Christ Church Shimla: Pristine Ambience of Peace
During my recent visit to Shimla, among other affairs in my itinerary, the one on the top of my mind was to see the places where I had roamed, free as a bird, during my childhood days. I felt like Scarlette O’Hara going back to Tara! Perhaps deep inside me was an ardent desire that the charm of the old world still would be there to lure me back to its fold. I was so excited to go to the Mall. Suddenly I started missing the Red and green majestic building of the General post office, the Grayish charm of the Town Hall and the majestic Gaiety Theatre. Not to forget the wide expansive Ridge to soothe me and the yellow Christ Church, reputed to be the second oldest church in northern India, to fill my mind with the charm of my childhood days, when for me it stood for power, shelter and timelessness despite its big clock! Though it was much later while collecting information about the Christ Church that I came to know that the clock was donated by Colonel Dumbleton in 1860. And also that it is reputed to be the second oldest church in northern India.
The Christ Church stands erect proudly, even after so many years of its existence. It must have watched so many changes taking in and around it! The silhouette of this grand structure can be seen, aiming to reach the skyline from a great distance.
Aiming for the Sky: The Christ Church Shimla
It was designed by Colonel JT Boileau in 1844, but consecrated only after 1857. I wonder that the Boileaugunj, a place in Shimla, must have been named after this man?
Like most hill stations, the town sprawls along ridges at many levels, connected by steep lanes and staircases. My memories about the Ridge bring in me the surge of feeling for freedom. We would often roam around the Mall and the Ridge to savour the freedom from the lanes of the Lower Bazaar! While my parents sat on the benches, he famous green wooden benches of the Ridge, we would play around the Church. Though initially, I would be scared of getting very near to it as I had heard stories about someone having been buried near the rear of the Church. I would be afraid that the ghost may not come up being disturbed by all the noise that we made. I don’t know how far is it correct but remember being told that once it snowed so heavily in Shimla that it was impossible to take a dead body of an English man to a cemetery near Dhalli or Kanhlog and he had to be buried in the rear courtyard of the church itself. Story or hearsay but it did deter us to explore whole of the area around the church as we were really scared of the buried English man who must be feeling so lonely having no other company!
During the night, the church would look so beautiful especially when Christmas was around he corner. The glass panes towards the Ritz side looked beautiful as it depicted some scenes and figures that, though we were unable to have any clue about, looked so colorful and enticing. It still has those lovely stained glass windows for which it is so famed.
It was again much later that I came to know that some of the stained glass windows represent the virtues of Faith, Hope, Charity, Fortitude, Patience and Humility. My parents had no idea about it so it was not transmitted to us! Later on while studying for my Masters in English Literature, when I read about the virtues of Faith, Hope, Charity, Fortitude, Patience and Humility, I could easily relate it to the stained window panes of the Shimla Christ Church!
I remember having run to the small porch outside the main Church to seek shelter from sleet when we were caught unawares. The small porch seemed to have a protective cover to save us from all evils. The four corners of the porch were often used by us kids to play “corner-corner”, a game that needed five players, four to occupy four corners and one to attempt dislodging any one of them. It was a power game. We enjoyed playing it under the roof of a building that for us was a relic of the Raj days. It gave us a sense of empowerment.
The Crowd and the Christ Church
On Sundays, a large gathering of the devotees would be seen going to the church and it was only when we were in college that I entered it forth first time. The inside is even more beautiful as compared to the outside. How ironic when compared to human beings. We try to look attractive from outside, hiding all evils inside us, but here it was so peaceful and a feeling of being at the mercy of a power that runs the world. I was awestruck! All my childhood fears about the Church vanished in a second.
So it was a mixture of all these feelings that I carried along with when I walked towards the Ridge. The memories that lay dormant somewhere inside me. I wanted to recapture the innocence and charm of my childhood days. I longed to experience the serenity that the place stood for me.
But the Ridge was so crowded that I was astonished. Shimla sure is attracting many tourists. I wanted to capture a picture of the magnificent Christ Church shining in the sun in all its glory. I tried tacking a few shots from the ridge but the people would somehow overshadow the church that my mind was no ready to accept as for me the church always overshadowed everyone around it.
I would not allow my childhood image of the imposing structure fail me. So the next thing that a novice like me could do was to take a picture from the road that descends to the Ladies Park. Lo and behold, the picture was able to capture the old world charm for me.
Imagine it was all about perspective.
Today, when I was trying hard to teach developing Perspective to my students who want to prepare for GRE, this example came to my mind. Since I carried childhood references about the place and had made up my thoughts based on those references, I would try capturing the same picture of the Church. I moved stance that is my position and was happy when I got to see the church as I wanted to see it. If a person could be so subjective about a concrete object then imagine his stance about an abstract idea for which he has only old references to fall back upon.
I felt comfortable taking a picture from an angle that supplemented my childhood references, though my rational mind knew that since the times have changed so trying to recapture the ambience of the old world was just impossible, but tried hard I still!
This is what we do all the time, taking a stance during arguments and developing perspectives. We take a point of view that is based on and supplements our childhood references, howsoever illogical they may be.
I wanted to give the Chirst Church the same treatment. I wanted o see it as an imposing structure, above all else, that it stood for me, that the present realities would not even deter me from. I thought that is it not the same that we do all the time, not making any allowance for changes that might have come owing to times and places! Though it was only the crowds that put me off but if tomaorrow, a more imposing and magnificent structure comes in the vicinity of the church, then what would happen to my strongly held childhood references, would I not budge even then. I thought hard and decided, I would then use Photoshop to create the ambience in the picture. J