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Ganesh Saili

Ganesh Saili

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Ganesh Saili

How come writers have this special affinity for the hills?

I think men have, down the ages turned to the mountains for solace and peace. I don’t know about affinity for the hills, because the mountains continue to defy the written word. The sea has had great writers. There have been Melville, Conrad and Hemingway who have done justice to the waters. But the mountains are – much more than mounds off stone and snow. Writers continue to flock to the hills trying to catch some of their elusive magic. Elusive because men come and go. And after we have chased our rainbows, the mountains remain unmoved. True that we may conquer their peaks. But that is transitory and only for the brief moment that one stands on a peak with crampons shoved into the snow. Then begins the descent and perhaps later the writing about the unbeatable.

It is very evident in your book that you love Garhwal Himalaya a lot. When and how did this gravitation kickstart?

You could say I am home grown in Mussoorie. That is where I was born and brought up. So the Garhwal Himalaya are where my roots are. ‘Wanderings Through the Garhwal Himalaya’ is the story of my journey back to my roots.

My father came from the small village of Sail in the remote hills of Chamoli district. He had joined the Male Exodus from the hills in search of a job. At the Rishikesh bus-stand stood a strapping sixteen-year-old, with little morethan his dreams, deciding on his next move. And, years later, he would tell us: ‘I had no money, so I looked for the cheapest ticket. Dehradun and Mussoorie won the first prize!’ This is the beginning of the story of my family in these hills.

Years later, I too, stood at the same cross-road, but I hung on like a mollusc. Why, you wonder?

Well! Let us put it like this, I simply forgot to go away. The book is a tribute to the large-hearted sons of the soil, who, down the ages, have yoked the hills, through thick and thin, good times and bad times, have laughed at the thunder and mocked the skies,have left for the plains only to return again and again to theclarion call of their belovedmountains.

Have you had any formal training? Do you think writing is inborn or can it be acquired?

No. I’ve had no formal training except like many of my contemporaries I went to a decent school;learnt to express myselfand studied the grand masters. I feel the desire to write is inborn. Its a craving like a biological need and the rest is craft that can be acquired over a period of time – like sharpening a pencil to be able to write better.

They say that the hills have their share of paranormal stories and folklore! Have you experienced or heard of any?

I don’t believe in ghosts but I keep bumping into them. Perhaps it has something to do with our tin-roofs that creak and groan with the changes of temperature. Then there are our cemeteries, reasonably well preserved that lend themselves to many a tale.

For a researcher of the early history of the hill stations, nothing could be more educative than a visit to one of these. Here you will find those loyal servants of the British Empire, who once thought they were indispensable, resting in peace in our cities of silence.

It is no secret that you have a deep connect with Ruskin Bond. How does he inspire you and what do you do when you meet up?

Fifty years ago, while still in college, I heard of a man who like the phantom, wrote all night. Little did I know that a chance meeting would last five decades. In July 1973, RV Pandit, publisher of Imprint Magazine wrote in his editorial: ‘From March 1968 this magazine has been run by remote control from abroad. I have a guilt to own: I have been able to spend less and less time on Imprint. To remedy the situation I have appointed Ruskin Bond, the novelist and author, Managing Editor.’ He was to steer the magazine through the shoals of the Emergency, while encouraging new writers to submit their work. I was one of them. One learnt to edit manuscripts, reject unprintable ones. Among them was one particular contributor who never gave up despite repeated pink slips. His unreadable magnum opus titled India Good, Everybody King was dutifully submitted every month, followed up by personal visits by the author, a serving police officer. It took a lot more than tact to fend him off. Editing, I learnt was much more than correcting proofs. Ruskin has been a role model notjust to me but to many others writers. He has been generous. He makes suggestions where necessary without cramping one’s style. He has helped younger authors find illustrators and oftener than not, publishers. Of course he travels much more now than ever before, with his work taking him to the remote corners of India. This means that one sees less of him now than one once did in the old days. If we meet, it’s like stepping into the same river twice. We start off where we last stepped.

 

 

About the Interviewee: Ganesh Saili was born in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand. Growing up in the hills of Garhwal, from an impressionable age, he has trekked the high mountains recording in words and pictures the magic of his beloved peaks. Numerous periodicals, columns, journals and several books translated into over two-dozen languages are a living testimony of this love for the sheer swiftness of the wind and the magic air from his perch in the Himalaya.