing masks. I haven’t been to a bank in years and I haven’t phoned up for a taxi from a taxi service station for decades.
But, I haven’t forgotten the faces of the Bank Managers at, either, Allahabad Bank near Ghanta Ghar, or the kind looking owner of Amar Taxi Service which was opposite the old bus stand near the Pavilion Ground.
I will never forget them – because they had faces, voices and emotions. They were not the Amazon delivery boy whom I have never seen, met or talked with.
I could run away from Delhi University for a few days to come back home. But where do I run to now?
Nowhere! I just remember what JF Kennedy said,
“Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past and present are certain to miss the future.”
(Kulbhushan Kain is an award winning educationist
with more than 4 decades of working in schools in India and abroad. He is a prolific writer who loves cricket, travelling and cooking. He can be reached at