McLeodganj (Himachal Pradesh), Jan 3 | For most Indians, colonial British India exists only in movies or Kipling's novels. But in a 152-year-old shop in this Dharamsala suburb the British Raj continues to live on.
Located in the heart of McLeodganj, the shop takes you back to India's colonial past by exhibiting relics of the bygone era.
Set up in 1860, Nowrojee and Sons General Store is one of the oldest shops in Himachal Pradesh. It is still working and has maintained its original grand wooden structure.
Set up by a Parsi business family, the Nowrojees, the store has seen five generations of the clan. Nauzer Nowrojee, a friend of the Dalai Lama, looked after the store-cum-residence set up by his great-grandfather for over 60 years. The eldest of five brothers, Nauzer, whose sons are now in tea estate business in West Bengal, was born in 1915 in Karachi and died here at the age of 85.
Nauzer's bachelor brother Jimmy, a former banker also associated with the store, died two years ago at the age of 82.
Caretaker Joginder Singh told IANS that the shop once used to take care of the daily requirements of the British officers and their families. It sold a variety of goods from bakery items to tobacco to toiletries and liquor to even arms and ammunition.
"Initially, it was a general merchant shop. Later, arms and ammunition were also sold here. When the British were here, it was doing roaring business," he said of the shop that now sells only newspapers, magazines and confectionery.
One of the oldest antiques in the store's possession is Petromax 835 Special, a German-made hanging wick lamp.
Boxes of imported cigarette brands like 'Passing Show' Craven 'A' Virginia Cigarette, Number Ten Virginia of James Carlton Ltd, London, and Cavander Ltd of Godfrey Philips Ltd, London, are showcased in the store. These brands were quite popular among the British at that time.
A box of Cuticura Soap is also displayed. The US-made soap was advertised for curing sensitive skins and for skin purification.
Vinolia white rose soap of Vinolia Co Ltd of London and Calvert's carbolic medical soap of F.C. Calvert and Co Ltd of Manchester, England, can be seen as well.
There are other relics from the past-small posters of German-made Sun brand wick lamps, Blue Bird toffees, shoelaces of Warrior and the Majestic porpoise boot laces of England.
A large number of wine and liquor bottles with their soiled labels and antique glass jars are also lying in the shop.
Singh said a 12-litre empty bottle of Beck's beer is among the priceless relics in the possession of the store.
Old timers in McLeodganj remember the store with much affection.
"The store has still not lost its British colonial charm. And it has stood strong all these years. It even withstood the devastating Kangra earthquake of 1905," said octogenarian Subhash Sharma, who is settled here since childhood.
Singh attributes the store's retaining its colonial charm to Nauzer and Jimmy. "After independence, the Nowrojees became less flush with money but Nauzer and Jimmy helped retain the store's past glory," he added.
- by Vishal Gulati