The End is Just Another Beginning

I have always believed that there was history before history, and there is history after history. For every end is just another beginning. When I started “A Not-so Historical Tale of Shimla Town”, I had just one book in my hand (Edward J Buck’s ‘Simla: Past and Present’, published in the year 1904). Which meant that I was only looking at a story that would end even before India gained her independence. But soon enough I found myself asking so many questions and looking for answers all over. In a few days, I was simultaneously following Raaja Bhasin’s ‘Simla: The Summer Capital of British India’, Pamela Kanwar’s numerous research papers, reading Rudyard Kipling’s Simla as well as Manju Jaidka’s historical fiction novel ‘Scandal Point’.

And yet, all I managed to show my readers, I would say is the tip of the iceberg! As I pen the last post for My Friend Alexa today, I feel I cannot yet sign off. Shimla’s story is incomplete unless we take a tour of the marvellous heritage buildings that adorn the town and that need an entire series dedicated to them. It is incomplete if I do not talk of the Shimla schools, a legacy left behind by the British. It is incomplete until I name the ‘Who’s Who’ that walked the corridors of Viceregal Lodge. Until I look into the Amateur Dramataic Society- the first among many firsts. Until I write about the ambiguous dichotomy that Shimla always was- a gift of British foresight and splendor or an Indian hamlet where an Indian was treated like an outcaste- a coolie, rickshaw puller, a clerk. This shall probably always hold back the hand that will choose to glorify the Raj in Simla hills.

So, until I choose to come back, here are some parting notes from yesterday!

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The Raj was gone! The mystifying world of Simla was now over. There was no red carpet adorning the roads that walked amidst deodars. Despite the sad partition stories, there was a celebration. Hundreds of people gathered on the Mall with dhols and the festivity was led by Chaudhary Dewan Chand, President of the District Congress Committee. Symbols of British dominance, like the crest of George V on the lamp posts, were pulled down. And Simla was named the capital town of the Government of East Punjab and the Union Territory of Himachal Pradesh. Of the many legacies left behind by the British, Simla was to benefit most from the town’s excellent civic order that had been another gift from the colonizers.

Simla’s British flavour was due to its properties that were owned by the English. The floating population of Indians mostly came here as a support staff for the British (almost 27,000 in support of 4,000 Europeans). All this changed post-independence. The Mall was renamed Lala Lajpat Rai Marg. (Though it continues to be popularly called the Mall even today)! The British properties were bought by affluent Indians. The migratory Indian population was here to stay.

In 1956, the Punjab government moved to Chandigarh. In 1966 Simla district was merged into Himachal Pradesh and stood tall as the capital when the state came into being in 1972. Simla was then Shimla.

Even as urbanization took over Shimla, every second turn told a story of ‘what was’. Some odd, some true, some mere hearsay. But stories nonetheless. Of the popular ones that did the rounds were those in which the storm-water drains at Viceregal Lodge were turned to tunnels to be used by Viceroys on the run. Another interesting tale was born when in the year 1990 the basement of the Amateur Dramatic Club at Gaiety was named ‘The Torture Chamber’. In June 2006 when the restoration work of the building began, some bones were discovered there and much was speculated. Later forensic experts clarified that they were chicken and meat bones that had got stuck in the drains leading out of the kitchen!*

That Shimla continued to remain politically important much later may be concluded from the fact that India and Pakistan signed an agreement after the Bangladesh War, which is popularly called the Shimla Agreement, in the year 1972. The agreement was the result of resolve of both the countries to end the conflict. India’s Indira Gandhi and Pakistan’s Zulfikar Ali Bhutto met at the Barnes Court, opposite the Viceregal Lodge to sign this agreement. It is said that Indira Gandhi was in town two days in advance and personally looked into the décor of the rooms where Zulfikar Ali Bhutto along with his daughter were to stay at Barnes Court (now the Raj Bhawan). I have been personally regaled by residents with stories of Benazir Bhutto’s beauty, who moved around the Mall, and was admired by one and all.

Jinnah with Jawaharlal Nehru at Simla Conference of 1945

(Jinnah and Nehru at Viceregal Lodge- Image source)

While at Barnes Court and Viceregal Lodge, I cannot miss mentioning the eerie table that still stands in the visitor’s room of what was once the Viceroy’s residence. It was the table that was used to draw lines on a map that changed the destinies of several people in the year 1947. The table stood there when in 1945 Nehru and Jinnah walked in the sprawling lawns to sort out their differences before the Simla Conference. The same place where Jinnah refused to shake hands with Maulana Azad, then Congress President, who opposed the two-nation theory.**

Yes, this is just another of those countless stories that unfold themselves when you visit the heritage buildings of Shimla. And so, I say, what I just revealed in this series was the tip of the iceberg. If this peekaboo into the story of Shimla town has left you with a desire to find out more, with a desire to unravel the tale of your city, then I have just managed to light that spark which I had set out to, in the beginning of September.

I hope it was an enlightening journey for you and that we shall meet to carry it forward very soon!

Sonia Dogra

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This is the last post in the series ‘A Not-so Historical Tale of Shimla Town’ written for #Blogchatter’s #MyFriendAlexa Campaign, Season 4.

You can read the previous seven posts here. (Chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

Sources: *Simla: The Summer Capital of British India (Raaja Bhasin)

             **That Table In Shimla Where History Was Written (Mehru Jaffer- The Citizen is Hopeful)

           Urban History of Simla by Kanwar Pamela

 

 

 

 

 

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15 thoughts on “The End is Just Another Beginning

  1. I think I am reading in the reverse order now, having missed the chance to read these posts in the order they were published. But I must congratulate on the writing style, and the research that went into the series. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sonia, your series has delighted me from the very first post. And yes, your goal is achieved, as I found interest in searching history of our Bengal, just like you. This post is a pure delight for me. Beautifully written Sonia.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It was such a beautiful journey. May it be the scenic beauty of the city or the stories that followed from generations, this journey had been a treat. Thanks for writing about this splendid city. And yes I am looking forward to know more about Shimla.

    Liked by 1 person

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