Dr.Lokesh Ohri the anthropologist and team member of VOW2017 took us on the Ruskin Bond walk.
Dr.Ohri made it so interesting and personal, with extensive knowledge and storytelling skills, what was interesting to me, was he was not performing the story he was sharing Dehradun and Ruskin Bond with us.
Ruskin Bond is the icon of the Doon, him being a writer makes it more special to VOW. The trek beings at Astley hall. The ambiance of Astley hall was that of a very tired Connaught place. This was the hub of colonial Dehradun’s business
Bibiji’s store above which Ruskin Bond lived is the start, along with the his own story that “Room on the Roof comes from.’ Rusty the protagonist unable to bear the strictness of his stepfather runs away he meets up with some indian boys in Paltan Bazaar and they play holi, which Rusty didn’t know about then, all that he recognizes is the fun and sense of liberation he had. Of course it resulted in more punishment. Interestingly the Bibiji who gave Ruskin Bond the living space was the first wife of his step father who was a brown sahib.
Across the road is the place where he went to teach English and Etiquette to another Indian boy. But what was more enticing to Ruskin was that it housed the bookshop
Astley was a friend of Ruskin an anglo Indian. He was the grandson of Pahari Wilson a flamaboyant character, of sorts. Pahari Wilson was an army deserter, he asked the Raja of Tehri for refuge and it was refused, so Wilson moved higher, and set up an establishment. When the british started constructing railways, he provided them timber, which made him very rich. To the extent he lent money to the Raja of Tehri. Pahari Wilson declared himself Rajah of Harsi. He romanced and married a tribal girl Gulabo. Pahari Wilson had coins minted in his name.
From Astley Hall we moved down to the Orian Cinema which was open only to the Europeans those days. As of now the frontal facade has morphed but reminants of the old colonial architecture is still visible.
The town of Dehradun gets its name from “Dun”as the valley between the Shivalik and Himalaya and Dera or the camp that was put up there by Sri Ram Rai the son of the 7th Sikh Guru Hari Rai.
In 1850 the british discovered doon valley, and they created it as a mini Scotland from the british settlers. Ruskin Bond’s family was one such family. The town was built on rigid does. Each house had to have a lawn, and trees. The hedge had to be green shrubs, there had to be 200 litchee trees, and a certain amount of mango trees. The Dalanwallah and Rajpur are was exclusively left for the British.
There were two canals that ran through the town the eastern canal has now dried up and houses have come. This was demarcation from the local settlement and the European settlement. D
Paltan bazaar or the bazaar for the regiment was where Ruskin Bond discovered his Indian friends and slush football. Further down we go to Lytton road, where the white house is located. White house belonged to a Captain, who shared with Ruskin Bond his sea adventures and life. when the captain died his journal was handed to Ruskin Bond and it was only then Ruskin Bond realized that ha
Ruskin bond of course has a love hate relationship with Dehradun, he loves the memories he has of it, but he does not what it has morphed into. Now he stays higher at Mussorie so that he can still Dehradun.
Dr.Ohri, did anthropology at Germany and came to doon with a ladaki student. As he walked he discovered the connect, the this made him proactive he actually wrote a book on it, young people joined in.
These walks happen on Sunday he realized this was bringing back the connect to dehradun, and also creating a community. after the 2013 haridwar disaster they got more active, and reviving the old walk routes reduced disaster.
On a personal note to Dr.Ohri researching place maping old pilgrimage routes of kedarnath was about meeting shiva, travelling on foot through the walks was like talking to the gods, each place had an importance, the pilgrims learnt from the community and contributed to the community’s economy.
Though the experience was interesting I would have appreciated if we were allowed to experience the spaces instead of them just being pointed out to us.
At the end of the day, I enjoyed the experience