Friday, February 27, 2015

Indian Summers

If any Shimlites  have seen the UKs new drama "Indian Summers", which is set in Shimla I would be very interested to know what they make to it.

Personally I don't like the fact that it is filmed in Penang and that has perhaps colored my whole view of the show.

You can read more about my thoughts on this on my recent post on my work blog:



Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sport in Annandale?

Sport in Annandale C1930

'While there is Sport in Annandale
Or Whiskey in Jutogh'

Rudyard Kipling

The rather beautiful and most poetic Annandale  now finds itself at the center of a new tussle between the military and the civil government.  On one side the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh has accused the army of unlawful occupation and demanded that it be returned to the people for the construction of public sports facilities. On the other side, the army are claiming that the ground is both safer in their hands and performing a more essential function. It is no surprise that Annandale is such a strongly fought over prize. It stands on the edge of the crowded town, a perfect expanse of lush, flat, grass surrounded by steep hills, some of which are carpeted with trees, while others are blanketed by houses. 

It is undoubtedly to the army's credit that they have maintained the grounds so well in the years since they were loaned the ground during the second world war. It is certainly pleasant to walk on Annandale, when allowed, or to view it from the mall. However, as such a precious resource it seems to me that it should be shared with all the community, as it was before the army took control. In the days before WWII Annandale was a wonderful park for the people. Far from being a still, somewhat distant, beauty, it was full of life, with fairs, open air theater, lavish midnight picnics and sporting events. Today Shimla, lacks any real central public park that can perform this function, surely then giving the ground back to the people is the sensible way to go. That said, I understand the fears that the government can not be trusted to develop the area properly and I would most certainly be against it becoming a single use venue, such as the proposed cricket stadium. 

Is it too much to imagine that the area might be sensitively developed into a public park? And, that the surrounding forest be placed under a preservation order to prevent further destruction? 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Anthropology and Shimla


Over the centuries many people have had a lot to say about Shimla: some love it, others hate it, but it never fails to provoke a response in people and people often feel so moved that they want to put down their thoughts in words. It is then perhaps surprising that Anthropologists have written so little about Shimla. The classic anthropological book discussing Shimla is Ursula Sharma's informative, but slim, volume, which was published 26 years ago by Tavistock. This gives some interesting insights into the domestic lives of Shimla's women, but is understandably restricted in terms of its discussion of Shimla and is increasingly dated. Recently Danniel Allen Solomon, who has been known to comment on this blog, has been broadening things through his discussions of contemporary human/animal relations and I have been doing my part by travelling around Europe and America talking about space, landscape, place and faith in Shimla.

As part of this, I have recently been asked to write about Shimla for the American Anthropological Associations' blog. Those who are interested in what I have been saying can read my post here:

Regular contributors to this blog can. if they wish, post their comments on the AAA blog, or back here, either way I will read the comments with interest and be sure to respond to the responses.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sport in Annandale

While there is sport at Annandale
Or Whisky at Jutogh
R. Kipling

I remember being sat in Prof Vidya Sharda’s rather comfortable office in Shimla two years ago, sipping tea, while Dr Pankaj Gupta painted a picture of joyful research in Kinnaur. ‘It is not like Shimla’ he related with misty eyes, ‘it is more cut off and so customs there are better preserved’ he earnestly continued.

As of last week that has begun to change as helicopters now fly from Shimla to Kinnaur with the intent of making it a more connected place. Somewhere between the hydroelectric dam projects and the tourism push no doubt life in Kinnaur continues apace, but I will have to try and get to talk with Dr Gupta again to see how he thinks this is changing things up there. For now, I am more interested in assessing the reverse: how do these flights transform Shimla? And not just these flights of course but the other helicopter routes (Shimla–Dharamshala, Shimla–Kullu, Shimla–Chandigarh etc) not to mention the reopening of Jagson’s Delhi–Shimla–Kullu flights.

It seems that Shimla is becoming, or at least trying to become, the transport hub of the Himalayas. Of course it has for a long time been the jumping off point for people wanting a more ‘natural’, ‘authentic’, or peaceful experience of Dev Bhoomi. However, there have always been a significant number of tourists who would not even think of leaving the Mall. This new explosion of transport options seems to represent a significant increase in the amount of transit traffic in Shimla and I wonder how being connected to all these places in such a rapid way will transform the Queen of Hills and people’s perceptions of it? One thing is for sure, the golfers at Annandale (where the helicopters will land) are going to get less putting time nowadays.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hanuman reshapes Shimla's Landscape?

Azur vivace d’un espace
Ou chaque arbre se hausse
A la recherché de son âme.
Jules Supervielle

Around a year ago I made the following comments on this blog about Jakhoo forest in relation to Christ Chruch:

‘Although Christ Church is the icon of Shimla it is dwarfed by the mountains all around, the geography of Shimla mall soars up behind Christchurch like a wall which leads to Jakhoo peak, home of Hanuman. Now, Jakhoo temple can’t really be seen from the Mall, or the lift, unlike Christ Church, because it is hidden behind a covering of sacred deodars... Jakhoo then does not stand (as Christ Church does) proudly for all to see as a man made construction that reminds us of Divine creation, rather it sits engulfed in the Divinity of the natural world. As such it mirrors the mountains that are visible surrounding Shimla, many of them topped with temples whose beauty and serenity far surpasses that of Jakhoo in my opinion, but nevertheless operate in a similar way’.

