Reaching out to the clouds

Reaching out to the clouds

Reaching out to the clouds

Mussourie across the ages
Ganesh Saili
Rupa & Co,2009,
pp 146 , Rs 150

Reading Mussourie Across The Ages evoked memories of my visit to Dehra Dun and Mussourie, a few years ago. The winding roads, the verdant landscape, the breath-taking view of the Himalayas:

Mussourie Across The Ages is a compilation of essays, personal reflections, and the memories that the author and other travellers have encountered in this picturesque hill-station. Included are also accounts and stories by Andrew ‘Pahari’ Wilson, John Lang, Fanny Parkes and Emily Eden and Fanny Eden, Sisters of Lord Auckland, the governor general of India between 1836 and 1842, who came out as hostesses to their brother, as he was a bachelor. They accompanied him on an overland trip from Calcutta to Simla. In March 1839, Lady Emily Eden visited Mussourie.

Ganesh Saili teaches English and American Literature at Mussourie’s Post Graduate College, and is the author of a dozen books on the Himalayas. Mussourie Across the Ages is the result of over 40 years of research. Reading excerpts from Fanny Parkes and Emily and Fanny Eden’s diaries, I was reminded of Molly Panter Downes’ Ooty Re-discovered. For that matter, Mussourie Across the Ages is very evocative of Ooty, the Queen of hill stations in the Nilgiris or the Blue Mountains, where I live.

Fanny Parkes writes about an estate in the hills with the evocative name of Cloud End, and immediately I am reminded of places named Silver Cloud and St Cloud in Ooty. She writes about the Rhododendrons — crimson and white, the wild violets under the rocks, the bird-calls, the bracing mountain air... She also writes about the peaches, the ‘jangal pears’ the apricots, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and walnuts. Her description of goat meat cooked on a wood-fire is graphic.

‘The Mohammedan Mother’ by John Lang — maverick, author, barrister, journalist and editor — reads like a ghost story in parts. Andrew Wilson’s ‘The Abode of Snow’ gives the reader a rare glimpse into the Himalayan landscape. “From Landour a sea of mist stretched from my feet, veiling, but not altogether concealing ridge upon ridge of dark mountains and even covering the lower portions of the distant great wall of snow. No sunlight as yet fell upon this dark yet transparent mist in which the mountainous surface of the earth with its black abysses seemed sunk as in a gloomy ocean, bounded by a huge coral reef. But above this, dazzling and glorious in the sunlight high up in the deep blue heavens there rose a white shining line of gigantic icy summits reared in air. Nothing could have been more peculiar and striking than the contrast between the wild mountainous countries below — visible, but darkened as in an eclipse — and these lofty domes and pinnacles of eternal ice and ‘neve’. No cloud or fleck of mist marred their surpassing radiance.

As a contrast to these euphoric accounts of Mussouri, the author mentions the “dust and grime of today’s construction activities” and “the new houses like ugly toad-stools” which are coming up in every nook and corner making a concrete jungle of this hill-station and again I am reminded of the similar defacement that all hill-stations are undergoing. But for all aspects of Mussouri that have been documented, Mussouri Across The Ages does not jell; it remains a disjointed pastiche. 

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