On books and friends, I spend my money; For stones and bricks, I haven’t any.
– Ruskin Bond
It was the eve of New Years and I knew it was going to be just another day. After all, we weren’t stationed in a metropolitan city and did not have any pubs or discotheques or even a decent restaurant anywhere near the vicinity. But then, the husband announced, “Pack your bags! We are leaving!” My husband and surprises do not go hand-in-hand. Often, it has turned out bad or I would easily KNOW when he acts all cool. This time though, he bowled me over.
Thus we drove up the Queen of Hills, the hill station of Mussoorie. The plethora of sheer beauty, the winding roads, a handful of bakeries, an array of boarding schools and beautiful old bungalows brought in a sense of tranquility.
On this cold winter afternoon, I noticed that this beautiful place was brimming with tourists. We quickly took a bite at the Tavern- a restaurant you wouldn’t miss for it is bang on Mall Road. The sizzlers is quite popular but no. I wouldn’t say it is a must-try. I have had better.
As we walked down the Mall Road, brushing past tourists and couples on honeymoon, I was taken aback by the beautiful architecture of the buildings, the stalls selling native shawls and sweaters, and corn on the cob.
I settled with a cotton candy braving the chill in the air but found a monkey staring at me. Phew!
“Where are we going? We’ve been walking for ages!”, I whined.
“Come along. You’ll know”, his eyes sparkled.
Well, that’s unlike him! What’s he up to? I wondered. The uphill road was testing my fitness level and in no time I was huffing and puffing.
We took a sharp turn and I found a long queue of school kids, spilling the road. And to my right, it read ‘Cambridge Book Depot, Meet the author here, every Saturday‘. I squealed with joy and excitement and ran to join the never-ending queue. While my husband bought two of my favorite Ruskin Bond books, I had a huge grin plastered on my face.
Whoa! I knew the author would be visiting this famous bookstore every Saturday evening from 4 pm to 6 pm (if he isn’t traveling), happily signing away copies of his books, posing for photographs, and having a hearty chat with his fans.
How did it slip my mind? How did P know about it? He isn’t a bibliophile like me. There is no way he knew about this, unless….. And then realization struck. I had mentioned it months before when I knew we were stationed close to Dehradun and Mussoorie. How thoughtful of him!
Many passers-by did not have much clue as to what was happening. Few joined the queue realizing the author was present. There were piles of books on the floor and a shelf is dedicated exclusively to the books written by the author. After hours of standing in the queue, my turn came. There he was, sitting among the crammed pile of books, facing the busy Mall Road. I found him laughing and talking to an excited child.
That’s what he does – to have a conversation or two with everyone who walks up to him. A wonderful man with a great sense of humor, he had once written about how he was mistaken for Rudyard Kipling and still signed The Jungle Book for the kid as Kipling.
As I walked up to him, he asked, “What brings you here?” and all I could say was “You”. He smiled and nodded as I gave my copy of ‘Love Among the Bookshelves’ and ‘The Night Train at Deoli’.
While he signed the books I nervously posed for a picture and told him about the surprise that the husband had planned and executed brilliantly (for the first time! The execution that is!). He called my husband over from the crowd to meet and greet.
Neither did we take a ride on the ropeway to Gunhill Point, nor did we head to Kempty Falls. But, we had left the store and Mussoorie, happy and content to have met the author who made my childhood worthwhile. Yes. Ticked off from the bucket list!