I met the legendary author Ruskin Bond on a cool Saturday evening, the 27th of June 2015 at the Cambridge Book Store, Mall Road, Mussorie. There couldnt have been a better setting to meet the writer. The hills, the cool mist and the dense giant trees on the smooth mountain slopes around, everything made one feel like a character of a story written by Mr. Bond himself. He sat there, in the book store, like a gentle giant surrounded by books and book lovers.
In the summers of 2015, I got a text from a friend of mine who told me that my internship application at ONGC (Oil and Natural Gas Corporation) had been aaccepted. A little more follow up and there it was. A four week internship at ONGC Dehradun, confirmed.
So it was a summer internship at ONGC that beckoned me to Dehradun. My batch mate, Harsh Pathak and I, both rented a room together and pursued our internship. The office of ONGC was indeed a beautiful one situated on a smooth hillock, just adjacent to the coveted Doon School.
I am no botanist but there is certainly something about the trees that grow in the Doon valley, they look so much prettier and so full of virility when compared with the trees that grow down in the plains of North India.
YES. This is the road that led to the office of ONGC. The walk was like the one could only read about in novels and feel but never describe. It was basically like literature. Too beautiful to be real. Whenever I walked on that path I felt like sitting under a tree write some poetry or maybe read the Enigma of Arrival by VS Naipaul.
This pretty lady also stood on the way. Everytime I looked at this tree, it aroused within me the greatest feelings of love, poetry and melancholy. I always wanted to sit around this tree and maybe, maybe just talk to her about how I wanted my life to be and how it turned out eventually.
Offcourse I digress. So on that Saturday morning, we made a decision out of the blue- We shall go to Mussorie right away. Let me not lie. I had some idea in my mind that Mr. Bond often met his fans on weekends .
I despised standing on the bus stand at Mussorie. We were told that the next bus for Mussorie would only arrive an hour later. This was disappointing. Also, the size of the buses that went uphill was quite small and the number of passengers who were waiting for the bus too high. Nevertheless, we managed to get a seat.
Harsh sat by the window and I by the aisle. 30 mins later I patted on Harsh’s shoulder.
“I want to puke, let me come by the window”
Thanks to the hilly roads and those sharp turns, I puked my guts out. I leaned by the window all exhausted. Ten minutes later, Harsh looked at me, we exchanged places. This time, he puked.
So by the time we reached Mussorie, we had been thoroughly fatigued and tired. We immediately went to a chemist, bought some medicines that curb the nausea, ate and then ambled towards the Mall Road.
At the Cambridge Book Store, I saw plenty of posters of Ruskin Bond. I was tempted and I asked the proprietor. “Come at 5 in the evening. You’ll find him here. This is where he spends his weekends.” I was delighted. I had never ever thought of meeting Mr. Bond. My watch told me that there was still a few hours to five. So a walk around Mussorie was what we decided to do.
Mussorie is a mixed bag. Parts of it are still undisturbed since the British departed. You see the mansions, few occupied, most converted into Hotels and Lodges while a couple abandoned. Without going into the merits of the Raj, I think we Indians should thank the British for one thing atleast- establishing such pretty hill stations. Be it Mussorie, Simla, Dalhousie, Wellington, etc. all of these hill stations were founded by the British to escape the heat of the plains. This is where you shall see the last vestiges of the Raj. This is what comes closest to the picturesque Downs of Salisbury.
On our walk we came across an antique shop which looked promising. Upon examining a dozen items, I ended buying myself a pocket watch. Now then, isn’t she marvellous? I bought this one for $11.5.
When finally it was 5, we made our way towards the Mall Road. Outside the Cambridge Book Store, there was commotion. Poor Mr. Bond was huddled with fans. It was at this moment that the shopkeeper intervened and asked people to be patient and meet Mr. Bond one by one. “Mr. Bond isn’t going anywhere” he thundered.
After some waiting, when I finally reached before him I was numb. What I felt cannot be put into words. He was smiling. I was fidgeting. I was shaking. Everything was beyond belief. I often see dreams wherein I meet the people I so dearly admire. But this was real.
“Big Fan sir. Im a big, big fan”
“Your writings have always inspired me. I am an amateur writer myself.”
“Interesting. What do you write about”
“As of now, I simply try my hand at fiction. About loss, grief and love”
This was when I extended a book (A handful of Nuts) authored by Mr. Bond I had carried from home for an autograph. And what he wrote on the book made my day. Made my life indeed.
“What’s your name?”
“GOOD LUCK WITH YOUR WRITING, SHASHANK” Thats what Rusty wrote on that book. And signed.
“My all time favourite is Time Stops at Shamli. I really, really loved that work.”
“Im glad people still like it. I wrote that almost fifty years ago”
“Its a classic now, sir!”
That’s when we bowed and made our way out.
So for the past fifty years. Fifty years Ruskin Bond had been residing here in the hills of Mussorie and writing… writing and writing more. That’s some life to lead. Only the blessed few get such a life.
All the waiting, all the nausea and all the pain was worth it. I had met the man who had made my boyhood fuller and happier. My only regret is that I forgot to ask him about “The Night Train at Deoli”. I was curious to know whether it was actually autobiographical or not.
How would you feel to meet your childhood hero? One who through his writings talked to you more than any other friend. I started reading Bond while on the cusp of achieving puberty.
Who instilled the ideas of love, infatuation, romance and loss in my young, innocent mind?
Who ruined and corrupted me?
But then, I wanted to get ruined and corrupted.
Thank you Ruskin. I will always love you. ❤
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