Friday, October 28, 2005

A Colonial Day

Well, yes rather Carruthers, I think we'll take in the Darjeeling and Calcutta Kennel Club Dog Show this morning, and then perhaps afternoon high tea at the Windamere, what?
No, this is not an extract from a story about the Raj, but an actual set of events, which took place in the foothills of the Himalayas just a few days ago: central characters - Marlyn and Larry, Hylton and Gill, Nate and Helen...ex-colonials all of us, and reliving the glorious days of...we'll you get the general idea.

We stepped into the Dog Show at the Darjeeling Gymkhana Club (no kidding) and it was like stepping into a parallel universe. The hall in which the show was held was decorated in bunting and flags, the announcements were made in perfect (albeit somewhat accented) English, the contestants (owners) were dressed to the nines - even the children were in suits and party-type dresses and the dogs were, well, ahem, er...let's say somewhat short of expectations. Now don't get me wrong, there were actually a few beautiful specimens and some cute puppies but their handling and behavior was not quite up to snuff. But let's be fair, this was after all, just the "Pet" section. The Championship Show, for which we did not stay, was scheduled for later in the afternoon. Sorry, old chap, hafta run, we have another engagement up the road, at the Windamere.

The Windamere - an institution if ever there was and talk about time warp! As we entered the grounds a young be-suited manager appeared next to us, as if out of thin air: "Can I help you...?" "Yes," we replied in unison - "tea and scones please, if we may?" Very polite as befits the Windamere. Allow me to explain, (and I'll send some pix eventually as well), the Windamere has been plucked from the pages of a potted history of the Raj. If ever there was a building, an enterprise that epitomized the eccentricities of British Colonialism, this is it. The building is typical Victorian colonial architecture. Wide balconies, corrugated roof, creepers and dahlias surrounding the manicured lawns. But it is inside ("no photographs please") that the real atmosphere of the Windamere manifests itself.

We ordered "High Tea" which was served in a private lounge, fireplace which was soon stoked and roaring, walls bedecked with letters over the past 100 years, testifying to the grandeur of the hotel - "the dear old Windamere," as many described it. Photographs of illustrious visitors - the King of Nepal, the local Committee for the Support of the War Effort; pictures of the Governor General and his staff...almost a museum. And then, while we were all viewing the walls and pointing out quaint language from an almost forgotten era - "Guests are requested not to sleep behind the sofa..." our High Tea arrived:

A china plate each, bedecked with egg and cucumber sandwiches - no crusts - crunchy biscuits, chocolate marble cake and two huge pots of genuine Darjeeling tea. Quite a treat in total counterpoint to the real world of modern India. After our tea, we wandered around the hotel for as long as the young manager's beady eye would allow us. Then we found, what to me, was the gem of all - in "Daisy's Music Room" a picture and a transcript hung in a corner of the room caught my eye. On close inspection, I found it was a picture of one of England's greatest WW1 poets, Rupert Brooke and in his own handwriting (complete with corrections) his celebrated poem, learned by heart in my Sixth Form year, The Soldier: "If I should die, think only this of me, there is some corner of a foreign field that is forever England..."

This was the crowning glory of our visit to the Windamere: shortly afterwards, as we were viewing the Gift Shop, Young Manager appeared and with a polite cough, indicated that our visit to his establishment had run its allotted course and would we please leave now as paying guests were arriving. Stepping outside, we heard - as if on command - the pipes and drums of a military band in the vicinity: had we actually been transported back in time? We rushed up the road hoping to see kilts and sporrans parading in the town square...only to find the local Darjeeling Police Band piling themselves and their instruments into their trucks and heading back to their quarters.

Ah well, spending a day in the splendor of the Raj was it was back to the real India with all its contradictions and sensuality; noise and color: the real India, which in is language, institutions and bureaucracy, still honors this British colonial period of its history.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

While reading your blog it feels as if we were sitting with you have tea and sharing the experience.

The Blum's