By: Ganesh Saili
The clutch of colonial houses that wrap themselves around the Upper Chakkar have, down the years, witnessed people come and go. After the missionaries packed their bags to go home, the flower-children arrived to fill the void. In turn, when the hippies vanished into the blue, well-known faces began to turn up on the hillside. Walking around the three hills of Landour, chances are pretty high that you will see an actor, director or a celebrated author out on a walk.
Be warned though, fame is a deceiving elf, here today, gone tomorrow. In this ocean of fame, there are no shores and if you wait until dark, you can often see the bright stars trailing sparkles of glory come crashing down.
This truth was brought to bear on an old familiar who was out on a jog.
‘Oye! Oye! Listen!’ A voice hailed, halting him in mid-stride.
‘Oh no! Not another autograph!’ he muttered to himself.
Furrowing his brow, the stranger asked: ‘Haven’t I seen you before?’
Ere he could reply, he plunged on: ‘Aren’t you my travel agent from Daryaganj?’
‘That deflated my ego!’ he laughed.
Returning home, he found a large manila envelope shoved into his letterbox. It was superscribed: ‘The Most Trusted Journalist Award.’
Of course the devil was in the details. The letter inside proudly announced:
‘We are honoured to inform you that you have been nominated for this year’s Most Rusted Journalist Award!’
‘Rusted?’ he later said to me, adding: ‘Perhaps that explained all those twinges-in-my-hinges.’
A few days later, he was taking the steep hill past Mullingar. At a shortcut, he asked a little boy: ‘How long will it take to get to the top?’
The lad looked at him, shook his head and said: ‘I take ten minutes. You? You will take half an hour!’
Instead he stopped at Tinky’s video library, who said to him: ‘Sir! I was thinking of you the other day!’
‘Wow! So kind of you to think of me!’ he said, patting the shopkeeper on his back. ‘What made you think of me?’
‘When I couldn’t pay the hospital bill, I thought of you.’
‘Oh! That’s how!’ he sighed as he tore himself away.
Yes! Landour is the kind of place where every other person you meet is or was a celebrity.
The other day, I found myself invited to lunch by a caboodle of bureaucrats. Believe it or not, on occasion, I too get invited to the odd bash in a wilting hotel.
Don’t ask me why? Like you, I too don’t have the faintest idea of what I will there. In earlier days you could say I would have made a good prop at the bar or could occasionally juice up the proceedings. But not in my present shape.
On that particular day I arrived ahead of schedule. When our genial host came late, in a bit of a flap and blamed it on the weekend traffic jams. Breathless like a diver he gasped as if surfacing for air to mumble introductions. He waded towards me blurting: ‘This is photographer Ganesh Saili. He illustrates Jim Corbett’s books!’
Honoured though I was, I knew it was quite untrue.
Fact is that when the famous hunter, tracker and writer Edward James ‘Jim’ Corbett was finally laid to rest, in Nyeri, Kenya sixty six years ago, I was still a child in kindergarten.
Rest in peace, Carpet Sa’ab! We shall let this one pass. Just as we let Belinda pass when she ran on Landour’s flat stretches in a bikini, which was so tight even you could hardly breathe. That was until the day she missed a step and slithered helplessly down the hillside, desperately clutching at twigs before finally latching onto a lean deodar tree.
‘Our milkman found her dangling from the tree!’ remembers Stephen Alter, who was walking past. Being the good soul that he is, he brought her back to good old earth, though this time thoughtfully wrapped in his warm jacket.
God bless you, Steve, for always being just-in-time! Ah! What can be better than a spritely walk around the Chakkar?
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.