It’s funny really, looking back, thinking of the first time I got tongue tied. Have you ever met someone whom you admire, get inspiration from? And then when you come face to face with the person, you’re unable to speak but just stupidly smile? Well, it happened to me for the first time.
I had been planning to go to Dehradun for a while now. One of my close friends has set up house there and had been asking me to visit for over a year. While the fact I would be meeting my friend had my backpack packed, it was also a meeting with a certain Mr Bond which kept me awake two straight nights!
Ruskin Bond. We’ve all heard of him growing up, reading his stories where he weaves magic with words. Whether you’re hooked onto every word of The Blue Umbrella, dream with The Room on the Roof, keep pace with Vagrants in the Valley or had to re-read Time Stops at Shamli in school, you could never get out of Ruskin Bond’s stranglehold over your childhood literature. His style is so simple yet elegant, funny with hints of naughty, sincere, straightforward and hauntingly beautiful, I pick up his books even today from bookshops.
If you decide to visit Dehradun, do head up to the hills from the valley to Mussoorie on a Saturday afternoon. Mr Bond sits at the Cambridge Book Depot on Mall Road, ever ready to autograph books and discuss anything under the sun.
My friend Anamika and I reached Mussoorie by 4pm from Dehradun (it’s about an hour and a half away) and after that, it was a race to reach the end of the Mall Road in time to meet Mr Bond. Like all popular hill stations in India, the Mall Road is where everything happens. You’ll find tourists strolling hand in hand, families with children in tow munching on popcorn or even boisterous groups of friends digging into warm plates of momos. We passed all of them, literally ran-walked to reach the small bookstore.
As you halt right in front and if the store is not mobbed by fans, you can clearly see a bespectacled portly gentleman sitting surrounded with books, chatting away to glory. There is a smile on his face as he glances at you. The deep brown sweater and black trousers keep with the image you’ve had of him. The hair is receding but the twinkle in his eye hasn’t diminished at 80. In one of his books, a child says, “‘You were born in 1934? And you’re still here?’ Bond reflects and says, ‘I guess I’m lucky.'”
On that misty Saturday afternoon, I was lucky having got a chance to come face to face with him. To be honest, I’ve had the chance to meet and interview the world’s best sportspersons — from badminton to tennis, cricket to hockey, golf to motorsports… yet as I stood in front of Ruskin Bond with two of his novels in my hand, I couldn’t utter a word.
“Could I please ask you to sign these for me?” is all I could muster as Mr Bond looked up and smiled.”Of course. Whom should I make it out to?” he asked. “Sharmi, please.” I don’t think I stopped smiling for those minutes. “Why don’t you sit down?” he asked and I was floored.
Thankfully Anamika was there to make me not look like such a star struck fan. She asked him if he was reading anything new. “Writing or reading?” Mr Bond asked confused. “Reading.” “Well there are some books I keep going back to like Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre. But I try to read at least something new every month. I was recently reading Somerset Maugham’s new biography (I think he meant The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: A Biography). I used to like him but he seems rather naughty. I don’t think I like this fellow anymore,” he chuckled. His deep voice with that slight drawl will stay with me for a long time. ( Read about Anamika’s experience )
My sister, who was introduced to reading thanks to Mr Bond’s Biniya, didn’t speak to me for two days because I went to meet him without her. But I do hope she gets to meet him one day. Because she’ll cherish it for the rest of her life.
It wasn’t possible to keep sitting next to him all day lest he thought me a stalker but I was inclined to follow him to his house. Maybe he would invite me in for tea? Thankfully better sense prevailed as Anamika and I bought tarts and warm coffee, sat on a bench overlooking the whiteness of the mountains, happy in our thoughts as we discussed the meeting. It was a wonderful Saturday after all!