By: Ganesh Saili
Just-in-time! Uttarakhand Tourism has achieved what seventeen governments of Uttar Pradesh and nine in the hill state have been unable to do. By making the impossible possible, they have done us all proud.
‘Why do hate your heritage?’ complained Susan Hunt. She was one of the eight Everest Summiteers at the Mountain Writers Meet who had walked across the hill station’s spine to Park Estate and seen the mess. It had left them fuming and itching for action.
‘Do something!’ she pleaded. ‘We can all chip in!’
Happy to report that after years of dithering, a fine job has been done. With an eye to detail – like period construction techniques involving special mortar whereby the old fireplaces too have been painstakingly restored. I don’t think George Everest would been displeased to see his old home looking good.
Two things are clear: he was a colonial surveyor and the world’s tallest mountain is named after him. But the truest monument to him remains the Arc of the Great Meridian stretching across India.
Beginning with a base line in Dehradun, he worked his way southwards. The hills were the easy part. It was the approach to Delhi that was tough with the tree-covered plains wrapped in smoke and dust. ‘The difficulties were overcome by unremitted patience and determined perseverance. The toil was excessive on me in particular, for I had to take all the observations myself, and, as these were chiefly between night-lights, my rest was interrupted at all hours.
‘My hours for meals were irregular, along with those for sleep. Every personal comfort was thoroughly abandoned… Between 16th December until 5th April I never had one leisure hour.’
His obstinacy coupled with a gift of stinging by caustic reproaches using bitter phrases brought constant trouble. Add to this were health issues: ‘I recovered gradually but found to my indescribable dismay that my memory was in a great measure gone – that my mind was affected – that whatever I did or thought of during the day preyed on me at night – and worst of all I found myself oppressed by a dreadful foreboding of ill – a horror of being wide awake, of some spectre or monster of the fancy coming to hold converse with me.
‘Except for the Great Arc, I would not stay in India on any account … I have attained the rank I want, and more rank or money … would only be a burden to me.’
He spent the monsoon of 1834 designing observation towers to get a line of sight over trees and buildings, whilst bad health dogged him, confining him to his bed from May to October without respite. Often the cure was worse than the disease – he was bled by more than a 1000 leeches with 30 to 40 cups.
Autumn of 1841 saw Everest travel from Mussoorie to imperial Simla, but an incident stoked the old fire once again. Thakur Jograj, a landowner along the way, complained that Everest’s followers had befouled his private orchard, destroyed a dog, and been abusive whilst paying for help.
Up in arms, an incensed Everest snapped that there was ‘a general order in my camp which has existed since times immemorial that all dogs, cats, and other vermin infesting my camp, which prowl about in search of what they can devour – that cannot be driven away and are apparently without owners – are to be shot, hung, or otherwise destroyed as public nuisances, and it is probable that some dog may have met the same fate on the night of 10th October… But if this be the sort of dog whose fate the Thakur complains, permit me to ask by what right he lets such animals loose upon travellers?’
Perhaps Everest retaliated too quickly, spending too much time, heat and sparkle, in dealing savagely with trivia and clinging on like a Rottweiler that refused to let go. Personally, if you were to ask me, I have the sneaky feeling that after years of enforced diplomacy it was his way of breaking loose and freeing his soul by often dipping his pen in bile.
Ganesh Saili born and home-grown in the hills belongs to those select few whose words are illustrated by their own pictures. Author of two dozen books; some translated into twenty languages, his work has found recognition world-wide.