By Ganesh Saili
Retired Naval Officer Cdr Prakash Mehrotra, living in Barlowganj comes from an illustrious family of teachers. His father Kailash Narain Mehrotra, a brilliant teacher of the old school, always reminded us of the five qualities that make a good student: crow-like effort, stork-like concentration, dog-like sleep, frugal eating and foregoing homely comforts. I must say they have stood me in good stead. Occasionally, helping me in friendly jousts with the Commander.
‘Where did Maharaja Daleep Singh really stay?’ A question both of us have visited but never resolved.
A third, Bhupinder Singh Bance, aka Peter Bance, an archivist-collector on Daleep Singh memorabilia, has always walked besides us. Our story begins with the passing away of the Lion of the Punjab. Seeing an opportunity, the East India Company grabbed the kingdom, exiled the young prince to Futtehgurh. The heat and dust did the rest – sending him to Mussoorie’s cooler climes in 1852 and ‘53.
The proverbial ‘last nail’ came while flipping through E. H. Ashcroft’s Report on the Land Tenures of Mussoorie. There it was forged in steel on page 75 where the old ICS tells us: ‘The Castle Hill Estate was originally the ground-rent-paying estate of Woodcroft and Greenmount, but the Government bought it as the site of a residence for Prince Dhulip Singh.’ Refurbished at great cost, this is where they turned him into a wog. His tutor, John Spenser Logan snipped his roots; removed him from old associations and taught him the ways of the white man. Cricket and shooting, it was hoped would fix him well and proper. The Company could not let him turn into a rallying point for rebellious troopers on the loose in the Punjab.
Living in Landour’s Castle Hill, he donated to ‘some useful objects like enlargement of a church (Christ Church?), Library (the Mussoorie Library?), and a dispensary.’ His minders steered him away from races, theatricals, dance balls and fun.
Logan’s mentions a picnic to a spring (possibly Mossy Falls?), where a cloth was spread over level ground – it did not lie very smoothly, with the grass beneath making it rough and tussocky. When the guests sat down, they joked about the bumps of the board. Then the cloth began to wriggle.
‘Sanph! Sanph!’ shouted the locals. Chaos reigned. A full grown cobra reared its head from under the table cloth. It hissed in protest. After it had been dealt with, ‘it took a good deal of nerve of the ladies before they were persuaded to sit down to their scattered lunch,’ notices Logan.
‘As His Highness’s residence is, at some distance from Mussoorie, he lives a quiet and retired life.’ Logan writes, adding, ‘I have been able to clear a sufficient level space for a playground at Manor House estate, so as to admit his playing cricket…. with boys of the Mussoorie Seminary.’ Those lads must have been his own age. How he must have enjoyed their company or joined in their amusements and delights!
Of course ‘The distance at which His Highness resides from Mussoorie prevents the regular attendance of a clergyman, his religious instruction is almost entirely conducted by Mr. Guise; but I hope that Reverend M. Dawson of Landour, may also be able to visit him during his stay.’ Whether the priest from Landour’s Convalescent Depot called on him is not clear, as autumn of 1853 saw him packed off to England from where he never returned.
The Dark Prince, became Queen Victoria’s ‘blue-eyed boy’. By the time he saw through their ploy, they had pillaged his kingdom; diddled him of the Kohinoor diamond; plundered his wealth and cheated him every step of the way. Who can recompense for a life lost? Or for building castles in the air?
Twice married, he had eight children, all of whom passed away. They left no heirs.
But being Mehrotra Saab’s chela, I dig deeper. His advice has helped me all the days of my life. This time though Northam’s Guide to Mansuri (pub:1884) reduces history to one brief sentence: ‘Dhulip Singh, the son of Runjit Singh occupied the ‘Castle’ in Mansuri, the property of Mr. G. B. Taylor.’
I guess it’s time to call it quits.
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