May 19, 2010

Mussoorie's Halls of Dust

From Ruskin Bond's Mussoorie Diary in Outlook India magazine dated 17 May 2010:

"I first saw Mussoorie in 1940, when I was six years old,” I told Gautam, who is twelve. “I didn’t know you were so ancient,” said Gautam. “A bit of history,” said his sister Shristi, all of fourteen. “And what were you doing here when you were six?” asked brother Siddarth, now sixteen.


So I told him how the old Mussoorie once had six cinemas, right up to 1980, and now of course, there wasn’t a single cinema left in town. One by one they closed down—put out of business by television, DVDs and the entertainment tax. The halls are still there, locked up because the law prevents them from being used for anything else. Rows of empty seats gather dust while the silver screen grows green with mildew. You may not see the ghosts of Robert Taylor and Errol Flynn, but you might well meet the ghost of Arthur Fisher, who, for most of his adult life, was the proud projectionist at the Picture Palace—which is at the other end of Library—in Mussoorie.

The Electric Picture Palace, to give it its original name, opened in 1912, the year electricity came to the hill station. One of the country’s earliest cinemas, it survived for well on ninety years. Longer than Fisher, a poor Anglo-Indian who rests in a pauper’s grave in the Camel’s Back cemetery.


Today the vast hall is almost empty, just a handful of solitary roller-skaters looking as though they would rather be elsewhere. What happened to roller-skating? There was a time when every youngster wanted a pair of roller-skates. “Would you like a pair of skates?” I asked Gautam. “No way,” he said. “But you can get me a laptop.” That says it all, I suppose.

The simpler pleasures have given way to play-stations, sophisticated video games, personal computers and the internet. Even filmstars must learn to twitter. Politicians would be wise not to."


Reading the above, I could visualise well the dilapidated state of the Picture Palace that Ruskin Bond was referring to for I was in Mussoorie in August last year.

I went through my almost 9 months old photographs and came across a few of the Picture Palace that are referred to above.

Of course, Mussoorie is not just about the dilapidated Picture Palace. Mussoorie, to begin with, is a hill station with beautiful views of the Himalayan mountains.

Like so many others, I too am a fan of Ruskin Bond (born 19 May 1934 in Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh, India). With subtle humor and quiet wisdom, his literary style brings out the kid in me. What I admire most about him is his unlimited enthusiasm, respect for people around him, and his deep love for nature, especially the Himalayan flora and fauna. I have not read all his books but in the few that I did, it is wonderful to read about his love for living in harmony with nature.

Though he lives in Landour since the 1960s, I was informed by the person in the photograph below that almost every Saturday, Ruskin Bond drops by at the Cambridge Book Depot. I spent just a few days in Mussoorie but did not have an opportunity to meet him.

Ruskin Bond is 76 years old today. Happy Birthday young man!