Murder of a boy has broken the idyllic spell of Shimla

Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava
Jyotsna Mohan BhargavaSep 06, 2016 | 12:28

Murder of a boy has broken the idyllic spell of Shimla

Growing up, it was our idyllic summer home. A steep road through a crowded local bazaar turned so sharply that you always missed a beat before opening your eyes to an endless vista of mountains and mist.

Much like the quaint cottages that dotted Shimla hills, our cluster of apartmentscalled Strawberry Hills had also not lost the colonial hangover of once being the summer capital of British India.

It was also a time when we had more than a few lavish breakfasts at Holy Lodge, the personal residence of a much younger Virbhadra Singh and heard all about his escapades at Delhi University.

But each year that we visited, the view gradually diminished as Shimla exploded at the seams. Yet even then, the burgeoning crowds or the traffic jams never took away from it’s old world charm.

You could bump into a relative walking cosily with an unknown lady under an umbrella not unlike Raj Kapoor and Nargis in Shree 420 or quickly turn away at the sight of your neighbour. A saunter on the mall which is just a pedestrian walk through and nothing like the concrete structures of the big cities, was as aimless as it was entertaining.

It was also a city that walked, even late at night. Yet, an incident two years ago hardly seemed to have made the authorities in the city lose any sleep.

Four- year-old Yug was kidnapped in 2014 while playing outside his house, it is only now that the family has learnt in the most horrific way, that he is no longer alive.

The skeleton of the boy has been found in a tank that was supplying water to around 2,000 homes in the city. Residents have unknowingly for the last couple of years been drinking this water which in all likelihood is completely unfit for consumption.

A view of clustered Shimla. (Photo credit: India Today) 

What is worse, in an indictment of how effective and efficient our civic authorities are, that tank was obviously never cleaned at least for the last two years. How else did this crime go undetected for so long? 

All this while the family understandably thought no news is good news and expected the child to still be alive. The media hasn’t made a big deal about it because it isn’t something that happened in the national capital, else this murder would be screaming headlines.

Hidden away in the tragedy is the bigger implication for this hill station. All the three kidnappers were locals, something that has been unheard of in the relatively crime-free Himachal Pradesh. It is a state that until now was not just a tourism magnet but also popular for its many boarding schools. 

The incident though may be the final nail in the coffin of a city that has not just lost face but is also witness to a skyline irrevocably going out of control. Experts have been warning for years that Shimla is high risk and in the event of an earthquake, the city will be devastated since there is now no open space left even to run.

The city has become an urban jungle and the municipal authorities seem to have put their hands up, saying they can’t control the unauthorised construction.

The nip in the air has also gone and instead this hill station now has air conditioners in shops. But that may not be enough to escape the name-changing epidemic that is in the air across the country.

The VHP has now set its eyes on the city and called for Shimla to be renamed Shemalaya, claiming that was the city’s original name.

Not just that, it also wants the iconic Peterhoff, which was home to seven viceroys and later became the Punjab High Court, to be re-named Valmiki Bhavan. It was at Peterhoff that court proceedings against Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathu Ram Godse took place and away from the fancy hotels in the city this state-run guest house with it’s sprawling staircase and endless green lawns is a personal favourite.

Chief minister Virbhadra Singh is thankfully adamant that no such changes will take place. Maybe the VHP can chew on the fact that soon after Gurgaon became Gurugram, all it brought was floods and chaos!

But the city does need more than superficial name changing and quickly too, before most of our childhood memories get lost in the din of endless traffic and we forget to reminisce about the mystery of Scandal Point.

The hills are no longer alive with the sound of music.

Last updated: September 06, 2016 | 13:17
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