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Wind Down and Wind Up

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We, the Government 

By HUGH & COLLEEN GANTZER

The Neo-Gothic facade of St George’s College, Manor House, dominates Mussoorie’s south- eastern Barlowganj Hill. It was, reputedly, designed by, and constructed under the supervision of, the Irish polymath, Brother Ralph Phelan. He crowned it with a tower holding an illuminated clock, ringing with the chimes of Big Ben. Not many people know that the peals carried a message:- Through this dark night God be my guide And by Thy Power No foot shall slide. Bro Phelan was very proud of his clock. He made sure that it was wound regularly by an employee. On rare occasions, however, a senior Manorite was given this honour, as one of us was. From the Roof Terrace, a door opened into the small Clock Room: redolent of sun-heated metal and lubricants, and dominated by the back of the clock-face. Between this and the door hung four great bells, hammers poised to strike, the minute hand of the huge clock ticking slowly. Our task was to grab the large winding handle and crank it till the weights, suspended all the way down the tower, were raised to the tower level. We had to scamper out of the room before the next quarter-chime or else our ear- drums would burst! Once we just managed to get the door shut before the hour-chimes began to strike with a thunderous sound! And one night, when it was silent, all of us in the Middle Dorm just below the clock, sprang awake asking “What’s wrong?” Our sleep cycles, accustomed to hearing the chimes every quarter hour, reacted when that didn’t happen. Our senses flashed a warning to wake us. The absence of a long expected event can be critical. Clock towers were trusted. Not everyone had a watch and timepieces, as domestic clocks were called, were too large to carry around. Clock towers regulated the pulses of civic order. Time has overtaken our wonderful old Manor House clock. Its chimes no longer mark the musical milestones of Mussoorie’s day. Time has become democratic, even globalised. With the advent of the smart-phone, and the SC asserting our fundamental right to use Internet, our netas are living in a time- warp if they believe that they can regulate our lives by diktat and fiat. Grassroots compulsions can no longer be ignored under the Orwellian arrogance of “Big Daddy Knows Best”. At least, not at the Municipal, District and State level, which are the domains of this column. The world’s most successful, and stable, democracy, Switzerland, works at this level. Its cantons are virtually independent districts with their own flags and crests. Is democracy working in our town, district and state? If it is, why has it taken four days for the street lights in our area to be repaired? We live in, arguably, the most densely forested part of our little town. In these winter months, darkness falls by 5 o’clock. Our roads are covered with snow, sitting deceptively soft and white on patches of evil, slippery, black ice. Leopards also frequently prowl in our forests and they have been known to attack humans. And yet we have not been able to get through to any landline phone in the City Board. An informant tells us that all the landlines to our Municipal authorities have been disconnected because their bills have not been paid! Thousands of Indians, all across our land, have taken to the streets because they believe that they have not been consulted when a major decision, affecting their lives, was taken. Happily, in spite of Dehradun-Mussoorie being a major educational hub, we have been curiously free of this unrest. If that is because our people trust our netas, then is that trust being eroded? We recall the incidents triggered by Uttar Pradesh’s inability to understand our seething resentment at being treated as second- class citizens. Our Movers-and-Shakers have an insatiable desire to be seen as high achievers in the eyes of the world. But the world neither employs them nor sustains them: we the voters and tax- payers of India, We, the Government, do. Smoke-and-Mirror illusions will no longer work. It’s a curious, but undeniable, fact that when you wind down a targeted enterprise, you also wind up its alternative!