Home Feature A FAIRY TALE CALLED “CLEMENT TOWN” !!

A FAIRY TALE CALLED “CLEMENT TOWN” !!

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By KULBHUSHAN KAIN 

I was not born in Clement Town-but I still love it, though the only remnant of its past is my bungalow! To love Clement Town as intensely as I do, you had to belong to that era. There is nothing much left of the Clement Town that I grew up in –except the memories. It is now a regular town with the normal hustle and bustle, where cars jostle for space with cycles, motorcycles, buses and scooter rickshaws.
Many old colonial bungalows have disappeared, and people who lived in them, have died. People like me had left it in a quest to make a living. When I returned after 45 years, I felt like a stranger. But it was not like that when we had first settled in Clement Town.

My father chose to settle in Clement Town primarily because of its beauty and weather. Nestled in the Doon Valley, it was surrounded by hills on all sides with plenty of forests and a number of fresh mountain streams. It was inhabited by the British who tried to create a mini English County there. During the Second World War Italian prisoners of war captured in North Africa, were housed in several barracks which were built to accommodate them in Clement Town. Later in 1948 these barracks became predecessors to the academy at Khadakvasala –it housed budding cadets. There was also the Air Force Selection Board –it still is –and thus Clement Town developed into a cantonment town. My father was appointed as Chief Medical Officer of Cantonment Board Hospital in 1961.
Though it was a locality meant only for the British and the Anglo-Indians to start with,  that law was relaxed, and my father bought a big British type bungalow with 3 acres of land. It was full of trees –mangoes, pears, grapefruit, and guavas primarily. It was here that I grew up-seeing vast expanses of open fields, breathing fresh air and being in the lap of the snow covered hills of the Himalayas.

Clement Town was settled along more or less two parallel roads –the Subhash Nagar Road and Turner Road –both of which branched off from the main Delhi –Dehradun Road. Straight down Subhash Nagar Road, one passed huge bungalows and the best stocked provision store run by Sewa Ram next to the Post Office. The road carried further past the Air Force Station, the Cantonment Board, beyond the famous Victory Cinema, from where it turned towards the left and went towards Bharuwala which had a famous bus stop called Dakota. Yes, you guessed it right-one of the Dakota aircraft had crashed with much of its body intact, and the residents of Clement Town had mounted it on cement stands. It stood there as a sentinel of Clement Town, guarding its military bungalows and barracks. Later on, some enterprising officers converted it into a venue for parties. It was lit, a bar was created (in the cockpit of the plane!!), chairs were arranged and gala dance parties were arranged! Just next to Dakota was a huge field. It was on this field that all Clement Town boys learned and played cricket. Every afternoon, after returning from school, we would make a beeline for the field. We would return drenched in sweat in the evening. The big field now houses flats with not a semblance of the field.
If one did not turn left from the Victory Cinema and proceeded straight then one would reach what we used to call ‘Parry State’. It was “Paris Estate” .! In it resided one of Clement Town’s most famous residents –Sir Edmond Gibson. He once was the British Resident of the Kathiawar State. The Residents were very powerful and reported to the British Govt directly. He was also the first President of the Doon Club post Independence. My father was his physician. Sir Gibson was a bit of a recluse –though I saw him many times –a pipe-smoking Englishman. His property sat on the edge of the Suswa River which divided Clement Town from Doiwala. It was one of the most beautiful properties in Clement Town-the river flowing past it, the majestic mountains peeping above the thick forests, the sound of birds and animals, and the noise of the woodcutter’s axe chipping away at trees and carrying it as fuel to homes in Clement Town.

Buses plied to and fro at regular intervals of 40 minutes. They were the main form of transportation. The bus conductors were friendly and knew the residents by name. In fact they would sometimes be told that on a particular day, they should be slightly careful and wait if needed for a family boarding a particular bus .!! I remember the name of the two conducters very distinctly – Mahata and Iqbal. Mahata was the more friendly of the two and a great hit with the youngsters like me. He had a puff hairstyle. There was one very popular driver –Khan Sahib, whose son used to study with me in St Mary’s Convent –Hafizullah Khan. Khan Sahib was popular because he would swerve the bus on demand around the several bends at high speed!!

There was one very good school where everyone in Clement Town studied –St Mary’s Convent. It was here that the legendary Miss Kaura taught us to dream and imagine. She would read out stories of King Midas, King Bruce, Thumbelina, Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella, Jack, and the Beanstalk, and many more…..
Befittingly even today when I imagine and dream of Clement Town of the past–I remember her !
Clement Town of the sixties is now like the many fairly tales she spun out !!!

(Kulbhushan kain is an award winning educationist with more than 4 decades of working in schools in India and abroad. He is a prolific writer who loves cricket, travelling and cooking. He can be reached at kulbhushan.kain@gmail.com)