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A Prevalence of Writers

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We, the Government

By Hugh and Colleen Gantzer

We’ll take a short break from reminding our distant netas and babus about how they have failed We, the Government.
We’ve done this because we find that our newly elected City Board, of largely Independent Members, seems to be sincere about solving Mussoorie’s many, and long-pending, problems. The salaries of the sanitation workers have been increased and tenders would soon be floated for monkey catchers. (GP 1st Feb). Clearly, the Board realised that they could not depend on the Forest Department to do the job!
Equally, obviously, our Board knows that Mussoorie’s image has taken a beating. It’s been a long, slow, slumming process hastened by ostensible ‘development’ and the curious logic of the MDDA’s Compounding Fees. If you violate the MDDA’s building laws you have committed a crime and the full weight of the law will strike you. But, hold it: if you pay a Compounding Fee the crime, suddenly, vanishes, and all is well!
In some countries, even murder is condoned if you pay Blood Money. Compounding Fee is the MDDA’s lucrative source of Builders’ Blood Money. It would be interesting to find out how much of MDDA’s continued survival depends on this vampire-like levy!
But then how do we find out such things if there is no Lok Ayukt or Lok Pal to demand an answer? There seems to be a delightfully naive belief, in certain rarefied circles in Uttarakhand, that there is no need for such ombudsmen because there is no corruption in our state! Is this why our tourism tag line is “Uttarakhand: Simply Heaven”?
We need to ask such questions, not because there is any suspicion of wrongdoing but, because we have to block all possible avenues for wrongdoing. If forest guides know that a certain jungle trail ends in deadly quick-sands, it is their duty to erect a barrier across that trail!
But we do not wish to make the MDDA a whipping boy for all of Mussoorie’s problems. Mussoorie is pock-marked with seedy doss-houses masquerading as home stays. They assume their doubtful legitimacy because of both official apathy and unabashed rent seeking. Not only are the hospitality standards of such fly-by-night operations so low as to endanger the health of their residents but they also bring into disrepute the reputation of other, more reputable, hospitality services. The latter go to considerable expense to maintain acceptable levels of hygiene and customer service.
Finally there is the Carrying Capacity of Mussoorie. We have referred to this matter in the past. It is much more than a cut-and-paste job based on the assorted reports produced by a variety of authorities of varied competence. It calls for field work by a dedicated team of people each of whom is an expert in his, or her, own field. In particular, this report must be subjected to rigid scrutiny to ensure that vague generalisations are not passed off as scholarly conclusions. So far, we have read only one such report that fulfils all these criteria. In the absence of a good carrying capacity study the netas and the babus can have a field day unless they are curbed by an alert City Board.
Another way of restoring the image of Mussoorie, and dragging it back from its seemingly precipitous plunge into a tourism slum, is to highlight its literary image. For some strange reason, Mussoorie has a greater concentration of published writers in English, than any other place in India, possibly in the world! There were no others around, in the late 40s, when one of us started writing three columns for the weekly Mussoorie Times and one for its competitor The Mussoorie Advertiser. We lost count when we became an Indian naval family but we understand that the writers-in-residence rose to 20 or 30. Writers are, usually, rather stubborn individuals: they prefer not to cluster like Rotarians and Lions. But they love book-sellers who market their books. And our own Sunil Aurora of Cambridge Book Depot is the tops. His shop in Kulri was adjudged the best book store in India and given an award at the recently held Hyderabad Literary Festival. Congratulations, Sunil!
Mussoorie is not quite a slum destination: not as yet!