MILITARY-BUJU, MATHURI-VEER, formally known as Lt Colonel Mathura Lal Sah (MBE), my paternal grandfather, returned after World War II to his village in Kumaon, after stints in Egypt, Sicily and Monte Cassino. Completing his full service he retired from the Indian Army, bought a bit of land and built his house near our ancestral joint family home, where Nann Babu, his younger brother, continued to stay. This village is Ranibagh, named after Jiya Rani, in whose name the Jaagar still takes place at the Uttaraini-ka-mela on the cold night of Makar Sankranti at Chitrashila Ghat, situated at the confluence of the Pushpabhadra and Gaula rivers. Ranibagh lies on the bridle path from Kathgodam, the railhead for Nainital.
How green was my valley then! The perennial Kunmuniya Gadhera waters babbled down through the fields and sustained the crops, birds and animals, along with our family. In this house, Markandey Nivas, it was delightful to watch the sunbirds, barbets and paradise flycatchers in the morning. After lunch, we pressed our elders’ feet and, when they dozed off, we tiptoed away to read books. When night fell, we all gathered around the warmth-giving barosa, full of embers and ash, to hear the jungle tales of emerald-eyed Pratap, walking the hills with Ram Daju, toting their double-barrelled shotguns.
During the three-month winter vacations, when my school, St Joseph’s College in Nainital, shut down, it was here in the relatively wa