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A Tryst With Snow

Landour under a dusting of snow.

By Ganesh Saili

‘Does it still snow in Mussoorie?’ A visitor usually asks.

‘Yes, it does, but not as much as it used to!’ This is the standard reply.

Come back in time with me to the Mussoorie of December 17, 1961, when there was not a sound in the whole quiet world for three days and three nights, as even the wind was hushed—not a bird, not a voice, just the velvet silence of snowflakes. Soon after it started, there was no electricity, as the snowflakes hung around the copper wires and weaved snowy ropes so heavy that the lines and poles simply snapped with the sheer weight. The telephone landlines, too, went dead. No milkmen could get through for three days, and bread was not seen for a week.

The weight of snow on roofs was so great that the beams groaned, and chimneys were pushed down as huge piles of snow and ice melted and crashed against them. Gutters sagged under the immense burden of snow that slid off the roof, and rainwater pipes rattled and swung. To make tea was a chore, as there was no water; snow had to be melted over a charcoal fire.

1955 winter arrives in Kulri.

I distinctly remember that the piles of snow in front of our home were so deep that Father could walk right up and touch the roof. Gutter pipes broke, gables collapsed, and below-freezing temperatures caused pipes to burst. Then news came in of a tragedy in Hakman’s Hotel where a wooden rafter had snapped, killing the honeymooners who had slept through the storm.

Ten years or so later came another white Christmas. At dusk, a bunch of us made our way to the Mussoorie Cooperative Club, and soon after, we were lost in a game of snooker. At midnight, we stepped out and sank up to our knees in a thick carpet of snow. A hush descended upon us. We had run away from an ordinary world, and a few hours later we found ourselves stepping into a magical kingdom with rows of trees laden so heavily with snow that they leaned low, almost kissing the ground. While inside, we had no inkling that the weather was turning. General Winter had arrived without his customary outriders of rain and hailstones. Intent on playing snooker, we had heard nothing else. Looking back over the years, few things can equal the perfect magic of that night. Stepping off the veranda, it was a whiteout—fresh snow crunched underfoot, reminding us that a walk through fresh snow is a rare privilege denied to many.

The Municipal Board Office under snow. (Pics courtesy: Author’s Collection)

Near the Clock Tower, we found the town drunk, curled up in a snow berm, lost to the world. ‘Let’s help him!’ pleaded Jaber Singh. ‘Left here; he is sure to die!’

Yanking him out, we frog-marched him home, up the steps to his first-floor home. A knock on the door brought a little boy who eyed us suspiciously, saying, ‘Which of you buggers got my father drunk?’

Not a word was said. Back on the road, it seemed the hoods had left the neighbourhood; even the garbage scattered all over the hill station seemed to have gone away, momentarily at least, covered under a silvery white sheet.

Outside my window is a locusts’ rush of tourists bent on raiding Landour’s secret cupboard. The road is lined with eateries: Lotte Cafe, Paprika, Landour Café, Light of Landour, and many others.

‘Ganesh! Remember Chanderbala?’ asks my friend Prem Kapoor, breaking the spell of cafes. I wish he knew that he had nudged more than just memory! Who but a fool would dare forget Guggan’s awesome ramparts that left us gaping? We knew that her father did not appreciate our ogling his daughter. You would find him, the poor fellow, with a permafrown wrapped around his forehead, enveloped in kerosene fumes, teeth gritted as he scrubbed the alphabets on an old typewriter at Saran Lal Kapoor’s Remington Typewriter repair shop, under a signboard proclaiming: ‘We buy and sell typewriters.’

I guess all good things must come to an end. We haven’t had snowfall like that for several decades now. Will we live to see another such thing? One can only hope.

(Ganesh Saili, author-photographer, has written and illustrated twenty books, some translated into over two dozen languages. He belongs to those select few who illustrate their writing.)