Tears were wiped and wounds healed, Delhi's "Guests from West" started shifting to the new colonies around the city; Lajpat Nagar, Nizamuddin, Patel Nagar and the Rajouri garden.

My dad called Vilayat Singh's Khatti-Meethi chutneys the tongue-twisters. Vilayat (Urdu for Britain) had arrived in Delhi as a DP, Displaced Person, about two years ago in 1947 from Pakistan with empty pockets and was given shelter in the Raigar Pura refugee camp in Karol Bagh. With the help of the government he assembled a rehra (handcart), parked it on a footpath, and he was in business. The news of yummy food spreads faster among the Punjabis than sex scandals, and soon the rehra was surrounded by salivating customers for his ‘Pindi-Ke-Chholey-Bhatoorey', samosas the size of dad's fist, chutneys and hot-hot ‘Gulab Jamuns”. Vilayat treated us like VIPs because my mom, who headed a municipal health-centre, had taken good care of his teenage sister Simrit.

I enjoyed an occasional swordplay Vilayat (a pucca Sikh) and dad (a ‘mechanised one) indulged in. “Oye, Vilayat Sian (slang for Singh)!” dad would ask, “if you were born in ‘Pindi how come your parents named you Britain Singh, eh?” Vilayat would smirk, toss a fresh batch of samosas in the boiling oil, and then turn to me, “Chhotey Sahib! Do you know how many Kakkes (Ks) a Sikh must have on him? Ok, I'll tell you…Kesh (long hair), Karaa (steel bangle), Kachha (undergarment), Kanga (comb) and Kirpan (dagger),” he would pat the ivory handle dagger he wore, “now tell me how many Kakke your daddyji has?” Dad would pretend to be angry and then say, “Britain Sian, that's a family secret, shut up!”

Vilayat's humour and the peace in his eyes belied what he had gone through. Here's what he told us: “As soon as the Partition of India was announced, our family in Rawalpindi started receiving death threats. We owned a small restaurant there and my parents wanted all of us to leave for Amritsar together. But my elder brother had other ideas; his friend Fazal promised him a better price for our property. So I, my younger brother Manmeet and sister Simrit were to leave first and wait for them in the Golden Temple. We reached Lahore, and were told to take a short cut through the farms to the border.

To our bad luck we ran into a battered and bruised Jatha (group) of DPs coming from India. Shouts of ‘Revenge', ‘Kill them' and ‘Kafirs' ranted the air. I and Manmeet were beaten blue and Simrit was dragged into the fields by two women and the gold ornaments she had concealed were snatched away. These were gleefully shown to the Jatha. We were then literally kicked towards the border”. The axiom, ‘Don't do unto others.. .' was doing the Sheershasana.

“…Troubles come in waves, Sahibji,” Vilayat continued, “soon our path was blocked by a six-foot Lahori monster. He demanded that we hand over our teenage sister to him. We pounced on him but the animal knocked me unconscious. Manmeet hid himself nearby, and he carried away Simrit kicking and screaming. When I regained my senses I found them under a tree. Simrit was inconsolable and Manmeet was pulling out the ivory handle dagger from the neck of the beast who lay dead. We quickly crossed the border into the safe arms of the Indian army who fed and clothed us. But a week later in Amritsar we got the news that our family had been slaughtered in ‘Pindi.'

Tears were wiped and wounds healed, Delhi's “Guests from West” (my mom's synonym for DPs) started shifting to the new colonies mushrooming around the city; Lajpat Nagar, Nizamuddin, Patel Nagar and the Rajouri garden. But the DPs' social order that had existed in Pakistan changed radically; the proletariat got rich quick by their brawn and ‘Jugad', manipulation. The buzzwords we heard were ‘Mal Lo!' (Occupy whatever is vacant) and ‘Ghoos Do, Lift Lo!' (Bribe and thrive). Shops sprouted overnight on the footpath of Queens Road (now Janpath) and elsewhere. Dhabas, plumbing services and electrical shops were launched, without permission, on the government land. The teachers, accountants, nurses, librarians among them now amounted to very little.

