I was born and raised in Karol Bagh, more specifically in an area called WEA (Western Extension Area). I have lived in 6 houses in the span of 24 years of life; though I don’t remember the house no. of 14A block where I was born (it belonged to a doctor named Dr.Bali) or the 3A block house where we stayed briefly but thereafter I remember each one of them starting with 5A/198, 6A/49, 5/20 and finally 12A/38. In 6A block and 5-block our stay was limited to 11 months and 22 months respectively as the landlady believed in rotating her tenants as frequently as possible.
I practically grew up in 5A/198 WEA from an infant to a 10 year old kiddo. This house was the smallest that I remember, had only 2 rooms and toilet, no separate kitchen but had storeroom adjacent to the staircase; it was also a bit haunted!! There have been instances that defy logic, for example, there was a window which would invariably open up as soon as the lights were switched off or during the winter nights there would be constant sound of people doing “Daandiya Dance” on the roof. My elder siblings vouch to have seen some old man gazing upon them as we used sleep on the roof during the summer months (Delhi used have cool breeze during the summer nights, hard to believe now). As far as I am concerned, I have seen a shadow of a bald man on the water tank of the bathroom once… I had a logical streak in me since childhood, so I had gone to the roof to investigate… believe me, there was nothing that possibly could create that shadow for I checked the angle of sun rays and waved to see if my shadow falls there and it did. At that moment, all by bravery vanished and I rushed to my mother’s lap in no time. Thereafter, I did not go to the roof alone for many days.
The 6A/49 ended my bathroom singing…I used sing Rabindrasangeet reasonably well (that’s what I believed) and on that particular day I was singing “Aakash bhora surjo tara…” full heartedly while taking bath when the old lady of the second floor was climbing up the stairs with her two dogs. The booming sound (not my voice but due to the closed boxy bathroom) made the dogs very excited/scared and they started pulling on the leash which almost toppled the old lady. Fortunately she let go of the leash and avoided a nasty fall down the stairs. My siblings made so much joke about it that I stopped singing from that very day.
Coming back to the haunted feeling, the 5/20 definitely had the presence of some unholy soul…like most (old) houses in Karol Bagh, it had 3 interconnected rooms, the first and the last room used to get sunlight but the middle room was always dark or at best get some twilight. Therefore, this particular room was ideal for the residence of the “one who could not be seen”. It remained just a feeling till my eldest sister, one morning, complained that someone shook her bed violently during the night. We all said she might have had a bad dream and did not give much thought to it. Very soon, she got married and moved to another part of the world (Germany) and I inherited her bed. Few months down, I was woken up in the middle of night with a jolt…some invisible being was shaking my bed violently. It stopped as soon as I jumped out of the bed and woke up my younger sister sleeping on the other bed. We switched on the light but there was no one; my parents were soundly sleeping in the middle room and my brother on the third room. My logical brain suggested earthquake and we awaited the morning newspaper for the confirmation, but there wasn’t any earthquake… not even minor tremors in the vicinity of Delhi that night. For the rest of our stay in that house, we rearranged the beds and not just joined them but tied the legs of the bed with each other just in case something or someone repeats the mischief.
5/20 WEA also provided my sister with her life partner, Abhay…they just celebrated 38 years of happy conjugal life… Almighty bless them.
At the end of that year (1977) or early next year we moved to 12A/38 WEA…this was perhaps the best with lots natural night and air. The old landlady was contended with peaceful tenants and we fulfilled that criterion pretty well. There were two other tenants who had been there for many years and continued even after we moved out.
Growing up in Karol Bagh was fun as a large chunk of my school buddies also resided there and would meet every evening to play or just for Adda. On week days we used to play “short pitch” cricket on the driveway of Babua’s house. Babua was “Sunil Gavaskar” in that format, very difficult to bowl out. Then there was Gora who would bowl leg spin googlies…those days I was a fan Prasanna and would try to emulate his bowling giving lot flight and in the process get hit for boundaries after boundaries…though sometimes I would get the prized wicket of Babua. In all probability, he used to get tired hitting the boundaries losing his wicket to one good ball of mine on that evening.
