The garden umbrella in Hari Nagar, opposite a gurdwara, is unique in the sense that besides providing shelter from sun and rain, it also is the meeting place for a cross-section of people, including oldies, women, and children. It is here that they sit down and relax, the youngsters to make paper boats, the old to share reminiscences and the women, who are mostly housemaids, to gossip.
The bamboo, thatch and concrete structure looks more like an African hut, reminiscent of Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Kenya, when she was a princess, newly-married to Prince Philip and was to later learn about the sudden death of her father, George VI, which made her his successor. It was in such a hut that she met the hunter Jim Corbett, who had moved to East Africa along with his sister Maggie, leaving their homes in Meerut and Kumaon, to start a new life after India’s Independence.
Sitting one rainy afternoon under the Hari Nagar hut, one heard the old men talking about the time when the area was hardly developed and they had just started living in it after Partition. There was no gurdwara then and the wide open spaces were home to wild animals and snakes, which were a real menace, despite the presence of their sworn enemy, the mongoose. Jackals were also seen from time to time and also rabbits. There were few trees but birds were plentiful and sat on the berias (Indian plum trees) that are not so abundant now.
One day a jackal made its way into a refugee home, which led to quite a commotion. Another jackal followed it and the two started mating in a secluded corner. Though the sun was shining, it began to rain and the inmates of the house, who were at first perturbed, started clapping because they were witnessing the proverbial jackal wedding, which is believed to bring good luck to the viewers. No more jackals are seen near the garden umbrella or gazebo now but one is reminded of the 1947 tale whenever one passes by it to buy samosas from a nearby shop.