Can you pinpoint the first time you heard the name of Ruskin Bond?
There are some amazing writers you never hear of, some that you hear of through somebody else and they go on to impact your life in beautiful ways and then there are some who are such an inevitable part of your life that you hardly notice them at all. Like Mr. Bond, whose words found their way in my life through, well, school textbooks. Nothing very exciting. I read his stories half asleep during my English lectures and wrote about them with utmost dedication, but zero passion, during my exams.
Then I graduated school and such was the existence of Mr. Bond’s words in my life that I never thought of them again until a month ago when as a weekend getaway my friend suggested we visit Landour. There wasn’t much motivation to visit the place, really, especially considering the fact that weekend getaways mean you move from one week to another without a real lazy weekend (which is of great importance in the life that I call adulthood). However, there was one thing that had my curiousity – meeting Ruskin Bond.
Why? I don’t know. I wouldn’t call myself a fan of any particular author. They come and go in my life, different words important during different phases. But all of a sudden the idea of meeting Ruskin Bond had me dreamy eyed all through the journey. “Why do you want to meet him?” my friends asked several times, “Well, you know, he’s getting quite old.” I replied each time with a shrug. And that is when I remember thinking of Landour Days, a book I read on Kindle to kill away some lazy weekend. I remember thinking of the old peanut vendor that dies, the one whose name nobody cared to ask as long as his peanuts were fresh and crisp. And I remember thinking if for some odd reason, Mr. Bond was that peanut vendor of my life. But, hey, that couldn’t be…I knew his name, right?
We arrived at Mussorie on Saturday morning and called up Cambridge Book Depot to ask when Mr. Bond would be coming down to visit. 3:30 that afternoon was the reply. Cancelling all plans till 3:30 that afternoon, we decided to stick around main Mussorie instead of trudging up to Landour as the initial plan. And after lunch at our lavish hotel, I started to walk down the mall road to the book depot with a Ruskin Bond book clutched to my chest. At 22, I never quite felt like a five year old as much as I did when I saw a tiny crowd outside the shop and thought, for some twisted reason – Oh my God, He’s here. How do I look?
“He is sick today. First time in 18 years! He’s not coming today.”
And just like that, as it always happens with hope, crushed. With mere words.
After a pat on the head and some words of consolation, I was being taken back to the hotel. But the disappointment that had taken over me was not going anywhere. That’s what I thought, until I re-visited my Kindle account and opened Landour Days once again. There was no time to read the whole book but I read my favourite bits and just like that, hope returned. Through mere words.
Not the hope of meeting Mr. Bond or getting his signature on the book (My friend suggested I ask him to write Bond… Ruskin Bond.) but the hope of seeing a place through eyes that had seen it before. Like the difference of sound of the same wind that blows through the pines and deodars and across the chestnut. Or wondering if the woman walking down from Lal Tibba was Miss Romola, escaping from the mirrors of her lonely room. Which corner of Landour Bazaar did the peanut vendor occupy?
And when we sat outside Mr. Bond’s house the next day (with a hope of a different kind) I wondered where his poppies and dandelions were and if he still had a flower of the month.
Such were my Landour days, half lived in memories of someone else and the other half spent in conversations that I would call memories someday. I returned to Delhi with that little light of hope and no better understanding of life and I guess, most days, that’s more than we can ask for.
P.S.- My flower of the month is a small lilly. It’s the only one that has managed to grow around here.