Two years of my life at Bromley, an old bungalow from the Raj near Shimla, was the best time of my life in the hills. The whole estate was spread in more than five acres of land and was surrounded by cedar forest on three sides. A tiny wooden cottage allotted to me was my dream house. I found myself lucky to having become the occupant that lovely cottage. For me it was a life away from the world. I felt like a hermitage. The apricot tree outside my cottage bore sweet fruit. I enjoyed the tranquillity, the peace of mind, the company of my pen & paper and learnt a lot about the life in the hills.
The idea of the owner of Bromley was to convert the land and the house into a resort or a heritage hotel and provide a different experience to the tourists. I was required to provide my services as a manager.
The estate had come into existence much before the Indian independence, during the Raj when a German Jew was allotted that piece of land and build a house for himself, by the Raja of Koti, one of the erstwhile estates around Shimla. The Jew lived there till the Indian independence and then the house came to the hands of an Indian bureaucrat. His descendants still own it but unfortunately the property is falling into ruins as the owners live in the plains and they hardly find time to visit the place.
Bromley – One of the most beautiful houses from Raj
I am afraid that gradually Bromley is also going to fall into the category of those British time houses which are deserted now. These houses can be found around many hill stations and are falling apart. Once upon a time these houses used to be the main feature of hill-stations in India. But now they are the story of the past most of them have fallen into property disputes among the families. I have seen many of them have lost their flaps of doors and windows, and just provide shelter to some animals, flying-fox, shepherds or some itinerant sadhu.
Bromley is the place where I met Prem Thakur, the next land neighbor. Although he was not fully involved in the project but his support and help played an important role in it. Whenever he saw me working with my employees at Bromley he suggested something unique of or other. He was too happy to see the development taking place in that area. Manoj, the care-taker of Bromley and Colonel Sahib – the present owner, had already told me about Prem. Although he lived in a house next to the lower boundary of Bromley but I never had a chance to see him. Every morning he would follow the bridal path that passed my cottage in Bromley, to catch his bus to the town.
Prem Thakur – An Amazing man form the Hills
One evening when I was giving some instructions to my staff about the next day’s schedule I saw a man with a medium stature and fare complexion, coming down the hill. His black thick hair was well combed with a part on the left side and his face was full of life. I realized that he had a permanent smile on his face.
‘Are you Mr. Prem Thakur?’ I asked him when he came closer.
‘Yes’. His fair skin shined as he smiled through his thick mustaches exposing his sparkling teeth.
‘Hello. I have come to live here in this cottage’.
‘Oh. It’s nice. At least we shall see some light in this cottage now at night’.
‘Yes we are going to convert this estate into a resort and later on we might pitch up some tents and use the open are as a camp site’.
‘Ok !!!’ his eyes grew vibrant and it showed that he was pleased to know all that. Immediately he said further, ‘in case you need any help from me please do not hesitate to ask. I live there in that house’. He pointed towards his cottage beyond the boundaries of the estate. ‘I live in the first one and on the other side my brother lives with his family’.
‘Manoj told me about you. You work for some the state government. Right?’
‘I am a clerk in the office of the Electricity Board and my office is near hotel Cecil, in Chaura Maidan.’
‘Ok! And you do some business also. If I am not wrong, I think you sell milk and vegetables grown in you fields’. I was little hesitant on asking all that but Prem talked on it openly.
‘Oh yes. My wife and children look after all that. Every day We sell around twenty to thirty kilolitres of milk to the market shops and send our vegetable to the big market in town’ he told me all that without any hesitance.
‘I have a two years old daughter and she likes to drink cow’s milk. So we need two kilolitres of milk every day. Can we buy it from you? I will pay you as per the market rate.’
‘Not a problem at all. Your daughter is like my daughter. I shall send some milk for her everyday’.
It was difficult for me to make him declare the rates because he was not ready to take anything for the child’s milk.
Prem helped me in every manner till the time he was there. He told me that when Colonels father lived there the area used be like a heaven because he maintained the fruit trees, the flowers and the surroundings very well. In last five years the area had worn a deserted look because there was no one to look after.
I promised him to bring it to the same level.
‘Well, it’s your luck. May God be with you’ he said all that in a suspicious manner.
‘Why?’ I was surprised.
‘I wish you all the best. My support shall always be there’ and he walked down the hill.
The Story of Bromley
That the was the month of April and flowers on apricot trees were in full bloom. Bromley estate in Shimla is a place where diffèrent kinds of flowers bloom in different seasons. In the plains people must have started sitting under the whirling fans but here in hills were still in winters. Cold mornings kept us in the beds till late hour. A warbler sang sweetly every morning outside my window and tinkling of the bells of Prem’s cows diverted my attention occasionally. Though mornings were sunny but direct rays of sun touched Bromley only after 8’clock.
One clear morning when I was busy in the garden below my cottage with Somi, the gardener, I saw Prem coming uphill. I did not want to lose this chance to learn something more from him about the history of the place. The story that he told me is as follows :
It was a sunny morning of the early second decade of twentieth century. Flexivian Goldstein, a German jew in Shimla, during the Raj, lived in a house called Goodwood, at the bottom of Elysium hill. He was a short tempered fellow but always preferred and maintained discipline and punctuality in his life. As the winter arrived, like many other Europeans living in Shimla, he would also go down to the plains and would return to the hills by the month of March.