On rainy days we would huddle in Babua’s home, he had a spare room where would assemble to play carom or a game of TwentyNine (it’s a card game played between four players divided in two teams…details of the game are in 30 Years in aranyascope.com).
The game of TwentyNine is a very addictive game…one day during summer holidays, we decided to have lunch out and went to a restaurant (more of a dhaba really) in Gaffar Market to have Mutton Boti Tikka Masala and Naan. I remember the food to be finger licking delicious and absolutely pocket friendly in those days. Post lunch, we assembled at our makeshift club house (the spare room) to play TwentyNine. In the evening Mashima (Babua’s mother) served us some snacks along with tea. We got so engrossed in the game that we lost count of the hours till my brother came searching for me around 11pm!!
That room served as our fireworks factory as well, Manas had the formula for making “Tubri” or “Anaar”. We purchased the clay pots and other ingredients and under his strict guidance made the harmless Anaars that sparkled on the Diwali evening…it was a proud moment for us.
During the summer holidays and on weekends, our favourite sport used to be football… there was (and still exists) a park that used to be a graveyard earlier adjacent to a cremation ground and next to an ice factory (don’t know if it still exists) where we would play football endless number of hours. I was never a great athlete but would participate in the game in full sportsman spirit. If we became thirsty, we would simply drink from the hose of ground water that used to water the grass and never ever fell sick… I guess those days even the ground water was eminently potable. On our way back, we used cleanse our system by having a “masala lemon soda” (kanchawala soda with masala).
Two of my very close friends (from school) Pronob and Atish would sometimes come over from school; my mother would immediately cook up Egg Curry and rice for all of us. They would stay till evening and join other friends for simple adda. Sometimes, while on way to drop them at the Aryasamaj Road bus stop we would drop in at the South Indian restaurant just off the Ajmal Khan Road Market for Dosa or Idli-Vada depending on the strength of our pockets.
Those days, pocket money used to be limited and mostly used to get over much before the month concluded and one would have to beg from the siblings. So, when our classmate and friend Pradipta Paul offered us contractual job for a week to make some extra money, Gora & I immediately accepted it…the job was to put up a makeshift stall in front of a medicine store on Ajmal Khan Market to sell Anchor Toothpaste. We did fairly well and the end of the week made some 2000+ bucks between two of us. The experience came handy later on in sales promotion when I was managing the Hajmola brand and also during my brief stint with Emami Foods…marketing WAH brand of snack foods across the country.
In the senior classes, we had tutorials after school and would therefore reach late and hungry. Most days we would take a bus that would drop us at Pusa Road (Sadhu Vaswani Marg)… we would walk down through the Ajmal Khan Market doing window shopping and stop at the Jainsons Westend shop where a “Matar-Kulchawala” and Kwality Ice-cream vendor awaited us. We would have a portion of spicy Matar (25paisa) and a orange bar (50paisa) every day…some days we would get into a bus for Aryasamaj Road and would miss out the delicious masala-matar. Some days if we reached late (4pm) then we could get Fruit Chaat or Aloo Chaat from the street vendor near the Punjab Stores (17A Block).
Few incidences or events that have remained etched in memory…
- Picnic: We decided to go for a picnic in the Jungles behind Majnu-ka-Tila…menu for the event was simple Mutton Curry and Roti…none of us had cooked before barring brewing tea and occasional omelet at home. Manas insisted on buying mutton that had lot of fat, logic being that the mutton would cook faster in its own fat and will be tastier. We made two makeshift oven using the available rocks and twigs. The whole energy of the group was spent in cooking the mutton and Roti and it took over 3 hours and at the end the rotis that came out was thick enough to qualify as “Pan Pizza base” and we literally fought to extract the mutton from the bones!!
