By: Ganesh Saili
Hoardings: the good, the bad and the ugly leap out at you on the drive up from Dehradun. Hillsides are crammed chock-a-block with Maggie Points. Where on earth did they get their names from? I wonder.
‘Hakuna Matata is No worries in Swahili!’ my granddaughter Niharika tells me. ‘Nana! They’ve taken it from the from the film The Lion King!’
More exotica awaits me: Beat & Bite, The Cuzzies, Dark Knights, Duck Tale, First Gear, Grill Daddy, Hangout, Hungry Horse. If you have not had enough or are a sucker for more punishment, there is an Ugly Duckling too. Gone are the days when we had three or at the most, four chai-shops at the Kolhuket’s Toll Barrier. How well I know that things change! For change is the only constant.
Do our civic authorities need a visit to the nearest Eye Clinic, for they must be suffering from eye trouble. What else can explain ‘how’ the Mussoorie-Dehra Development Authority, the Public Works Department, the Forest Department and their luminaries travelling up and down this road, could have missed out – not one or two – but fifty shacks lining the hills?
These concrete structures or ‘Maggie Points’ are, in reality, hotels, resorts and cafes built on public land. They clog the old Mackinnon’s Cart Road as we once knew it. Or has our State thrown got rid of the U.P. Roadside Land Control Act? It forbade ‘any erection or re-erection within forty-five feet of a national highway.
Should be let it pass as someone’s attempt at self-employment? But they are not. Gram Samaj, Municipal, Public Roads and Forest land has been encroached upon by local heavy weights, and rented out to lesser mortals for sums that border in the realms of astronomy. One could organise a competition of who hammers together the fastest shack overnight and the winner would be guaranteed an entry into the Guiness Book of Records. Last year’s contender slapped together a pre-fabricated shack – up and running – in two hours flat.
‘If you can’t fight them, join them!’ The logic is deafening. I stop by for a tea break. A young couple looks for a room.
‘Any ID?’ the owner quizzes them.
‘Old man! Do you to make a quick buck or are you in the lecture business?’ they giggle.
Ignore the bikes, scooters and cars parked on a hairpin bends and if you thought that is bad enough, worse is on the way. Wait until dark when a free for all begins. The boozing-cruising groupies take over and a moveable feast begins.
Where have they gone? Those Interceptors, those breath-analyser kits and those radar-guns acquired a few years ago? Who knows?
‘The Money Gods, Cell phones and Internet have arrived!’ exclaims my friend of old, Sudhakar Misra.
Time’s passage turns us into a three-in-one hill station: first are foolish dreamers like me; we were born here and yearn for the old days, crying over spilt milk. Second are men of commerce: shopkeepers, rickshaw-pullers, hotel-guides and hoteliers, who spot a business opportunity with an eye on the cash register.
‘On a return journey, I needed to use a washroom,’ Misraji tells me. ‘In its stead is a dhaba tossing paranthas with achaar.’ Poor fellow! What traumas await his arrival on the Mall Road: where curio shop peddle shoes; where chemists peddle hamburgers and where homes are unlicensed guesthouses.
Lastly are the tourists. Take them away and our economy would collapse. End result? We build more flashy hotels, more tatty shops sell raffish knick-knacks, baubles, trinkets or just junk. Mercifully in Landour, a few old cottages survive. Elsewhere almost every single one has been built over.
‘Very soon, the best view of the hill station will be in the rear view mirror of a departing vehicle!’ Says Misraji as he bids goodbye.
And he has a point. I hear plans are afoot to shift the Eco-Toll barrier to the hill station’s outer limits, beyond the Maggi Points.
‘Everyone coming this way will now have to pay toll?!’ a young ward member says, rubbing his hands in glee.
Of course it’s going to be Hakuna Matata all the way.
(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.)