That year when he returned, the weather was still cold. The chillness in the atmosphere was getting over on a gradual pace the days had just begun to turn sunny. The government of India had moved up and the employees and a few other private house owners had also arrived Simla. The town had become colourful and crowded once again. Railway trains were running with full occupancy and Kalka Simla road was also busy with horse carriages and Jampan bearers.
Flexivan loved forests and preferred to go for his morning stroll towards the spurs of village Bhrari. He would return in time after and his bath he would reach his breakfast table at 8 O’clock sharp. After that he would go to his office. He used to supply meat and vegetables to the major hotels and army canteen in Shimla. He could not tolerate late service or indiscipline of his staff members and he had given them strict instructions to be in time. His servants also respected his lifestyle and took special care of their master.
That day he did not get his usual wakeup call with morning tea from Sant Ram – his morning servant. Flexivan got up late by fifteen minutes and went out for his walk. His day had been delayed and definitely he was going to be late for his office. Sant Ram brought his breakfast fifteen minutes late and he had to face the fierce look of his owner. As he arrived with breakfast, Flaxivan glanced at him from the core of his eyes and frightened and trembling Sant Ram dropped the tray on the ground. Flexivan pushed his chair backward and hit Sant Ram, his honest servant’s head. Poor Sant Ram could not bear the hit of the heavy boot of that heavily built Jew and became unconsciousness. Later in the afternoon Flexivian was arrested by the police as Sant Ram had died due to a serious injury in his head.
The case went on and Flexivan was asked to leave the the Municipal Limits of Simla town.
He went to the Raja of Koti to seek help. The Raja gave him a piece of land below village Bharari where a water source was a part of the property. Flexivan named it Bromley Estate. He started his business of piggery and also planted a few fruit trees. At Bromley he had built three buildings. The first one was the main house which I was now supposed to convert into a heritage hotel. The second building was he cottage allotted to me now and the third one was just below my cottage near the Eucalyptus tree. After the indian Independence the estate was purchased by the Raja of Faridkot. During his possession the building below the cottage was lost in fire. Later it became the property of the then Deputy Commissioner of Shimla, Colonel’s father.
One morning Prem took me to a small temple located near his house. I had viewed that structure from the distance but had never visited that. We passed through the courtyard of Prem’s house where his wife and his daughter Meera, both were washing the cows. Both of them wished me on seeing me. There terraced fields are next the house where they grow vegetable and some fruits.
Prem would get up early in the morning to milk the cows and feed them. His three younger sons, Rajeev, Gopal, and Golu would help him. After that all three brothers would go to have their bath in the nearby spring. On their return they would have breakfast prepared by their mother. A glass of lassi – mashed curd or a glass of fresh milk with Chapatis made of wheat flour with fresh vegetables cooked is a part of their everyday meal. Every day I used to see Rajeev, his son coming up with his milk cans and bottles. Rajeev, then was a sixteen years old young boy who would go to supply milk every morning to some houses and shops in the village. After that, from the village he had to go to his school, so he would carry his school bag as well. That was his daily routine and he enjoyed that. On his return from school he would collect all the empty cans and bottles form the shops and houses and bring them home. Here they would be washed and kept on the shelves to be used for the next day.
Their sister Mira was the oldest among all the four children of Prem. She was student of science in a college in town. Prem wanted all his children to become well educated and achieve good targets in their life so he sent all his children to study. He wanted them to have the good knowledge of the modern world but also to remain attached with their traditions also.
The temple near Prem’s house was a small but attractive edifice representing the excellent style of Himalayan architecture. Built in ‘Kath Kuni’, a single roofed Pagoda shaped building is situated in the middle of the cedar forest offering an excellent view of Shimla ridge. The walls and floor are made of cedar wood and roof is covered with tiles. Maximum height of the structure in the centre is 15 feet from the ground level.
Prem told me that the temple is dedicated to a local deity and a disciple of Lord Shiva called Dhanu Devta. Every year during the Navratras a fair is held here and people form the surrounding villages come to visit the temple. Navratras come twice a year, first during the months of March & April and then in during the months of September & October. The festival is celebrated for nine days regularly during which fairs are held in Hindu temples and many people fast for all nine days, They eat only fruits, milks, potatoes and rice in the evening. On the first Navratra the temple remains open for full day to celebrate the function with a feast and music. Folk musicians from the surrounding villages come here to perform.
Prem Thakur – RIP
That evening I went to bed early. Late evening, I heard a few people talking outside my cottage. I opened my door to see who was there but they had already gone away. Next morning Rajeev did not come to deliver milk. After sometime, I saw through my window Golu, Prem’s youngest son coming up. I asked him about the milk and he told me that his father was in the hospital. The previous night he had suffered a severe pain on the left side of his stomach and had to be rushed to Snowdon hospital in Shimla. He went through an emergency operation and now he was out of danger.
I decided to go and see Prem in the hospital. When I reached there the time to meet the patients was and I was asked to come after 5 pm. Standing outside his room, I was grieved for not meeting him Prem but was helpless. So I moved to the bazaar and later returned home. As I reached Bromley, Ashu, Manoj’s son came to me and gave me a shocking news of Prem’s demise
It was hard for me to believe his words. An hour ago, Prem’s body had already been brought home and they were preparing for the final rituals.