I have spent almost half of my life in Jammu right from the very birth, the reason being the durbar move. My late father who served in various capacities in the state government had to move in winter to Jammu. The recollection of the most of the events of those early days has gone blank with my fading memory but there are certain incidents of love and bonhomie which I vividly recall. I am sharing these with my friends in Jammu!
Milk Maids and Hawkers
The people whom I remember and also miss from my childhood in Jammu are the hawkers and the milk maids. Every morning a Gurjar lady (locally called Gurjarni) used to come to our house to deliver milk. This was a routine with many of our neighbours. These Gurjars lived with their cattle near the present Bhatandi area and used to come every morning into the city to deliver milk and sometimes curds in small earthen pots. The milk would be carried by them in aluminium pots on their heads one over the other. They used to be dressed in colourful clothes with some traditional ornaments especially thick bangles, ear-rings and nasal rings made from silver. They also had very typical foot wear which too was quite traditional. These fascinating attractive dresses and ornaments are still available and one could market these for visitors coming to Jammu. The thing which I very strongly remember is the typical odour they used to exude. It felt something very close to the smell coming from buffalos and goats.
This was due to their close interaction with these animals which were their mainstay. These days I have not seen such a traditional system of milk delivery in the modern quarters of the city. Those people prefer pasteurised milk in paper cartons coming all the way from major milk producers out side the state. However, the Milk Maids still visit old part of Jammu and continue supplying the fresh and natural milk to local consumers. Earlier they used to walk or come in Tongas but now they have pick up vans! During those early days when I was studying in the primary school, I had the opportunity of visiting a Gurjar village. I was taken there by a lady who used to visit our house. It was some festive occasion. I have a very faint idea of the travel but recollect certain things during this outing. Firstly, the husband of the lady carried me on his shoulders some distance before we reached the village. There were some mud huts called Gurjar Kothas. As usual there were a number of buffalos tied next to these huts. There were some of the elders with huge turbans, red dyed beards in their traditional dress sitting on typical cots smoking hubble-bubble. We were first served some Gud (raw sugar) and milk. Later on lunch consisting of rice and Rajmash (pulses) mixed with ghee was served. For those people it was a treat but I felt nausea and could not eat it. I preferred Gud, curds, and locally prepared maize bread. In any case it was an experience traces of which continue to linger in my memory even after 50 years or so! Subsequently, during my adventure travels in the mountains as part of my job and as member of the mountaineering fraternity, I had many occasions to share meals with Gurjar and Bakerwal nomads. The food served consisting of mutton, chicken, vegetables (usually Sag), and curds was always a delicacy of the mountains. In addition, the salt tea, with maize bread made with butter, and sattu was a speciality which I long to taste often!
The Hawkers I distinctly remember from my childhood in Jammu include the “Malai Baraf Wala”, “Aaloo Cholay”, “Kachaloo and Gole Gappay seller”, and the “peanut and the pop corn seller”. Most interesting was the “Malai Baraf Wala”. He would be carrying a small wooden box on his head. It contained a locally made ice-cream wrapped in cloth usually woollen felt. He would sell slices of this ice cream on thick green leaves of oak trees. It was a treat to eat this ice cream. The person would be moving in lanes and by-lanes giving calls of “Malai Baraf”. I was always surprised how he could keep the ice-cream from melting in a woollen cloth! It was a strange type of insulation. It would be interesting to find out if these guys are still around. I have not seen one for a long time. Now we are getting top class ice-creams of international brands. But the “Malai Baraf” served on leaves had its own unique quality and taste! Another hawker I have not seen for sometime is the one selling peanuts and desi pop corn. He used to move about with two large wicker baskets tied to the ends of a long pole which he balanced on his shoulder like the balance the symbolic lady of justice holds. In the two baskets there were many things. These included roasted peanuts, pop corn, sweets (Rewdian, Patti), roasted Channa etc. He used to dispense peanuts and Channa in small paper cones.
The other hawkers such as “Aaloo Cholay”, “Kachaloo”, and “Gole Gappay” are still there but instead of roaming through the lanes and by lanes, they have taken position at vantage points. You can find these outside schools, offices, shopping complexes and always around the venues of special events. Quite a few of these have handcarts which they move around. Some of these delicacies are now available in special outlets with proper sitting. The most famous being the “Pahalwan Di Hatti” and “Nathu Sweets”. However, one does not get the same feeling which we used to get in our childhood while buying and eating these things from the traditional hawkers sitting down on the ground. Our modern youth are now getting used to “Junk Food” which is available every where in large quantities. “Aaloo Cholay”, “Kachaloo”, “Malai Baraf” and fresh sugar cane juice are being replaced by KFC, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Kwality, Baskin-Robins, Pepsi, and Coke. These are the in things now. Jammu is not lagging behind in these mod foods which are the craze for the youth everywhere. However, once in a while one longs to taste the foods and snacks of good old days in the very old fashioned ways. That brings in a flood of nostalgia and one relives one’s childhood days!