They Sullied My Shimla

Social Commentary

They Sullied My Shimla

Illustration: Cleon Dsouza


ack in 1997, when I couldn’t even spell it, Shimla was jolted into the 21st century, by the murder of local hotelier Harsh Baljee. A gun that had gone off in the night, somewhere in town, echoed for months like a ghost in each alley, each vacant chamber. To a nine-year-old, like me, the possibility of a real gun having made an appearance not too far from home was both surreal and scary. But even scarier was the thought that we had collectively lost something. The idea of the town’s quaint bedspread, bundled in its chord of safety, had been cut. And we had been kicked out of slumber, like ants onto the floor, feeling queasy from the swell that we’d never realised walking around.

I don’t remember much from the days except walking past the spot, where the incident had happened – on each occasion noticing people studying the place, as if it was theirs to claim in some regretful way. That is the thing with small towns. While they gain and lose the same as everywhere else, their local economy of familiarity, and the concern and trust born from it, makes their air that much easier to breathe. In Shimla’s case, that air felt significant on account of its heritage, and fresh on account of its natural riches. Earlier this month, however, that air turned foul, almost poisonous.