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Mussoorie’s Many Mistakes

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By: Ganesh Saili

The sight of a few sad stray strands of fleece stuck onto an old carding brush at Sabri’s second-hand shop in Landour takes me back to the 1970s.

Almost tenuously by them hangs this tale.

Every few years, a magician turns up in our midst to turn everything upside down by throwing great parties meant to charm hillside residents. Before you know it, you’re eating out of their hands. That lasts only until one morning the gypsy camp vanishes, leaving behind a trail of broken dreams.

‘My project needs an entire hillside!’ said the lady, already three sheets to the wind. That lit up the eyes of our property agents, who assured the Doubters: ‘She’s lived in Turkey and knows rabbits!’

And that, dear Reader, was the beginning of the Angora rabbit fever in the hill station that so gripped the hill station that it seemed if you did not breed rabbits, you would die poor.

Where on earth did all these baby rabbits or kits come from? Every single one was stolen, or pilfered, or snatched, or smuggled from her rabbit farm, right under the noses of the security guards. Soon after, every other servant quarters, out-house or caretaker’s shack was stuck with a cloying odour that you could have smelt a mile away.

‘A hundred-rupee hygrometer was all you needed,’ an old timer tells me, with the benefit of hindsight.

The hill station eventually found out what should have been common knowledge from the very start – our humidity was way too high for Angora rabbits to grow the famed wool that is softer than cashmere.

Go back over our history to find that that’s the way we have always been. A similar fate awaited our brewers’ attempts at growing hops to make our beer more tart. Sadly, those poor plants, imported from the Scottish highlands, simply rotted away in our rains that could last for months.

Or, for that matter, take this waterfall at the bottom of Chamasari village. It’s the spot where a certain Dr Murray built huts for soldiers convalescing at the Landour Depot. Our doctor was so convinced of ‘the healing power of these sparkling waters’ that we named the waterfall after him. But his pipe dream came to naught. I must say he persevered and tried bottling the water as a cure-all remedy, but his venture hit rock bottom.

Let me take you to this shop on the Mall road where no matter what business you try, it does not work. Every year without fail, a new face still wet about the ears tries his luck. You might as well be playing Russian Roulette. One started an eatery so fancy that customers were required to wash their hands before using the finger bowl. Predictably, it tanked.

‘Let’s try a tandoori-tea restaurant!’ I heard another whisper. It was too basic and got nowhere.

I must say that one cannot blame the waiters, who tried to bounce in tourists just passing by the place. But it still failed and as I write, the place holds the record for the most jinxed place in Mussoorie.

Luck has never bothered a dear friend of mine, a hardworking professional who has an old bungalow in Barlowganj.

‘Often I feel like a fortuneteller and can foresee my own future clearly!’ he tells me.

‘I have visions of my own picture dangling on the wall, a dusty marigold garland wrapped around it.

Below the picture I see my daughters-in-law, married directly into privilege, in miniskirts and shorts, swirling a glass of my vintage wine, smoking my cigarettes, blowing rings in my face in the picture on the wall as they go about happily plundering my estate.

‘I hear them giggle and tell each other about this old fool who never took a day off all his life and just see how much he has left us!’

‘Where’s the Lady of the House?’ I say trying to divert his attention.

But he couldn’t care less and is content to take it to another level, saying: ‘Wife? She’s off taking yoga lessons from that guru in jail.’

And that adds one more to Mussoorie’s many mistakes.

(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.)