By KULBHUSHAN KAIN
My father along with my mom and six of us left Burma in a hurry to restart a life in our motherland. It must have been tough – he had to find a job, and a place to settle down. After staying for a short while in Hoshiarpur, he scouted for a city that he thought would be his permanent abode.
I don’t know who advised him – by the time my mind was mature enough to try to unravel his quicksilver mind, he was gone. However, I do remember him telling my Mom that he had found a paradise.
I recall him saying, “Guro (my mother’s name), I have found a ‘swarg’ for all of us! Now we don’t have to search for one. We will live and die in Dehradun.”
That was the first time I heard the name ‘Dehradun’.
Dehradun was indeed a ‘swarg’, heaven. The weather was glorious, and the hills, trees, and green surroundings were breathtakingly beautiful. The weather was superb -it never tired you. My revered senior from school and family friend, a distinguished army officer Major General Harwant Krishan (Retd) recalls that till about the midseventies Dehradun was classified as a ‘non-fan station’, which meant that it was so cool in summers that the military accommodation was not ‘authorised’ fans! There were very few cars and the houses had huge compounds. According to a friend and well-informed exDehradun resident Gurpreet Kaur, till the 1960s, it was a part of the construction by-laws that if one wanted to build a house on Rajpur Road or Dalanwala one had to have at least 5 acres of land! Transportation was slow, there weren’t enough buses and sometimes we would hire a tonga to get our rations from Dehradun (we lived in Clement Town). According to Mr Sati Puri, an old Dehradun resident, there were hardly any taxis when he came to join as a boarder in the Doon School (1950). His father had to hire a tonga from the White House (near St Joseph’s) to drop him off at the Doon School! The byproduct of the lack of vehicular traffic was that the sky was “sky” blue in colour, and even the sunlight seemed to have a colour– the colour of honey. The air was pure and invigorating!
That Dehradun died. I came back to Dehradun after 50 years, looking for the ‘swarg’. Sadly it has disappeared. It is hard to imagine that the sensibility of a town that was built by writers like Ruskin Bond among others has faded and changed … it is no longer a town that is tuned in to the popular music request programme Binaca Geet Mala on Radio Ceylon. It is no longer a town that was brought up in books written by Enid Blyton, Capt WE John, PG Wodehouse, and whose sense of humour was fed by Frank Richards (Billy Bunter series). It is no longer a town whose sense of suspense was sharpened by Agatha Christie. It’s a different town that I came into. Not only does it look different – but it thinks differently.
Yes, that Dehradun has changed! Unfortunately, it has caught up with Delhi – it is a capital city, the traffic jams are like the ones one witnesses in South Extension, and Sarojini Nagar, we have Fabindia, McDonald’s, Hyatt, Raddison, a Litfest, Bar be que Nation, speeding cars with blaring music, neon lights, houses with multiple air-conditioners, cars with red battis escorted by gun-toting security men … everything we see in every other city. Why do we even have a DPS in a city of heritage schools!
But I never wanted Dehradun to be like Delhi. Otherwise, both Dad and I would have settled down there!
Don’t envy us for living in a city known for its green fences and grey hair! Yes there are “fences” – but they are cemented and enclose multistoried flats, and the men and women are no longer grey they prefer to dye their hair black or brown!!!
A friend of mine asked me to stop complaining and eulogizing the past and to ‘move on’. To him, I quoted David Thoreau who wrote, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however, measured or far away. He doesn’t have to mature as soon as an apple tree or an oak. Shall he turn his spring into summer?”
I am not willing to forget the Dehradun of my youth. I know I can’t find it! And I know I can’t find it anywhere in the world. The temperature as I write is 43 degrees centigrade. I am travelling to Jaipur to take a break from the heat!
Yes, you read it right Dehradun, a hill state capital, is hotter than the desert state capital. The temperature in Jaipur is 40 degrees centigrade.
I don’t know whether Dad is laughing or crying wherever he is!
(Kulbhushan Kain is an award winning educationist with more than 4 decades of working in schools in India and abroad. He is a prolific writer who loves cricket, travelling and cooking. He can be reached at kulbhushan.kain @gmail.com)