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PLACES THAT TIME FORGOT

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  By: Ganesh Saili

‘What’s Futty-Chath?’ Avid history buff and teacher Mark Windsor asks me.

‘Where on earth did they get a name like that?’ Carefully he superimposes the grid of an old 1831 map of Mussoorie on the 1946 update to get his bearings.

‘Must have been an old summer chaan or hutment that had its roof blown off!’ Say I.

Gone! The roof and all. In its stead are the smoldering remains of, what was once, the largest personal residence ever built in the station. It  combined the best of Nepalese and European designs. In its heydays, Fairlawn Palace overflowed the hill right down to the motor-road to Dehradun.  Though what remain are the ruins of alcoves, arches, balusters, garrets, gateways and vaults  glued together as if by lime and mortar carrying a whiff of an imperial heritage that takes your breath away. Built by Maharaja Dev Shamsher Jung Bahadur Rana, the Prime Minister of Nepal for 144 days before being deposed in a palace coup. When I think of him, I cannot help but feel he was the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time. Perhaps he moved too swiftly for a medieval mindset, in a country that now honours him for the publication of its first newspaper; setting up its first college for women and abolition of slavery.

In India, the British offered him two options: land in Delhi’s Connaught Place or a place in the hills to the north. He succumbed to the later. The spot, located four miles along the old bridle path to the hill station charmed him, reminding him of the hill-and-mountain country he had left behind: well-seated on a ridge, with splendid views, a rambling garden with plenitude of water.

‘Three lakh rupees!’ exclaimed Jagat Shumshere, one of his sons. ‘A staggering sum,  for the times, was spent on levelling the hill alone!’  Help came from the Patrician Brothers of St Georges, Barlowganj, in building him a home large enough for his twelve sons and four daughters.

Not too soon after, plagued by ill-heath, he wrote to his brother: ‘I am growing old and am now a broken man. Pray grant that I may see my country once again before I die.’

After a deafening silence, came a laconic reply:  ‘Just as no forest can contain two tigers, nor one scabbard two swords, so there is no place in Nepal for you and me.’

Broken-hearted, aged fifty-two years, he passed away on 20th February 1914.

 

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‘Twas just last week, I happened to bump into Sunny Sahani, the President of the Uttarakhand Hoteliers’ Federation, who with a twinkle in his eye, said: “I explored the area around Dalhousie Masonic Lodge to chance upon old Raghu Niwas – once the Swedish School – we know nothing about it!;’ The gears begin to  grinding. On a lark I get in touch with the ever-reliable, Ashok Nath, military historian, living in Sweden. He hits pay dirt immediately.

Apparently, the whole idea of having a separate Swedish school in India was born in Boras in January 1948. A committee was assigned the task of working it all out. In the fall of 1949 Saga Bergsten was invited to Dehradun to teach missionary children. In the first year she had two pupils, the next, four. Later other Swedes sent their children too and the school moved to Raghu Niwas, above Lodge Dalhousie.

With her failing health in 1952, she went home to Finland, while the parents taught the children themselves, awaiting a new teacher. Birgit Ediderbrant arrived in March 1953 to teach primaries one to seven ( in the Swedish system) and the average number of pupils per year was eight. Soon after the school moved to Landour, from where it ran for fourteen years before winding up in 1969.

As I write, down the corridors of Time, her stern visage stares back at me. With military precision, she used to walk her charges, past the bus stand, for Sunday morning service at the Union Church.

While some places crumble. Others fold up. Often you can trace their shadows on the old cadastral maps. They turn into places that Time forgot.

Ganesh Saili born and home-grown in the hills belongs to those select few whose words are illustrated by their own pictures. Author of two dozen books; some translated into twenty languages, his work has found recognition world-wide.