Home Feature WHAT’S IN A NAME?



By: Ganesh Saili

‘What’s in a name? Wouldn’t a rose by any other name smell as sweet?’ complained lovelorn Juliet. Names after all were just labels and if she were to apply the metaphor to Romeo, she knew that she would love the same man even if he happened to have had another name.

For instance, one of our readers, Shailendra Pangtey throws a googly at me when he says: ‘My cousin complains it’s difficult to remember the correct way of spelling Mussoorie. I told him its easy, just remember the double ‘s’ followed by the double ‘o’!’

‘Why does it end with two vowels ‘ie’ and not a double ‘ee’?’ asks the cousin, who is unwilling to relent and give up.

Shailendra does try to explain that it might have something to do with the way the Irish spell things. After all wasn’t our founder Capt. Young, Irish?

Faced with this new dilemma, I know I must dive deeper. And that is exactly when I found that from Day One, there was no confusion as to the spelling of Mussoorie. If you took the Mussoorie Library, for instance, it was established in 1843, at which point it was never referred to as the Mansuri Library. All things seemed to have worked quite well until along came John Northam and wrote an early Guide to Mansuri, Landour, Dehra Dun & the Hills North of Dehra in 1884. Now all of us know that writers are strange fellows. Isn’t it possible that he may have spent a lot of time idling around in the  bazaars because he was the ‘first’ to use the vernacular Mansuri by saying: ‘The road to Mansuri has suffered more abuse than any other highway in India and as he travels past Barlowgunge above which the Mansuri Municipality removed the ‘pinch’ under the Mansuri Hotel.’

In our times, everyone knows that the Mansur shrub (Cororiana nepalensis), has always grown in abundance all over these foothills.  Come to think it, those pioneers, who built the station from scratch: the masons, the carpenters and all the other workers who inscribed our history in lime, stone and wood, as they followed the troopers. You can find older families whose descendants line the narrow lanes of our bazaars, had come here from villages close to the Doon valley; they trooped in from Thana Bhawan, Mandawar, Bijnor, Muzzafarnagar, Roorkee and Saharanpur and among them a considerable number of craftsmen from Landaura – a small zamindara five miles from Roorkee. A Major Macullen had been tasked to set up the British Convalescent Depot. In all probability, it was they who named the place Landour. For the life of me, I for one cannot stretch the envelope to say the name Landour is taken from a village in southwest Wales thousands of miles away!

‘What was there up here before the angrezes came?’

That’s the next question that’s flung at me many a time.

Our villages of Bhatta and Kyarkuli have always been there. From the  last, Rani Karanwati had once ruled over the Doon. In addition to this there were seven flats that came in handy during the summer months for cattle to cool off in temporary hutments or ‘chaans’. Today, these public lands have been encroached upon. Though a few are still there: the Landour Military Families’ Club and tennis courts; Mullingar; White Park Forest (later day’s Annfield); Zephyr Lodge; the Savoy Hotel and MacKinnon’s Park.  Other flats were extended like the Happy Valley’s Arena Polo-Ground. Should you walk down the old the bridle path to Rajpur, you will go past the ruins of Jharipani’s Fairlawn Palace. In the old maps the place is called Phati-Chatt – probably on account of the flimsy roof that kept blowing away on the windswept ridge.

To return to the spelling of the names of the other hill stations. Most seem  to be happy to have their names propped up by two to four vowels. For the life of me, please don’t you ask me why Dalhousie, Kodaikanal, Mahabaleshwar, Meghamalai and Mussoorie and have five vowels each?

If you’re able to figure this one out, please do let me know.

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 worldwide.