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“The Best Is Yet to Come!”

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We, the Government 

By HUGH AND COLLEEN GANTZER

Saturday 7th September, 2019 was a very special day for us. Years ago, as an Indian Naval family, we had sat glued to our radio to hear Neil Armstrong deliver his iconic words as the first human in history to step on to an extra-terrestrial world. In the early hours of Saturday 7th we saw our nation join the League of Extra-Terrestrial Intruders: an Indian space-craft landed on the Moon and it will be there for centuries to come, like Neil Armstrong’s footprint! That is just one of our remarkable achievements on that day. There are more human ones that have compelled us to venture beyond our self-imposed frontiers in this column. Here we extend our horizons beyond our town, district and state. We encompass the nation, and even further. The emotionally heart- warming sight of our Prime Minister returning to the space centre to embrace the ISRO Chairman is an unforgettable cameo that transcended prestige and protocol. The deeper significance of their backgrounds: a tea vendor’s son from north of the Vindhyas who has risen to control the world’s largest democracy, hugging a mango-farmer’s son from the deep south, who chairs an incredibly innovative space organisation, demolishes the legendary north-south divide. And the refreshingly large number of women scientists in the Control Centre defies paternalistic prejudices worldwide! The Prime Minister’s statement that “The best is yet to come!” has a prophetic ring about it! Finally, both the Lander and the Rover were, at best, part-time help to the mission, or little more than icing on the cake! Ninety-six percent of the objectives of this mission will, reportedly, be performed by the Orbiter which has not been affected by the malfunctioning of its associated equipment. So much for the repercussions of our latest space mission. Now to our more localised issues. Both the Garhwal Post of the same date, and a north Indian daily, reported on a decision given by the High Court of Himachal at Shimla. This concerns the beautiful old Town Hall in Himachal’s capital. The building has been described as an Elizabethan Half-timbered structure and there is no doubt that it is a striking edifice, but it is not, strictly speaking, an “Elizabethan Half- timbered” building. Half-timbered structures were popular in England in Tudor times. Such buildings were constructed around timber frames, with the frames exposed; the spaces in between were filled with other materials. The frames were usually tree-trunks or branches of varying widths and it is these differences that distinguish an original half-timbered structure from a more modern one called a Mock Half-timbered structure. This is what Shimla’s Town Hall architecture should really be called. This technical quibble aside, there is no doubt that this iconic structure deserves to be conserved and, significantly, this was done by the Tourism Department funded by the Asian Development Bank. Civil Society, however, was not happy with the renovation and filed a Public Interest Litigation. As many as forty-five shortcomings were, reportedly, found including the use of unsuitable wood. If unseasoned wood is used in a building it is likely to warp and, thereby, destabilise the entire structure. Interestingly, the High Court reportedly said, “The maintenance and the cleanliness of any government building, especially in a country like ours, leaves much to be desired.” Clearly, it was not always a government building. It was, reportedly, designed by a Scottish architect as the New Library and is 111 years old. This is significant for us in Mussoorie because, since the High Court of Himachal has referred to this building as a “heritage” structure, then the Mussoorie Library should also bear such a designation. It is 176 years old. Moreover, its style is not “mock” Victorian Cast-Iron-and-Glass, it is the authentic architecture favoured by such great Victorians as Queen Victoria’s consort: Prince Albert. He designed his famous Crystal Palace in cast iron and glass. Happily, the Mussoorie Library was never abandoned by the civil society of our town, so it did not suffer the depredations of being a sarkari office: an inheritance of dirt and neglect. We, the voters of Mussoorie who are, really, We, the Government, have found no need to file a PIL.

Not yet, that is.