Mauger Fitzhugh monk, of guernsey, channel islands, had been a reluctant gunner in the East India Company’s 4th Battalion of Artillery, before he accepted a teaching post in Mussoorie in 1840. What followed were a series of mercantile misadventures, as he tried his luck at numerous trades and failed miserably at each and every one. When he finally decided to cut his losses and return to England in 1849, he fell ill on the way and died in Meerut.

But you only know this because Monk was also a prolific letter writer. His missives, mostly to family back home and written with considerable flair, were discovered in an attic by a descendant only a few years ago and subsequently edited for publication.

The letters offer a valuable glimpse into the early days of Mussoorie, hardly any accounts being extant from that pioneering time. Others, according to their interests, will find other things to amuse them.

I found the collection interesting for the light it throws on the postal system of the day and the extraordinary challenges faced by it. Monk notes, for instance: “It is…no uncommon thing to see a notice in the paper announcing the loss of particular mails, the dak-hurkaries being murdered on the road or carried off by tigers…” There are a few unbelievable revelations too, like the commerce in slave ladies at the Kumbh Mela in Hurdwar. A great read for your next train ride up to Mussoorie.

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