By: Ganesh Saili
Nineteen square miles plus 1040 acres of Landour’s cantonment – that’s how tiny a hill station Mussoorie is. I am afraid the rest has to be filled up with fun and frolic, chatter and gossip, and truth and lies to make this mountain magic count.
Plant your feet on the ridge of our northern limits to see the serrated ridges of the Himalaya. Eastwards lie the hills of Tehri-Garhwal, while westwards spread Park Estate, Cloud End and Benog. To the south the hills taper off to the plains and along that you find the old nineteenth century schools: Wynberg- Allen, St. Georges and Oak Grove.
To some of us, this is home. That is where we return to again and again to do ‘our own thing.’
‘What’s there to writing? It’s so easy,’ friends say: ‘All you need is paper and pencil!’
Often, one should keep a dustbin handy. Mine brims over with failed dreams. At times like these, with the muses on hold, I waddle around the patio to fill the bird feeders.
When I get back to my desk, there’s mail from New Zealand. Mark Windsor, a fellow Mussoorie buff, has been browsing through the British Library, where he has chanced upon a copy of Mussoorie Rhymes. It’s a twenty-four-page pamphlet by Robert Hawthorne, written under the nom de plume of ‘May.’ He was the owner-editor of The Beacon newspaper published from 1885 to 1890.
Good on you mate! The next time we meet, I solemnly promise to do a desi version of your Kiwi Haka dance – a fierce display of the Mussoorie-tribe’s pride, strength and unity. All for showing you my gratitude.
The preface reads like a statutory warning: ‘Most books are written for an OBJECT, with an aim or to supply a WANT. This book is without an object, utterly without an aim, and certainly not wanted. The scraps of which it is composed, first owed their origin to see myself in print. An irresistible craving induces me to put them together and inflict them in one fell swoop upon the public. As a result I hereby render my scalp to the tomahawks of such reviewers as may dip into this little book set before them – to get their teeth on edge – and consequently feel blood thirsty.’
Be warned! This is certainly not great literature and I guess it never was meant to be. But the sound of old familiar names ring true. Happy Valley, Camel’s Back, Kulri, Library, to name but a few. Together they weave a spell that is all their own. I leave it to you, dear reader to enjoy these harmless rhymes. Should you find them as useless as Jack and Jill Went Up the Hill, try not to be too harsh.
Come take a walk with ‘May’ through a sampling of these pages of our early history, written a hundred and twenty-five years ago, when the hill-station was still growing up.
There are hues a fare one wore, Whom I saw standing at the door Of the Mussoorie Library Is he an angel O! then if he be He’s one “unawares” to Mussoorie and me. For he’s always dressed nicely and looks too well fed, To be either an angel, or ghost from the dead.
I followed then round Camel’s Back A spoony looking couple The girl was short and very fair The man was tall and supple. It was witching time of eve When fond ones love to dally And vow they “never will forget” And never shilly shally. The hero of my song today shall be One whom upon the Mall you very often see,
Always equipped in coat of glossiest black, Fitting without a wrinkle to his shapely back.
In the mountains they say: ‘The mouth of a hundred pitchers can be closed but not one man’s mouth.’ Long may your tribe prosper!
I look around to see how little has really changed. For the more things change, the more they remain the same. At the end of the road you find that human nature always triumphs. Especially as you reach the end.
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.