The Chiming Clock Tower

If there’s one town on earth that drew me again and again, it’s Mussoorie, where I mostly travelled alone. I liked the mall area, but my heart was always in Landour, some way up from Picture Palace Stand.

As I trudged up the winding road, my attention took in the surroundings while I waited for the clock tower, the starting point of the Landour bazaar proper, to show up. The first time I sighted it from a bend in the road, it quietly sent my soul soaring!

Several years later, on my way up the same stretch, I couldn’t find it. There’s a thin blanket of fog; that might be the reason, I thought. But when I reached the location where it had previously stood, fronting the hotel Landour Residency, I found to my dismay that it had vanished.

On enquiry I came to know it had been demolished, and nobody really knew when a new one would come up. People like me thought it had been done away with to make way for a business centre in its place. I also heard some famous people had sat in protest and demanded re-construction of this age-old landmark. I felt crestfallen.

Months later, I received a note from author Bill Aitken: “The new clock tower has been built and is architecturally less of a disas­ter than the old. It also has a mellow chime to the clock which can be heard over a long distance”.

On receipt of Bill’s mail, I packed my suit­case and embarked on yet another journey to Mussoorie. I reached hotel City Castle which was right behind the newly constructed tower (only a school building in between) very late in the evening due to extremely bad weather. After a long journey I was tired. So, without further ado, I hit the bed.

When I woke up, the howl of the storm and clatter of rainfall had gained in strength, making me feel as if there was no one in the hotel save me. Then a bell, muted by the wind’s roar tolled not once, not twice, but twelve times, marking midnight. Each toll took a toll on my heart! I looked at the rattling door, wondering if I had bolted it properly before going to bed. Every creak and clunk pressed upon my senses as though there was an unseen presence in the room watching over me.

Then out of nowhere, an image of Baskerville Hall as narrated in The Hound of the Baskervilles appeared in my mind. In the novel, after the strange death of Sir Charles Baskerville, Dr. Watson, the assistant of Sher­lock Holmes, and the new heir to the property, Sir Henry Baskerville, arrived at the eerie estate. They took an early dinner and retired to their respective rooms, “when far away a chiming clock struck out the quarter of the hours…” (Ch-6).

The keening of the wind seemed like someone crying like the sister (Mrs. Barrymore) of the dreaded criminal Selden -‘Noting Hill murderer’ – who had escaped from prison and was hiding in the wild moor near Baskerville Hall. All these details sprang to life before my eyes as if one was verily in the thick of such an atmosphere. Mercifully, the storm petered out, and I fell asleep again.

Next morning the chime from the Clock Tower sounded dulcet and tuneful.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle is one of those books I don’t remember how many times I have read over the years, both for its elegance of language and of course the story.

First published in The Statesman

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