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Dehradun – Memories that Warm & Tear You Apart

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By Kulbhushan Kain

For me, home is a place that I wanted to leave and explore, when I was young, and where I came back wanting to grow old. In the interim period, I searched for the ideal path, not knowing that ideal paths are made by walking – not waiting.
But, Covid kept me indoors. I did not walk the crowded streets. I did not talk to the people walking on them. Whenever I went ‘downtown’ it was in a car – masked and always craning my neck looking for the shops from the main roads… The small, narrow and crowded streets, though they beckoned, eluded me.
However, last week, I got an opportunity to walk the streets. My sister Kusum was visiting me and pestered me to walk with her.
“Chalo, let’s walk the ‘galis’ of Dehradun,” she said.
We decided to walk from Narang Cycle Store (is it still called that?) to Ghanta Ghar and, then, to Paltan Bazaar. We decided to walk through the narrow lane (Tikkiwali Gali) on to Chakrata Road to Rajpur Road and Astley Hall – walking through the heart of Dehradun!
Kishen Lall is perhaps the oldest Chemist Shop in Dehradun. My father often came and bought medicines in bulk for the hospital and private clinic that he worked in. In fact, he frequented two other chemists – RB Hamer on Rajpur Road and Singh Brothers on Chakrata Road. Luckily, Singh Brothers still hold the fort, though we saw the last nails being hammered into the coffin of RB Hamer.
Kishen Lall always greeted my father warmly. His elder son was amongst my best friends but unfortunately passed away at a rather young age. Pankaj was brilliant in studies. As I talked to his son and younger brother, I remembered the days I would visit their home on Nashville Road, as also the last time I met him at our Class Reunion at Inderlok Hotel.
We stopped outside Elite Ladies Tailor. I think every Dehradun girl or woman must have got something stitched by Elite Tailors at some time or the other. The Sikh gentleman who had set up shop in 1945 is no longer in this world. We paused outside Allahabad Bank whose hall with its high vaulted roof enclosed many memories. My father had opened ‘fixed deposit’ accounts for each of us! Every 6 months we would go in a group and get money accruing from the interest! We usually celebrated by spending a part of it by eating lunch at Kwalitys, Napoli, or Moti Mahal (run by Vishwadeep’s Dad).
Next to Allahabad Bank is Reliance Dry Cleaners – another legendary dry cleaning land mark of Dehradun (the others being Band Box and Mercury). Reliance Dry Cleaners belonged to a friend of mine, Vijay Gosain. ‘Goosy’ as we called him was among the rare group of boys from Dehradun who did not study in St Joseph’s or other schools – but at the Doon School. He was amongst my best friends in College at the Delhi University. He passed away a bachelor 2 years ago. A photograph of his below his Dad’s adorns one of the walls. When I looked at it I thought Goosy smiled at me!
We entered Paltan Bazaar – but the Army Tailors and Sarkar showrooms had disappeared. I doubt if the youngsters would have heard of these shops, but a group of cobblers who sat in front of the shops that replaced them – knew everything about them. When I asked how they knew so much about Paltan Bazaar, they told me that the best informed people in any society are the barbers and cobblers!
We stopped by the tikkiwalahs (who very graciously offered to treat us free tikkis) and then emerged on to Chakrata Road. Henry Tailors no longer exists. The shop has been converted into ‘Henry Mobile’! We also trespassed into ‘Pritam Castle’ – a big castle like building which once housed a number of Jain families. I remember my Dad going to either meet, or treat one or more of them – I would wait in the car while he went into the building. We also walked to the ‘Mazaar Wali Marg’- some of the oldest dilapidated buildings exist on the marg. My sister almost shrieked “Oh my God” when she did not see Prabhat and Krishna movie halls!
On the way back to Ghanta Ghar, we stopped by at Bengali Sweets below what was once Digvijay Movie Hall! Iconic! They have been serving sweets since the 1930s! My favourite sweet shop. Our family’s favourite sweet shop. They greeted me like a long lost friend.
There was a Dogra ‘faluda walah’ beyond the Post Office. I could not find his shop. He used to serve the most exquisite ‘faluda’ ice cream with a red cherry on it! Just next to him used to be a paanwalah. A must stop after a meal. The excellent kebabwala – Jagdish – who sold kebabs in the narrow street in front of Dogra faludawalah has also disappeared.
Sood Electronics has also disappeared. Praveen Sood dabbled in cricket and movies. There was a hotel just opposite his shop- Krishna Mansions. I remember once meeting Jitendra (the film actor) there with Praveen.
We talked for a long time with Kailash Verma, whose Dad owned the once iconic Verma Radios which now houses Western Union Exchange. There were 3 iconic shops from where we often bought radios – Verma, Sharma and Chottey Lal!
Paras Das, Perfection House, Bindrabans, Odeon Movie Hall and Café Kwality have all also disappeared – though a small outlet selling Kwality toffees still exists. My sister picked up a tin of toffees –she is carrying them to Singapore. Laurence Sports has been replaced by a Bata Showroom. Luckily English Book Depot still stands – though hidden behind Barista. We sat down and talked to the charming Sandeep Seth (ex-Doon School).
We could not find Rainbow Opticians, Jugal Kishore Book House, Lu Hong Kong, Goyal Studios, office of Remington Typewriters, Band Box (Subhash Kapur used to run it with aplomb) or AN John. On the other side of the road – RK Studios, Napoli, Standard Bakery, Jimmy Kitchen no longer exist, though Pratap Music House and Art Home stand as a proof of what “once was”.
Opposite St Joseph’s Academy was another shop known as Natraj Furniture. And next to that was Virendra & Co. whose owner was NR Gera. No sign of them.
You might well ask as to why I came back to a city in which most of the landmarks and the icons I saw while growing up have all but disappeared? The answer to that question is that my mother and father were cremated here, I have planted trees here, had my first beer and ‘crush’ here, I played cricket here, I studied here, was crowned school Headboy here…
Many years ago, while watching a movie in Prabhat, I heard Raj Kapoor sing, “Jeenaa yahaan, Marnaa yahaan, Iske siwaa, Jaanaa kahaan.”
I can still hear the song!

(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)