Posted in Dehradun, India

Dehradun, memories

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On the 29th of September, I was invited by WIC, Dehradun, to talk about life in Dehradun, memories and stories. It brought back memories of this house, where we lived for some years, in Hathibarkala, Dehradun.

The garden was huge, with fruit trees of all kinds, guava, litchi, mango, plum, lemon, mulberry. Pink lilies grew wild, and we ate wild mushrooms, trusting the old woman who came to cut the grass to choose and give us the non-poisonous ones.

Birds were so numerous then, the paradise fly-catcher with its gorgeous ribbon-like white tail, flying across several times a day. Golden orioles, green pigeons, long tailed blue magpies, owls, big and small, woodpeckers, the list is endless.

The garden faded off into the forest, from where jackals visited. One could hear the barking deer, and occasionally see the wild jungle cat, that looked like a miniature leopard. Of course, there were plenty of snakes too, which I wasn’t fond of in those days–I came to appreciate them later. And small creatures of all kinds lived in the space above the wooden ceilings and the roof.

The house itself is symmetrical, built in British days. I haven’t visited lately, but I know the house and others like it are still there. Hathibarkala, the Survey of India estate, is still an oasis of greenery.

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Posted in Dehradun, Trees

Preserving forests

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On 11 September National Forest Martyrs Day was observed at the Forest Research Institute, Dehradun, depicted above. How many are aware that there is such a day? In 1730 more than 360 people were killed in Khejarli, in present Rajasthan, while protecting the khejri trees that the then king of Jodhpur state, wanted to cut down.All of them belonged to the Bishnoi, a group that continues to protect trees and animals. In the 1970s there was the chipko movement, where people in present Uttarakhand clung to trees to stop them being cut down. And since independence, more than 1400 foresters have been killed protecting forests and wildlife. Yet few seem to understand the importance of trees, and despite tree plantation drives, existing trees are constantly being cut.

People don’t seem to realize that trees are living beings. They communicate with one another, perhaps if we have enough sensitivity they would communicate with us too. According to various studies, they sleep at night, and cry out when being cut, though at a frequency we cannot hear. They absorb pollutants, provide oxygen, and shelter birds and other creatures. What would our planet be like without trees? Perhaps we will soon find out!

 

Posted in Dehradun, Uttarakhand

Uttarakhand News–1

 

020I’ve often thought of writing a weekly news item on Uttarakhand, the state in which I live. I was born here, in Mussoorie, and though I never spent many years here, visits were constant. Can’t forget those up and down Delhi-Dehradun trips, by bus, by train, and after Sweetie began living with me, by taxi, and all the hazards and delays on those trips. I used to love the forests, trees and birds of Dehradun, and they are still here, though diminishing every day. Newcomers, if they think about the road names might wonder at the names, Canal Road, Eastern Canal Road, Eucalyptus Road. Once canals crossed Dehradun and were used for many purposes, now they are covered up and perhaps dry. Eucalyptus Road was lined with huge Eucalyptus trees, now none remain. Changing the names of localities, a constant pastime of most city officials, has happened in Uttarakhand, though not to the same extent as elsewhere. Thus we still have Jolly Grant Airport, because the land was once owned by Jolly Grant, Herbertpur, after someone named Herbert, Astley Hall and Nashville Road; Survey Road and Old Survey Road, as Dehradun was the headquarters of the Survey of India, right from British days. Some locality names, I don’t know the origin of, such as Selaqui or Sinola.

Uttarakhand hardly figures in the national news unless there are disasters. The 2013 flood was prominent in the news, and more recently the death of the horse Shaktiman, and the government destabilisation. Then after the opening of the Char Dham in May, the four sacred temples, and Hemkund Sahib, the Sikh shrine, the news is about the pilgrims.

Now the monsoon has arrived with steady rain. In 2013 Dehradun got even more rain than Mawsynram, the place with the highest rainfall in India.

In the local news today it says that 83 villages in the Kumaon region may be washed away by rising rivers with the current rains. It also says there are 3 lakh [300,000] empty houses in the hills, with migration taking place because of poor facilities. And it has been noticed that there are 12,000 dry springs. The president tried to visit the shrine at Kedarnath, but returned because of the weather.

