A Journey Into The Past
The book provides comprehensive history of Simla, which is replete with local history with world significance. Simla was annexed by the British in 1819 after the Gurkha War. At that time it was known for the temple of Hindu Goddess Shyamala Devi. The book explains that when the Gurkha war ended and the peace returned to hills, an age-old drumbeat and the drone of wind-instruments parted for a wedge of stormy opera. Another country, another world was settling in its midst. Where time had meant the circle of seasons—“into that sense of eternity dropped the transients of Simla”. Simla, as it was called until recently, caught the eye of Lord William Bentinck, the Governor-General of Bengal from 1828 (later of India, when the title was created in 1833) to 1835. In a letter to Colonel Churchill in 1832 he wrote: “Simla is only four days march from Loodianah (Ludhiana), is easy of access, and proves agreeable refuge from the burning plains of Hindoostaun (Hindustan).” The book reveals that one of his successors, Sir John Lawrence, Viceroy of India (from 1864 to1869), decided to take the trouble of moving the administration twice a year between Calcutta and a separate centre over 1,000 miles away, despite the fact that it was difficult to reach. Lord Lytton, Viceroy (from 1876 to 1880) made efforts to plan the town from 1876, when he first stayed in a rented house, but began plans for a Viceregal Lodge, later built on Observatory Hill. A fire cleared much of the area where the native Indian population lived (the “Upper Bazaar”), and the planning of the eastern end to become the centre of the European town forced these to live in the Middle and Lower Bazaars on the lower terraces descending the steep slopes from the Ridge.
The Upper Bazaar was cleared for a Town Hall, with many facilities such as library and theatre, as well as offices–for police and military volunteers as well as municipal administration. During the ‘Hot Weather’, Simla was also the Headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army and many Departments of the Government, as well as being the summer capital of the regional Government of the Punjab. The book takes you through the journey of Simla ranging from the early days of the hill station to the liveliness and vitality of life under the British Empire. It then covers its decline after the departure of the Britishers and its subsequent revival when it became the capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh. In the concluding chapter, the writer depicts the picture of Simla in the post-Independence India thus–the enigmatic world that was Simla had the rug pulled from under its feet; the summer capital ceased to be. The book, which is based on elaborate research work, provides an inside into the history of Simla. The story of the city is told with dynamism and verve. Simla may have been called the summer capital, but for all practical purposes this was the real Capital of India as the government of India stayed there for the better part of the year moving down to Kolkata and later to New Delhi only during the winter months. As the summer capital of the British Raj, Shimla came to be known as ‘the workshop of the Empire’. This book is a good read for all historians and people who want to know more about this beautiful hill station.
By Ashok Kumar