Mussoorie: A writers’ town in smartphone era
A great paradox of our times is that the reading habit is becoming important precisely when it is also dying.
Perhaps no Indian writer is as celebrated by his hometown as Bond is in Mussoorie. His face is in street art, in restaurants and in shops. At a time when the word icon is loosely used, Bond really is one.
In the smartphone era, in a country that can’t look beyond cricketers and filmstars, it is refreshing to see the importance Mussoorie gives its writers and artistes. Further down from the book shop on Mall Road, in a restaurant, dishes are named after the town’s creative stars. On the menu is a Tom Alter shepherd’s pie, Victor’s (Banerjee) Choice chicken, Bill Aitken brownie, and a Shailesh Bhatt risotto. Perhaps we are forgetting someone. Oh yes, there is Ruskin Bond fish and chips.
A great paradox of our times is that the reading habit is becoming important precisely when it is also dying. Excessive gadget use — though popular — damages mental health. Reading is calming. Books are also high art. Like sculpture or paintings, they are magic created solely from imagination and sweat. Far from being outdated, they are the mother lode from which often emerge money spinners and job creators, like Harry Potter or House of Cards.
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The spell of the mountains, especially places like the uncontainably gorgeous Landour (visit it before a mall sprouts up there) do bring about a mood of reflection, especially in those over 40. Many urban preoccupations and material possessions simply cease to matter. Books re-enter your life because switching on the TV seems like abuse of the region’s tranquility.
Mountaineering accounts are a personal favourite, and one day in Mussoorie it was decided to lie in till late afternoon. There was a crisp Riesling to sip and Bill Aitken’s 'The Nanda Devi Affair' to read. Outside the sky was clear blue and the valley was vast and green.
Aitken’s is an enjoyable book for the most part, dealing with his obsessive love for the shapely Nanda Devi, at 25,640 feet, India’s second highest peak (after the 28,169 ft Kanchenjunga). A Scotsman who made Mussoorie his home, Aitken writes spontaneously, the words gurgling forth like a stream. He rarely uses a comma. Some descriptions are worth a second helping, or tenth. Here’s a line about the pug marks of a snow leopard, an elusive creature: “The animal had suddenly halted, crouched and then backed off from the water’s edge leaving an immaculate visiting card.”
Not much to say after a sentence like that, except that any chance to revisit Mussoorie and Landour, and some books, must be seized.