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Walking The Talk

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By GANESH SAILI

It’s heart-warming to see the recent spurt in Heritage Walks in the hill station. Finally, younger folks are checking out the history of long forgotten places. Trouble is that those who walk the talk (the selfstyled guides) often get their facts mixed up. For instance, Vani, who shed her lawyer’s robes to retire up here, wonders ‘Were there gallows atop Library hill?’

‘A hangman? Who said so?’ I ask. ‘The hotel’s manager,’ she says.

‘Sorry to be pricking this balloon, but it’s untrue!’ I point out.

Established in 1842, our Kutchery sent walkers of the last mile to Allahabad’s Naini Jail. That’s where Corporal Charles Allen was hanged for the murder of Mr. Clapp, an assistant in the chemist’s shop on the night of August 31, 1909.

Another Chatterbox convinces his flock that Mahatma Gandhi on his first visit to Happy Valley on 17th October 1929 visited the Charleville Hotel, adding:

“Proof is coming from the British Library.’ Can one be more misleading?

Fact remains Gandhiji came to Birla House twice. In 1946, he held a prayer meeting in Sylverton grounds where our citizenry presented him with a silver replica of a dandi. He auctioned it on the spot for Rs.908 and deposited the proceeds with the Khadi Development Board.

Among the first WalkerTalkers was Gajju, a peon at our college. Moonlighting, he exposed tourists to a grandstand view of the Himalayas from one of the lookout points on Camel’s Back Road, Charleville Road and Lal Tibba spouting: ‘There’s Yamnotri-Gangotri, BadrinathKedarnath, Nanda Devi and Kailash-Mansarovar!’

While the religiously inclined genuflected, the others gawked as Gajju, pocketing his fee, hastened back to work explaining: ‘There was a rush in the bank. It was overcrowded!’

‘Why fib?’ I’d quizzed.

‘Who I? What lies?’ he answered, adding ‘Behind those snows is Tibet and that’s where Kailash–Mansarovar happens to be!’

Ask a dumb question to get a dumb answer! Royally snubbed, I learned my lesson and resolved to hold my tongue in the future. It worked until the day Gajju complained of not having slept a wink muttering: ‘I kept dreaming of Jodh Singh’s moustaches!’

Misjudging the time taken to walk the seven miles to Kempty Falls, what with flat feet from the plains for company. Seemed like Lady Luck had deserted him as he caught a glimpse of the College’s mustachioed Chairman, taking an out-of-work politician to the falls.

‘Finished!’ Gajju thought. ‘Suspension will follow.’ Mercifully, as genial Jodh Singh stepped aside to greet someone, Gajju squeaked past unnoticed and thereby managed to save the day.

To save yourself from crowded Barlowganj, go past May Cottage, once home to Lt. General Jasbir Singh, to find a new township that has sprung up in Maryville Estate, the Fosters’ old home in the 1960s. Above you is Ralston Manor, the site of our first European cremation when in 1890, to fulfil her husband’s express wishes, Mrs. Smallman lit a pyre in the garden creating quite a scandal. Luckily, she got away with a mild rap on the knuckles. In atonement she built a chapel on the spot which still stands on the grounds of the Hill Bird School.

Outside Oak Grove School is the station’s first grave, where the inscription says: ‘Sacred to the memory of Sir C. Farrington, Bart., Captain of Her Majesty’s 35th Regiment, who departed this life on the 28th March 1828, aged 35 years.’

Those Walking the Talk, often tend to rely on schoolboy gossip about Gurkha soldiers decapitating their senior officer. Untrue that! Farrington was brought critically ill, suffering from severe burns, to recuperate at the Landour Depot, when the forefingers of death pounced upon him.

‘He had been aboard the Kent East Indiaman when she perished in a fire in the Bay of Biscay on 1st March 1825,’ regrets Captain Thomas Skinner, in 1828, lamenting: ‘To be buried where no Christian ever lived, and none before him died.’

Whenever I see the Talkers deep in conversation with their bread, butter and jam shuffling beside them, I am reminded of our teacher Mr Ronald Abbott, telling us: ‘Remember, fraud is the daughter of greed.’

(Ganesh Saili, authorphotographer has written and illustrated twenty books. He belongs to those select few who illustrate their own writing. His work has found publication in periodicals, columns and journals. His books have been translated into more than two-dozen languages.)