Umesh is a freelance writer contributing his creative writings on varied subjects in various sites and portals in the internet.
Memories in our minds are governed by their strangeness and importance and some of them reside in our memories so deeply that we do not forget them. Some of these childhood memories come back and flash in our minds as yesterday's event only. The narration in this article is about the memory of an unforgettable shop in my village that I encountered about 57 years back when I was a school student.
This strange memory which I recall most of the times pertains to when I was hardly an age of 13-14 years. That means about 57 years back.
At that time we were living in Pithoragarh town and our grandmother was living in the nearby parental village known as Bisar. Though we wanted her to be with us but as she liked the village life more than that of the town life and she had her own company and environment there, she preferred to live in the village itself. So, my father almost on every weekend went to the village and took some utility items for her. My grandmother was an amazing lady as she could survive herself in the village environment where there were no facilities like tap water, gas, or electricity.
At that time, I had just entered in my class IX and my father told me that maybe not on every weekend but some of the weekends I will have to go to village and take the things for the grandmother. I simply obeyed him and in fact some of the times I liked it also as it gave a chance to me to go to village and play with the boys there who were different than the boys of the town. The village was hardly 4 km from the town and only thing was that it was a hilly track and there were so many ups and downs that one felt a lot of fatigue and tiredness by the time one reached the village or came back to town from there. At that time, there was no other option as there was no road, no vehicle, or motorcycle or anything else available for reaching the village from the town. The village people who were doing some service or some job in the town usually came on foot in the morning and returned in the evening. It was so common at that time that no one bothered for this 8 km per day walk as it was just a part of their lives.
So, I started to go to the village for that weekly ritual and when my father found that I was doing it very nicely he asked me to increase my frequency so that he can be relieved as he was having a lot of work in his workplace.
During that time I was much exposed to the ways of village life and I could learn a great deal about it and I was a bit surprised also that how people were living there with all those difficulties and extreme adverse situations. In the town we were having many facilities which village people at that time could not dream of.
The only source of drinking water in the village was a natural spring which was about 100 to 500 metres from the different houses in our village and people used to go there once or twice a day to fetch the water for drinking. The spring was located at the base of one of the hills and the hill was very big and above and beyond that the catchment area was also very large so that during rains whatever water was collected in that catchment area some of that was captured by the soil underneath and that water came out as spring at some places and throughout the year it was available in good quantity. I still remember that the flow of spring was so much that a bucket was filled in a few seconds. Moreover, the water was also so tasty and so nice that you could drink it as much as you liked. As there was no water facility in the houses so people went to the spring and took bath near it and came back with drinking water in a pot which could be held on shoulder or head. That was tough and difficult but it was a daily ritual for the villagers.
At that time there was no provision or any other shop in the village and the nearest shops available were in a place called Satgarh which was about 1.5 km from the village. At Satgarh, there were few shops from where the nearby villagers could get some provisions and other items for their day to day routine life. For other specific items one had to go to Pithoragarh town only and get whatever required like clothes, novelty items, jewellery, stationery, etc. There were so many shops pertaining to these items in the town.
Pithoragarh town was the main town of Pithoragarh district and for all the other villages and small towns around, this was the main place for getting things for ceremonies, or functions, or household purposes. Even the people living in remote areas and in border areas between India and China or India and Nepal came to Pithoragarh for their specific needs and bought the items from the town market. Pithoragarh district had China border in its Northern side while Nepal border was in the Eastern side. So it was a strategically important place also.
My grandmother was truly an amazing lady. Due to the early demise of my grandfather, she became widowed at an early age and took the responsibility of household on her shoulders. There was some agricultural land in the village as well as in another nearby village from which the annual crops were coming so the requirement of grains was somehow met with that crop production but for other things she needed money and there was no money in the house. With great difficulty and by selling some fruits and vegetables in the town my father somehow managed his education up to high school level and luckily also got a job in the local post office which was supposed to be a big position in the time of the Britishers who were ruling India at that time.
My grandmother was a very tough and laborious woman and with great difficulties and hardships she raised the family in the best possible manner. Once her three sons settled in jobs and the two daughters married off, she became very happy and contented as all the sons were bringing goodies and other things for her and fulfilling her needs. It was also a very surprising thing that she needed very minimal items. She did everything herself and was not dependent on anyone. She took food also only one time a day that is in the afternoon. Her requirements were so less that I always felt surprised as to how she was controlling and managing herself within so little.
