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Mussoorie’s Knotty Tales


By: Ganesh Saili

Of the many things Mussoorie has lost down the years, is its naughty reputation. Perhaps the single-minded pursuit money has killed all the fun and games. Mercifully it was not always so.

So long as you did not stomp on our toes, most folks still tend to let you be to do your own thing. This was once a happening place; this is where all the action was and this is where you never felt someone peering over your shoulders. In short, no one minded your business for you.

There was once a young man in uniform, who, out of sheer boredom, got himself enmeshed in the silken web spun by the ladies-of-the-bazaar. On our lower slopes, a senseless tragedy unfolded when a constable revenged unrequited love by shooting the plaything of his leisure (and probably duty) hours. It proved to be foolish and futile because the man had several years of creditable service in the force behind him, while the lady was a butterfly whose kind the locals referred to as ‘female-brethren-of-the-bazaar.’ Our heart-broken Romeo evaded arrest by bolting down the valley – past the burning ghats, down the Wynberg stream – and to the plains. Somehow near Rajpur he developed cold feet, baulked and stopped his marathon. Faced with imminent capture, still armed with his service rifle, discretion prevailed and for some reason, he did not attempt a shootout at the Okay Corral. Minus a duel, he was taken quietly, arrested and brought back up to Mussoorie where he was tried and later hanged in Naini Jail.

What happened to our ‘female-brethren?’ You may wonder. Well! She probably rests in peace amongst her associates where she fell, lived and loved.

Or take the case of a school which records the tale involving the Principal and his wife – a perfect example of what awful results can fructify from petty considerations. Mrs. Fennimore, got herself enmeshed in a defamation law suit. The case – as civil cases often tend to – dragged on without an end in sight. Each hearing became more distasteful to Mr. Fennimore than the previous one. Things went from bad to worse as the fat sputtered on the fire. The sordid affair drove the fellow to a terrible solution. On a cold November day of 1917, finding his wife lying on her side in sound sleep, he shot her through the back of the head. And then for some inexplicable reason he slipped the revolver under her pillow, calmly moved to the lavatory, three rooms away, leaned on his loaded rifle and shot himself.

Call it pure happenstance, if you will, but ten years down the road, in the same school, another headmaster’s wife fired at a junior mistress, wounding her. She was arrested for an attempt to murder. I put it down to the relentless pressure of running a school through troubled waters, takes a toll on those at the helm.

What about the case? It got lost in the grey areas of crime detection.

“Don’t you think it’s strange? All these troubles in same school?” my friend Salim John, used to wonder.

‘Don’t you think the school is built over an old burial ground?’

In the murky dark, do the denizens of the night return to wander around to mark their attendance?

Elsewhere in the 1960s, great commotion ensued when Dr Dutton, a teacher, plagued by depression, jumped off the suspension bridge plunging through the gorge that separates St George’s College from the parlour boarder’s Whytbank Castle.

Walking to school in 1965, I would be in time to see Chaman Lala, who ran our tuck shop, walk to the bridge to drop trapped rats to their doom down below. Often a time, the rodents would land feet first, shake their heads, before scurrying up the ramp, no doubt, trotting back to the tuck shop once again.

Those rats lived to tell the tale. Unlike the old man whose heart failed when the shock of losing the local Municipal Board elections was too much to bear. He slumped dead as the counting closed.

Often a time, in life, fair is foul and foul is fair.

(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.)