The Doon Valley Across The Years Edited by Ganesh Saili,
Rupa, Rs 295
This is a delightful book, comprising eight specimens of non-fictional literary writing, which were published between 1874 and 1952. It provides a fairly convincing picture of life in the hill stations — specifically the Dehradun Valley — during the British Raj.
Essentially, a “city of grey hair and green hedges”, the Doon Valley has its legends too. According to the Babar Nama, “In the language of Hindustan, there is a Jagla (or Dale) Dun. The finest running water in Hindustan is that in this Dun”. Saili goes on, “We are told that countless ages ago, this forty-five miles long and fifteen miles wide valley was an immense freshwater lake…Today, it’s reduced to a small stretch of water, less than an acre, near the Gurdwara Sri Guru Ram Ravi.” Hence the name, Dehra Dun.
In the wake of World War I, Mussoorie faced a steep decline in prosperity until the arrival of the bourgeoisie in the latter half of the 20th century. Business flourished again with this influx, and as “doctors, school teachers, students, small landlords and successful businessmen stepped in to fill the vacuum left by the British, they bought their properties, they moved into their cottages, enrolled their children into the cash starved schools. And predictably, soon the entire hill station was theirs.” H. C. Williams’s essay, “A Mussoorie Miscellany”, published in 1936, not only depicts the life but also the ethos and the spirit of the age — the clubs and pubs with their debates, pippins and pipsqueaks, street scenes, walks and rides, narrow shaves and rescues, trading interests and the romance behind the process of trade, royal receptions, and so on. Williams’s piquant humour helps him attain a familiar conversational cut and is always gripping, though continually allusive.
“Valley of the Doon” (1952) by A. R. Gill, “Guide to Mussoorie with Notes on Adjacent Districts and Routes into the Interior” (1907) by F. Bodycot, “Guide to Masuri, Landaur, Dehra Dun and the Hills North of Dehra” (1884) by John Northam, and “Household Words” by John Lang evoke the atmosphere that attracted several adventurers, troopers and British officials who felt, “like meat, we keep better in the hills”. Bodycot’s essay also contains a separate section on schools and Western education.
There is also an extract from Memoir of Dehra Doon (or “Memoir of the Doon” as it has been mentioned in the introduction as well as on the blurb), written by G. R. C. Williams and published in 1874, which gives a full account of the Gorkha War.
L. Hadow Jenkins acquaints us with the life and works of General Frederick Young who came to India as a fifteen-year-old ensign and returned home to Ireland 44 years later as a General. During his stint, he endeavoured for the betterment of Mussoorie and Landour as hill stations and worked as a commandant of Doon only to take “time off from his duties to chase shikar in the foothills”.
Jenkins quotes from Memoir of Dehra Doon but the book she mentions in her essay is “The Memoirs of the Doon” and, furthermore, the passages she quotes (p.186) do not tally with the original text (p.112). Misquotes, punctuational and typographical errors in the book are glaring examples of sloppy proof-reading and copy-editing.