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Memoirs of Mussoorie

A series of reminiscences by British civil servants, photographers, journalists and memsahibs from the households of viceroys, dating from the early 19th century to the 1930s, have been selected by author and Mussoorie resident Ganesh Saili in a cosy little book titled Mussoorie Across the Ages. Harsha Baruah delves further.

books Updated: Apr 18, 2009 23:20 IST
Harsha Baruah

Here’s an opportunity to take an armchair journey to the Himalayas. A series of reminiscences by British civil servants, photographers, journalists and memsahibs from the households of viceroys, dating from the early 19th century to the 1930s, have been selected by author and Mussoorie resident Ganesh Saili in a cosy little book titled Mussoorie Across the Ages.

The anthology, which contains nine chapters, has tender domestic notes from the diaries and letters of sisters or wives of British officials from the 19th century who were carried in palanquins by ‘native’ bearers up the hills. And what would they do there? Why they would simply sun themselves in Dehra Dun or Mussoorie and spend time recovering from India.

Mussoorie...doesn’t just have accounts of the heat and dust of India. They include tiger sightings “from a few yards away” written with a sense of thrill while travelling through the Terai and forays into mountain caves that formerly gave shelter to legendary dacoits.

The gentlemen of early 20th-century Mussoorie occupy pride of place in the book as well. For Mussoorie enthusiasts, the history behind well-loved tourist landmarks such as the Mall, the Landour Bazaar, the town’s library and the Woodstock School is a value-addition.

There are also chapters devoted to reproductions of some of the old advertisements that were stuck around the city square. Read about entrepreneurs Soonder Lal and Sons who offered the “latest novelties at considerably lower prices than are usual in Mussoorie,” tea planters and timber merchants Bhugwan Dass & Co, and Mr Chas Wilson, who owned The Rink, “the finest floor in the East” for skaters.

While most of the chapters are in the form of travelogues or journals, my favourite is the account of John Lang whom Saili describes as a “maverick, author, barrister, journalist, wanderer and editor of The Moffussilite which was published around the time of the First War of Independence. The story involves a mysterious lady who stands alone everyday by a rock on the side of the road on Mussoorie’s Mall...

Reading it has made me decide a trip to the Himalayas as soon as possible. I suggest you find out what it does for you.