Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Absolutely bilkul: A year in India: Mussoorie, Modernisation and Movember

Absolutely bilkul: A year in India

Howdidy Doodily folks! Apologies for the radio silence on this blog for a while, it was a crazy last few weeks of semester, but now school is out things have calmed down a lot.

It’s lovely being up here just chilling in the run up to Christmas, enjoying the mountain environment and spending quality time with Kirsten. We were even able to sit out and sunbathe whilst reading this afternoon. It’s boiling hot in the winter sun, but when the sun goes in it’s freezing. We’ve also been enjoying the stunning sunsets from our house…the photo here does not really do it justice but hopefully gives you a flavour.

The view from our sofa at sunset, they have been stunning recently. PHOTO: KIRSTEN BEAVAN

So, unbelievably, we’ve almost completed our first year of marriage and of living in India together. It has flown by but as I said in the title, it’s been absolutely bilkul. For those of you without knowledge of Hindi, I should say bilkul means absolutely. Why then, you might ask, am I using this tautology: absolutely absolutely?

It all stems back to a funny story when I was in Delhi. I had learnt the Hindi expression, bilkul pagal, which means absolutely crazy, and tried to level it at a taxi driver who had sped me across Delhi like a madman before demanding an extra 200 rupees from the price agreed. Attempting to express my dissatisfaction during our altercation, I told him I thought he was absolutely bilkul. Needless to say my wife and Hindi speaking family members found this mistake hysterical, and now the expression has become common parlance in our household.


I realise I have not written much about the town where we live and where Woodstock is located. Mussoorie is 175 miles north of Delhi in the foothills of the Himalaya, in the state of Uttarakhand (literally mountain region). It is about 7,000 feet up and nicknamed “Queen of the Hills”, and is a hill station where people come up to escape the heat of the plains. During the days of the Raj British soldiers came to convalesce. Local author and Woodstock alumnus Steve Alter has written an excellent piece about Mussoorie and its link with literature.

It is a six hour train journey from Delhi to Dehradun, and then an hour’s taxi ride up a hairpin mountain road (if you’ve not had car sickness before, you will here!).

It has changed a lot in the 20 years since Kirsten was here growing up, and she often points out new concrete developments which sadden her deeply. I guess that is a sign of India modernising (see more below), and inevitable in some ways.

Mussoorie from below PHOTO: CHESSY BEAVAN
It has numerous hotels and guest houses, and at weekends, particularly in holiday periods, it is flooded with tourists. It is a gateway to some great walking in the Himalayan foothills, although I’m not convinced local tourists ever get beyond the central attractions of the ferris wheel, horse rides and aquarium (containing Mussoorie’s only escalator)!

It still has a number of historic buildings such as St Paul’s Church and Christ Church, the Old Library, a wooden skating rink (the largest in India apparently), and a cemetery. We hope these will be preserved for the future.

It also has a cinema called Picture Palace which is now some sort of hideous 3D tourist attraction, and I'm told, a Clock Tower, although sadly I've never seen it as it was taken down some years ago because it was cracked, and has still not reappeared. I wait in hope...

Anyway, you should really come to see Mussoorie for yourself. As a taster, a Woodstock parent and fellow Brit David Berger has put up some great photos of the bazaar on his blog, so please take a look his photos, which really capture the everyday feel of the town brilliantly.

Mussoorie's ancient cemetery entrance PHOTO: KIRSTEN BEAVAN
There is also a great video about the school, the Himalayas and the recent mountain festival, which included the first Mussoorie half marathon which I took part in, available to watch here.


As I have alluded to above, we see signs of India rapidly modernising all around us: building work, everyone with mobile phones, shops selling domestic appliances, and huge numbers of cars on the road. This is all a far cry from 20 years ago when there was much less traffic and fewer technological advances.

In some ways it’s great that people are prospering and able to move up the social scale into a burgeoning middle class out of poverty, and this is a good thing.

However, one can’t help thinking this modernisation comes at a cost. We sometimes see adverts of TV where the whole western lifestyle is being sold as the best way forward. Although there are benefits to modern technology, it seems India is teetering on the brink of verging away from its roots founded in the family and spirituality.

If India were to abandon these foundations and go the same way as the west in chasing the material dream, this would be a tragedy. The results of this in the west have caused much unhappiness and loneliness as we have moved away from family and God and embraced a secular society. But part of me sees the juggernaut of materialism as unstoppable, not just here but everywhere across the world. Only time will tell how things will pan out.


In November we took part in the Movember moustache and beard-growing charity event, to raise money for a local children’s hospital to buy a number of wheelchairs. The event was embraced by the community and we ended up raising a huge 150,000 rupees, a phenomenal amount. There was a competition for the best moustache, and my effort ended up a half shaved, half moustachioed head, which sadly did not win! After shaving it off, I realised a number one shave was not the best haircut for winter, so I am living in my Tibetan woolly hat during these cold months.

Photo: From the side
Left, crazy sideburns for Movember; right, a shorn Ed cutting firewood by the bukari PHOTO: KIRSTEN BEAVAN

Merry Christmas
It just remains for us to wish you a very Merry Christmas wherever you are reading this. We hope you have a relaxing time and remember afresh the great news of Jesus’ birth this Christmas time. With all good wishes from Mussoorie, Ed and Kirsten.

PS My parents-in-law kindly subscribed us to the Guardian Weekly, which is an excellent read and keeps us in touch with world and UK affairs. I had a letter published in it recently, which you can read here.

PPS Wonderful to see England wrap up a test series win in the cricket recently. Sadly my schedule and long distances precluded me from attending any of the games, but I followed it closely on TV and was delighted we won a series for the first time in India in 28 years. Jai England! (Sorry Kathy H!).

Our official Christmas photo with Kirsten's Mum and Aunt PHOTO: SELF TIMER!