Jammu of my Childhood

Anil Koul
I have my childhood memories from Jammu when we used to visit the Winter Capital of erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir state. Jammu was a town for me that would allow me space and offer me wings to open up. Back in Kashmir the weather would be tormenting with snow falling consistently blocking access to schools, playgrounds, bazaars and my favorite destination, post office.
I had got very early into correspondence with different institutions across the country although the correspondence limited to letter writing for some nominal gains. Be it writing to Diamond Comics Publishers or Nestle Maggi Club in Delhi, every letter was worth it. And that scope widened day by day. Jammu city was always full of hustle bustle and that was the most lovely element of its heritage.
On my first visit to the town in 80s, I remember I had seen a stray dog with brown color long fur and I mistook it for a monkey. Back then I wasn’t sure that there could be a different breed of dogs too. All I had seen local stray dogs in Kashmir. And then in those days, there used to be a Khilonewala who would carry a long stick with all the toys pinned to it and many balloons tied to strings running loose from the stick. He would blow a musical pipe or flute every day morning and that would be the stunning attraction for me. He was like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, Germany. If the main gate wasn’t closed I am sure I would have wandered behind him listening to that magical flute and watching those toys and beautiful colorful balloons hanging from the stick dancing in the air.
Jammu those days was small but a lovely city and I remember some of the major highlights. The foot over bridge that stood at General Bus Stand (in blue color) stretching over the Karan Market area and leading to Shri Raghunath Mandir Complex was an awe in itself. I would always watch the bridge when travelling in Matadors (Travelling Wagons from Firodia Group) and there was a dream that someday I will climb the stairs and cross the bridge (and when after more than a decade I did it turned out nostalgic; the childhood had returned for brief interval). Shri Raghunath Mandir Complex was in itself a mega-structure for eyes to catch up. Some many magnificent temples in that Complex and then those thousands of Shaligrams was not just mysterious but fascinating too. Taking a walk by their side was like doing circumambulation of Mt. Kailash. I close my eyes for a brief time and the picture of the entire temple complex falls in front of me.
The next big thing for me was Tower Clock at Shalamar Crossing. It was a fantastic monument colored in baked brick color with some craftsmanship on it. Although the time would run late in the clock sometimes but it was a masterpiece in itself. There used to be an alarm for offices in the morning. I had always believed that the alarm emanated from the Tower Clock. A few years after when we happened to visit Jammu again the Tower Clock was no more there. The monument had bitten the dust. That was the one monument that I symbolized with Jammu city. However, my dream of watching it year after year crashed and perished forever.
Peer Baba was another attraction of the city back then. Although it was far off from Jammu but there were Matadors that would take you to the Shrine of Peer Baba. Everyone would throng there. At the entrance there would be many hawkers who would keep stack of coins (5 Paise, 10 Paise, 20 Paise) for people that wanted change. The coins were usually showered over the Shrine. The Shrine offered some different and distinct content of mind. Although as a child I loved the atmosphere there but at the same time I was interested in the nearby airport from where loud noise of aeroplanes would come. And once I was lucky to see an aeroplane running on the tarmac from the barbed wire. I had never seen an aeroplane from such a close distance before that day. Train was yet another delight for me to watch. I had heard about trains, read in books and watched on Television but had never a physical experience. One day I visited the Railway Station with my older brothers and I was delighted to see a train. The train was standing on the platform and I happened to get inside and sit on the seat for a while. Then I happened to see the lavatories and it was all an excitement for me to know about the trains. It was all because Jammu had a railway access and thus a privilege for the train journey lovers.
The Jammu City I remember from my childhood had a Double Decker Bus too. Although I never travelled in one but I faintly remember it would run from Ambphalla to R S Pura. My dad would often say that the journey via the Double Decker Bus was an exotic one especially when you cross the Tawi River Bridge connecting Jewel Chowk to Bikram Chowk. It must have been certainly magical when the Double Decker Bus would roam Jammu.
K C Theatre presented a rich heritage. It looked like a Ship that has come to rest on a hill top like the Noah’s Ark after the Great Floods subsided. Such a beautiful look of that theatre, I don’t have precise words to explain its beauty and grandeur. Although there were many other movie theatres in the city but this one was absolutely phenomenal in its looks and shape.
On the day of Shivratri, the Ranbireshwar Shiv Temple on the Shalamar Road would be all grandeur. There was a Mela in and outside the complex with hawkers selling flower girdles, garlands, toys, sweetmeats, and water balloons. It was worth to be there and not just enjoy the Mela outside, there used to be rich queues of devotees waiting for a turn to get inside the sanctum sanctorum to offer milk and other stuff to the presiding deity Lord Shiva there. It was a beautiful time back then. There were other places of repute too like the Peer Kho Cave. It was a different attraction. Perhaps because as children we were told that the cave has another end opening in China. And the mind literally would think at multiple occasions that the cave route would be fascinating although there would be challenges like we were narrated by elders.
Bahu Fort complex was the grandest of all. But going there would get me more fear because of the monkey menace. I would stay very close to my parents whenever we visited the Mahakali temple there. And the best part after the visit to temple was that we would be spending the evening in the Bagh-e-Bahu gardens where the lights would add more beauty as the sun plans to set. A visit to the gardens was always on the cards and I always loved it. I faintly remember that there used to be a Mela on both sides of Ranbir Canal from Rajinder Nagar to Shakti Nagar on the day of Baisakhi. The green grocers would put the water melons in certain enclosures in the cold water of the canal and sell them to buyers. We children would get even a slice for a rupee or fifty paise. There were potters selling lot of toys made from mud and clay. It was a place thronged by most of the city dwellers and was a fun to rejoice in.
Jammu is a beautiful city with a rich culture and heritage. It’s my hometown today. But I work outside the city and whenever I visit city I see some of the old monuments still stand tall but few of them look dilapidated. I wish to see someday a museum is dedicated to such a rich heritage of Jammu. The museum may contain the photographs of different eras that Jammu has been through. Some of the monuments I talked about in my article could get space in that museum. There is much more in Jammu which is to be known and read about. I am sure our intellectuals, writers, philosophers and bureaucrats are doing something to ensure this legacy of Jammu stands tall so that our future generations can have a reminiscence of the past memoirs that existed in real once.