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Light At The End Of The Tunnel

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By: Ganesh Saili

‘Khushi take! Khushi no take! Or dusri dukan dekh!’ (Take it if you will! Don’t if you can’t! Or go to the next shop!). That anyway was the limit of the converse between the early shopkeepers and the Tommies sauntering through the bazaar on outings from the Convalescent Depot.

Our schools changed that. After ‘our tryst with destiny’ moment, most of these ‘Etons of the East’ tweaked their Europeans-only policy and opened their doors to local children. Schools that adjusted, thrived. While others like Maddock’s School, Vincent Hill and Cainville School that did not, perished.

I remember Reverend I. B. Das, the pastor of the Hindustani Church who moved into Spring View, on Tehri Road in the late 1960s. Mulk Raj, his eldest son, my age, schooled at Rama Devi Inter College before going off to the University of Kiev for advanced studies whilst John, the younger one, finished school to go on to Harvard.

Why do I mention these names? I find the self-same song repeating itself in every other shop that line our bazaars .

And that’s what makes this place so different and cosmopolitan.

‘The higher you live, the further you see!’ Rev. W J Biggs, our Principal would into. The adage comes to life as I walk through lanes where every other home has somehow managed to send a child to further their education to the big city if not abroad.

Needing to replace the cell on my watch, I stop at Gupta & Sons. In a shop no larger than a dining table, he welcomes me warmly like a long lost brother with: ‘Sit! Sit! A quick cup of chai? That watch can wait.’

With ‘No!’ not even an option, the smudged curtains part and piping hot tea is served.
‘Living on your own?’ I natter.
‘My wife died,’ he tells me, adding, ‘My only son is a doctor living in Canberra.’
The chai drunk. The cell fixed. I try to pay for the work done.
‘Nothing!’ he says, gently seeing me on my way with: ‘It’s nothing really!’
Next door, abutting the Post Office, is a vegetable stall owned by Abdul Gaffar whose father turned up in the hill station in the 1940s.

‘Imagine! Now they’re growing broccoli in Thatyur!’ I chatter.

‘Yes!’ says he, adding: ‘And zucchini is just a green pumpkin!’
‘When will you retire?’ I ask him.
‘My sons have done well. Imran works for the DRDO in Raipur while Kaif pursues medicine. Soon I will return to my village in Mandawar.’

Many other boys and girls, without fanfare or sugar-daddies turned trail blazers. List them and you would end up with the yellow pages of a telephone directory in your hands. The local post-graduate college gave Mussoorie Sanjeev Goyal, Bal Krishna Gairola, Avadesh Bihari Mathur and a host of teachers, lawyers and professionals. Of course Manorite Anil Raturi, became DGP of Uttarakhand and Hampton Court’s Padam Vir Singh, retired as Director of the LBSNAA.

Before exiting Landour I drop into the old Topshop. It is now Vinod Kumar’s antique shop with a board announcing: ‘We Buy & Sell: Art, Period Furniture, Paintings, Real Estate & Property!’ Living with his family on the first floor, he sent his three children to the best schools, whereby his academically inclined son Rahul became an engineer at Roorkee University and works for Microsoft.

Then there is Rajul Mamgain whose single mother working as a teacher, sent him as a day scholar to a school where he consumed knowledge with both hands and topped the All India Merit Examination to enter Doon School, then St. Stephen’s College followed by IIM Bangalore. With limited openings in the old days, he joined the exodus to the West and presently works globally for J.P. Morgan.

‘I owe it to Mr Kailash Malhotra, our Hindi teacher in St. George’s College,’ reminisces retired Lt. Gen. Anil Bhatt. ‘He helped me fill out the forms for the entrance tests to the National Defence Academy.’ Like others, he too never looked back.

Small wonder this Edinburgh of the East is the light at the end of the tunnel.

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.