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The wrong kind of snow that filled up Shimla

In 1945, many houses in Shimla had collapsed under the load of heavy snow. It is hearsay that several people were buried alive under the snow but the British Government in India did not disclose the number of victims.

The wrong kind of snow that filled up Shimla

Tourists rejoice at snowfall on The Ridge in Shimla.



Shriniwas Joshi

Iawoke; my feet cold under the quilt despite the hot water bottle with which I sleep during the winter. The bottle had lost its evening warmth, which my feet required. The room was strangely noiseless because when it snows, it is muffling quiet all around. I slipped out of the bed and clad myself from head to toe with woollens to peep out of the window. I saw Auckland House to Kaithu to the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies covered with a white mantle. I saw Deodars covered with snow look like ‘Jogis’.

The present winter is the coldest, they say, in many, many years. It recorded the highest snowfall in a day in January in the past 15 years. It recorded 44.5 cm of snowfall on January 22, the highest in the first month of the year since 2004.

Deodars covered with snow look like 'Jogis'.

I start my journey with snow in Shimla with the opening line of Emily Eden’s diary. The sister of Lord Auckland, Viceroy of India, had reached Shimla on April 8, 1838, and her diary account of April 13 reads, “This dear Simla! It snowed yesterday, and has been hailing today, and is now thundering in a cracking, sharp way”. Snow in Shimla on Baisakhi appears strange but I have seen flakes falling in the month of May even. When we were studying in school the snow would fall, at least twice before our school closed on December 25 for two months’ winter vacation.

The year was 1945. I was only nine years’ old. It snowed for 11 days and there were walls of eight feet of snow everywhere. The door of our house opened inwards and when I opened it, I saw a giant of snow standing before me. My first worry was how to go for toilet. Those were the days when the surrounding of our house was an open space and jungles and we used to go to the jungles to relieve ourselves. It was a routine in the villages. Actually, the villages of Himachal Pradesh started getting toilets after the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was launched for an open defecation free nation. Otherwise, 80 per cent of the rural areas and 20 per cent of the urban areas here were without toilets. At that time, my youngest uncle came to our rescue and he, on his shoulders, took the children, one by one, to the jungle. The elders were worried that the tin-roof on the wooden ridge, gables etc would not bear the load of snow. They would climb on the roof whenever it was clear and shovel the snow. Many houses in Shimla had collapsed that time under the load of heavy snow. It is hearsay that several people were buried alive under the snow but the British Government in India did not disclose the number of victims. So, nobody, till date, knows the exact number of persons who were buried under the snow and the number of houses collapsed.

1961 ordeal of linemen

The heavy snow of 1961 is remembered because it started at the end of January and continued till the second week of February. Linemen were efficiently discharging their duties of maintaining electricity supply to houses. The continual snow would develop a fault here or there and they had to run shivering to rectify it. When this ordeal went on for days after days, it overthrew their endurance and one of them cried loudly to God, “Please be catastrophic and end all”. That pathetic voice still rings in my ears. I also remember that I was passing by Regal Cinema when a bulgy block of snow slipped from its roof and fell on a dog, which found the coldest grave.

Snowed more in lower hills

The next heavy snow in Shimla reaching up to three feet was recorded in 1983, followed by the one in 1991. The 1991 snowfall was different as lower hills received more snow than higher hills and roads remained closed for several days.

Early December surprise

In 2006, snow fell in early December. Seeing shivering children returning from schools, my friend asked me whether it was wrong snow this year. Can snow be right or wrong? When rail services in Britain were disrupted in 1991, the Director of Operation, Terry Worrall, had said that it was due to wrong snow. What he meant was that the snow was dry and powdery and so the locomotives were affected. Britons could not digest it and for them wrong snow became part of the British folklore, as the bureaucratic limp excuse.

2017 was horrible year

It was a horrible year. It snowed along with lashing winds on January 6 and 7 in 2017. Many electric poles were uprooted and several were bent. There was no electricity in Shimla for six days. The life of general people was messed up. It took considerable time for the city to limp back to normalcy.

Snow can be tiresome and even deadly — it sometimes freezes and smothers people and other creatures. But snow can be a code of holiness, a sign of renewal and hope.

Tailpiece

Many people make use of BIBO (Brandy In, Brandy Out) to beat the cold but what about LIITH (Liquor is Injurious to Health).


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