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!
The City of Jammu had certain landmarks which have either disappeared with the passage of time or have vanished under the congested new localities. In the western countries they go to great lengths in preserving their ancient heritage, be it a gate, building, bridge or any other similar structure. We are famous for demolishing and rebuilding monuments! The earliest landmark of which I have a very faint idea was the erstwhile Railway Station from where trains would leave for Sialkot. These memories are of a time when I was about 3 years old. I faintly remember an overhead pedestrian bridge of steel over the station. Of the trains, I have an impression of my grand father sitting on a birth in the train which was leaving for Sialkot. I was crying and wanted to go with him. He had come to see us in Jammu and was leaving back for Kashmir. Those days the Bannihal Road used to be closed during winter and people had to travel via Sialkot and Rawalpindi between Jammu and Srinagar. I have also a very dim recollection of Sialkot house where we once stayed. It was a single storey house with a small lawn. I remember sitting on a Charpoy and watching some buffalos which were tied on one side of the lawn. The house belonged to some relations of our hosts in Jammu. Before 1947 we used to stay in a house in Julaka Mohalla which belonged to a Muslim family and the head of the family was known as Master Hakim Din. It was a huge two storey heritage house of red bricks. We were their permanent tenants and used to stay with them every winter. In fact we were more than tenants and the family used to treat us as their relations. In 1947 the family migrated to Pakistan. Subsequently my father went to Jammu alone for a couple of years. He did not have a heart to go the house. We lost touch with the family and I met them again only in 1963 during my visit to Pakistan. Their father had passed away. The other members of the family, two sisters Saleema and Haleema, and brother Khalid were settled in different parts of Pakistan and abroad. Haleema and Khalid were in Batapore while as Saleema was in London. I met all the family members and it was a nostalgic reunion. One even in the erstwhile house in Julaka Mohalla I distinctly remember is getting hurt while playing. I was running up and down the stairs when I lost balance and rolled down. I hurt my forehead and started bleeding. Saleema picked me up and put a pad of burnt cotton wool on my wound to stop bleeding. She gave me a big cup full of hot milk full of cream and sugar. When I raised the cup to drink the milk, the cotton pad fell into it!
The other important land mark of Jammu which is missing now is the old steel bridge on River Tawi. It was like the Howrah Bridge of Kolkata but on a smaller scale. From ancient times River Tawi had acted as a barrier for all outsiders and people had to sometimes ford the river to cross it. It would have been ideal to preserve the bridge as a landmark and the new bridges could have been constructed some distance away upstream or downstream. It would have involved slight realignment of the road. However, we are not so keen to preserve our historical landmarks. The bridge was dismantled and the scrap used for many other structures. Incidentally, there is bridge in Mandi, Poonch on way to the shrine of Sain Miran. There is sign board which says the bridge has been constructed from the scrap of the old Tawi Bridge in Jammu. While talking about Tawi, I miss two more spots. One was the stretch of white sands where we used to go for playing on Sundays. From our house in Pir Mitha we used to go down to River Tawi through a narrow path surrounded by shrubs where goats used to be grazing. Then we would come to a long stretch of white sands on the banks of the River. We were taken there by our domestic help who used to wash clothes while we would play with the sand. I remember seeing some camels in the area which were used for carrying some loads. Due to extreme congestion of houses on the banks of the River, it is impossible to locate the path and the white sands! Another spot in the same area was a pump house which had a long pipe out of which hot water used to flow out. During winter I used to be taken there by my father and his friend on Sunday mornings. After some exercise and massage we would take a hot bath under the hot water pipe. It was probably an outlet of a motor-pump cooling system. This pump was probably used to pump up water from River Tawi to the City Water Supply plant and the outlet of hot water must have been from the cooling system of the pump. After a hot bath we used to go to Halwai’s shop to eat Cholay Pathoray and Halwa Puri. It used to be a treat!
Some other important landmarks were the gates of Jammu. It is said that there were several gates to enter Jammu from different directions. I am not aware of the names and locations of all the gates but I remember the Gumut Gate, Dennis Gate, and Jogi Gate only. May be a historian can throw more light on the location and significance of these gates which must have been well known in the past?
However, the landmark which I miss the most is the Uttam Talkie. It was a Cinema situated on the Residency Road (now called Vir Marg) at the spot where Hotel KC Residency now stands. It was the most important and distinctly visible landmark of good old days. There used to be floor mill behind the Cinema. Many of my fond memories of the past are attached to this place. I used to go to the Cinema to watch movies with friends. It was a good excursion. Apart from watching movies we used to take different types of snacks in the shops in front of the Cinema. There is a totally new complex on the spot. The Hotel has a revolving restaurant on top. It gives a panoramic view of Jammu. There are a number of shops including some fast food outlets in the KC Residency Complex. It is a modern recreational spot and is frequented by the present youth. However, the famous Cinema Uttam Talkie and its surroundings had a unique ambiance of their own. Progress and modernisation are good and there is no escape from the march of time. But one has to pay a price for the progress. It is debatable whether the price is worth paying as it kills the ambiance of those good old days. We can only nostalgically recall that feeling of satisfaction and contentment!