Thursday, May 22, 2014


The Resident Skeptic turns seven today.
She: *waking up one morning this summer* Amma, it's so cold today!
Me: Yeah it rained all night.
She: How do you know?

Me: I woke up a couple of times during the night, and I heard the rain both times.

She: That doesn't prove anything. It could just have been raining when you woke up, and it could have stopped when you went back to sleep. The correct thing to say would be: "It rained for at least some time last night."

Absolutely right, kid. Don't ever stop questioning everything!

Happy Birthday!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Close Encounters of the Bond Kind

What better day to write about my recent experience with meeting Ruskin Bond, than today, his birthday?

I have written before about meeting him in Bangalore.  And in it, there's a line:

I have spent many hours planning how I would go to Mussourie to meet him, sit on the porch of Ivy Cottage, sip tea, and talk to him.
I was wrong on two counts.

Count 1 - Ruskin Bond lives in Landour, not Mussoorie.  Small detail, but makes a huge difference.

Count 2 - Ivy Cottage has no porch.  Trust me.  I know. I stayed in an inn in Ivy Cottage [Try saying that line fast 3 times]

Okay, let's do this in order.

During our recent vacation to Uttarakhand, we stayed for three days in Landour.  Which, by the way is a beautiful place with some great views and green walks and is comfortably away from the mess of Mussoorie. We stayed in an inn that was a part of the same building in which Ruskin Bond also lives.  So, we literally shared a roof, and even a wall with Ruskin Bond.

Firstly, Ivy Cottage isn't set all alone in a grassy meadow, which was how I had imagined it.  A winding, narrow road leads up from Landour Bazaar, and hits Ivy Cottage.  This is where the inn is.  The road then turns to the right and climbs the hill.  So, basically, Ivy Cottage is bound by two roads that climb the hill.  One, the motorable road on the right, and two, the non-motorable, quiet, but steep road on the left. 

The day we checked in, I went round the cottage both on the motorable and the non-motorable one, looking for a likely entry to the house of a renowned, nature-loving writer.  I didn't find any prospective candidates.  I went back to the reception of our inn, and asked the friendly man who sat there.  He pointed towards the motorable road, and said, "Just next door, you'll see red steps leading up to his house."  He also invited me to go ahead and knock at Ruskin Bond's house, that he's used to it.

So, after that evening's walk, I went looking for red steps, but didn't find any.  Then S went with me, and he pointed to a very narrow, steep flight of stairs squeezing their way up through what looked like a break between two buildings.  "This can't be it," I said, even as I climbed it.   But we got to the top.  There was a door, the upper part of which was glass, and led into a kind of verandah.  I hesitated for a bit.  How would I feel if random people turned up at my house with no warning?  Yet, I couldn't help myself.  I rang the bell.  There was a movement at one of the doors leading away from the verandah.  And he appeared at the door.  Yeah, himself, Ruskin Bond.  It was one of the unlikeliest experiences ever.

"Who goes there, friend or foe?" he called out and opened the door.

I introduced myself, and apologized for having landed up without an appointment.  He said it was okay, but that he was in a meeting, and was apologetic about it in a charming way.  He said he'd be available the next day at Oxford Book Store in Mussoorie where he meets fans every Saturday.   He smiled at Puttachi and tried to talk to her, but she was looking at something else, I have no idea what.  I climbed down those stairs, and all I could do was shake my head.  This was unlike anything I ever imagined. 

I stood on the street, and looked up at his window.  That was the window where he keeps his potted plant, and where the birds visit him.  That is the window through which he looks out onto the world.  It overlooks the valley.  I looked at the valley. So that is the sight he sees. 

You know, there is something very spine-tingling about visiting a place like this - the home of someone you've read and admired - someone who's still alive too.

It is like visiting an imaginary place, only it is not imaginary at all.  How shall I put it?  How would it be if you visited, say, Malgudi, or Hogwarts, or Mordor?  Except that the world Ruskin Bond writes about is a real world.  And I'd been there.

The next day, I did meet him at the bookstore, and apologized again and he said he understood.  I told him that since the last time I met him, I'd started writing, and my stories had been received well, and thanked him for being one of my inspirations.  He said he was glad, and wished me well.  He then signed my book for me, and I got some pictures with him.

Later, back in Bangalore, I was reading some essays by him, and in one, he writes about some tourists from Delhi who came to visit him.  He could hear them as they climbed the narrow flight of stairs, and a lady said "He can't possibly live in this tumbledown place."  And I felt my cheeks go hot because though I didn't say that aloud, I thought it in my mind while climbing those stairs.   Only because the image in my head was so clear and well-formed, that it was difficult to reconcile it with reality. 

Even now, if I think of Landour, the first image that comes to my head is the original, imagined one.  Only then does the real image appear, and nudge the first one away.

Now, I only hope I don't appear in one of his future essays as the rude lady from Bangalore!

Edited to add:
At the bookstore, I told Ruskin Bond that Puttachi has read only one of his books - and promptly forgot the title.  Thankfully, Puttachi pitched in with "Tigers for Dinner" and then I caught my breath - it WAS his book right?  He has written before about people thrusting Tom Sawyer and Enid Blyton books at him and asking him to sign. [And he has signed as Mark Twain and Enid Blyton, in case you are wondering.  Har har.]
Phew :D

Friday, May 02, 2014

A story in Open Road Review

There was a short story contest on Open Road Review, and my story was among the shortlisted ones.  It didn't win, though, but it was published in the latest issue.

 Here is the link to the story, At The Wedding. 
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