By: GANESH SAILI
Mussoorie – Dehradun are turning into a land shark’s second Goa,’ says my friend, author-publisher Pramod Kapoor.
And he is right. At the hour of the cow-dust, no matter where you go, you will find yourself surrounded by a swamp of boozing cruising. Portable carbars, parked along the roadside, music blaring, leave nothing to the imagination.
In Mussoorie, beer was brewed as early as 1830, when Meerut’s Henry Bohle built a brewery on the grounds of Lyndale (the old Bansi Estate) at the western edge of the hill station. Trouble knocked when firewater was sold to soldiers presenting forged passes. Colonel Young issued summons to Bohle for distilling spirits without a licence. Now it’s true that he did distil whiskey at Meerut, but there is nothing on record about a distillery in Bohle’s Brewery. Soon after, his estate was put to the hammer and was snapped up by the Scotsman John Mackinnon, to start the Masuri Seminary, our first English medium school in the Himalaya.
Mauger Monk, a teacher there, wrote: ‘Mackinnon, like most of us, has his faults certainly not amicable ones. He is self-willed, obstinate and passionate. And suggested alterations in the established system throws him into a perfect fury, which terminates in sulks…’
But let us leave that story for another day.
Our beery history blossomed with the advent of Whymper & Co. leasing the Crown Brewery in Barlowganj in 1876. We all know the well-worn tale which has everyone smacking his or her lips at a much improved brew. The source was soon traced to Vat 42 – everyone re-drank, retasted and re-tested, till the diminishing level of beer revealed a worker who had slipped and fallen unnoticed into the vat and drowned. His supreme sacrifice did not go in vain. It gave the beer trade a real fillip.
An advertisement from 1884 has the Crown Brewery Company Ltd claim a supply: ‘to the Public, Messes, Canteens, and Merchants, direct from the Brewery, or through their Agents in Landour, Mussoorie, Dehra, Chackarata, Saharanpore, Jullundhur, Ferozepore, Agra, Morar, Jhansee, Allahabad, &c.’ The Manager, a certain Mr. J. M. Wymper, advises prospective clients that 5 and 9 gallon casks are convenient loads for one coolie, and are ‘suitable for camp use.’
Mackinnon’s Brewery, on the other hand, produced Pale Ale, Strong Ale (XXXX) and XXX Porter. ‘I have the honour to inform you that the Beer supplied by you to the Depot under my command has invariably been of the most excellent quality,’ wrote an appreciative Commanding Officer of the Landour Depot in 1877.
An early visitor, Fanny Parkes, found the Privates of the Lancers and the Buffs anxious to trade butterflies for the local brew. And the dark did not throw its shadows on the privates alone. It enveloped army chaplain Mr. Blunt, ‘who abominably drunk, exposed himself to soldiers, talking all sorts of bawdy and ribaldry, and singing scraps of the most blackguard and indecent songs, thereby rendering himself a common laughing stock.’
As I write, a certain Mr. P can talk and make you mad at the same time; a known bore and a raconteur of pointless anecdotes about people you don’t even know. Snubbing him makes no difference as he careens on like a car with failed brakes.
Our present Chairman of the Boozer’s Club was wobbling past the high rise flats on his way home, when he spotted a man dusting his carpet on the third floor. He almost started a riot by yelling: ‘What’s wrong Abdul? Won’t it start?’
Once, he went past a breakfast table at the Hakman’s Grand Hotel and on seeing a guest with a bowl of porridge said: ‘You’re not really going to eat that are you?’ and added, ‘Or have you had it already?’
And he is not alone. Slaking their throats are the last remnants of one of our aristocratic families. The bartender says to the waiter:
“Get ready! Here comes the bottle!’
‘No! No! That’s not the father. It’s the eldest son – the half bottle!’
‘Are you an idiot?’ said one to the other, adding ‘That’s the youngest son – the quarter bottle!’
Ganesh Saili, authorphotographer has written and illustrated twenty books. He belongs to those select few who illustrate their own writing. His work has found publication in periodicals, columns and journals. His books have been translated into more than two-dozen languages.