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Mussoorie’s ‘Family Background’

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We, the Government

By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

Marriages, in our land are still, largely, the mergers of families
rather than the union of individuals.This accounts for the probing curiosity of our fellow citizens. At the start of our long and fascinating travel-writing career many of our journeys were done by train. Cooped up in a small compartment, with perfect strangers, we got used to the unabashed curiosity of our fellow travellers. They asked us how long we had been married, where we lived and worked, how old we were, how many children we had, what religion we followed etc.,etc. and etc. Foreigners usually find such queries intrusive, but no foreigner has lived in such a diverse, multi-ethnic, polyglot, cross-cultural society as ours. India could have become a vast melting pot of blended communities, but thanks to the Imperial Guptas, who apparently decreed marriage within the group, we have retained our social obsession with class and caste identities.
But human nature does not accept such social stratification. It does not want to be herded into stacked, look-alike, shoe-boxes, of apartments which are the cost-cutting ideals of “developers”. Tourist-dependent Rome was the first to realise this. It decided that developers could not change the facade of a historic building though its interiors could be redesigned to accommodate its tenants. This became the pattern for Heritage Acts all over the world.
This is what we need in Uttarakhand in general and in Mussoorie in particular. Two governors of our state had agreed with us on the urgency of enacting such legislation. But our netas, fearful for their survival on the expiry of their five-year shelf life, have succumbed to the deep pockets of the builders who feel a Heritage Act will trim their profits. The burden to protect the visible history, prestige and character of Mussoorie has shifted squarely onto the shoulders of the Independent Members of our Municipal Board.
These people, elected by We, the Government, need to ensure that an insensitive sarkari “developer”, who had planned to alter the appearance of the iconic Mussoorie Library, does not have his crass way. Today, the Mussoorie Library is one of the few surviving buildings in our land where superbly-wrought cast-iron pillars stand in such naked assertion of the Industrial Revolution. It is an architectural icon. The fact that it houses a private institution dedicated to the spread of knowledge is a great testimony to the far-sightedness of our early settlers.
The gazebo-type Bandstand, facing the Library, is another rare example of such an attitude which paid due regard to our citizens’ cultural needs. Once upon a not-so-distant time, a military band from Dehra Dun would give a weekly concert in our Bandstand. In the absence of a Heritage Act, this building has been ineptly shifted from its original location but, at least, its general appearance has been retained.
Mussoorie’s Christ Church is also a text-book example of a Heritage Building that must rank, with the one in Simla, as a historic landmark. Our family was involved in saving it from destruction by a voracious member of our land mafia. That wheeler-dealer would have made a fortune selling the original stained-glass windows, and other historic items, and then erecting an unsightly apartment block on the grounds.
We also have grave apprehensions about the fate of the historic building now occupied by the State Bank of India, but owned by the LIC. It once housed the old Imperial Bank of India. That private bank had the privilege of carrying out the duties of the official Treasury wherever necessary. Our SBI’s impressive building stands, today, as evidence of an era when Mussoorie was the financial hub of entrepreneurial activities generated by such pioneers as Pahari Wilson and John Mackinnon, George Everest and the exiled princely families brought here by their British overlords.
Sadly, it is too late to preserve the Ice Pits, the Clock Tower and the beautiful old Charleville Hotel but, as a creative Amul advertisement might have put it, “Butter Late Than Never”
And so, to our Municipal Board we say “Fight for a Heritage Act for Mussoorie,” fight to raise our quality of life. In tourism, quality earns higher returns than quantity. We must stop the slumming of Mussoorie.