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What’s In A Name


By: Ganesh Saili

‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’
To Juliet, names were just labels. When she applies the metaphor to Romeo, she knows that she would love the same man even if he had another name.

Many a political battle was fought and lost when the new hill state was named Uttaranchal. The struggle for a separate hill state saw all political parties unite under the banner of the Uttarakhand Movement. Did some mandarins, their heads buried in the sand, decide that a change of name would take the wind out of our sails? They could not have been more wrong. The next election saw us back to being called Uttarakhand.

One of my readers, Shailendra Pangtey throws a googly my way: ‘A cousin complains it’s difficult to remember the correct spelling of 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’?’ says the cousin who refuses to back down. He insists on a hearing and will not relent.

Shailendra suggests that perhaps it has something to do with the way the Irish spell things, as our founder, Capt. Young happened to be an Irishman.

The deeper I dig, I find that right from Day One, there was no confusion in the spelling of Mussoorie. There is the Mussoorie Library, established in 1843. It was never called the Mansuri Library. That trend continued in the 1870s when The Mussoorie Exchange Advertiser, a medium of advertisements came out.

Though I do find a single deviation – if you can call it that – it’s the publication of John Northam’s Guide to Mansuri, Landour, Dehra Dun & the Hills North of Dehra in 1884, our first authoritative guide to the hill station. Anyone wanting to delve into the history of these hills has to revisit this slim volume. John Northam was the first and last writer to have used the vernacular name Mansuri.

He tells us that ‘the road to Mansuri has suffered more abuse than any other highway in India and as he travels up from Rajpur, he goes past Barlowgunge above which the Mansuri Municipality removed the ‘pinch’ under the Mansuri hotel.’

It’s quite obvious that the name Mansuri was derived from the Mansur shrub (Cororiana nepalensis), common in the Himalayan foothills. It grows in such abundance near the Convent of Jesus and Mary, Waverley that the place has been named the Mansuri khala. Come to think of it, those who built this hill station from scratch: masons, carpenters and other workers who rewrote our history in lime, stone and wood, came following the footsteps of the Redcoats. As did most of the older families of merchants who line our bazaars today. They all came from places abutting the Doon valley: Thana Bhawan, Mandawar, Bijnor, Muzzafarnagar, Roorkee and Saharanpur.

Among them the workers from Landaura – a small zamindara or principality five miles from Roorkee – were hired by Major Macullen to build the British Military Hospital. It is they who named the place Landour. I cannot stretch the envelope to suit those who say the name Landour was taken from Llanddowror, a village in Carmarthenshire in southwest Wales.

‘What was here before the angrezes came?’ That question that has often been flung at me.

For starters, the villages of Bhatta and Kyarkuli were always there. It was from where Rani Karanwati ruled over the Doon.

Apart from that, there were flats aplenty. These were handy in the summer months to build temporary hutments or ‘chaans’ to keep cattle cool. These flats were the Landour Military Families’ Club and tennis courts; Mullingar; the Annfield or White Park Forest; Zephyr Lodge estate; the Savoy Hotel estate and MacKinnon’s Park. Other flats with a few alterations became Happy Valley’s six-hole polo ground and Jharipani’s Fairlawn Palace.

All our northern hill stations are content to have their names propped up by two or at most four vowels.

Why Mussoorie and Dalhousie have five each I cannot for the life of me figure out.

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.