Himachali heritage and an outsider’s perspective


By Kunal Sharma

Shimla was the capital of the British government in India and we did inherit a certain legacy in this regard, but by allowing colonial undertones to survive in our society we are inadvertently aiding the gradual decimation of the Himachali culture and spirit.

Are we making the best out of living in Shimla, the queen of hills? If you have experienced the menace of traffic jams, unruly tourists, unending queues at the bus stand, overflowing sewages, bursting water pipes, irresponsible litter and irregular utility supplies, you will understandably say ‘NO’. Old Shimlaites will tell you that Shimla and the Himachal of their memories was pristine, pure and beautiful…and though we cringe at the thought of Himachal 5 or 10 years down the line, we effortlessly surrender to the deteriorations directly affecting out town. Try and recall the last time you had a conversation about Shimla – we almost never talk beyond the ‘crowded’ and ‘noisy’ aspect of Shimla.

Are we just being careful not to distort the beautiful and scenic picture of the ‘abode of Gods’ in our minds? Perhaps we as Himachalis are just too simple to bother ourselves with changes taking place all around and thus avoid drawing comparisons between Shimla the cozy township of our dreams and Shimla the coarse reality of a dying hill town. How much worse would our lives have to get for us to start doing something? Can we in fact stop this decline?

The problems are far more critical than they appear to be on the surface. Identifying their causes is the first sensible step towards looking for solutions. Let’s try and see what’s really wrong. We are good citizens and pay our taxes and abide by the law. We attend to our workplace duties in the hope of a better tomorrow. We even give way to politicians and bureaucrats when they pass us by in their caravan of staff cars. All these people ever do use national resources to earn goodwill of a handful of deep pockets while shamelessly ignoring sentiments and basic needs of the ‘simple’ Himachali. And then the Himachali is struck by lack of basic amenities and brash absence of a sane administration.

For example, the existing water system was designed to provide for 15,000 but now has to cater to lakhs of people, including tourists and labor from Nepal, Bihar and other parts of the country. And do we have ANY clue what the authorities plan to do the next time intense winters burst open water pipes and leave us without water for days? I hope they don’t expect us to keep bribing the local plumber again and again. Due to inaction and nonchalant attitude of the people that rule, Shimla has now been brought under the Jawaharlal National Urban Renewal Mission, main purpose of which is to initiate wide ranging urban reforms to save the legal, institutional and financial system from shutting down.

Clearly, we have ended up paying money and respect to people who are directly responsible for putting this town on crutches. WORSE, we keep them in service year after year. So, the real question to ask is – why are we caught in this vicious cycle of being ruled by unworthy people when this is only silently disrupting our lives? Why don’t we hold the authority accountable? Why indeed, don’t we respect our lives and nurture hopes of a robust and wholesome living anymore?

At times, it feels as if Himachalis have lost hope. They are caught in the inertia of everyday chores and are indeed living up to their reputation of being ‘simple’ and ‘humble’. But being simple does not mean that we stop respecting ourselves. We have the right to live productive, proud lives and to dream big. Himachalis are clearly not enthusiastic about the future anymore. Talk to any student in HPU and they are as vague about their aspirations in life as an infant looking for its cot. Look at the tiny tots flashing tattoos and bandanas on the Mall and try not to see a bleak future for Shimla.

To say the least, we are doing a great disservice to ourselves by not thinking about the wholesome development of our own lives and the well being of the society. So I believe we made the system that gave us this vicious cycle of self defeat and now we are fueling it year after year. Democracy, replete with ignorance and the Civil Services are failed experiments that have been destroying the country for over half a century but we allow them to subsist, still. These people in power do not have to go through the hardships of standing in queues and travelling in unkempt buses, in fact they seem to be too busy driving from one part of the town to another and we don’t have the vaguest idea what they do for us.

So let’s work towards restoring our lost pride as Himachalis before our spirit disappears in an abyss of folklore. As most successful people tell us, the path to success begins in the mind. Set up an attitude of thinking progressively and creatively. If you are in college, be the first to imbibe and promote virtues of righteousness and hard work – this is a sure shot means of inspiring by example. Ask your professors about opportunities in whatever area your aspirations belong to. Some of our youngsters get easy money from their orchardist parents and don’t know the value of hard work that goes into making that money, so they think that hard work is not important at all. Talk to younger people and coach them…get their perspective on life and nudge them to think of long-term implications of their actions. Don’t ignore the vast ocean of learning that the elderly have – talk to them since they are the storehouse of life’s valuable insights. Fear is a major impediment to success so inculcate a temperament of a passionate attitude that challenges fuzziness in life.

Our rich heritage instructs us to respect our teachers and elders, but when we witness a lack of commitment that may affect our lives, let’s not hesitate to act on it. So expend effort to make the system accountable and thus responsive. To find out if the Govt. is doing its job, use tools like the RTI. Approach the town counselor about local issues such as sanitary breakdowns that your locality may be facing and ensure that you get a practicable answer. If, bound by a habit of non-cooperation, the authorities still stubbornly refuse to respond, then going to the media is a good alternative.

We, as Himachalis, already adhere to the perfect formula for a happy life – we are disciplined, courteous and appreciate the harmony that nature extends to us. The need of the hour is to adapt to life’s challenges by proactively working for the community. Let’s weed out the impediments to a blossoming heritage and then, slowly but surely, the decay will give way to abundance and prosperity.

With inputs from Praveen Ranawat

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  1. Mate, you've completely nailed the current situation in Shimla (and the rest of HP). I dont live in Shimla anymore (for all the reasons obvious from your article and a thousand more) and dont plan to. Not because I dont like it or its not good enough for me. I cant see people spitting in front of me and chucking garbage bags from their balconies down into the gorge. Its not normal human behaviour. People dont do that. In 'good' countries.

    Having lived abroad for a few years now, to see people living the way they do in HP (I know, you cant compare it to Bihar – but the point is – I dont care about Bihar!) it makes me sick.

    But who'll change it? Dhumal? Vir bhadra? i just dont see any hope….

    Great article though. People like you are probably the only hope we have. Its just sad that the number of people LIKE you would be… few.. I guess.

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