Chittagong. Lucknow. Lahore. 

I was travelling in an autorickshaw. The traffic was stranded. I was stranded. My destination was close so I decided to walk. It was the older part of the city where antiquity still survives though with a little difficulty now owing to the commercial cult ever growing. As I ambled ahead observing the world around, I arrived at the gate of an old hospital and stopped. 

It was the Ramakrishna Mission Hospital. A charitable institution from the time of the British Raj which served the old, poor and infirm. Clamped on the big metallic gate of the hospital was a “something” which set me thinking. Something which was poignant enough to fill one with joy, melancholy and a host of mixed emotions. It carried enough potential to send a chill down the spine of every history lover! 

A cartographer’s handiwork, an image of a land mass from above. It was a map. But be not mistaken. It was definitely not just any other map. It was a map of undivided India. You no longer get to see such these days. Its an extinct species. I forgot the bustling traffic around, could no longer hear the perpetual chattering of the people and the incessant honking. 

Like a shameless leacherous lover, I stared at the map. For twenty three years I had lived in this country and had absorbed three different maps into my psyche- Those of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. But I had never imagined the three entities in one political map. 

My Idea of India- the mental image of its map, would limit its territory at Rajasthan on the west. On the east, an aberration, a hollow, a stetch of nothingness existed between western part of Bengal and the eastern part of Assam. 
But this map was contrary to that image. It perturbed the mind, it was revolting. Beyond belief. I had not thought of India as such. And I was ashamed. 

The territories beyond Amritsar and the stretch of nothingness between Bengal and India’s northeast had been given a life in this map. It was no longer amputated. They fit in perfectly too. It appeared as if someone had found eventually found the lost parts of a jigsaw puzzle and put them together. It now looked complete. 

Maps play a funny game with the psychology of the citizen. Maps tell us what is “ours” and what is “theirs“. Just as a person finally begins to believe the lie he keeps hearing all the time, similarly the national map too indoctrinates the viewer to define political limits. But when I stood there, outside that hospital- while people moved beside me, some brushed by my side, some gently nudging me to make way– all my preconceptions of us and them came crashing down. 

I was looking at a piece of history and I was immersed in it. I wondered how nice would it be if I could just walk into Dhaka, just like that. No bunch of papers, No embassy hopping, NO FEAR. Just walk into Dhaka and visit the Dhakeshwari Temple.

Or how nice would it be to have nothing at Wagah just the endless fertile fields of Punjab and an unfetterred national highway between Amritsar and Lahore. 
                                                                        Why couldnt the map stay this way itself? 

Why did it have to change? 

Why cant a person from Peshawar visit the Taj Mahal without hassles? 

Why cant I visit the Mazaar of Mian Mir without getting my currency converted? 



It was painful to be there for too long. That thing was so beautiful, I knew she would never be mine. I decided to continue walking. 

But no matter how far I get, that image stays etched in my mind. And it will stay that way. Forever

It has altered my consciousness. Hitherto whenever I thought of India, only a single image came to my mind. Now two images of India find place in my mind. One is a broken image and the other is too lovely to be true. Both images cause hurt. 
                                                                         But such maps of our undivided country should remain. People on both frontiers should see them everyday and ask their souls if it was worth the fight. (No! It was not!) 

P.S.- I have not the time, energy and interest to entertain historical debates on partition. What is done, is done. Well done Communalism. Fuck you!  

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My Bond with Doon and Mussorie or How I met Ruskin Bond. 

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”

He obeyed. 

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” 

He smiled. 

“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?”

“Shashank”

“Spell it”

“S-H-A-S-H-A-N-K” 

“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?

Ruskin Bond

Who ruined and corrupted me? 

Mr. Bond. 

But then, I wanted to get ruined and corrupted. 

Thank you Ruskin. I will always love you. ❤
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