How times change, now, ushered in by a movie star, Hanuman towers over the trees and looks down on the town below. So, my theory is clearly shot, but given this I now have questions for all my Shimla friends: how are people on the ground seeing this transition? Is the explicit branding of the forest landscape as the realm of Hanuman more favourable than the previous implicit (yet widely recognised association)? Is Hanuman now the focus of man’s tribute to Divinity in Shimla, not Christchurch? Is this a bold symbol of postcolonial identity, or simply a act of piety? Has the statue changed the character and feel of Shimla? What sort of visual dialogue does the statue have with Christ Church? Is it harmonious, hierarchical, or hostile?

Friday, September 24, 2010

The commonwealth games disappointment and visions of Shimla abroad

Et in Arcadia ego

I cannot help but be saddened by the whole Commonwealth games fiasco. It doesn’t matter now if the organisers get their act together, or how great the games actually turn out to be – the damage is done. Unfortunately every negative cliché about India is reinforced by the international news coverage and footage of the sports village. To be clear, internationally people are using the word India when talking about this, the problems are seen to be representative of the problems facing the country as a whole, therefore Shimla’s image also suffers. It doesn’t help when problems are dismissed as being due to the culturally relative nature of hygiene, in fact this just furthers the problem. As someone who now doesn’t live in India but who spends a lot of time talking about India I am constantly having to defend it from critics who want to label the whole place as some sort of unhygienic, mismanaged, corrupt , unpractical and irrational place – this is not the India that I know and love.

Just the other week I was in Portugal , talking about the problem of waste disposal management and hygiene systems in a remote part of Himachal Pradesh, when a distinguished American scholar objected to my speech on the grounds that Indians can’t be getting upset about this as they are so used to living in filth that it is normal. I wanted to sigh, but I did my bit and battled back talking about parts of India that I knew where people were not living in the kinds of clichéd conditions that he seemed to believe everyone in the subcontinent inhabited. I think that despite his seniority I stood my ground and won a small victory, but then, after all that, some news like the Commonwealth fiasco breaks and effortlessly overrides my small efforts.

Nothing annoys me more than the constant harping on (in academic and popular circles) about certain problems of a supposedly exotic India. Always people comment on the same features, disorganised markets, filthy streets, chaotic roads, poor orphans and strange Sadhus. Now of course these things exist in Shimla and in other parts of India, but they are not the whole story, heck they are not even the half of it. I have been particularly frustrated when watching ethnographic films about India of late. I was invited to give a guest speech about a film showing an orphanage in Delhi a few months back and all I could say was that the images shown in the film were so foreign to the Delhi that I knew. At the conference in Portugal there was a film shown called the face of Calcutta, which showed an image of Calcutta I could not recognise, despite my wife’s family being based in Calcutta. The friendly place that I know and love was transformed in the film by a vision of Calcutta that betrays a gaze fixed on poverty. The film showed the usual tired clichés: road side dhabas, illegal book printing, fish markets, and begging orphans. I was just crying out for them to stick a shot of Flurys in there, or Mani Square. Surely, this is Calcutta also, these places that are blanked out of existence by reports are real, vibrant and alive. And this is India also, an India of young, vibrant, kind hearted people, boldly dreaming of the future and making that dream in the present, yet this is an India that is almost always filtered out of the essentialising gaze.

I try and do my bit to counteract the vast swell of images and discussions. So, I like to tell people that I am going to show them a Himalayan landscape and stick a picture of IIAS up. Or say, here is a typical image of life in Shimla and show CCD or Barista. And of course I talk a lot about Shimla’s churches, which are entirely and authentically, Indian and Himalayan.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Shimla Ghost Stories

In 1947 the British left the country but left their ghosts behind.
Ruskin Bond

One misty evening I was driving home from the mall to my house in Tawi with my sister–in–law riding pillion. I had an old scooter and loved to get off the main roads - driving along Shimla’s winding roads on a two wheeler without other traffic is a joy, but when you are stuck behind a line of buses and trucks it is quite another experience. Therefore, on this day, as I often did, I took the small road that winds from Boileauganj to Chakkar and so as not to spoil the peace I turned off my engine and free wheeled down the hill. As we moved silently through the ever darkening and misty forest road I remembered a ghost story collected by Minakshi Chaudhry about an encounter that a vegetable seller had on this road with an English ghost. Knowing that my sis reacted to such things I decided it would be fun to pull in on the deserted roadside and relate to her the story of the madly laughing English woman, the vegetable seller and the broken nose. The tale had more than the desired effect and filled with fear of ghosts she struggled to sleep that night, which left me feeling guilty.

All in all it was probably not my finest hour, but remembering this now I do wonder at the way that British Ghosts who are real in Shimla interlink with the ghostly presence of the former British residents. It would be wonderful if people could tell me how they reconcile the two. Or perhaps people could share their own ghostly encounters in and around the Shimla hills. It would be great to hear of any ghosts associated with the churches, but beyond this I would be genuinely pleased to hear of any stories that people have.