My friend, whom I cannot name, once said “Only in Darjeeling, Sunday, may not just mean a day”… Yesterday I bumped into her and we got into talking about growing up. Much like me, she is a 90s child and it feels amazing to realize how common our growing up years were, despite the fact that we grew up in two different parts of Darjeeling.
Growing up in the 1990s was fun, as the air was much purer, Globalization was just starting to happen and Darjeeling was moving away from being Jeep and Land Rover driven to Maruti Vans and Maruti 800s.
However, there was one thread from the old days that still kept Darjeeling of 80s connected to the Darjeeling of 90s…. Our local stores.
Toady people in our region swear by Malls – INOX Mall, Cosmos Mall and so on, in our times we did not have any of those things, what we had was local stores. Stores that would have answers to all the questions, stores that would carry everything from shoes to cosmetics, from Sabji to Chamal. Stores that were the meeting point for all the local gossips.
My earliest memory of a local store is that of Modi Kaka… He would sell Vegetables and whole lot of other things, including Pan, Khaini and Bidi… however the most I remember Modi Kaka ko store is because, he used to carry “Disco Bhuja.” Not sure how many of you are familiar with this term, but “Disco Bhuja” used to be sweet in taste and contained colourful ingredients, which is why we used to call it “Disco Bhuja,” as it resembled the colourful disco lights.
It was literally a paradise for the kids… and the first thing we would do after playing Deusi and getting our Dakshina is rush to Modi Kaka ko Dokan and order Mitha Paan made in Mitha Patta. I am not sure how kids these days view it, but for us, having Paan was a symbol of growing up, and since we never had enough money to afford a paan, it was only during Tihar that we could afford to have Paan with our own money… and that was our priority… to have Paan in Tihar.
Not sure if kids these days would do the same, but back in our days we would have entrepreneurs in our own class, these were our fellow students who would buy stuffs on the bulk and sell it to others. From ‘Tin kanchi mithai to Macha mithai – mint candies shaped like 3 paise or shaped like a fish” to “Packet ko tittiri to Titaura – Tamarind in a packet to Titaura.”
For every school growing kid who was older than 10 years, we eagerly waited for Sundays, sadly Sundays would also turn into nightmare as we had to accompany our Mother or Kaki or Didi for shopping. Shopping meant indefinite waiting in line to put your ration card in order and wait for them to call out our name. Picking up ration was a big deal back then; we would wait for almost an hour in the line and catch up on local news… “Sarita ko chori le dosti layo hare – Sarita’s daughter fell in love with someone”… “Kusum ko buda le kaam payo hare – Kusum’s hubby landed a job”… “Passang ko bau ko kaam parsi hare... Passang’s dad’s funeral is day after tomorrow…”
Relentless bits of local info, we would get it all while standing in line for Ration
Once the ration was done, another round of gossip would follow, while lining up for Matti-tel – Kerosene line.
Sunday shopping was the highlight of our week; however our steady friend used to be the local store, which more often than not we had to visit every day.
The local store would carry all the things of our need, and they were a world into themselves. My friend told me that their local store was run by a man named Prem… his wife was thus known locally as Prem-ni.
Local stores were a charm in onto themselves; even the local barbers were legendary. See when we were growing up we did not have beauty parlours, or hair salons, we used to have Hajam – barbers who would go from home to home and cut hair. One time our local barber Dhirendar cut my hair too short, which I only realized after taking the shower. So next day I confronted him and he says, “Mail ta thikai kateko thye bhai… Kainchi le kaminapanti gari dye cha… I cut the hair right, it was the scissors that are to be blamed”…. much later I found out he is a day tripper and starts with a dose of Masta – marijuana early in the morning …. where else would one find such barbers but in our good old Darjeeling.
As Modi kaka faded we had “Rupa kaki ko Dokan – Rupa kaki’s shop” catch up, She sold everything from pen to geometry box, from vegetables to rice. It must have been around 1995 that Rupa kaki found the virtue of selling 2nd hand jackets. Imagine a small village shop selling everything from Saag to Jackets… Rupa kaki first made it happen.
She would travel to Phuntsholing in Bhutan and bring back jackets, perhaps donated to a charity by the Sahibs… and sell it to us. I still carry a snow pants that I remember buying from her for Rs 80 back in 1998. Needless to say we haven’t had many snow days in Darjeeling between 1998 and today. However, whenever we get a snowy day I still wear the snow pants, I bought from Rupa kaki.
Kids these days feel horrified to wear 2nd hand clothes, for us that was the norm.
Rupa kaki has upgraded herself with changing times, today we not only buy Silam and Gundruk from her, we also buy Mobile recharge, and what is more astounding is that we don’t even have to show up in person, just calling her or texting her to recharge our phone and the desired amount is enough.
Much has changed in Darjeeling, however the infinite charm of local store continues to define our life…. try as we may, our nostalgia of how things were keeps us grounded, and I guess that is how things are meant to be.
[Pic for representative purpose only]
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