We, the Government
By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer
Mussoorie has a frivolous reputation. Pre-’47, it was “The Paris of the East”. That was an assiduously cultivated image to lure the protocol-stifled Raj-elite before the sun finally set on the British Empire. It was a great PR exercise and very successful. In fact, our economy is still coasting along on that jumla. Short stay visitors still come here for a good time, to let their hair down, to do things that they would not be able to do at home. Then they leave.
But who, really, established our Hamlet in the Himalayas? And why did they settle here? We know the legend of the hunter who built a shooting lodge in our hills. Our friends in the old families, like the Skinners, Hearseys, Fosters and MacKinnons, told us many tales but we wanted to go beyond our own circle to discover who were the trail-blazers: the people who first decided to settle in Mussoorie rather than return to their overseas homes. Since the existing civic records are inadequate, we developed another method. We reasoned that anyone who had consciously uprooted himself and his family from his native land, and struck roots in Mussoorie, would still be haunted by nostalgia. The most lasting way of assuaging
this hunger would be to name his Mussoorie residence after the place he left behind.
We started with our own cottage: Ockbrook. At first we thought that the Old English, Ock, a short form of “small”, referred to the ravine at one side of our estate. It is dry for most of the year but becomes a brook during the monsoon. Then an English friend pointed out that “Ockbrook” is a village in Derbyshire, England: a rather quaint village, established by an Anglo Saxon chieftain named Occa. It spreads on one side of the A52. On the other side of the highway is the village of Bromwich. Clearly the natives of that Derbyshire village, who became the owners of our property in 1831, felt homesick for their native village when they settled in Mussoorie!
Macquarrie was easier. It’s the name of an old Scottish clan. Many Scots joined the East Indian Company, married locally and preferred to stay back. The Skinners are of Scottish origin so were the MacKinnons who once owned a thriving brewery in Mussoorie. We have no idea, however, what the Macquarrie of our Macquarrie did.
We do know that our Tullamore Estate was not associated with Irish whiskey as the one in Ireland is. We also know that there were more Irish settlers in Mussoorie’s early years than those wearing the green sash of the Patrician Brothers in St George’s College, Manor House.
Then, below the Library bus stand, there was Cefn Coed (pronounced “Kevin Koid”) testifying to the presence of the Welsh, the fourth kingdom of the United Kingdom. The Welsh were noted coal miners and they flocked to India in large numbers to work in our many privately-run railway companies puffing their smoky way across our land. On our first visit to Wales we were struck by the resemblance of the spoken cadence of the Welsh language, to that of many of our own Anglo-Indian community. The lilt of associated languages tends to rub off on each other.
The most unusual names of old houses in Mussoorie are Sebastapol and Malakoff. Both are linked to the Crimean War. That conflict embroiled many European nations in bloody battles and the area is still simmering with unrest. Literature remembers it best for Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade”. One of the few survivors of that misguided cavalry charge was John Hindemarsh. He lies buried in our Camel’s Back Cemetery. Our research has not, however, revealed if there is any connection between Hindemarsh and the two strangely-named houses.
What does ring out loud and clear is that behind its scrim-screen of hedonism lies the deep compassion of the people of our little sanctuary in the Himalayas. We have thrown open our welcoming arms to those persecuted by the Germans and the Japanese, refugees from Afghanistan, Nepal, Pakistan and Tibet.
That is our sustained, compassionate, approach which attracted our expat settlers in the first place. Intolerance is not the Mussoorie way.