- One of our classmate, Sonjoy Banerjee who used live just opposite of the school in Gole Market area, had bought a new bicycle and rode it Babua’s place to show off (none of owned a cycle and used to rent out for couple of hours in the evening). After some time, Babua decided to ride the bike and insisted that both Sonjoy and I also sit (sonjoy on the rod in the front and I on the carrier). He said, “Lets drop Sonjoy home and we will come by bus”. We had not gone more than 500 metres when Babua hit a autorickshaw headon, fortunately, none of were hurt but Sonjoy’s bicycle got badly damaged. He started crying for it was a brand new cycle… we caught hold of the autorickshaw driver and forced him to carry the cycle as well as Sonjoy back home. We promised him that in case the cycle can’t be repaired we will buy him a similar branded cycle. I think he managed to get it repaired because we did not buy him a new cycle!!
- We used to hire bicycles and go for a ride in the evenings…on one such occasion, Subhro, a very close friend but brilliantly eccentric who had recently managed to cycle around the streets without banging on anything or persons decided to join us. We told him to remain in the group lest he get lost. To be on a safer route, we decided to explore the Pusa Institute Campus where one of our classmates, Sandeep Mukherjee resided…it used to be quite secluded and good for cycling. There, we met Sandeep and talked to him, he took us around to some hitherto unexplored areas of Pusa Complex. Till then all of were together including Subhro and we were enjoying the traffic free, pothole free well laid roads of the campus but it was getting late with sun going down on the horizon…we wanted to back in Karol Bagh before it got dark, so we bid goodbye to Sandeep and started our ride back home. When we had reached Prasad Nagar, we realized Subhro is not with us, someone suggested he had rode ahead of us, so we continued looking for him right till the shop from where we had taken the cycles on rent but he wasn’t there… we decided to go back the same route looking for him…our worst fear was that he might have banged someone or something. Nearing the park where we played football, in the twilight of dusk, we saw an erect figure coming towards us, cycling furiously, when the figure came close we could recognize Subhro and called him out, but he did not respond and kept cycling. We chased after him and after some distance could stop him on the side. Instead of being sorry to leave the group, he shouted at us for leaving him behind. Once he calmed down he said that his cycle chain had disengaged and as he needed a support of the footpath (like now) or some boulder to alight he continued to roll some distance on the Pusa complex till he could manage to stop it along a dump of stones, then with some difficulty put the chain back on track…by which time it was dark and he got lost inside the campus. With the help of a good Samaritan, he finally managed to come out of the campus and maneuvered through the busy streets of Patel Nagar and Pusa Road to reach inside Karol Bagh. We had no choice but to apologize to him.
It wasn’t that we were only interested in boys only games, we were definitely interested in girls but being in a Bengali govt. aided school, we had serious complexes talking to opposite sex. One reason was that we used think and compose our conversation in Bengali and tried to speak in English, the result was hilarious to the recipient and humiliating to us. So, we could only have crush on some the neighborhood girls…we did not even knew their names…we gave them names of our choice and fantasized… being civilized boys we never eve tease any of them…it was pure admiration.
Once, Babua’s parents had gone to Kolkata for couple of days on some urgent family related work providing us with an empty house and abundant ways of mischief. We were in college and till then had never seen any x-rated movie and now were the time to watch… Satya had a VCP and we hired a color television and couple of ‘sensational’ (as claimed on the cover) video cassettes. Had our dinner at our favourite dhaba at Gaffar Market and all set to watch. Our KB friends Atish and Pronob had joined us too…we had decided to spend the night at Babua’s place and informed our respective parents so… Anyways, the tech guys of the group tried very hard for over an hour to sync the VCP with the TV but they simply refused to coordinate with each other. Atish and I were looking out at the night time street view when our attention caught view of a bedroom just across the road… meanwhile Babua, Manas, Suranjan and Gora were planning to play TwentyNine and taken out the carom board as well to divide the group to play as one wished. Babua called me to join him but instead I hissed out to him to come over. The entire lot scramble to the window to have a look…the whole thing lasted for about ten minutes but to us it seemed eternity. To this day it remains etched in our memory.
