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Happy B’day Ruskin Bond: You Sparked My Love Affair With the Hills

On Ruskin Bond’s birthday, here’s remembering the man who inspired an everlasting yearning for the hills

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Books
4 min read
Happy B’day Ruskin Bond: You Sparked My Love Affair With the Hills
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When I think of Ruskin Bond, I don’t picture him.

Not immediately, at least. Instead, curious pairs of images jostle for space in memory: cemeteries and gardens, old church spires and wispy mountain ghouls. Girls with blue umbrellas and solitary cyclists. Bits and ends like that. I’m not sure why they all get mixed up that way, like a giant kaleidoscope of images – but I imagine it has something to do with the fact that there are few dividing lines between Ruskin Bond memories.

You see, with Ruskin Bond – more than with any other Indian author, really – there aren’t memories that fit into neat little boxes of ‘childhood’ or ‘adolescence’ or ‘adulthood’.

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I knew this for sure the last time I saw Ruskin Bond. I was covering the Penguin Annual Lecture, where Mr Bond was elucidating on ‘The Joys of Writing’. It was a cold mid-December night, that very delicious kind of winter night, and Mr Bond had just finished talking. Readers were now asking questions – readers who’d traversed with him from Rusty to Shyamli – when, one gentleman with silver speckled hair spoke up.

“Thank you,” he said simply. “For reminding us never to grow up.”

The room was suddenly lit up with a strange sight: the sight of many heads, tall and short, grey-haired and black, nodding almost simultaneously as one.

How Ruskin Bond Helped Me Get Over My Fears

Yes, Ruskin Bond was a man for all ages. But didn’t I already know that?

I’d read him since I was eight or nine, but I’d never relied on him as much as I probably came to when I was about 14. See, I have this idea, that it is only in situations of dire distress (or mild discomfort) that you will know who your literary solaces and your favourite kind of cake will be. You can have had a bad workweek and all of a sudden rediscover your mojo re-reading Champak and gobbling down butter pecan pastry – for example.

I remember rediscovering Ruskin Bond too when I most needed to. It was on a family trip to the hills of Dalhousie and Dharamshala – when, one particular night, I found myself unable to sleep.

I remember staring out into the sheer nothingness of the mountains beneath my hotel window and feeling a strange kind of terror. I’d always loved the hills, but I hated the fact that I couldn’t see ten feet below me. Or that it was so unbearably, forebodingly still.

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I picked up Mr Bond then. I still remember that it was a (now dog-eared) green paperback copy of all his best short stories. I remember curling up with it in an armchair right next the window and reading it for hours. I read for so long that the sun came up. I read till I’d finished. I read till my fears had dissipated into the hopeful morning fog and till I saw the mountains like Mr Bond had written them. Huge repositories of infinite, untold stories.

I credit him largely for my love for the hills today. The hills of Doon, Shimla, Mussoorie, Landour... The hills from his books.

The House Where Mr Bond Lives

Exactly a dozen years later, I felt like I’d come full circle. I was on my first solo trip a month ago (checking off an item from my bucket list) – and I had chosen Mussoorie and Landour. The holiday was self-sufficient and wonderful in every way a solo holiday can be – but one particular landmark stood out.

The house where Mr Bond lives: the white house with the red windows, Landour.

(Photo Courtesy: Urmi Bhattacheryya/The Quint)

Ruskin Bond’s house. On a trek through the mountain roads one morning, I suddenly came upon this red and white edifice. It was a large, very normal-looking white house with red windows – shining out like a beacon of all that is dreamy and Shyamli-like. I stood outside Ivy Cottage long enough to take a picture and to hope for a balding grey head to peer out, perhaps for inspiration.

He didn’t – but I wasn’t disappointed.

Ruskin Bond had gotten me to the hills.

Ruskin Bond has gotten me to truly love the hills.

(Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Ruskin Bond)

Therefore, on his birthday, I’m writing to tell him thank you. For two things, primarily.

One, for my incredible, all-consuming, never-ending love affair with the mountains.

The other, for truly – like I heard a grey-haired gentleman say – reminding me never to grow up.

(This story was first published on 18 May 2016 and has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark Ruskin Bond’s birth anniversary.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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