When Mussoorie was haunted by Human Oil Extractor's or Teli's
As the British after the First War of Independence or the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 were able to regain the lost ground and rule India under the crown their atrocities towards Indians gained momentum with every passing day and Mussoorie was no exception. Around late 19th century the fear of “oil extractors” or “telis” started haunting town residents, especially “porters” or “phaltoos” who fearing extraction started leaving the town around 1880 creating panic among the British who were dependent on the natives for daily chores.
Mussoorie came into existence in around 1820 when Captain Young, an adventurous British military officer, together with Shore, Superintendent of Revenues at Dehradun, explored the present site and jointly constructed a shooting lodge there. Thereafter, the town was elevated to a most-favoured destination.
British people in the company of their wives, girlfriends and Indian princes would throng the town, drawn by the romantic aura of the place. Simla was considered too official and soldiers preferred Mussoorie to avoid their superiors and indulge in romantic adventures. This reputation led to an influx of more British people, accompanied by native workers like porters. By 1901 Mussoorie’s population had grown to 6,461, rising to 15,000 in the summer season.
The mistrust developed among the natives after 1857 led to rumours that the British were extracting human oil after abducting and rendering the natives unconscious.
Local historian Gopal Bhardwaj says such an account of “oil extractors” is mentioned in a book written by Constance Fredereka, aka Gordon Cumming, called “From the Hebrides to Himalayas”. Constance was the 12th child of a Scottish family that visited Mussoorie in 1876. In her travelogue “Umbala to Mussoorie”, she writes about the fear of “oil extractors” prevalent at the time. She goes on to say in the book: “To a population thus dependent on the multitude of human workers, any cause that diminishes the supply is a serious matter. Imagine, then, the effect of a story having, some years ago, been circulated, among hill tribes that the Europeans required a vast supply of “pahari oil”, and intended to take every hill man, woman or child, whom they could catch, and hang them up by the heels before a big fire in order to extract their oil! Not only this, another common belief that the industry back home in England was being lubricated with the lard made from helpless Indians also affirmed the intentions of the British among the natives. This story was so universally believed that all porters ran away from Mussoorie, and were only persuaded by slow degrees to return. For months they continued to work trembling, still believed in danger”.