By: Ganesh Saili
‘Our graveyards are full of people who once thought they were indispensable!’ lamented Uncle Raman wistfully as we walked past Landour’s cemetery. There are times when one feels that Captain Young grabs all the credit for having ‘founded’ this hill station.
What about those who nurtured the place or built roads? A conspiracy of silence covers the names of those who carefully nursed the place in the days of its infancy. The ones who gave us our first school; our breweries; our first church and our first road.
And thereby hangs this tale.
In 1834, John Mackinnon moved his school from Meerut to Mussoorie to set up the Mussoorie Seminary in Lyndale, and it was the first English medium school in the Himalaya, meant for ‘parents who are too poor to send them home,’ observed Lady Emily Eden.
Four years later, Fanny Parkes found: ‘The Children! It is charming to see their rosy faces; they look as well and as strong as any children in England. The climate of the hills, however, is certainly far superior to that of England.’
Mussoorie acquired a reputation as a center for European education, a sort of ‘Edinburgh of the East.’ Others followed. Then came the Convent of Jesus and Mary (a girls’ school) founded in 1845, St George’s College (for boys) in 1853 and Woodstock School (a finishing school for girls) in 1856.
You find a twenty-four year old teacher, Maugher Monk in a letter to his father complaining that Mackinnon too ‘self-willed, obstinate and passionate. Any suggested alterations in the established system throw him into a perfect fury, terminating in sulks…’
However, five years later, the Seminary was thriving. It had a hundred boarders. But then, mid-stream, Mackinnon switched to turn brewer, by buying a brewery spread over six acres, owned by his brother-in-law Henry Bohle. It produced Pale Ale, Strong Ale (XXXX) and XXX Porter that was reputed to be: ‘These Ales and Stout are brewed with Malt Cured on the German system and the finest English hops only, and are guaranteed free from Arsenic.’
Though which writer worth his salt can write about our breweries without repeating the brewer’s tale which has everyone smacking their lips at a much improved brew. It was traced to Vat 42 – ‘everyone re-drank, re-tasted and re-tested, till the diminishing level of beer revealed the remains of a worker, who while lading out the sum had slipped, fallen unnoticed into the vat and drowned.’
Poor fellow’s supreme sacrifice to science did not go in vain. It gave the local beer trade a real fillip and kept the hill station going in high spirits.
To move the beer barrels, he began work on the Mackinnon Cart Road, which skirts the main township, leaving it undisturbed while leading you straight to the brewery. He also developed the Rajpur – Kolhukhet road to open up the economy.
In 1842 he went on to give us our first newspaper named The Hills. Though eight years later it folded up. But there was no stopping the man, as his vote decided the location of present day Christ Church, when he found the proposed site in Kulri, too far away for the boys of the Seminary.
When he passed away in 1870, he had already laid the foundations of a family that continued to contribute to the growth of the town. And his sons, Philip and Vincent turned realtors, taking over the entire western edge of town: Everest’s Park Estate, the Happy Valley Estate and the forests abutting these properties. At the bottom of which they built the Happy Valley Club.
All that remain today are six memorial plaques on the walls of Christ Church – mute reminders of this once famous family. That apart, visitors find his portrait, with piercing eyes and droopy moustache, hanging above the fireplace in the Mussoorie Library. In 1912, his son, Philip Walter Mackinnon passed away. The last of the line Lillian Mary died in 1945. The Mackinnon’s had sung their song for these hills.
Of course, fame is a deceiving elf – here today, gone tomorrow. What remains are the footprints on the shifting sands of Time.
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.