The lost city Colonel (retd) Nirmal Mahajan rues the changes in his beloved Dehradun
While returning from Delhi to Dehradun recently, I looked eagerly to spot an old and popular restaurant I knew at Astley Hall. I found a jeweller’s store standing in its place instead. For an instant, I thought I was dreaming or that I had lost my mind till it finally sank in: my beloved Dehradun had irrevocably changed. Suddenly, memories of 1965 flooded back thick and fast. I was undergoing training at the Military Academy then, when Dehradun was a town in deep slumber. There were tea gardens as far as the eye could see. Now the area is chock-a-block with housing colonies.
We used to ride our bicycles wearing lounge suits and felt hats that covered our ‘fauji zero haircut’. It was a comical cut that made the girls giggle. Why, even their giggle sounded terribly romantic in those days! Our popular haunts were Napoli and Royal Café. While Napoli’s jukebox was the centre of our attention, Royal Café was famous for the cabaret shows we didn’t have the courage to attend. And, of course, Kwality was the town’s gossip point while Cozy Corner was for bravehearts who were lucky enough to have a date. I adored Astley Hall, which with its fine dining, was where the rich and famous, the bold and beautiful, used to eat out and entertain.
Gone are the rice fields of Dehradun and only a few landmarks have survived. When Dehradun became the capital of Uttaranchal in 1999, things grew even worse. Whereas Paltan Bazaar was the throbbing heart of the town, now shopping malls and plazas sport MNC brands in every nook and corner. I remember frequently visiting Barkat Dhaba for its delicious kheer. With India on a roll economically, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and KFC outlets have mushroomed, packed with wealthy parents and their noisy kids. Dun Club, once the preserve of the creamy layer, now boasts every Tom, Dick and Harry from the emerging rich class.
At a recent get-together of our housing society, we reminisced about the good old days, when Dehradun boasted only single-storey homes and bungalows. Now there are multi-storey buildings and flats, something we couldn’t have imagined till a few years ago. Today, with a growing economy and increased purchasing power, there are plastic bags and garbage everywhere. Also, speeding motorcyclists and road rage are huge concerns and a hazard to senior citizens.
Despite its many flaws, however, I love my Dehradun, enormously, especially as I grow older. Luckily, I live in the quiet environs of Rajpur Road, with a majestic view of Mussoorie. It’s easy to complete my daily chores as the city is small and everyone knows everyone. I do my customary socialising at Dun Club. Thank goodness for the Army Club and DSOI, where one can play golf and bridge, soak in a steamy sauna, use the library, indulge in the weekly game of tambola and watch a movie. Zara hatke, zara bachke, yeh hai Dehradun, meri jaan!