Growing up in Allahabad in the 80s meant being in perpetual awe of those Civil Lines girls. They were the pretty ones — with chic haircuts, well-styled clothes and perfect strokes/dabs of kajal and lip gloss . One could spot them cycling to school, their trendy socks folded down to ankle-length and their pleated skirts rising shyly with every push of the pedal. Several diligent SJC and BHS boys would be obligated to take a rather long, circuitous route from their homes to school to pay their daily respects to this uplifting sight.
Those who missed this sight would go on to bunk school and head to ‘Haathi Paarak’ to sit atop the tiger there. The tiger was no great shakes — just an ordinary, grotesque creature made of cement and painted bright-orange and black. But, to the boys, it was almost an object of worship. Sitting on it’s back, one could get a delicious peep into the SMC campus.
It was all worth it! The bevy of beauties were charming, vivacious and had the lure to slide the crunchy aloo tikiya right off Baba Chatwalla’s griddle!
The rest of us could never compete with those Civil Lines girls.
Firstly, Hari tailor, New Katra, never got my clothes right. Despite the nice styles we showed him from pages of ‘Stardust’,
‘Talior master, yeh dekhiye Anita Raaj ki shirt ki jaisi bana dijiye’,
he would only manage to stitch a shirt that looked like my rickshaw-walla, Maharani Deen’s lopsided shirt, smother it with the smell of his beedis and hand it over.
I would have no option but to pair that shirt with a nice pleated skirt and pull on long socks. That was my fashion statement.
Then, my hair was always an issue. Penny aunty would stare at it in disgust, running her fingers through it, clicking her tongue. As if she were sifting the wood-shavings in a filthy chicken-coop. Then she would call out to her maid, Gudiya in her lilting, musical accent,
I would be scared that she’d ask Gudiya to get some commode-cleaning acid to dunk on my head. But, thankfully, she would not. Instead, she’d pout and complain,
‘Your hair is so dry, so frizzy…’
She would then start snipping and chop off most of it, leaving a curly crop round my head and above the shoulders that made me look like Sandra from Bandra. I would dream that one day, my hair would be like Dimple’s and I could thank my ‘crowing glory’ soap for it. But, alas, that never happened.
Finally, the most compelling limitation was that we non-Civil Lines girls did not even make it to Civil Lines on most occasions. From my house on Stanley Road, it was a good thirty-minute rickshaw ride. That is, if the rickshaw-wala agreed to take you. Mostly, they expressed their inability, without offering any reason. Some went a step further and gave you sage advice:
‘Ee koi bakhat hai Cibil Line jaaye ka? Kitna ghaam hai. Sanjhaa ke jao, bitiya!’
That made you reconsider your hasty imprudence and you retraced your steps.
Sometime, if you were lucky, you got a bike ride.
Once, my cousin offered to take me to Civil Lines on my sister’s yellow moped, called ‘pacer’. Now, ‘Pacer’ hardly had any pace to it, but was a reliable-kind of ride. Except, if one knows mopeds as they came, their turning radius was rather large. That needed some skill with manoeuvring. I was to find out later, that maybe my cousin was not aware of this.
We started from home at around 6:00 pm. The pre sunset evening was like a luscious peach peeling on the grey skies: office-goers were returning from work on their Bajaj scooters, the cows were ambling back from the pastures: a gentle-flow of traffic, in an otherwise, sleepy town.
A nice, regular evening, with the promise of a creamy softy at Softy Corner.
‘Or a cold coffee at Beater’s?’, I drooled over my options as we crossed Muir Road.
Perched on the moped, I was beaming from ear to ear, my Sandra-from-Bandra curls fluttering in the wind, as my cool, baggy tee shirt flapped in symphony.
I must have been dreaming of churmura when I realised I was lying on the road at the B.H.S. chauraha.
The moped was some distance away, and so was my cousin. In the opposite direction. Wheels and feet, respectively, in the air.
We came back, after seeing a doctor in Rajapur.