My Two Years in Daska- Part II
The lane in which we lived was about 5 feet wide and part of a network of lanes. Yet buffalos, donkeys with big bags of wheat on their backs, occasionally a loaded camel, and other traffic came and went. I do not remember feeling cloistered. Our house was at one of the dead end of one of the lanes in the labyrinth. Our neighbors were so near we could hand things out to them through our windows. Also we could hear conversations, especially when the pitch of the voice was high. I vividly remember hearing voices out of one of neighbors. They were middle aged and had only one 8 or 9 year old son named Rishi. The wife shouted orders at her husband in loud shrill voice asking him to fetch something, go buy vegetables, bring a bucket of water, clean the front porch, etc. The local custom was that a wife would not call husband by his name. So our neighbor used to call him ‘Oh, father of Rishi.’ People overhearing derived a lot of mirth. The strong dominating woman and the meek husband provided a lot of juicy gossip in the neighbors.
Most houses had dry latrines, but only for emergency purpose. Open fields were very near. All men and women went out to relieve themselves in the fields. Their allotted sections were clearly demarcated by tradition and everyone knew where they were supposed to go. The farmers appreciated the manure their soil received. The effect was easy to see from the healthy and heavy crops in the fields adjoining the town. Some people went out both morning and evening. Women usually went out in groups partly for company and also for safety.
For men toilet was not the only reason for going out in the morning. They went out far distances for the exercise and also to enjoy company of friends. They discussed politics, gossiped, and exchanged jokes and stories.
Young men usually went very early in the morning to small gymnasia where they wrestled and/or did a variety of other physical exercises. There was always an open well with a hand operated Persian wheel where men took a bath before returning home. I remember I went to one of them. Thirty to thirty-five people came every morning. Most of them were very strong and healthy. I of course was one of the youngest, but we were noticed, praised and encouraged to come regularly. The men belonged to different religions and occupations. I can still recall farmers and laborers were the strongest. We ‘city slickers’ and traders’ sons were not so strong, except of course there were some exceptions.
There was a lot of art and poetry in this little town. Art objects were put out to show occasionally especially in seasonal fairs or festivals. In the evening gatherings were organized for entertainment. Sometimes the performers such as storytellers, singers, puppeteers, and others came from nearby towns or villages. Often local artists joined the occasion and performed.
Daska was famous for such activities. We were very proud that Muhammad Iqbal one of India’s ablest poet-philosophers was a native of Daska.
We children were not allowed to go to evening meets of poets because of their late hours. But the next day the grape wine brought us some of the good poems from the people who had been there. I can still recall lines of a fiery anti-British poem in which the poet urged Hitler to drop an extra bomb on Buckingham palace in his name when he next sent his bomber planes to raid Britain.
The love I acquired for small town and village life, interest in plants and animals I imbibed, good healthy habits of early rising and daily exercise that I learned have thankfully stayed with me throughout my life. They have in fact guided me in making many important decisions.
In our family my mother enjoyed the Daska experience the most. These were in fact the best two years of her life. She had many good friends in the neighborhood and other parts of town. There were relatives everywhere and on social occasions and festivals people exchanged gifts and visited each other. A marriage would entail ceremonies, feasts, or distribution of food or other gifts for two weeks or more. Similarly births and deaths brought people together for sharing of grief or happiness. In all these, women took more active part.
They had plenty of time for social activities. My mother for example had organized her daily housework very efficiently. My sisters and I helped as much as we could. Mother woke up at about 4:30am and started house work soon after. She would take out some wheat or other grain from the store and grind it on a hand flourmill. After that she churned the curd to make butter and buttermilk. At about daybreak she would go to the field with some neighbors. We children would wake up while mother was gone out and start the morning chores of folding and putting away the beddings, cleaning teeth and washing.
Breakfast was standard, consisting of chapattis left over from the previous evening, some butter, salt, and buttermilk. On weekends and festivals mother cooked special foods. All of us would go to our schools. Mother swept the house, bathed, set some vegetable or lentils to cook on our simple homemade slow cooker. For lunch mother would bake chapattis in a mud oven (tandoor). My mother had joined a pool with three or four other neighboring families. They would heat their tandoor by turn and all would bring their dough to bake the bread. The children returned home for lunch. The school was over by 3:00pm and mother would give us a homemade hot or cold drink according to season and something to munch. Often it was some grain like corn, chickpea, or rice freshly parched or puffed. We children took the grain to the parching lady nearby home. Often we ate raw seasonal vegetables like carrots, radishes, cucumber, and may others. Sometimes we had homemade or bazaar bought sweets. For dinner mother made tandoor chapattis in summer and pan rotis in winter that we ate in the warm kitchen sitting near the stove. I vividly remember how satisfying this whole daily routine was. The food was always delicious, nutritious, and totally satisfying. We knew that all rich and poor people in town ate more or less this food. Some of the helpers like the sweeper, the priest, and one or two others came every morning to take their share of the food my mother cooked. It was given happily and with respect. My mother also fed birds and street dogs and cats, and often a cow.
Mother had the whole afternoon free. She used to join a group of women who spun cotton yarn. They enjoyed this because it was also their time to tell jokes, gossip, exchange ideas. They often set up a speed contest to see who spun the fastest. Each would take an equal number of slivers and count the remaining when the spinning session was over. My mother was quite a skilled spinner of very good quality yearn. She spun enough during our stay in Daska to have sheets, blankets, and shirting material woven at the local weaver to last us for many years. She took some of it with her to Karachi when we returned there after the war.
The relationships we established in Daska were so close and friendly that we visited with these people over the years after all of us were spread out, especially after the partition of India in 1947. Uncle Darbarilal and his wife my aunt Roop Kaur settled in a town called Batala in Punjab. We always visited them when we went to that area. This uncle remained one of my wisest councils right till he died at a ripe old age of 86.
It has been nearly 64 years but I have always remembered our stay in Daska with very warm nostalgia. The sense of security, deep friendliness, a sense of belonging and warmth that I experienced is unique in my experience. We met and befriended very kind and loving people everywhere in India and America, but the close community life of Daska continues to stand out as unique.
January 16, 2008