By: Ganesh Saili
Defying gravity, his shack manages to hang on the edge. It peers into the abyss of Company Khud. Now I grant you that Bhurey, the barber, is no hair stylist. But given my CPWD hair style, who cares? Fact is every time I am hard up for a story, my feet unwillingly drag me his way. This is where I catch up on the latest goings on in the area. But today the tables have turned, it’s his turn to quiz me.
‘Is Capt. Young’s ghost still seen in Mullingar?’ he asks.
‘Probably not!’ I say, adding ‘No self-respecting ghost would show up in a crowd.’
Mussoorie-Landour’s founder, Frederick Young’s story is a part of Irish folklore in which a fine broth of a boy, all of fifteen years old, in 1786, appeared in an interview. Short of troops, the East India Company looked for a straight shot with good manners.
‘How old are you?’
‘Fifteen on 30th November last.’
‘Are you willing to die for King and Country?’
This launched a career that saw more ups than downs. In a letter home from aboard his ship to India, he wrote: ‘We have ten ladies on board, and all ugly as the Devil except one and she is tolerable.’ But the fun and games did not last. In hot pursuit during the Gurkha war, he found himself trapped in an ambush. ‘Why haven’t you run after them?” His captors jeered, pointing at the fleeing Redcoats.
‘I did not come this far to run away!’ Unblinkingly he told his captors. What a brave fellow thought the Gurkhas! They liked him. War’s end saw him pleading with his superiors: ‘Give me authority to release the prisoners… I undertake to raise in a short time a body of soldiers that will not disgrace you, or the country, or myself.’
From Saharanpur’s POW he observed: ‘I went there one man and I came back three thousand.’ This became the cornerstone of the Sirmur Rifles (later the Gurkha Brigade).
Taking over as Superintendent of the Doon, he found time for chasing game in the nearby hills, where he built himself a ‘shooting hut.’ Lobbying with the Company saw the building of the first kuchha-pucca structures in 1827. Young was no discoverer – for there was nothing here to find – he was the founder of Landour and Mussoorie, who given his raw courage, was called the ‘King of the Doon’: its judge, jury, collector and magistrate. Of the thirty-three houses in existence on the map of 1831, he owned three: Mullingar, Mullingar Lodge and a ‘shooting box.’
A hundred and more years later, as little boys, we faced Jaber Singh, the old caretaker of Mullingar, who frightened us, saying: ‘Snakes guard the treasures buried by the goras.’
‘Did you find anything?’
‘Would I still be a chowkidar if I had?’ he’d snap.
After he went off to the bazaar, out came the stumps, bails, bat and ball for our cricket match to begin. Leg glances were a strict no-no for they shattered the windowpanes of Mullingar Lodge, where dwelt old Janki Nath Sehgal, a retired civil engineer from the Municipal Board. His bark was worse than his bite – liberally peppered with the choicest Pushtu of the NWFP – from where he had come post- Partition.
Arrival of the Berry family brought relief. They plied us with their savouries. In their wake, came Kunga Lodey – with his four beautiful daughters – whose smiles lit up Landour like a Christmas tree. He started the first noodle factory in the Himalayas. It proved to be a roaring success.
The recent exodus from the nearby villages poured over four hundred families into Mullingar, including Bhotiya families, who have built a towering Gompa festooned with prayer flags. With cars parked cheek and jowl, there is no space for a ghostly rider astride a white horse, on a moonless night ,to tether his steed and snap to attention. I am afraid Capt. Young’s spook parade is all but over.
Returning to Ireland, in 1854, he had spent a lifetime in India. He was eighty-seven, when he passed on to the Happy Hunting grounds.
(Ganesh Saili born and home grown in Mussoorie, belongs to the select few who write their own text and illustrate it with their own pictures. Author of two dozen books; some translated into twenty languages. The documentary ‘Savoy: Saga of an Icon’ anchored by him won seventeen International and National Awards including The Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival Award for the Best Documentary.)