Chapter 6: Normality Regained: 1940
World War II was looming on the horizon…but the sights and smells of Landour Mussoorie India remained the same.
STRANGE, WITH THE WORLD COLLAPSING INTO WAR and India in the throes of throwing off foreign rule, that I was experiencing a sense of return to normality. It must have reflected the intensely narrow focus of my personal universe. That would change, of course, with the onset of Japanese hostilities and its impact on India, and the need to plan for the future beyond graduation in 1942.
At Landour nothing fundamental had changed in the past two years. The fresh air, clear light, the trees, the roads and footpaths, the sounds of sparrows, mynahs, crows and hawks, of conversations and arguments floating across the valley, the drums and music, the gurgle of huqqas (water-cooled tobacco pipes), animal bells and temple gongs and the crunch of gravel under foot, all were so familiar. There were also the smells of the bazaar, of spicy food, charcoal smoke, country tobacco and ganja (hemp), of the horses and mules which left the roads marked with their pungent droppings, all evocative of a world where I felt at home.
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The usual mode of transportation at Landour and its environs was walking, up, down and on the level. For the very young there was the kundi, a basket seat carried like a backpack by a coolie (porter). The infirm of any age used dandis (sedan chairs) with front and rear cross-mounted support bars carried on the shoulders of four coolies who walked in unison. The only wheeled transportation was the two wheel rickshaw operated by a team of two pullers and three pushers. These rickshaws careened along the wider roads carrying the wealthy and effete on their social rounds.
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Life in India was increasingly affected by the war in Europe and on the high seas. The most direct impact was on our letters. They were taking as long as two-and-a-half months to arrive, and were subjected to the obliterations and snippings of military censors. Hungry for war news, Dad bought a short wave radio, much to my delight but Mother’s disgust. It was expensive and news from both sides was nothing but propaganda, she said. My taste in music was disapproved of, along with my constant searching, despite noisy atmospheric interference, for dance band broadcasts from Batavia (Jakarta), Manila, Saigon, London, Berlin and, once, Cincinnati. I was mesmerized by listening to voices and music arriving through the night from around the world. Dad brought the radio with him to Landour, which was hugely appreciated by me, but not Mother. Fran didn’t express an opinion either way.
John’s letters from the States were about, among other things, his personal struggle with the issue of pacifism, which he (and Mother) favored. But he also was nostalgic about the mountains, and urged me to take advantage of opportunities to hike to the places where he had been. I loved the mountains, too, but not in the same way. The physical deprivations and discomforts of long distance marches were a deterrent. Also, I was not an organizer. Treks I would take if others planned them and I was invited to go. But I was not part of any of the major school hiking partnerships.