Love Stories of Shimla Hills by Minakshi Chaudhry

AFTER many a Himachal-centric book showcasing her heightened fascination for the outdoors, adventure and trekking—Destination Himachal, Exploring Pangi Himalaya, Guide to Trekking, to name a few—Minakshi Chaudhry shifted gears with Ghost Stories of Shimla Hills and Whispering Deodars (an anthology of writings about Shimla). In Love Stories of Shimla Hills, she returns with an offering of love. This, her most recent book, is a collection of 16 stories based on the love affairs of the rich and famous as well as lesser mortals. Based on the premise that it is the idyllic environs of the Queen of Hills, unmindful of consequences, which encouraged romance to flourish or wither away.

Along side the oft-heard tales of the “spiritual bond” between Jawaharlal Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten and the angst of an ever-seeking Amrita Sher-Gil, Love Stories of Shimla Hills reveals the infatuation that reportedly developed between yesteryear actress Sadhana and R. K. Nayar, the director of Love in Shimla which was being shot in the picturesque hills. Spanning 500 years, the stories date back to the 17th century and are an attempt to capture the constant slips and slides of love over the years.

Beginning with folklore, Love Story of a Sati recounts the instant flare of passion between the valiant Boiya and the much-married Gainthu and the consequent tragic events. This tale is still sung as a ballad amongst the people of the hills.

The book also reveals the reasons behind the naming of Scandal Point in a story with the same title. Triggered off by a lady’s love for material things, it is an episode that is purported to have taken place at ‘Oakover’, the then house of the Maharaja of Patiala. An embarrassed and annoyed viceroy Lord Curzon banned the entry of the rulers of Patiala, Dholpur and Kapurthala into Shimla. This in turn caused the Maharaja of Patiala to establish Chail, a hill station merely a stone’s throw from Shimla. The Song that Changed their Lives is a real eye-opener. Having spent a considerable amount of my own childhood in Shimla, I was no stranger to “O laadi Shanta….” an extremely popular pahari song set to trendy beats. Yet, I would never have guessed it was based on a real life romance, the two protagonists well into their forties now.

Other stories transcend the norm: a ghostly lover, Shimla’s first cyber-romance, and a widower caring for his two children single-handedly. The author has taken pains to cover a wide gamut of emotions, eras, nationalities and episodes while collating her stories. The content is mostly new and refreshing as she presents a well-researched collection of modern-day romances. It would have, however, made for a crispier read had the somewhat loose editing not potholed an otherwise smooth ride. But then, that usually the publisher’s ambit.

Note: This review appeared in The Tribune today.

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