There was a summer many, many years ago when my cousins from Delhi and I got the opportunity to stay at a heritage guest house in Mussoorie all by ourselves. My parents went to Mussoorie with us but had to come back to Doon due to some urgent work. We refused to go back to Doon so soon and thus they were left with no option but to leave us there under the care of the manager, the caretaker and the cook.
These three were quite well known to us as we usually stayed at the guest house in the summer vacation. My cousins, the son and daughter of my father’s sister, were in classes eleven and nine respectively and I was in class ten. So we thought that we were quite grown up and could manage well on our own! It was the beginning of an adventurous and memorable vacation that taught us many things and even today, we recall it with great fondness.
In the mornings, we would read novels or do some of our holiday homework after breakfast. By noon, we began to wonder what Samru Kaka, the chef at the guest house, would be stirring up for our lunch. Not that he had much variety! The same dal-chaawal, sabzi-roti, curd and salad. However, he would ask us which daal and which sabzi we would like to have at the next meal. Our requests would include “peeli daal” (we didn’t know that moong, arhar and malka masoor all were among peeli daals not to forget chana dal and dhuli urad).
Yellow daal, bhindi ki sabzi and zeera aaloo were favourites with all three of us and so were the amazing stuffed parathas Samru Kaka gave us with raita for our breakfast. As I write this, I can feel the wonderful taste of these comfort foods of childhood. The ingredients were simple but the special touch this old cook gave them was what turned them into gourmet dishes.
After lunch we would again sleep–what lazy, lovely days were those! At around four o’clock, we would have the milky sweet tea made at the guest house and then start our daily climb towards the Mall Road which was quite a distance from there and quite a steep climb.
However, we were in no hurry and would keep stopping on the way for some more tea or water, standing and looking at the views of the Doon valley. Once at the Mall Road, we would play video games and also the shooting the balloons game, eat the famous softy ice cream at the New Empire Store which can not be found anywhere now, buy our stock of imli and chooran and try to make friends with the families whom we met while walking up and down the Mall. We did succeed in making many friends.
However, since those were the days of writing letters and there was not even the STD facility available, we would hardly remain in touch with any of them once we all left Mussoorie. One or two would keep writing and we would reply once in a while. I have one or two of such letters still!The “Green Restaurant”, which is still around, was quite popular and we loved to have a meal of karhi chaawal there along with their sweet dish of the colourful Kasata ice cream. I went to Green recently but it has changed too much and I could not relate to it.
Mussoorie would weave its magic around us, every year, every summer. And it would become very difficult for us to separate ourselves from it and go back. But back we would have to go…as the schools would re-open in mid-July and the monsoons would arrive with a bang.For days after returning home, we would miss the tadka-daal made by Samru Kaka and tell our mothers that they should learn cooking from him! We missed the bhuttas, the chooran, the softy ice cream and the lovely mist that crossed us when we would walk about the hill station. We waited for the summer vacations eagerly and counted the months and days. There were not too many of these vacations but the few that we did manage have always remained in my heart. The simple joys we found so easily then could never be found again.
I go back to them whenever I wish and am really thankful to life for having given me such sweet and innocent days to remember forever. Such summers never came back to my life.
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