Squadron Leader Anil Sehgal
Just imagine that there are no colonies like Chhanni Himmat, Trikuta Nagar, Janipur or Pamposh Colony as we know these today. Sainik Colony and Greater Kailash are likewise nonexistant. So are Sidhra and Tawi Vihar as we know them today.
Well, there was a time, Jammu was limited to the old city area that spread from Panjtirthi to Karan Nagar to Rehari, Talab Tillo, Gumat, Wazarat Road. City limits ended at the erstwhile Tawi bridge made of solid steel girders, beyond which was the colony of Gandhi Nagar, sparsely inhabited until early seventies.
There was no railway station in Jammu until 1975, and the current campus of Jammu university was inaugurated only in the seventies. Old University campus is located at Canal Road, adjoining the Government Gandhi Memorial Science College. It houses some administrative set-up and boys’ hostel now.
Those were the times City Chowk (CC) to Shahidi Chowk (SC), in the downtown Jammu, was a fashionable promenade.
People from 15 years to 65 would enjoy walking several rounds of this stretch of well maintained road, adequately shouldered by stone footpaths on both sides, every day of the week, especially between 5 and 9 pm.
They would walk at a leisurely pace and we’re in no hurry to arrive anywhere. Street scenes were splattered with friends hugging each other, talking, shaking hands, and exchanging pleasantries.
The only exceptions I recall is when Neelaam Ghar (1974) a highly popular program of Pakistan Television (PTV) was telecast at 8 pm, Indian Standard Time. The strength of the signals was so strong that the PTV could be easily seen right upto Bhaderwah ; a sign of successful aerial subversion by our neighbour.
People would wind up their evening stroll early to reach homes in time to watch. Such was the popularity of the program.
Those days television was in her infancy and PTV (Pakistan Television) aired her shows with much strength to capture Indian audience in the border areas of Jammu and Kashmir and the Punjab. At that time, Doordarshan telecast was not available to these areas.
This magic of the television screen was again witnessed when serials like Ramayan (1987) and later Mahabharat (1988) were telecast on Doordarshan. Onceagain, similar scenes were witnessed and bazars were almost declared closed before the telecast time !
Those days, one could meet all his friends and relatives walking through the promenade. You could come across anyone, and everyone enjoying a stroll in his best attire, well groomed with some scent splashed over his persona.
Starting with cafe Capri cafe, some fifty yards away from the central basic school, to Rachna cafetaria near Shalamar road, opposite the then city police station, many of the meetings amongst friends happened over a cup of tea or coffee.
Today, one edge of the promenade from CC to Raghunath temple is decorated with the parked cars and bikes mostly owned by the shopkeepers themselves. This prohibits the eventual customers to visit their shops, which in turn results in limited footfall and sales. But, who listens !
The footpath of road opposite Sadhana Pen Store used to be adorned by one hawker of newspapers and magazines every evening. This gentleman called Thakur sahib was very popular amongst the readers and buyers of newspapers and periodicals.
Many would just oogle at his wares laid on the footpath outside the erstwhile Attar Singh & Sons shop selling confectionary and candy.
You could easily spot young aspirants of the civil services and the defence forces as well as writers, editors, broadcasters among his regular customers.
We used to await arrival of magazines like the Competition Master and Science Today with much anticipation. These were the only magazines of their respective categories available those days for preparing for the competitive examinations.
I recall Ved Bhasin, chairman and group editor Kashmir Times group of publications, Congress leader and later chairman Legislative Council Amrit Malhotra, minister Abdul Gani Lone, and R M Ambat, IPS, amongst others, patronising this footpath stall in regular basis.
Many senior readers will recall Farooq Abdullah travelling on a motorcycle with actor Shabana Azmi as a pillion rider on this very Residency Road !
A few days ago, I tried to capture the spirit of the yore and walked from CC to SC . Not only the crowd, but also the spirit of the promenade were missing. Stretch from CC to the Raghunath temple presents a pathetic sight of what was once a tony promenade.
Those days, I could not walk on the promenade without exchanging pleasantries with the shopkeepers, waving at the friends and hugging many of them tightly !
Many of them were friends of one or the other member of our large family comprising of uncles, aunts and cousins, both maternal and paternal.
This time, I walk unnoticed. There is no Sudershan Kohli of Jagdish Cloth House, at City Chowk to waive at you and ask you to step in for a cup of tea, and no one from the erstwhile Chaudhary Brothers smiles at you.
Or, for that matter Satish, popularly called Raja, of Highland Cleaners who was more popular than the owners of the shop….
Pammi of Malhotra Wines is resting in the world beyond and Jainways is minus it’s former glory.
Then, there was the clinic of Dr J R Sehgal very near to the entry to the famous Raghunath Mandir. This veteran dentist was way beyond the business of dentistry. He would come to the clinic just to stay in touch with old friends !
Of course, congenial dental surgeon was always available for professional help, consultation and treatment when needed, and without any financials involved !
You travel beyond to an almost forlorn stretch. Famous Datta Sons photograhers studio is reduced to one tenth of its original size. There is no sign of Preco Studio, which had a branch in Srinagar as well.
Even famed establishments like Ghulam Rasool and Sons and Kaysons, tailors and outfitters don’t fetch even one fourth of the usual fashionable crowds they once commanded.
Hari Talkies & Uttam Talkies, once were the hub centres of cinegoers of the walled city. The latter has since been demolished and there stands a multi storey hotel-cum- commerce centre on this location.
The former presents a pathetic image of its past glory. Occasional, and not regular, shows are run as informed by the CRPF personnel posted there. The premises is used as a paid public parking place !
You dare not drive up from CC to Purani Mandi. The traffic will make you regret as though you made the worst decision of your life. Similar plight awaits you, should you venture from CC to Rajinder Bazar or on the Link Road.
Uttam Talkies, however, has been rechristened in its new avatar as K C Residency, which houses commercial offices, showrooms and a rooftop revolving restaurant.
I hugely miss my Jammu of the sixties, seventies and the eighties ! I miss the camaraderie of the years gone by, the kebab ships opposite the Uttam Talkies, the tea and lemon soda dispensed at Moole Di Hatti near Hari Talkies, the simmering hot gulab jamuna of Amritsarian Di Hatti or the paan sold opposite the Hari Talkies, and the Gobhi Ke Pakore sold with Mooli Di Chatni at Purani Mandi chowk……
That is what my Jammu is made of ! No, my Jammu is not present in the shops and streets of Chhanni Himmat or Talab Tillo, Gandhi Nagar or Trikuta Nagar. These places just don’t compare with good old Jammu that has a permanent place etched in the most cherished of my memories.
How I remember my walks up and down this stretch in the 60s and the 70s when wearing a wrist watch was a part of being fashionable and owning a transistor was a sure sign of being modern !
Squadron Leader Anil Sehgal