Meeting Mr. Bond
Leaning against the seatbelt, I took out the note from my pocket and read it for the zillionth time. The car twisted around another hairpin bend as we winded down the road to Landour, Mussoorie. The tall deodars must have known what lay waiting for us, for they seemed to be conspiring with the wind and dancing in our welcoming. It had been a childhood dream of mine to meet Ruskin Bond. I had stumbled across a battered copy of The Blue Umbrella in the school library; it was love at first sight. The simplicity in his writings, his love for nature and children instilled in me an undying love for books, and by extension, for him.
So, when my brother, Mihir said that for my fifteenth birthday, he was going to take me to Mussoorie to meet Ruskin Bond, I was elated.
He knew how I had tried meeting Mr. Bond at a bookstore on a previous trip when I was ten, but couldn’t because I had agoraphobia (fear of crowded spaces). We reached Landour at sunset and the view was breathtaking. The setting sun seemed to be enveloping the winter sky in a calm caress, making it blush in hues of pink. As night fell, we checked into a homestay. It was supposed to be a one-day trip and the plan was to go to Mr Bond’s residence the next day, meet him and leave for Delhi the same day because I had a school test.
My nerves were live wires that night. Waves of exhilaration coursed through my body and I could barely sleep. What would I say to my idol whose books have spoken to me, words of magic and hope all my life? Lulled by dreams of meeting my hero, I fell asleep.
We woke up the next morning and had a hearty breakfast of soup and dumplings at a cafe. We asked for directions to Mr Bond’s residence at local shops and navigated our way with the help of a map.
Finally, we reached his residence. I climbed the steps and rang the doorbell. The door was opened by a middle-aged man. I had read enough of Mr. Bond’s writings to know that it was his son, Rakesh.
“Hello, I am here to meet Mr. Bond. I am a big fan of his and it’s always been a dream of mine to meet him and today is my birthday. Could I please, please meet him?” My words came tumbling out, all in one breath.
“See, we don’t allow visitors to meet him these days. He is getting old and with the pandemic and the virus, it’s a risk to his health.”
“I understand. I won’t go near him, I promise. If I could just see him, please?”
The sincerity on my face must have appealed to him. He paused for a bit and said,
“He has gone to Dehra today for a book launch. Can you come back tomorrow at 11?”
“But, I have a test tomorrow, so I can’t stay back! I will fail! And I really want to meet Mr. Bond.” My voice was shrill with panic.
“Well, he is not here,” Rakesh said with finality and closed the door.
I sat on the steps, crestfallen. Mihir looked at my sad face and after a long pause, as if struck by sudden inspiration, said,
“Let’s go to Dehra!”
I blinked at him incredulously. He tugged at my hand and off we drove at blinding speed, crossing bend after bend, towards Dehra. We reached the event just as Mr. Bond was leaving. After an hour of pleading, arguing, and negotiating with the event manager, we managed to convince him to let us meet Mr. Bond. The odds of meeting him were less, but we clung to hope. An hour passed, then two, as Mihir and I sat in a corner.
And then, he appeared! The man who gave the world Rusty and transformed generations of children into readers by telling them all about the adventures of Binya.
“Hello”. His kind eyes twinkled at me, his hands clasped behind his back, patiently waiting for my stream of tears to ebb.
“It is so nice to meet you,” I stammered and choked through my sobs and at that moment, it felt like a thousand splendid suns were beaming at me through the snow-capped mountains of Dehra.
In a daze, I handed him my note and a copy of The Night Train to Deoli; he signed it. My hands shook as he handed it back to me.
“God bless you”, he said, his grandfatherly demeanor enveloping me in a warm, wordless embrace, as he was ushered away from us by his manager.
I stood there, smiling from ear to ear, and when my heart felt full, I let my feet lead me toward home.