Delhi was now an extension of Punjab. Delhiwalas felt like a cat on the hot tin roof. The Bansals, Dixits, Mathurs, Srivastavas…the Ansari, Kidwais and Qureshis were fast losing out to newcomers — Aroras, Batras, Chawlas, Malhotras, Sethis and Singhs. Their acquisitiveness and often coarse manners didn't go down well with the people. Two anecdotes are worth relating.

One evening our family was seated in a restaurant when the next table fell vacant and two young DPs dived for it, beating two waiting ladies to it. After devouring a mountain of Kulfi-Falooda one of them belched, evoking ‘Hari Om'. His pal did the same remembering ‘Wahe Guru ‘and gave a good rub to his happy tummy. “Your Guests from West” Dad teased Mom, and fanned the air with the menu.

The other one is about acquisitive Chachiji, our neighbour, a DP, bent upon doing better than everyone else. Tiptoeing past her house one afternoon I heard her summons. She lived in an allotted house which once belonged to poet Shan Ali ‘Aitraz.' Aitraz (objection) was his pen-name. He chose it because he had strong objection to god's creation of human beings. Chachiji's son was a projectionist in a cinema hall and he doubled his income by purloining tickets on a full-house day and sneaking in friends into the projection room.

“Oye Mundoo,” she called the servant, “go and fetch water from our Thanday-Pani-Ki-Machine for him.” “Mataji,” he corrected her, “it's called Freedz.” “Whatever,” she retorted and gave me a conducted tour of her goodies starting with the fridge, then the ‘Teen-Bandookwali-cycle', a BSA with 3-rifles logo, a record player, a new radio and a Baby Hermes typewriter. “Tell your father what you saw here,” the old battleaxe had some score to settle with dad, “he can have it for Rs 80.” Mundoo's face fell. I suspected he was making the Quick Brown Fox jump in secret. I said no.

By the mid-50s Delhi's taxi trade was in the hand of the Sikhs. Phut-Phutys, mobike- rickshaws, thundered down the main roads offering cheap fares. Tongas and cyclerickshaws were banished to old Delhi. Chauri Bazaar near the Juma Masjid which only 200 years ago witnessed elephant jam because the noblemen on them arrived to spend an evening of music and dance. It was another country, another time. But for the present we had the tonga jam to contend with.

Many DPs had a shot at Bombay films. One of them was O.P. Nayyar who arrived in Bombay to become a movie star but ended up as a music director. He hit the music scene with all the guns blazing, injecting Punjabi folk music and much Jhatak-Matak in the song and dance numbers. When Naya Daur hit the screen even sad sack like Dilip Kumar was hopping around shouting Balle Balle. “What's so great about the Bhangra, ji?” my mom, a Kumaoni, would tease dad, “all you have to do is to hop around on one leg or both, lifts the arms up and pretend you are changing light-bulbs.”

Whatever! All I know is that cineastes' heartthrob Vijayanthimala had given up Ta-Ta-Thaiyya in favour of Balle-Balle and changing light bulbs. Nehru ji, the great democrat, was so alarmed with O.P. Nayyar's invasion that he had his music banned on the AIR. Radio Ceylon said thank you and became the No. 1 pop music station.

Juke-box and Espresso coffee were great hits with the well-off youngsters. One required a 4-anna coin for the slot to make Elvis Presley or Fats Domino sing for you. Boys and girls went bananas over Elvis when his ‘King Creole' was screened in Rivoli cinema. They even rock ‘n rolled in the aisle during the show. At a party, I heard a Sikh, armed with a guitar, sing a-la Elvis, his own composition to the beat of King Creole; “I Don't Want Gun / I Don't Want Rum / I Don't Want Gin / I Don't Want Bourbon….All I Want is Shake My Turban, Ya-Ya-Ya…”

Sexual revolution was afoot in New Delhi. Boys and girls were holding hands even outside the cinema hall. But girls hadn't switched to jeans or trousers yet. Decorum in dress was carefully observed. One day, while passing by Amar Talkies in old Delhi I noticed a signboard, “DRESS CODE,” it read, “WEARING KACHHA BANYAN, AND NIGHT SUIT INSIDE THE HALL NOT ALLOWED.” And I watched the cinema manager, wielding a menacing foot rule, smacking the bottoms of those improperly dressed in queue for 10-anna tickets.

(The writer's email is jessekochar@gmail.com)

More In: Open Page | Opinion