Shimla’s narrative: A tourist’s perspective
The much-publicized project of Himachal Pradesh tourism department, Har Ghar Kuch Kehta Hai; and Shimla Ki Kahani, Itihaas Ki Zubani, is finally ready to be showcased. Undoubtedly, it was a brilliant idea having scope to change the contours of tourism in the state for ever, just as the preface of the book describes Julie, ou la nauvelle Heloise by Jean Jacques Rousseau, published in 1761, having laid the footprints for early tourism. But a cursory look at the 86 pages raises one major doubt – has the tourism department been in a hurry to finish the project?
It was an ambitious endeavour, and by the department’s own admission, not conclusive – this volume being the opening chapter to a wide-ranging projects. But to reason out omissions in the narrative as “openings for another story to be told” may not be a good enough justification for having wound up the book in these many pages. Of course, no one was expecting a Lonely Planet India Guide Book from the tourism department, but there appears to be confusion regarding the intent and purpose of the book.
As of now, the content deals only with Shimla’s imperial past and thankfully, the magnificent structures allow little scope for their history being rewritten. In fact, descendents of Europeans who had made Shimla their home in the last two centuries appear to be the target readers, but that is where the book fails or gives frustratingly inadequate information. And it’s not about what is left out, but what it deals in. If it is a tourist guide book, then it certainly falls short of expectations. But, yes, a souvenir – certainly.
The department was wise in inviting public participation in the project. In fact it can be described a unique experiment in writing history in the public domain. But some amount of involvement from the academic side could have added depth and seriousness to the project. This way, at least the half-paragraph descriptions could have been done away with, which right now makes the book look like another tourism brochure.
Perhaps, a leading publisher should have been involved in designing the book as the layout appears lacking in details with missing captions, misplaced photos, unappealing text. But that certainly does not take away the credit of having made a wonderful and unique attempt to make tourism in the state an inclusive part of its culture and not just a commercial activity. The book anyway is a wonderful tribute to Shimla’s past, and hopefully those to come in the series will have bigger windows to Himachal’s past and present. Tales from the villages would be of particular interest considering it may open up a new understanding of the subaltern history of Himachali countryside, and maybe also teach the rest of the country how best to write our history. All it would require is patience and the vision to make it happen.