By: Ganesh Saili
The 1970s arrived to find our already tottering economy in doldrums. You could have pushed us over with a feather. Our banks had been nationalized; princes’ privy purses abolished and we had cleaved Pakistan in two by helping Bangladesh’s birth. To our rescue came a rainbow of flower children, with cries of ‘Love All trust few, and paddle your canoe!’ Their ‘far-out’ phase saved us from falling off the edge.
‘Peace brother!’ They said. ‘Make love! Not war!’
Our Allen Ginsberg clock had just begun chiming, as up the hill came as the Frenchman, Trophy, in psychedelic shoes: one pink, the other sky blue; followed by Fat Mary clad in a burqa that helped her breeze through the bazaar; followed by Blind George, who could recognize the sound of your voice; followed by Hatman wearing an Akubra day and night; followed by Johnny and Katie with a pet turtle, which later went on a walk, never to return; followed by Steve and Gerry with their percussion-cymbals and prayer-flags to ward off the evil eye; and followed by the New Age Guru, Raymond Steiner of Baton Rouge, Louisiana (who had worked with Steven Spielberg, and to whom I owe my heartfelt thanks for teaching me to fiddle around with a camera).
If you added some weed and added a few melodies of the Rastafarian Bob Marley, you could have almost been in Goa. But the cold would not let them drop their clothes.
One morning, with nary a warning, without much ado, the gypsy camp vanished. Left behind were the cold ashes of their campfires. But we had changed forever.
Nothing could be the same again in Kilmarnook cottage, owned by Reverend Rajpal, then Principal of St Stephen’s College, which had turned into a rookery for hippies all: the big, the short and the tall. Among them was beautiful Belinda, who jogged around the Upper Chakkar in a skimpy bikini – it was so tight … you could hardly breathe.
One day she missed a step and slipped down the khud. Slithering she grasped at anything to break her fall, before finally latching on to a wiry deodar tree.
‘Our milkman found her dangling!’ chuckles author Stephen Alter, who was out on his morning constitutional. And being a good soul that he is, he brought her back to good earth, but this time he thoughtfully draped her in his silken jacket.
God bless you Steve! Just as He blesses the Landour cemetery where Ranjit, Mussoorie’s Rastafarian (with dreadlocks) was a chowkidar. His job was to tend to those who needed no tending. And with converse denied with the dead, he took to talking back to the static snowing on his black-and-white TV. In better days he had been gainfully employed as a cook by the Bishop Goyal of Agra.
‘Man is a crook,’ Ranjit insisted. ‘Speaks ill of his friends behind their back.’
Ranjit bided his time, waiting for the Bishop’s arrival on a summer’s sojourn. It fitted in perfectly with Ranjit’s plans to quit, which he did with a flourish. ‘To mark the occasion I had baked my favourite Half-side-Down Pineapple Cake.’ He remembered.
As the guests poured in, they found the chowkidar seated comfortably at the head of the table.
‘Get out!’ yelled the Bishop. ‘Get out!’
‘You get out!’ said Ranjit calmly, proceeding to say Grace that he after years of service had learnt by heart. Clattering his knife and fork, he started to eat as he told the visitors exactly what their genial host felt about them.
No telling was needed when the perfect caricature of a college professor– short, stubby with a receding hairline – Satish Kapoor and Briony arrived with their pet-goat. They moved into Scotsburn. Henceforth everywhere they went, the goat was sure to go, ravaging everyone’s garden.
‘That’s why they say the desert follows the goat’s tail!’ moaned retired Brig Kim Yadav lamenting his freshly cropped geraniums.
I am afraid Briony did not care about flowers. Instead she wrote erotic poems. And if you were the listening type, she would read you her unpublishable work till your ears began to burn.
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.