Mussoorie - The Quaint Indian Hill Town That still Loves Its Writers

Mussoorie - The Quaint Indian Hill Town That still Loves Its Writers
Hiker's Bay

It last snowed in Mussoorie in 2014. That had also been the year when a drastic change had occurred in the political regime of India. The political campaigning for the general elections that year had largely been driven by the social media, as the American elections had been for decades. It definitely was a turning point in the role social media played in our lives. I remember many of my friends were still not actively invested on Facebook or Instagram at that point. However, as years rolled on, I found myself often laughing at memes posted on social media, or unleashing a volley of rhetoric at people who shared no affinity with my ethos. Hence began a life of classist tirades which we became eager to pass off as intellectual altercations. Even though getting actively involved in the digital world apparently seemed like an exercise in the development of an individual credo, what it essentially led to, was the eventual revelation of the self-obsessed elites that we really are. I am mostly talking about the upper middle-class section of society who readily had smart phones and laptops at their disposal. At this point in time however, we can say with legit pride that science and innovation had broken such barriers and led even people of low and middle-income groups to be able to reap both the benefits and detriments of technology.

Speaking for myself, I can confess that, right now, I am more interested in cricketers and film stars than I had ever been, thanks to the apps and incessant notifications I receive on my phone. Another most exciting invention of the digital age had been the paid subscription services for various programmes, which were previously only shown on the television. At present, you could enjoy watching whatever you want to, at any point. Gone are the days when you had to wait for the next episode of your favourite tv series. You could watch anything you want to, with the click of a button.This brings me to a moot point - the idea of “waiting”, and the bliss associated with it. Being able to wait demands a certain composure which seems to be a rarity these days. Nonetheless, as human beings we have an innate yearning towards the absolute, which can only be achieved through a sense of delay. It is during such moments of realisation that you learn to love the simple pleasures of life again.

Mussoorie, a city in Uttarakhand, laden with memories of its colonial past, is a place which takes you back to a moment when time plodded on slowly. The city had been home to writers like Bill Aitken, Hugh and Colleen Gantzer, as well as our very own, dear Mr. Ruskin Bond. John Lang, a native Australian novelist, whose memoirs presented a fascinating account of the town, was buried in Mussoorie in 1864. Rudyard Kipling has portrayed “the Great Ramp of Mussoorie” in his book, Kim. His story, “The man who would be king”, was inspired by Mussoorie’s Pahari Wilson. Travel writer, Lowell Thomas, who visited Mussoorie in 1926, writes about the Savoy separation-bell in India: Land of the Black Pagoda. The novelist, Anita Desai, was born there. However, the man who runs the show there is none other than Mr. Ruskin Bond. No Indian writer is as celebrated in his hometown, as Bond is in Mussoorie. He sits in his little bookshop facing the street, and meets readers, who queue up to get his autograph and take pictures with him. In a restaurant further down Mr. Bond’s bookshop, are dishes named after the town’s writers. On the menu is a Tom Alter shepherd’s pie, Victor’s (Banerjee) Choice chicken, Bill Aitken brownie, a Shailesh Bhatt risotto, and of course, a Ruskin Bond fish and chips. Plaques of Rudyard Kipling, Philip Mason, (the Commissioner of Garhwal, who wrote under the pseudonym Woodruff), Lowell Thomas, John Lang, John Masters, Charles Allen (Plain Tales from the Raj), Pearl S Buck (Good Earth), Peter Hopkirk (In search of Kim), Ruskin Bond, Ganesh Saili, and Stephen Alter are proudly displayed at the Savoy’s Writers Bar. Aitken’s book on the Nanda Devi is a lovely one dealing with his obsessive love for the shapely Nanda Devi peak standing at a height of 25,640 feet. It is also a testimony to his love for the mountains in general. These writers had made Mussoorie their home at one point or the other, creating a literary sensibility in the air of the town that is hard to ignore. Reading Bond in the cool mists of the region sounds like a lovely idea!

An escape from the daily bustle of the city and the digital world, Mussoorie is a place which still prefers to read more, than scroll through its newsfeed. It is not to say that there is anything wrong with being invested in the online world, but it is tacit that the charms of anything indulged in for too long is bound to fade at one point. Man has always searched for a shelter he could hide in, a place where the sense of mortality wouldn’t touch him. Books have satisfied that need since time immemorial. In this, it is starkly different from cinema or art represented through any other digital medium, since all of them demand a passive participation, whereas books engage you actively and profoundly. Such a sense of intense participation renders a sort of calmness which cannot be attributed to any activity that can remotely be engaged in passively. It is ironic that the world is in need of such composure more than ever, at an age associated with technical boom. It is probably because excessive use of gadgets puts a damper on the mental peace and well-being of an individual, and the world is coming to terms with it one step at a time. The things which have taken us far from reading, could well be the ones that might end up taking us closer to it.

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