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We, the Government

By Hugh and Colleen Gantzer

Mussoorie is not an island. The Brits who created Mussoorie,
out of a shooting box, tried to make it one. They fashioned a place where they could let their hair down, kept it as free of officialdom as they could, and named the main road “The Mall” reputedly after the pedestrian thoroughfare in London where the young bucks played the ball game “Pell Mell”. That soon became the Drawing Room of Mussoorie, the place on which well-dressed people met and gossiped with other well-heeled people.
Then came Independence, Democracy and the equalising pressures of Socialism. Also the dogged little Maruti which made every middle-class citizen and his socially-aspiring wife a long weekender. Mussoorie’s character changed. Instead of the 9-month season of the grass widows of the Raj, the regional seasons were born: the Punjabi, Bombay, Gujarati and Bengali seasons with other less distinctive ones in between. The essentially northern Indian custom of snacking out caught on and the daring young folk from vegetarian homes gave birth to the eggtarian craze: boiled egg stalls became popular, evolved and some mutated into speciality omelette stalls. Very daring if you belonged to a conservative family. Now enter the cheerful Tibetans, and noodles and momos became popular fast-food choices.
In this socio-culinary revolution, however, a very important part of our Ancient Cultural Heritage was forgotten: the haat or weekly street market. In the once great civilisation of Hampi, in Karnataka, on the old street, leading to a very important ancient temple in which the monarch was weighed against gold, there are the ruins of lines of roofed stalls. These were meant for farmers and artisans from the villages around the great metropolis to market their wares once a week. All across Europe we have shopped in such weekly markets with their great variety of offerings and their reasonable producer-to-consumer prices eliminating voracious middle-men.
We know that, sometimes, farmers from the villages around our hill-station, come to Mussoorie and offer their fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs, even excellent Himalayan honey, for sale. We also know that many local traders resent this because they feel it undercuts them. As the traders have explained to us, they have major establishment costs which such itinerant village vendors do not. While we appreciate their apprehensions we know, as well as they do, that competition is an essential feature of all trading and it is the duty of our elected representatives to serve the best interests of those who have elected them, that is We, the Government.
Which brings us to our proposal. Our Municipal Board should provide space for such a weekly haat in Mussoorie. They did a commendable job in allowing local entrepreneurs stall-space along the hill-side of the Mall and ensured that hygiene was maintained during the Winter Carnival. Drawing on this experience, our civic body should consider running a Mussoorie Haat on the Mall, for one day every mid-week, during Spring, Summer and Autumn. This, hopefully, will achieve many goals. To start with it will encourage visitors to extend their stay by a day. It will also provide outlets for village products at producer-to-consumer rates, add to rural incomes and, thereby, impact on rural migration. As we have seen in other parts of our land, direct interaction between the producer and consumer often results in creative changes to the product. In Odisha’s artists’ village of Raghurajpur, such direct consumer-creator contacts led to religious icons being made out of socially-acceptable cow-dung and easily available areca nuts. When local housewives see the reactions of diners to their food they begin to adapt and innovate. A very sustaining Garhwali soup, made of stinging nettles, becomes far more palatable to strangers’ palates with the addition of a little sugar and a swirl of cream. Goat herding, suitable for the scrubby slopes of many of our Garhwali villages, seems to be on the decline. A group of young entrepreneurs in southern India have turned goat-cheese into a profitable gourmet product renewing interest in goat rearing. Then there is the untapped potential of Himalayan culinary herbs catering to the burgeoning market for delicate herbal flavours to replace assertive spicy ones.
But that is a subject that deserves a column of its own.