if you think about it,
with its sprawling colonial bungalows and quaint cafes
and european bakeries and pseudo-british gentry,
doesn’t quite seem to fit in with the rest of dehra.
how can the world of memsahibs
and dignified old gentlemen
who wear pocket squares and suspenders
and munch on scones and drink earl grey
with the paan-chewing, nose-picking,
like that stubborn child
who twists and frays the renegade jigsaw piece at its edges
making it submit to its 2×2 cm place,
dehradun made it all work.
anyway, we grew up in the labyrinthine bylanes of dalanwala
amidst the mango and litchi trees on five bigha plots,
reared on a solid diet of ham-and-cheese sandwich tiffin lunches
and pista biscuits from ellora’s
(occasionally, if we had been good, mum would stop
at kwality’s to gift us with caramelly stick jaws on which i lost all my milk teeth.)
our days were solely occupied
by catholic school brothers and chants of ‘our father in heaven’
and weekend drives to the hills
and shopping at rajpur road,
the manhattan of our tiny town.
school days were punctuated
by long vacations
the most awaited of which
were the summers.
warm summers, with summer camps and endless refills of iced tea
culminating in grey clouds breaking free of their bonds
and shedding their happy tears.
sweet monsoon, flooding our streets
so that we could wade in the calf-deep water
and float our paper s.s boaty mcboatface’s.
winters consisted of the family sitting by the telephone,
awaiting the call informing them
of powdery snowfall in the hills
and frantic runs to the terrace
to see if it was true.
but young ones always fly the nest
and soon we left tiny dehra
to seek the lights and sounds of delhi, bombay, bangalore
and the like.
introductions were no longer “i live next to welham girls”,
but “i’m from this place in the hills”, or
“yes, the same Dehradun george harrison wrote a song about.”
we got on the conveyer belt
of living the rat race in a concrete jungle
and immersed ourselves in fast-faced superficial city life.
we found new glam pleasures in hauz khas village and khan market
and left the days of mussoorie bike rides behind.
dehra feared she might be too boring for us now.
we return to the hills each year
our frames mauled by the lashes of delhi’s infamous loo.
we return to mothers
who exclaim how thin we’ve become
and feed us all their love
and chocolate eclairs.
is our little kairi-flavoured teabag of joy
infusing our now-tepid lives
with hope and inspiration.
we climb to our terraces
(in dehra, we boasted to our city friends,
you could always see the mountains, no matter where you were)
and soak in the juxtaposition of sights—
potholed tonga lane populated by lady walking a pomeranian,
sabziwala advertising his aloo,
guy peeing against the wall,
hipster painting a mural next to him—
all under the shade of a giant gulmohar tree
against the backdrop of the verdant hills.
dehra still makes it work.
- dalanwala: the stronghold of the British in Dehradun during colonial rule. Dehradun is still heavily influenced by the British.
- paan: a betel leaf preparation popular in India.
- jhol: a watery curry which is part of the traditional cuisine of mountain folk.
- bigha: a unit for measuring distance in North India. Five bigha amount to roughly an acre.
- pista: pistachios, in Hindi.
- bhutta: corn on the cob roasted over an open fire.
- Mussoorie: a popular hill station about 20 miles from Dehradun.
- loo: hot winds that blow in North India during the summer.
- kairi: raw, sour mango. Dehradun is famous for its mangoes and kairi is an early summer treat for children.
- tonga: horse drawn carriage.
- sabziwala: grocer
- aloo: potatoes, in Hindi.
- Gulmohar: the flame tree.
Gauri Saxena is a 19 year old liberal arts student from Dehradun, India, and harbors a love for Ogden Nash and art films. She finds inspiration for her poetry in the laughter-wrinkles of Pahari women, the smell of old books, and all else that she observes in life.