My sister and brother-in-law, Abhay used to live in the next block across the street…one day we friends along with Pronob who had come from the school with were standing below our house when Abhay was returning from office on his Yezdi motorcycle. I had recently learned two-wheeler driving and wanted to show-off to my friends. I requested him lend me his bike for a test drive which he obliged. The Yezdi/Jawa motorcycles were notorious for the back-kick and as luck would have it even after several kicks the bike wouldn’t start, instead it gave a solid back-kick that made my sleepers fly to a distance. I let it go as it was getting dark and Pronob wanted to get back to his home in Lodhi Colony. We walked with Pronob to drop him at Arayasamaj Road bus stop from where he took the route no. 89 which would drop him at the base of Safdarjung Flyover and he would walk to his quarters in Block-23 of Lodhi Colony. Later that night, I was woken up with extreme pain in my right foot accompanied by shivering and fever. I was unable to put my foot down let alone walk a step; I called my brother who helped me reach the toilet and later gave me a paracetamol tablet to subside the fever. In the morning our (the then) house physician Dr. Pradeep Baruah visited to check and said it was a ligament rapture and advised complete bed rest for three days. I never touched the Yezdi in my life!!
My brother had bought a Premier Padmini car (pre-owned) and I learnt driving the four wheeler from a trusted driver of USSR Cultural Centre (through my sister who worked there) and as promised by him. It was a blue color car and I loved driving it around Karol Bagh…those days petrol used cost around Rs.7/- per litre!! One evening, we (Mano, Roma, Abhay, my sister and I) were chatting standing below our house when we saw a Road Roller that had recently laid the road was slowly rolling down…initially we thought it was going back to the shed but as it closed in, to our horror, we realized it was without driver and rolling on its own, directionless… I shouted to my brother to drop the car keys so that I can move the car from its path but my brother was slow to react and the roller hit the first car on its path and continued to maul whatever came on its path. The car just before ours moved to the other side of the road on impact, climbed on the footpath and hit the wall of the house there. The road roller then was directly on our car and dragged it for some distance before the car got stuck on to a street lamp post. It was badly damaged from all around but became a hero for saving bigger calamity. The police investigation confirmed that some miscreant from the nearby slum had turned on the key to start the machine and then released the hand brake before jumping out of it… the insurance paid the bare minimum for the repairs…the front fenders, two doors where the roller had finally hit and the trunk lid had to be replaced…the blue car came out white after spending weeks in the garage.
We have always lived in a rented house and my brother decided to move to the posh south Delhi… and bought a floor in Greater Kailash Part One. It took almost 4-5 months to get it renovated and was ready to move sometime in April of 1987. It was around this time that I had joined Dabur in marketing and enjoying the easy commute from Karol Bagh to Connaught Place and back. However, to live in one’s own house was a dream and we decided to bid adieu to Karol Bagh in the first week of May 1987. Since, my brother had the new home furnished completely, most of our existing furniture were given out to needy people. I think, I was the trigger as soon enough, Gora, Roma, Babua and Satya too moved out from Karol Bagh to their own houses scattered over the NCR. But Karol Bagh remains fondly etched in our memory as this was the place where we grew up from infant to teenager to young man. Few years back after dropping my son at St. Michael’s school on Pusa Road for a competitive exam, I took Deepika to Karol Bagh to show the places where I was born (it hadn’t changed) and the last house where I lived before moving out…I couldn’t recognize the place, it has changed…the character of WEA Karol Bagh has changed completely…from a peaceful residential colony it has transformed into a fully commercial hub of the city…every house on the street where I lived has either turned into a hotel/hostel or a shopping complex. It was heartbreaking not only for me but all my friends who were once part of Karol Bagh. Unless it’s a must go, I don’t think I will ever go there again.