A lone walk to meet the Lone Fox

A Sunday walk around the quaint town of Landour, when visiting the popular octogenarian author, Ruskin Bond


This is a collaborative piece.
Words and inline images: Amrita Brahmo
Lead image: TLJ Archives

 
Ruskin Bond in his home in Landour, Mussorie. May 2019.  From TLJ archives

Ruskin Bond in his home in Landour, Mussorie. May 2019. From TLJ archives

“…And when all the wars are over, a butterfly will still be beautiful.”- Ruskin Bond


“He will be here any minute,” says the friendly shop assistant, at around 3:20 pm. Just then, a car drives up to the store. The 85-year-old author carefully climbs out, supported by the owner of Cambridge Book Depot, but walks quite easily across the road.

He calls out a “hello” to all of us, who’re eagerly staring at him, speechless. A little boy of ten ahead of me steps up, exhilarated, holding his first Ruskin Bond book, The Room on the Roof.

Second in line, I realize I’m hopelessly under-prepared for a moment I’ve waited for all my life. 

As I walk up to Ruskin Bond and greet him, he smiles and asks me my name, and where I’m from. And just like that, we start talking about his trip in January 2018 to the Kolkata Literary Meet, and how much he liked it there.

Ruskin Bond’s autographed note to the author.

Ruskin Bond’s autographed note to the author.

“They pamper me a lot”, he says with a diffident smile, and I suddenly can’t fathom why I was nervous in the first place.

He signs seven books for me, and poses patiently for pictures. When I offer him a tiny gift I’ve brought along, his face brightens up with child-like delight. “A Viking bookmark! Wonderful, thank you,” he says.

I step out of the book store with the silliest grin on my face. I’ve walked nearly fifty metres without noticing a thing. Then, I stop and take out each of the seven books he’s signed from the packet, tracing a finger over his signature.

“Stay Well and Happy”, he’s written underneath my name in one of them. I suddenly have a feeling that I shall.

*

I walk ahead on the winding hill roads, indulging in what Mr. Bond refers to as the zigzag walk, in ways more than one. This is the best part of travelling alone.

There isn’t a realistic possibility of getting lost, given that I’m armed with my smartphone. But ever so often on these trips, I pick the uncharted route, huff and puff my way up a semi-paved trail and find myself miles away from my original destination, amidst a wonderful new experience.

In deference to the writer in me, I also end up choosing footpaths and the rickety public buses. I’d miss out on so many potentially interesting people and conversations if I choose the convenient, but boring, taxis instead.

Like the Pahari man on the bus to Mussoorie, with whom I shared a Poppins toffee.

The author at Cambridge Bookstore, meeting a fan. February 2019.

The author at Cambridge Bookstore, meeting a fan. February 2019.

It was at the book store, when waiting for Ruskin, that a book with a rainbow on its cover reminded me of the toffee, and of him. We didn’t know each other’s language, but more than once, he helped me keep my suitcase in place, as it bounced around on the overhead rack at every hairpin bend.

Happiness is a mysterious thing, to be found between too little and too much, says Ruskin. I realised this on the bus — of how there’s something in the unexpected kindness of strangers when life’s been a little harsh, which heals you, one bus ride at a time.

Dreamily smiling in nostalgia, I absent-mindedly run into a lady.

“Exciting, isn’t it?” she blurts out, beaming. She is a professor from Delhi. We giggle like a pair of schoolgirls. “It’s my birthday and I knew this is what I wanted to do.”

I smile, “It was my birthday last week.”

*

As I begin walking again, I am spontaneously joined by a solitary brown-furred canine. He wags his tail ever so often, walking ahead with the confidence of having lived here all his life. I follow him for nearly half a kilometre before realizing, with a touch of regret, that our destinations aren’t the same. We part ways and I continue on the uphill road to Landour Bazaar. Momentarily, I wonder if I’m missing out on the popular tourist spots, but thoughts like that seldom persist when one has a splendid view to feast on, devoid of clamour. 

A view of the ramshackle Kohinoor building

A view of the ramshackle Kohinoor building

At one point on the route, a ramshackle building with shimmering blue glass panes on its first floor catches my eye. It reminds me of the Rani’s stained-glass windows in one of Ruskin’s stories. The owner of a shop below it tells me that this is the Kohinoor building — almost a century old, it has been the home of Nautch girls and Mujra performers, but now, is just another relic of the Mussoorie of yesteryears. Fallen into disrepair, still holding on.

Walking further downhill, I briefly make a detour at Mall Road to watch the sun dip below the horizon. Sundown in the hills is like a scheduled power cut; one moment you have warm sunshine on your shoulders, in the very next, it’s pitch black and the houses on the hillside are glowing like tiny fireflies as the icy wind lashes your face. 

I take a moment here, staring into the shimmering hills. My head is wrapped up in thoughts of how one man, writing about simple things in simple words has, for decades, spun stories that cut across thresholds of age and experience — be it a lady, born in an era when handwritten letters were the norm; or a little boy, who might never know what it’s like to receive one; and me, the sort who is caught between frantic notifications and consecutive days of checking the letterbox. We all dream of a place of our own just like Ruskin’s Rusty did.

In that moment, I think about writer I want to be: if someone asks, my answer is that I want to write books that one can come back to at any juncture in life, and still find in it something to love.

When I arrive at the hotel, it’s a little past six. Tomorrow, there will be time enough to head back to the dust and bustle of the plains.

For now, I settle into soaking up the moments of this day-long stroll by re-reading stories that are etched in my mind. I stare out at the hills and dream, just like Ruskin occasionally did, of a lone fox dancing on Lal Tibba.

“...for every time I see the sky, I’m aware of belonging to the universe than to just one corner of the earth.”- Ruskin Bond

 

Amrita is twenty-five, with an official degree in economics and an unofficial one in studying human nature.

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