How the Humble Ruskin Bond Welcomed Me Into His Home in the Hills
Video Editor: Rahul Sapui
Camera: Urmi Bhattacheryya
Ever since I picked up and finished, with an eight-year-old’s wide-eyed awe, my first copy of Ruskin Bond’s short stories, I’ve wondered where the writer lived. If he was such a magician of words, surely he must live somewhere fascinating? I would ask my father. It was on our first family trip to Mussoorie that my father told me that this was where Mr Bond lived.
I nodded with joy. It was like I’d known all along.
Over the last few years, I’ve had the chance to meet Mr Ruskin Bond on exactly four occasions – twice, when I went up to Landour on a weekend away from Delhi; twice, after, to interview him. Each time, I made sure I regaled him with a ‘fresh memory’ (if there is such a thing) – a memory of some book I’d read that he’d written, some quote that had stayed with me, a couple of lines that had rung especially true on a turbulent afternoon.
A few days before his 84th birthday this year, I happily made the overnight journey again – to see him in his quaint white cottage with its quintessential red windows and the green door. He opened the door himself and apologised for the fact that we’d have to start a few minutes late – a young woman was visiting from the bookshop down in Mussoorie and she needed some books signed to distribute.
“Be happy,” he scrawled generously on the front of one book. “Good luck and warm wishes!” he wrote on another, looking up every now and then to ask me if I was comfortable. The gesture touched me.
When we started our interview, his old landline phone rang. He paused, startled and continued to answer the question I’d asked him – until I looked towards the ringing phone. “Shall I answer it?” he asked. When I nodded, touched by the simplicity of his manner, he picked it up; it was a family member updating him about her hospital visit. He asked a lot of concerned questions, and then told me all about it once he’d hung up. Then, that humble, 83-year-old man took his phone off the hook and said, “So, I can answer everything you’ve got for me!”
Over the course of the next hour, we spoke about his latest collection of short stories, Stumbling Through Life, and about pretty much everything else,
After I’d finished my interview, Ruskin Bond showed me around his house. I told him how I loved his bright yellow walls and his pretty wooden furniture, and he nodded and told me about how he loved that the sun came “right into my room!” I’d seen pictures of his room before – the bed he sits and writes on, the window he looks out of, the shelves he rifles through.
“All I’ve ever wanted, ever since I was a little boy, was my own room,” he said, as we stood at the window surveying his room and the mountainscape outside.
As I made to leave, he asked me where I was putting up and how I was getting home – also adding, “Make sure to let me know if you need any help at all”. When I paused to admire a couple of new copies of his short stories that I told him I hadn’t read yet, he picked up three, signed each one and handed them to me.
Ruskin Bond saw me to the door, and I promised I’d get him a printout of my article.
“Please do,” he smiled. “I’d love to read it.”
As I walked down the mountainous road in front of his cottage, I noticed an almost imperceptible skip to my steps, a smile at the corners of my mouth. It was a familiar feeling – one that had swept me up the last few times I’d met him – but that went back farther – to the days and nights and childhood years, spent holed up in my bunk bed, reading his words.
Ruskin Bond, on his 84th birthday, is still magic.
(Stumbling Through Life is Ruskin Bond’s latest collection of essays and writings. It has been published by Rupa Publications)
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