Destinations: Nainital (1980)

In 1980 I was back in Delhi for a nine-month course in Public Administration conducted in the prestigious Indian Institute of Public Administration.  It was somewhat like back to the class rooms with a lecturer haranguing around three dozen mid-level bureaucrats – some of whom were of the senior level in breach of the accepted norms of selection. They were thus poaching on a course meant for mid-level central government officers. I recall at least two Joint Secretaries and an Additional Secretary joining the crowd. In Delhi anything is possible if one had the right connections. These worthies were, in fact, not there to get trained as they had had some training already at fancy institutions abroad. They were there to mark time for a fresh assignment in Delhi. In the meantime they could retain the official accommodation and get paid for staying in Delhi with a stint in IIPA – and a foreign trip of two weeks as bonus. Bending rules is so common in Delhi for well-connected bureaucrats.

All this, however, is beside the point. For us lesser mortals the course exposed us to subjects that we had never come across in the past and then there was the dissertation at the end which could give us a certificate of M Phil. Many officers with science background found the Programme very useful as they were not quite familiar with Humanities that, actually, ticks many departments of the government. It was a good cross section of the government of India – from the Indo Tibetan Border Police to the IAS, of course, and CPWD and a smattering of Central Services. Also thrown in were two Bangladeshis of their administrative services and a Chinese Malaysian who was from the Malaysian Administrative and Diplomatic Services. If one shook the lot well it would produce a good mix; that is what the Advanced Professional Programme in Public Administration was.

Being married I got a suite of rooms in the hostel on the second floor climbing up and down which took some toll of my developing paunch. My wife was resigned to be bored through the long day. She made friends with the wives of the resident faculty and spent some time with them. Otherwise a quiet life with occasional excursions by buses from the Ring Road right round the whole of New Delhi to go to its south to meet friends.

Two three holidays came by in October and we decided to go to Nainital – a hill station in the state of Uttar Pradesh, till then in one piece and undivided. It was on the foothills of the Outer Himalayas and was located at more than 6000 ft above the sea level with a pear-shaped lake in the valley. Though close to the Himalayas, one cannot see any part of it from the town, surrounded as it is by high hills. To get a glimpse of the white ranges one had to climb up to one of the surrounding hills.

The place is of relatively recent origin. It was established only in 1841 after the British won the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814-1816. Through the early part of the 19th Century the place grew around the lake as a settlement and soon the British made it a health resort. Many Europeans found it a good escape from the heat of the Indian summers in the plains. Quickly all the necessary establishments came up – hospitals, schools and what have you. Some fine schools that came up have continued till today producing well-educated young men and women – the more famous of them being the Sherwood College producing gems like Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw and the Bollywood thespian Amitabh Bachchan.

But, Nainital is more known for Jim Corbett and his exploits in the neighbouring Kumaon and Garhwal hills. Through the early part of the 20th Century Jim Corbett became a legend of sorts. His hunting expeditions without much paraphernalia that liquidated numerous man-eating tigers are the stuff that Kumaoni folklores are made of. In our college days we would lap up every word that he wrote describing his stalking of tigers and sometimes the stalking taking place the other way round. His “Man-eaters of Kumaon” and “Jungle Lore” became very popular. He had a way with words and his description of situations created thrill. It is a pity that he left India for, one believes, better pastures.

 We reached in the morning and got into a non-descript hotel that was close to the famed Lake, from which the place got its name. It was cool and bracing in mid October. We had a couple of days and the agenda had boating on the lake, a trip up the surrounding mountains to see the Himalayan range and whatever else that could be managed.

I put my wife on a horse to go up the hill to see the Himalayas and I followed on foot. It was a tiresome climb up the hill and reminded me of the climb from Tangmarg to Gulmarg with my brother in the summer of 1957. The difference was that at the end of that climb in Kashmir what I saw was the sight of fantastic green meadows with horses lazily grazing on the green turf. Here it was a great disappointment. The Himalayas seemed to have hidden themselves behind a shroud of clouds which refused to move any which way to give us a glimpse. Taking in the ranges after ranges of Lower Himalayas that ran from east to west we commenced our return trip.

There was hardly any problem walking down that hill. Back in the hotel I hit the bed to take a well-deserved nap. After I woke up I found I was unable to move my legs. They refused to budge. I got panicky wondering whether I had been at the receiving end of a paralytic attack. My wife suggested a tablet of Brufen and I took it. After around two hours the jam seemed to loosen up. Brufen had worked. Much later I happened to read that it was anti-inflammatory and hence it worked.

For want of time we couldn’t visit the Gurney House, residence of Jim Corbett. The time that was left was spent in boating on the lake and taking a spin around it. There must have been numerous other sights to see but we just didn’t have time. Nonetheless, one realized that it must have been a great town once upon a time but later it became a victim of the process of dumbing down that commenced with independence, more so in Uttar Pradesh – the Hindi heartland of the “desis” (natives).


More by :  Proloy Bagchi

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