'Dateline Dehra Dun' book review: A quiet visit to the past

Love and fragrance, no matter how much you may try, cannot be hidden!’ One could easily say that of Raj Kanwar’s new book Dateline Dehra Dun.

Published: 02nd August 2020 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st August 2020 05:00 PM   |  A+A-


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Love and fragrance, no matter how much you may try, cannot be hidden!’ One could easily say that of Raj Kanwar’s new book Dateline Dehra Dun. This happy tale is a love affair lasting nigh over half a century: or a love song for home, seen through a kaleidoscope which misses out on nothing. Read about its history; its world famous institutions or its numberless leading citizens.

They say that Dehra Dun is the only district in India, whose boundaries are more famous than the district itself. Bound to the North, rise the fangs of the Himalaya, to the South stand the ancient sentinels of the Shivaliks—the eyebrows of Shiva—while to the East gently flows the Ganga and to the West not so quietly flows her dark sister, the Yamuna.

Should you be looking for a fact-o-file, the author answers all your questions. There’s the town, a quiet backwater in the 1930s where you could meet the first District Magistrate; or for that matter, even if you were to drag your feet, meet the first Superintendent of Police or meet folks who have lived here to achieve renown in their chosen fields. Visit its famous schools, if that be your preference—see Doon School, Welham Boys’, Welham Girls School and Saint Joseph’s Academy. 

While for history buffs and aficionados there is the beginnings of the ONGC, in the old Patiala House to mull on. During the freedom movement, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru fell in love with the place, having spent many years in Chandernagar jail. He tamed a part of the prison yard into a flower garden. From a variety of seeds, he grew sweet peas, hollyhocks, nasturtiums, candy tuft, lupins, stocks, and dianthus with some help from his fellow prisoners. He was amused no end by the way the mali mangled English names: hollyhock, for example, came out as ‘Ali Haq’.                                       

In the once-upon-a-time days, the valley of the Doon had acquired a reputation as a ‘city of grey hair and green hedges’; where every bungalow, in those idyllic times, had a garden in front, an orchard at the back and a hedge wrapped around it. Of course, more than water has flowed down the Ganga and Yamuna rivers since the place became the capital of Uttarakhand. There is Astley Hall, now an upmarket shopping place in what was once the quiet, 300-acre home of the English freebooter, Frederick E Wilson or ‘Pahari’ Wilson. The author brings you ever so gently to the present where everything is changing but the heart of things—the essence of the place—remains the same.

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