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Posted at: Jan 17, 2019, 6:42 AM; last updated: Jan 17, 2019, 6:42 AM (IST)

A slice of history in a box

A slice of history in a box

Raaja Bhasin

Last week I was working on something that required historical referencing. My tiny workspace is crammed with books and papers, many passed on by family and friends, and friends of family as well as family of friends. This extended chain of well-wishers included the late Felix ‘Buster’ Manley. The Manleys were friends of my parents and Mr Manley was the son-in-law of C Ram Chandra, an ICS officer. An Englishman married to an Indian, Buster Manley had served in the British Indian police, and after Independence, had chosen to stay on in India. One of his trying postings was as SP in both Lahore and Shimla during the height of the riots in 1947. 

At some point, he left the police and joined the Lawrence School, Sanawar, as its bursar, where he served for several years. Subsequently, he settled in Shimla along with his wife at her parents’ residence. The double-storey bungalow was along the old ‘lovers’ lane’, the Forest Hill Road of Shimla that leads from the Ridge in the direction of St Bede’s College. Expectedly, the house was named ‘Forest Hill’. 

In the late 1980s, the venerable Ram Chandra passed away and the Manleys decided to move to Britain. In those years, I had a little more time on my hands and both limb and muscle were more acquiescent to orders. Mr Manley asked my father if I could give a hand in winding up the house. Over the next few weekends, I assisted in sorting furniture, pictures and even crockery and cutlery. While it must have been emotionally demanding for the family, it was a clinical process for me — keep, throw or sell.

Then came the turn of some huge wooden chests of books that had not been opened since the time they arrived from Lahore after the Partition. Once the boxes revealed their contents, I could not break away from them. Packed with scatterings of raw tobacco to keep the silver fish and other enemies of the paper away, there was the fairly standard collection of classics and novels that one would find in several collections of the 20th century. There was a fairly valuable early edition of the complete set of works of Charles Dickens and some other leather-bound volumes with gilt trimmings. 

For me, the real treasure was the somewhat arcane booklets of government responses to various events across the country and transcripts of assorted speeches. There were books like the printed text of the Disorders Inquiry Committee, better known as the Hunter Commission, established after the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre of 1919. Lining the chests were newspaper sheets of 1947, and one had a rather forceful argument of why Delhi should be the capital of Pakistan.     

Years have passed. The old bungalow is now the premises of Radha Soami Satsang. One wonders how many people that pass that way know that the crossroad outside the house was named after Ram Chandra. Some of those booklets are a treasured part of my library, and in a box, I still have those newspaper sheets of 1947.

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