By: Ganesh Saili
I guess sometimes it’s not such a bad idea to look at yourself and see how others see you. My mirror does not look too flattering. I find some complaining (with their nibs dipped in bile and struggling with their own wretched anonymity) all my writing comes from battered guide books. Other carp my gossip is second-hand. It is lifted from bazaar urchins, bartenders, kabariwalas (or secondhand-dealers) and the like. Just as I am about to throw up my hands in despair, like manna from Heaven, Richard Swetenham comes like a knight in shining armour to my rescue. He sends me details of his family-tree. They were part of the early pioneers who built Cloud End.
‘I am the great-great-great grandson of Edmund Swetenham.. and there is a lot to say…
It triggers a memory. Back to 1992, when a book I had co-authored titled Days of Wine & Roses: Mussoorie & Landour first appeared. It brought home mail from people all over the world. It spilled over my desk and soon after filled up my study.
‘Are you the person who wrote to me from Luxembourg?’ I casually asked.
‘Yes!’ Comes the answer. ‘It was I who wrote to you from Luxembourg!’ Richard throws a pebble into the calm waters that turns into a tsunami by the time it gets to the shore.
For those coming in late, here is a brief recap: Edmund Swetenham, born in 1795, was the tenth child. He had fourteen siblings. Aged 47 in 1843, he married Rose Sadur – ‘his solitary reaper’ – whom he heard singing while collecting fodder for her cattle near Bhadraj. They were married for twenty years.
‘His estate was probated on 12th October 1863 and devolved to Charles, Edmund and George Swetenham.’
While the couple did have six sons, but that is as far as I had last got it right. Apparently, ‘all did not become colonels.’ I stand corrected. For William slipped and fell down the khud at the back of Cloud End and died aged all of ten, three weeks before his eleventh birthday. Charles went into the Indian Police.
‘George, my great-great grandfather was diverted to India, while on his way to China because of the events of 1857. He was a Major who died of cholera. Henry Harvey caught pneumonia in the Afghan trenches, went back to England on medical leave and died there.’
Richard sends me a journal written by Edmund Swetenham when he was the Garrison Engineer in Almora. These early travelogues in the 1830s, take the reader to Kedarnath, Badrinath and the Pindari Glacier.
‘Fortunately I left my Hill Ponies behind me at Karanprayag, for no beast but a goat possibly go the road I went, which is very precipitous, in some places actually passing over rocks suspended in a manner over the roaring torrent, and where a single false step would quickly hurry one Down – down to….
‘Never shall I forget the rising sun of this day, the ground was covered with a hoar frost, the atmosphere perfectly clear and brilliant, and so pure that none but those who have been at high elevations, and within the Regions of Eternal snow, can form any idea of. I forgot all my cares, and field in the highest spirits. The Himalaya Peaks towered majestically on three sides of me, and high above all rose the peak of Kedarnath…’
Perhaps, all is not lost. There is Pradeep Singh, a friend in Dehradun, who hits bull’s eye saying: ‘This exchange shows that when you share information, you multiply it many times and create knowledge to further share and multiply.’
In 1965, just before Dingle Bell, sold Cloud End to Durga Ram Agarwal, the Manager of the Kaulagarh Tea Estate in Dehradun.
‘My father did not get up here till a year later!’ his son, Digvijay, tells me. ‘Miraculously! He found the house stull intact! Everything, including the beds, the furniture and even the bone-china were untouched!’
But history alone cannot suffice. Folks need creature comforts of the New Age – under the eagle eyes of Deeksha and Videesha, Digvijay’s daughters.
With something of the old and some of the new, the romance of Cloud End continues.
(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-