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Let There Be Light

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By: Ganesh Saili

Soon Mussoorie will be two hundred years old. To celebrate our bi-centennial, I hear a cacophony on various ways in which we should celebrate the day when two gun-toting firangis from Dehradun clambered up here in search of prey and went on to build two shooting-lodges that marks the beginning of the hill station.

‘Let’s put up a statue of Captain Young!’ says one, completely forgetting that even the British didn’t bother to do this did in the man’s own home town in Ireland.

‘Won’t it be cheaper to make a bust?’ asks the Practical One.

‘Oh! Let’s name a road after him. Just a sign-board change won’t cost nothing!’ grumbles the Penny Pincher.

‘I agree with that – after all who is going to pay for a statue or a bust?’

‘A Capt. Young Selfie Point or a Sunset Point?’ pushes another.

To me it sounds like a conversation between Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs walking through the Forest of Fairies.

There is no doubt that one of our greatest blessings, electricity, arrived at dusk on 24th of May (Empire Day) 1909. The hydroelectric scheme at Galogi gave us the highest lift of water in Asia and one of the highest lifts in the world at 1700 feet. Before this our water used to come by gravity from the Chalmer Khad and Khattapani springs. That plus steam-pumping from the Mackinnon spring.

With a water famine staring at us in the face at the turn of the twentieth century, a report was presented to the Municipal Board whereby power could be generated by harnessing the waters of Kempty Falls. This in turn would be used to pump water from the Murray springs and light up our streets, public institutions, hotels and private homes.

But the Raja of Tehri refused to play ball. Negotiations failed. Attention turned to Bhatta Falls, where two mountain streams joined forces on the southern aspect which was under British control and close to Dehradun’s railhead. Work on the headworks at Galogi began with water channelled through pipes to turn the turbines. Twelve sub-stations in approximately equal areas would convert the high tension pressure to a convenient 220 volts with power lines laid out along the contours of the hills.

Credit for this goes to the foresight of a forgotten Mr. Pitkeathly, the Chief Engineer. Records have it that on one occasion, he ‘almost sacrificed his life in his endeavours.’ Poor fellow must have been under tremendous pressure to complete the line on schedule. After all, the Roorkee acetylene lamps along the Mall were to be replaced by light bulbs.

In the early days, electricity to private homes was charged at Rs. 25 per point installed and that too could be paid in instalments over ten years. It was not until 1919 that dimming the lights, popularly known as ‘the wink’, was resorted to. Since then, for almost about twenty years, the lights ‘winked’ nightly sometime between four minutes to nine o’clock and three minutes past nine o’clock to let the public know it was exactly nine o’clock. Only in 1934 did it dawn upon the authorities that this was an infringement of the Indian Electricity Act. Special sanction was obtained from the Government to continue the tradition of ‘winking’.

And while our wise men continue to blink, I feel that a befitting tribute on this bicentenary would be to try and work towards preserving what precious little is left of our heritage. We need to remember the real heroes of our hill station and give them the honour they deserve. Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh, our first President in exile, is all but forgotten even near his home in Prem Sadan next to Picture Palace. At the other end of town, in Happy Valley, lived the author Rahul Sanskritayan. He wrote some sixty books, mostly travelogues and compiled our first Indo-Tibetan dictionary.

Let this bicentenary be a time of remembrance. Let us first update and digitize our records scattered all over the Municipal Record Room. Let us use what we have at hand.

When that is done, we can truly say: ‘Let there be light!’

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.