I saw my grandmother from so near and was always surprised by her way of doing things independently. At that time there was no facility of kerosene stove or coal stove or electric stove or any such device for cooking the food and the only thing that villagers had was the wood and wood pieces got from the nearby jungles from the thick bushes as well as from the broken trees around. My grandmother collected the wood herself and made a good storage of it for the rainy season when one could not venture out.
I had two uncles and both of them had just got their jobs. They were unmarried at that time but there were marriage proposals coming for the elder one. They were working in some other places and usually once a year they visited us and as well as had a short visit to the village also to meet the grandmother and had a few days with her. Whenever my uncles came from outside that was a time of rejoice for us as they brought various items for us from the outside world. We always waited eagerly for their arrival.
My uncle asked me to go to a shop
Once during the visit of my elder uncle to the village, I was also there for the weekend. My uncle had a hobby of chewing betel nut pieces and he kept a few small pieces of it in his pocket. One day afternoon my uncle asked me to bring a betel nut from a house in the village. He gave me 10 paise (one tenth of a Rupee) and told me to go to Ramesh uncle's house and buy it from him. I knew Ramesh uncle but never heard about any shop in the village from where some small items could be bought during the emergency requirement. So, it was a piece of new information for me that some items will be available with a person in our own village. There were limited people in our village and I personally knew almost every one of them. I knew very well that Ramesh uncle was residing in the house just behind the old water tank in the Sujani Kot area of our village. Our house was in Malla Ghar and Sujani Kot was hardly 150 metres from our house. It was hardly a 10-15 minutes job for me to climb up to Sujanji Kot and come down after completing the assigned job.
I just told my uncle that I never heard about any shop in Sujani Kot and I had never seen such a thing there and how come there was a shop like that? Was it in Ramesh uncles house itself? My uncle simply smiled and told me that I should then go there and I would find it. I had visited Sujani Kot many times because there was a village library where many storybooks were available and as I was fond of reading, I used to get books from there for my passing the time in the village. I had never seen any shop or heard about it while I was roaming in that area. I was very curious and excited to get the information about that shop. Before leaving, I just casually asked my grandmother whether she knew about it. She told me that it is not a shop but Ramesh kept some items there for emergency and used to sell them to anyone who wanted it.
I was thinking that when some items were available with Ramesh uncle then I need not bring everything from the town and at least those available items we could buy from him to give to grandmother.
Meanwhile, my uncle reminded me that I had to go there and get the betel nut for him. I immediately rushed to Sujani Kot to the house of Ramesh uncle. His wife was outside the house doing some work and I saluted her by touching her feet which was the tradition in our village that whenever we met some elder we touched their feet. She asked me if I wanted anything from her. I told her the purpose of my visit, hearing which, she directed me to the first floor. Ramesh uncle was lying down on a mat and taking a rest and when he saw me he sat up and asked me what I wanted. I told him that my uncle wanted a betel nut and then I handed him the 10 paise coin that my uncle had given me. By that time I had been seeing around but I didn't find a trace of any shop so I was a bit surprised as to where he will be giving me the item.
The shop in the box
Ramesh uncle went to the corner of the room where a big tin box sized approximately about 6 ft x 4 ft x 3 ft was kept and when he opened it I was amazed to see how the box was loaded and packed with so many items. I was astonished to see the variety of the items in the box. I could see so many and could recognise them easily like - Matchbox, Candies, Jaggery, Small tea dust packets, Candles, Cotton, Small packets of various spices, Pencils, Ball pens, Betel nut, Small tobacco packets, Tooth powder, Safety pins, and many more. I was much impressed by the way he had arranged the things within that box so nicely that he could get whatever he wanted in seconds. He told me that this arrangement is for only the emergency needs and he did not sell more of the same item to the same person as he went to the town only once a month to bring these things from the town and then provide it to the needy people in the village. What I could understand was that he was doing it to help people rather than to earn money for himself. My respect for Ramesh uncle grew manifold. What a great person he was! With this new information, packed in my mind, I returned and handed over the betel nut to my uncle who immediately broke it into small pieces using a stone outside and gave me also a piece which of course I did not relish much. I preferred candies to that betel nut.
These old memories sometimes flash in our minds as if they happened yesterday only. I wanted to share it with the readers with an intention to showcase any child's inquisitive mind during one's growing up phase when one sees so many new things around.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Umesh Chandra Bhatt