Category: Nature

Our Tryst With Bond, Ruskin Bond

“This time when we go to Dehradun,  we will drive up to Mussorie on a Saturday. I heard Ruskin Bond comes to a bookstore there every Saturday!!”. As my sister excitedly prattled on I gave a non-committal grunt in response. Driving up to Mussorie on a Saturday before a long weekend involved getting stuck in a traffic jam all the way up the mountain road. The road would be choked with cars filled with people from the plains wanting to spend the long weekend in the hills, and I had no desire to be caught up in the mess, despite the allure of meeting Ruskin Bond. I underestimated my sister’s tenacity, she organised all of us like a general and had five adults, three young boys out of the door and on the way to Mussoorie by 10 am, long before the crowds would have even crossed Modinagar. While we waited for the scheduled time, we walked up and down the mall road, talking about books, trying to identify the trees and plants growing by the road and looking out at Doon valley spread below. The sunny morning gave way to a cold, damp afternoon which saw three excited ladies, two amused gentlemen and three young boys (who alternated between complaining about being tired and demanding ice cream), under a drizzling sky in a queue outside a bookstore, waiting for the author to arrive. Soon a car drove up, a portly old gentleman, wearing a florid yellow sweater vest climbed out and shuffled his way into in the bookstore. As our turn came, he listened patiently to our gushing praises for his books. The youngest brat, when asked his name for the book signing by the author, spelt it out for the author, earning a chuckle from the author who thanked him for letting the author know the spelling of his name! As we walked out of the bookstore, clutching our precious autographed books it seemed as if we were floating on a cloud. The irritation of an early start, the tiredness of the wait and the crankiness of the boys melted as we couldn’t believe that we had met and talked to Ruskin Bond. I couldn’t help but be thankful for my sister’s determination to make sure that we could meet our favourite author, the books autographed by him taking pride of place in our bookshelves.

On the quiet drive back I went over each and every moment of that all too brief meeting. The quiet, elderly gentleman who was listening to everybody with his full attention, all the time sipping his chai from a disposable cup, was the author whom I had loved and admired for a long time. On first glance, he looked like someone’s cuddly teddy bearish granduncle, but his pen holds magic. His books are simple and yet they touch places in the heart that you don’t know. A story like “Eyes Have It” shows you don’t have to write a complicated story to drive your point, you can be ironical and yet become unforgettable in less than five-hundred words. His books brought Dehradun, Mussorie and the hills alive, nature seemed to stand still in his books. Yet, he has also written books like “The Sensualist” (deeply disturbing) and “A Flight Of Pigeons”( one of the most poignant love stories I have read). “The Blue Umbrella” showcased the simplicity of village life and yet gave a lesson against covetousness. “Fun Times With Uncle Ken” brought out the humour and the absurdness in normal day-to-day lives. “Room On the Roof” brought alive my hometown of Dehradun. After reading it I went around trying to identify the landmarks mentioned in the books, though most had vanished Dhelaram bazaar was still there, (though I couldn’t find the municipal tap) as was the Allahabad Bank building, its stateliness marred by the hawkers on the pavement outside. His description of the tikki-wallah in the book as “the fleshy God of tikki’s” has stuck with me all these years and I hear myself repeating it mentally whenever I go to any tikkiwallah in Dehradun.

Some might wonder why he, as an author stands out, especially to people from Dehradun. Why we spent more than seven hours in Mussoorie, planned the whole visit like a battle just for a five-minute book signing with him. It might be because he is one of ours, a local boy who left and yet, came back as he couldn’t survive without the mountains. He, like us, felt that the hills were his home, how much ever progress might degrade them, the hills still had our beating hearts. His books and stories evoke a time gone by when Dehra was still green and unpolluted when life was simple enough that you could just sit and watch the nature blooming around you. There is a quiet symbiosis of man and nature in his books.

And I think that’s the reason why we were so excited to see him, he is familiar to us, through his books he brings back the Dehra we had all once loved!

The Fine Print

Early morning, once all the tiffins are packed with the breakfast made, I am usually found reading the newspaper while eating my breakfast. It is a routine that is followed almost all days of the year. It is a routine that I hate to change and even if there were some minor changes to it I feel as if a vital organ is missing! For instance, on Wednesday the newspaper was late, making it very difficult for me to eat my breakfast and consequently triggering the writing of this post. Reading newspaper has become such a vital part of my life that if I go on vacation and do not find the newspaper, I feel as if the world has stopped turning.

