As I set out scribbling today, I don’t have anything particular in my mind. There was this thought about Death being a daunting because I don’t know what all it will reveal and how it boils down to prestige and society neither of which make sense posthumously. There was another thought of the mountains. Beckoning me each day I wake up. The smell of the place, the breeze, the light and Ruskin Bond.
Maybe I shall write about both, but right now its morning and bright, cloudy and breezy, cool and lazy. Everything that reminds me of the mountains.
I remember the first time I was there. Locked away in a bus along with mind numbingly strange relatives. I had a window to myself. A guide screamed himself hoarse to earn from the sahibs of the plains.
That was the only time I have been to Rishikesh. I spent the one hour the guide and the bus gave us on the Lachman Jhoola. It was madly cloudy. Drizzling at times. But it was the wind that had truly gone crazy. Beneath me was a rocky stretch of the Ganga. The water appeared to be trickling by. But if you looked ahead you could see the torrents splashing on the rocks. And I could see tiny(?) fishes jump up in the air before they splashed back into the water again. The water must be trickling down from some meting glacier on some concealed cold mountain peak which I might never see, never be to.
It reminded me of the journey Rusty took with Ranvir and Somi from Dehra to the glaciers. Each step they took they glided back two. On the way they had stopped to bathe at a stream with freezing water. If I followed this stream beneath me would I reach there? And then to the glaciers? I never tried. I was from the plains and the only kid in that boring bus.
11 years later, 2011, May, I was back to the Himalayas. On a train I gratefully watched the plains disappear. The trees changed. Became gnarled and twisted. The branches stretched out like witches’ fingers. Sturdy. It was clear to me why Ruskin Bond likes to write or edit ghost stories. Why his mention of the mountain and its people will always revolve around that supernatural element. If it got me thinking in the afternoon, night had to be the time to see it. Night had to be the time they started walking. (I had clicked quite a few pictures but my phone lost them for me and unfortunately I couldn’t locate anything remotely close on Google)
The last time I was in Mussourie (after we packed into the bus from Rishikesh) one of my strange relative said “there’s nothing to see in Mussourie. Just matchbox like houses. Nothing else to see.” She said this even as we rushed into the embrace of the always distant, pensive mountains. There is this thing about them. They appear to be grave and cold and distant. The keeper of secrets, almost uninviting, discouraging, but at the same time they are beckoning you, embracing you, making you feel connected, loving you back for loving them. They are like benevolent ancestral presences, looking up on you, providing for you. Once you have been to the mountains, you have to keep going back.
The same was my encounter with Ruskin Bond, the writer of the mountains. After walking aimlessly for hours, I got thinking, I’m really close to him. It got me nervous and excited. He encouraged me to go see him. I always had dreamed of seeing him. I had imagined that my old man lives on a slope in a wooden cottage surrounded by trees with his adopted granddaughter, sharing the most amazing time anyone could share.
But after enquiring it turned out it was not like I had pictured. He seemed to be a very accessible man. Everyone knew where he lived and asked me to go up the flight of stairs next to Doma’s Inn and seek an appointment.
I do not associate the term ‘appointment’ with him. I went up all the same. Asked for him. They said he was sleeping. Gave me a phone number. I was nervous. I kept standing in front of his house for an hour before I called (also before I had managed to climb up the stairs). Someone answered the phone and gave him the receiver after hearing me stammer out a pleading sentence.
To me he is Rusty. The boy who fell in love with chaat. He’d be that forever. But when he answered the phone, a heavy voice spoke to me. Said he might be leaving for Bhubaneswar the next day but I could try calling in the morning to check. If he was still here, we could meet.
I never called back. Dreams and illusions are best when they are preserved and served only at night before you go to sleep and you are thinking alone in the dark. Staring at the shadows on the roof.
I didn’t want him to become a person. A famous old man. Then Rusty would have died forever. Mountains would have changed meaning.
Things which have formed us, made us who we are, are better left untouched in the folds of the past, in the folds of nostalgia. Unraveling them might change and question everything we believe in. And no one truly wants to start all over again.