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Dalanwala – Maj Gen Dick, Colonel Brown & Miss Oliphant

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By Kulbhushan Kain

In 1873, the well-known Scottish traveler and author, Andrew Wilson came to Dehradun. After visiting the Thomason College of Engineering in Roorkee, the Botanical Garden in Saharanpur, and witnessing the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, he made his way to Dehradun via the Kansrao Pass.

When he first set his eyes on Dehradun, he wrote, “There is no place in India which reminds one so much of England as the “little valley” (italics mine) of Dehradoon and Sir George Campbell has well observed that no district has been so happily designed by nature for the capital of the Anglo Indian Empire.” (Sir George Campbell was a distinguished member of the Indian Civil Service who rose to the rank of Lieutenant Governor of Bengal).

The above description and views of two very distinguished Britishers give a peep into what Dehradun must have looked like in the 19th century. Subsequently, changes took place – at times subtly, and sometimes rapidly.

Today, Dalanwala, Rajpur Road, Chakrata Road, Prem Nagar, Sahastradhara, Clement Town are a far cry from reminding anyone of England. A friend of mine who migrated to England and with whom I spent an evening in Canterbury told me, “I left Dehradun because whenever I used to go to Delhi, and pass through Shahdara, I used to wonder how people lived there. Soon, I found nearly the whole of Dehradun had also become like that.”

He is right. However, there was a time when Dehradun was like a primeval forest and the locals indolent. But once the British opened up after defeating the Gurkhas in 1815, they transformed it. This they did by encouraging people to take to agriculture and tea plantations by introducing sensible revenue systems, and giving  grants of land. Only a handful of people know that the first tea garden was laid out in Doon in the public sector by the East India Company. The progress of the tea industry was largely due to the efforts of John Forbes Royle, the Superintendent of the Company’s Botanical Gardens in Saharanpur. According to G.R.C. Williams in his book, “Memoir of Dehra Doon” written in 1874, the first set of nine land grants under very favourable terms were given in 1838.These were – Attic Farm, Arcadia, Markham, Innisfail, Endeavour, Hopetown, Kargi Bughant, Bharuwala and Nuglah. Most of them were in western Doon – the area stretching from what is the Rispana Bridge towards the Yamuna. The others were towards the east of Doon. Many more new grants were given, and some old ones redeemed by the British Government when it took over the properties of the East India Company after 1861. Many got fragmented and developed into big estates, bungalows, colonies and multistoried flats. The sprawling tea gardens have more or less disappeared. And so have the old sprawling bungalows and the world famous basmati rice fields.

Of particular interest to me was the estate of Major General Sir Robert Henry Dick whose father was a medical doctor in the service of the East India Company. Why is that of particular interest to me? Firstly, when I was in school, a lot of my friends and classmates were residents of Dalanwala. Secondly, I stay in the heart of what was once the Dick Estate. My wife is the Principal of Welham Boys’ School which is in what was the Dick Estate. General Dick acquired the Dalanwala estate which was about 500 acres some time in the 1830s. He was subsequently killed in the war against the Sikhs at the Battle of Sobraon in 1846. It may interest readers that the founder of the Arya Samaj, Swami Dayanand, came to Dehradun after attending the Kumbh Mela in April 1879, and was put up in the bungalow of Miss Dick, who was the daughter of General Dick, on Rajpur Road, which had been hired for his stay. By that time, Dick’s Estate had been sold by his widow to a group of Indian businessmen who converted the area, including the portion growing tea, into the now well-known Dalanwala locality. Dick House and Dick Road are still there and form the nucleus of the campuses of Colonel Brown School and Welham Boys’ School.

Colonel Brown School was founded in March 1926 for Indian boys by an Irishman, Col William Brown. There is an interesting story about its founding – though not verifiable. Colonel Brown, in partnership with Dr Balbir Singh, had started the Cambridge Preparatory School in 1921. This institution was being run in the campus known as the White House (now a part of Welham Boys’ School), which was not far from Dick House. Not long after, the partners fell apart.

It is said that one night Colonel Brown led the senior boys from the White House to the new school which he started next door – in Dick House! He did so by taking along with him some desks and chairs which he believed legitimately belonged to him! This led to a long drawn out court case between the former partners. The school developed into a premier institution and has had distinguished alumni, among them Yahya Khan, VP Singh, Raj Kapoor, Madan Mohan, Virbhadra Singh and many more.

Welham Boys’ School was founded in 1937 as a preparatory school by the legendary Miss Susie Oliphant, an English lady who came to serve in India from a village in Nottinghamshire called “Welham”, in the White House, which is a now heritage building that houses the junior school classes. Welham Boys’ School is ranked as one of India’s top schools with alumni as varied as Naveen Patnaik, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Wajahat Habibullah, Zubin Nautiyal, Zayed Khan, Vikram Seth, Rajiv Gandhi and many more.

As for me – I am enveloped by history! I stay equidistant between the White House and Dick House in what was once Dick’s Estate! Aint I lucky? You bet I am!

(Kulbhushan Kain is an award winning educationist with more than 4 decades of working in schools in India and abroad. He is a prolific writer who loves cricket, travelling and cooking. He can be reached at kulbhushan.kain@gmail.com)