I started reading the newspaper during the tumultuous times of L.K.Advani’s Rath Yatra and the Gulf War. Our class teacher “encouraged” class discussions about current affairs. In those pre-liberalisation days, before the blaring twenty-four-hour news channels, the only way to stay abreast was either by the newspapers or the nine o’clock news on Doordarshan. The news on Doordarshan was proficient in making my eyelids heavy, thus the newspaper was the only option left to me to shine in class discussions. Initially, it was tough going, I would read the headlines not understanding a single word. Sports, however, I understood partially better, thus I decided to start reading the newspaper from the sports(easier) section which used to be the last page of the newspaper. Thus my totally bizarre habit of reading the newspaper from back to the front started. After a few initial hiccups ( and little help “The World This Week” made me understand a little bit more about the world) reading the newspaper became second nature to me.

The newspaper reminds me of the wintery days when I used to be the first one to lay my hands on the paper as soon as the paperwallah had flung it on the gate (where it got wet with the dew). It brings back memories of my grandfather who used to spend hours reading the newspaper on his chair in the sun. The chair, the paper, and grandpa moving all over the garden chasing the sun. We moved to Chennai and were introduced to The Hindu, which I personally, at that time, thought was a very boring newspaper(there was no Bollywood gossip in it and thus was very boring to a fifteen-year-old). In college, in Pilani, I used to read The Time of India and used to compare it to The Hindu and found the former generally lacking in substance. Finally, on moving to Dubai I got hooked on to GulfNews. Morning time settled into a routine with me and hubby reading the sections of the newspaper in companionable silence. Vacations in India mean making do with TOI or HT, coming back to Dubai the GulfNews welcomes me with the familiarity of an old friend as we slip back into our routine.

Some might wonder at my attachment with the printed newspaper when all the news is available online on our devices. I know quite a few people who don’t read the newspaper and in fact, some have not even subscribed to one. For me, however, the newspaper is more than a means of getting the news. There is a comfort in reading the newspaper, the rustle of paper as one turns the pages; the charm of seeing different advertisements fighting for space with the news; the reading of the opinion columns and seeing if the opinions match with yours; the chuckle while reading the daily comic strip;reading a news article which affects you and discussing it; reading about far-flung places where you will probably never go. In all, it’s the satisfaction of just reading.

The Gentle Breeze

Some of my most cherished memories of Dehradun are from the spring of 1995. It was the year of my grade ten boards, I used to wake up early in the morning so that I could get more done while the world slept. To avoid the temptation of crawling back in the warm razai, I used to go and study in the verandah. This verandah was an ideal spot to see the world wake up. The dark starry chilly night sky used to turn grey, pink and then pale orange as the sun started peeking out from behind the trees. The dawn used to the best time for observing the plants. The flowers of myriad varieties and colors, geraniums, begonias, phlox and my favorites the roses, shimmering with pearly dew. The rosebud drenched in the morning dew would slowly dry off as the sun rose, one by one the petals would unfurl until by ten in the morning it would be a full-blown rose. The transformation used to leave me mesmerized and in awe of the power of nature. The garden would become noisy, full of birds, parrots, mynahs, sparrows, hopping, chirping creating a din that reached a crescendo at dawn. They seemed to be chattering, eager to go on ahead with their day.

Afternoons were spent on the roof, where I used to sit in the shade of the overhanging branches of the litchi tree. The mild breeze and the swaying green leaves would make the afternoon sun a little more gentle. The birds now had softer chirps, as if they too felt drowsy with the heat. The trees, the chirps, the breeze, all conspired to create an atmosphere most conducive for teenage daydreaming, the books open but their words not really registering.

The sunsets were a marvelous show put up by nature, the shades of orange, grey, pink and all in between, bleeding into one another, creating a new painting every day. The pigeons and parrots, cooing and squawking, almost as if they, too, were singing praises to the Lord. The colors stayed for a long time in the sky after the sun slipped behind the mountains, till the stars started twinkling and the sky was covered with millions of them, covering the deep dark sky.

Alas, the year I became aware of the beauty of nature in spring was also my last spring in Dehradun. The magical mornings, drowsy afternoons and glorious sunsets are now lost. The lack of time and rampant construction all around means that we hardly get to breath fresh air, let alone see the blue sky. Even when we go on vacations it is now hard to just sit still and observe, the brain refuses to switch off the to-do list in the mind.

Sometimes, however, these elusive gifts of nature seem tangible. The smell of neem flowers in the summers of Dubai, the bees hovering over flowers in my mother’s garden , a single butterfly coming out of no where , asking you to follow her, or like today, when I am sitting under a tree with the wind caressing its leaves and cooling me in this heat, the birds are chirping merrily, the woodpecker flitting close by, the deep red of the flowers a deep contrast with the green of the leaves.

If I close my eyes, I can almost imagine myself back on the roof in Doon.