Posted in cow, Dehradun, Uttarakhand

A cow has breakfast

[reposting from another blog, written in 2012]

The car was parked near a nondescript small restaurant in Dehradun, and I watched the scenes around me. A black cow, looking dirty and uncared for, came and stood with its front legs on the single stair leading to the restaurant. Soon a young worker, perhaps just out of his teens, came and fed the cow with left over rotis and naans. Another young worker came and put a pile at the cow’s feet. It did not take her long to eat them all–there must have been twenty to thirty rotis, left over from the previous night’s dinner. The two workers went inside, and the cow eyed the huge bag of tomatoes on the counter. Catching it with her teeth, she dropped it to the ground and began eating them. A worker from a neighbouring shop called out to them, and the two young fellows came out. They pushed the cow away a bit, picked up whatever they could, and then urged the cow to finish off the squashed tomatoes at her feet. Sorting through what they had picked up, they even threw her a few more squashed ones.
Such a pleasant sight–they were amused and not angry, and allowed the cow a good breakfast.

Posted in Dehradun, Henrich Harrer, Nino La Civita, St Francis

Church of St Francis, Dehradun

I had wanted to visit the church of St Francis of Assisi in Dehradun for a long time. And finally I made it there last week. When we reached, the church was locked, but it was opened for us to look around. The priest also gave me some postcards of the frescoes, one of which is reproduced here.

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The church is famous for the frescoes painted high on the walls, depicting the life of St Francis. And there is a story associated with these. During World War II there were prisoner of war camps on the outskirts of Dehradun. One housed Italians, and the other Germans. Among the Italians there was a talented painter called Nino La Civita, of Sulmona, Italy.  Did he spend his time in the camp painting? Possibly. As the Italians must have been Catholics, the parish priest of St Francis Church visited them, and noticed Nino’s talent. He asked him to pain frescoes in the church.  Nino painted seven huge frescoes, high on the walls. A plaque outside the church states that these were painted in 1946, that is after the war, though stories narrate the paintings were executed while he was still a prisoner, and that he had special permission to leave the camp to make them.

In 2004, Lorenzo Cassamenti, another Italian artist, restored the paintings.

I have not yet come across an account of the Italian camp. But Henrich Harrer, who later escaped to Tibet, and wrote a book on his life there, described the German camp in his book Seven Years in Tibet. He wrote, ‘This time we were conveyed by rail to the greatest POW camp in India, a few miles outside the town of Dehra-Dun…Our camp consisted of seven great sections, each surrounded by a double fence of barbed wire. The whole camp was enclosed by two more lines of wire entanglement, between which patrols were constantly on the move.’

Posted in Dehradun, Uncategorized

Where do you live?

Does where you live influence your writing?  I have been living in Dehradun, in the northern state of Uttarakhand, India, for the last three years, moving here from Delhi, and have been wondering if a change of place affects one’s writing.

Dehradun has around 600,000 people compared with Delhi’s 16 million. Everyone is somewhat laid-back. People drop in unannounced, and stay for hours. There are steep slopes to climb, tall trees, and in the background, the Middle Himalayas, glittering with lights in the dark, very occasionally covered with snow. In the monsoon there is incessant rain.

The city is rapidly changing, the trees being cut, high-rise buildings being constructed.

But there are beautiful buildings too, such as this Buddhist temple.

A little distance behind the house, the Johri forest still survives. With increasing encroachment, monkeys descend from there in hordes, one hears about leopards prowling, and yesterday I saw a jackal.

Rather than traffic, I hear donkeys, pigs, chickens, dogs, and the sound of rain.

Does where one lives affect one’s writing? I don’t really know, but the circumstances in which one lives, has an effect.

Posted in Dehradun, Uncategorized

A song on Dehradun—The Beatles

On 8 December 2015, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram in Rishikesh, where the Beatles stayed in 1968, was finally opened to the public. This day was chosen as it is the anniversary of John Lennon’s death who was shot dead  in 1980. As it is part of Rajaji National Park, the Chaurasi Kutia ashram, had been closed to tourists, though they used to sneak in whenever they could. Now it is officially opened, though a bit expensive to visit, Rs 600 for foreigners and Rs 150 for Indians.
The Beatles spent some time here in 1968. They composed a number of songs while they were here, even one on Dehradun, which never formed part of an album, but now is available on youtube. The lyrics are ‘Dehra Dehra Dun, Dehra Dun Dun/ Dehra Dehra Dun/Dehra Dun Dun/ Many Roads can take you there /Many different ways/one direction takes you weeks/ another takes you days/ many people on the roads /looking at the sights/ Many others with their troubles/looking for their rights/see them move along the roads/in search of a life divine /beggars in a gold mine …Dehra Dehra Dun /Dehra Dun Dun”.

The list of other songs composed at this time can be found at:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Beatles_in_India