The real Mussoorie Library
“Whate'er in this wide circuit we beheld,
Or heard, was fitted to our unripe state
Of intellect and heart. With such a book
Before our eyes, we could not choose but read
Lessons of genuine brotherhood, the plain
And universal reason of mankind,
The truths of young and old. Nor, side by side
Pacing, two social pilgrims, or alone
Each with his humour, could we fail to abound
In dreams and fictions, pensively composed”
-William Wordsworth on crossing the forests in the Alps, The Prelude, Book 6.
A vacation to Mussoorie usually entails a frantic shopping spree starting from the Mussoorie Library on the Mall Road and ending somewhere around the Picture Palace. The more adventurous tourists might venture out towards Landour or Cloud’s End, but they too tend to remain limited to the more touristy coordinates on this side of the Uttarakhand map. If one really wishes to see the elementally pristine, enchanting and stimulating Garhwal topography that seduced the English colonials to settle here a century ago, one must move beyond these mainstream centers, pack some food, put on some good trekking shoes and dive headlong into the myriad shades of green that the forests around villages like Banglow Ki Kandi (around 20 kms from Mussoorrie) have to offer. I had the privilege to do so along with the artist’s collective that was narrativizing the ecology of this region through the respective dynamic art forms of its members, as part of a Khoj Project.
This particular post is about one such journey into the oak forests in the Panther’s Lodge where Vandita and I trekked along a stream to look for interesting things that could be included in the project. If one sits deep inside this forest with absolutely nothing to do but use one’s sense organs, one truly understands the impressionistic nature of the human mind and the unbelievably drastic alterations one’s consciousness goes through due to a simple change in habitat. We spent hours just listening to the sounds of the birds and the stream, eating wild leaves and berries, skipping over crooked, entangled foliage to make our way forward as I scouted for locations while she found brilliantly perfect shots to capture in her camera. At one point we even found extremely eerie skeletal remains of some animal buried in the ground near a plant that strangely resembled a snake!
Transposing one’s self from the claustrophobically structured and symmetrical city space of Delhi into the wild, de-centered, apriori structureless space of the forest allows for a completely new way to do things and a new way to look at the world that opens up infinite possibilities that one would never even have dared to think of while in the city. William Wordsworth and his contemporaries built entire careers as well as a prominent poetic genre of Romanticism around this simple practice. The books, signs and texts that the forest offered us did not really cause a phony utopic feeling of “genuine brotherhood” in us as it did for Wordsworth in his journey to the Alps, but it was nevertheless extremely stimulating and allowed us “two social pilgrims..to abound in dreams and fictions, pensively composed” as he puts it. The real Mussoorie library thus lies not at the Gandhi Chowk on the Mall Road but is dispersed all over such dense forests, hills, brooks, waterfalls and is full of rich books, songs and poems waiting to be experienced, if only one were willing to read and listen closely.