By: Ganesh Saili
After a lifetime spent in the first foothills of the Himalaya, it is no surprise that I have begun to feel like an indigenous species. Born in Landour, a twin of the hill station of Mussoorie, I have lived most of my days a mile high in the sky. Among the old timers, if you give or take a few years, I, probably am, one of the oldest alumni still around. Of course, there is Dhruv Kumar, but he lives in Noida. And if you knew Dhruv, you would know that is close enough.
inWhen the master brewer John Mackinnon, moved from Meerut to the hills, he set up the first English medium school called the Mussoorie Seminary in 1838. Little did he know he would be setting a trend that would see the establishment of many of our early schools. Some collapsed, others survived: the Oak Grove in Jharipani; St. George’s College in Barlowganj; Allen Memorial School in Balahisar; Waverley Convent or Kala School and Woodstock School or Company School near Pari Tibba.
In Woodlands School they would call me a chatterbox, a reputation that lives on. Maybe that is the precise reason why complete strangers will invite me to school reunions where I know not a soul. Slipping into a darkened hall, I find the past and the present meeting at the bar. And it can get tense even as I flit among the numberless shades of grey.
‘Everyone has changed so much!’ Announces an old man, all grey and wrinkled, says talking to the mirror in the hallway. Obviously he has not recognised himself. I move on silently, happy that in the confusion, no one recognizes me either.
‘Hello Ganesh!’ When tapping her feet to the music, a pretty one whispers. It is Bridget, still looking pretty as she always was. She never brags. Time has been kind to her. Her ear-rings she worn in class five fit fifty years later.
Then there are others who were born stars like Ravindra Pal Sidhu, whose picture from 1960, as a ten-year old, smiles back at you from the showcase of Dharam Pal Arora’s Kailash Studio near Picture Palace. Fifty years later, at the re-union, although much has changed, the smile is still there.
Times’s passage was marked by our first clock installed atop Kulri’s Methodist Church in 1890. Shocked by the Kangra earthquake of 1905 it stopped working. And despite their fame, Mr Hanhart and Mr Bechtler, Mussoorie’s watch repairers, ‘could not put Humpty Dumpty together again.’
On a quiet day, the chimes of St. George’s College clock resound in Barlowganj. That clock was installed in 1938, when the Patrician Brothers hired J.B. Joyce & Company to import a gun-metal clock from England to startle the leopards prowling around the school’s four-hundred-acres. Our undying gratitude to three generations of the Gupta family of Jharipani for ministering to its needs. Without them, the tick-tocks would have ceased.
That year saw the Municipal Board ask Uggar Sain Varma of Saharanpur to build a Clock Tower at Parade Point, costing fourteen thousand rupees. Though years later, it’s arms were stuck permanently at 2. 45. It had given up its soul.
What followed was a Comedy of Errors, with everyone piling on:
‘Who needs a Clock Tower in the digital age?’
‘Can’t we relocate it to the park next to the Survey Gate?’
‘Look how open the road is now!’
‘Drunks use that space to pee!’
‘Imagine Landour without a Clock Tower!’ protested the actor Tom Alter, going on a one-day hunger-strike that triggered howls of regret from his fan club. Three years ago a new clock was rose. About that, the less said the better. It talks back to you. Nothing personal. Just a robotic: ‘Good morning Mussoorie!’ Every single day of the year.
Personally, I prefer the gentler chimes of the four clocks gifted after the fiftieth re-union by Ravi Sidhu to his alma mater. Their sonorous sound travels across the valley to enter our home. They remind me of that small boy peering from Kailash Studio, with a twinkle in his eye. God bless you Ravi till we meet again!
(Ganesh Saili born and home grown in Mussoorie, belongs to the select few who write their own text and illustrate it with their own pictures. Author of two dozen books; some translated into twenty languages. The documentary ‘Savoy: Saga of an Icon’ anchored by him won seventeen International and National Awards including The Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival Award for the Best Documentary.)