“Happiness is as exclusive as a butterfly, and you must never pursue it. If you stay very still, it may come and settle on your hand. But only briefly. Savour those moments, for they will not come in your way very often.”
And like that elusive butterfly settling on a still, welcoming hand, the 23rd of April arrived in Landour (Mussoorie) with the gentle softness of the breeze. A day—truly a long, still, wonderous moment—we would savour and carry back with us, like a balm for the harsh heat of Delhi.
The end of a long walk, to and from Char Dukan, found the six of us, the designated Harper team, walking over to the quaint house sitting next to the vibrant Doma’s Inn – to meet Mr Ruskin Bond, at his home, Ivy Cottage.
On the occasion of World Book Day—a concept Mr Bond found exceedingly amusing yet heartening—we were going ‘live’ with the legend himself. (You can watch the live here!) What that meant for the world was that Ruskin Bond was going to be talking directly to his readers, answering their questions, giving them writing tips and reading suggestions. For the six of us who had the good fortune to be there in person, in his house overlooking the foggy mountains, it meant a close-up, face-to-face tête-à-tête with the man who has informed much of our childhood and adolescence.
Amongst Ruskin’s personal collection of books—and what a collection that was!—we found ourselves discussing his favourite books and his least favourite ones; surprised and reassured all at once that even this silver-tongued master of words sometimes does not see a book through to the end! He was as amused at our reverence for his wisdom, as we were at his vehement endorsement of sleep as the key to a successful life. And as he spoke about his love for books and stories and the hills, you could see a hint of carefree glee in his eyes – still so very young underneath the rugged layers of time. It’s an extraordinary thing for those of us in the city, young yet tired and bogged down by life so very often. And if you asked Ruskin, he would tell you,
‘If you live close to nature, to flowers, trees, birds and mountain streams, you will remain young.’
At one point, Ruskin launched into an animated discussion with our senior digital marketing manager, Subhashree – the two of them were exchanging notes, talking favourite reads growing up, the genres they enjoyed and still do. This invigorating talk ended with Ruskin holding up a book he had only recently finished reading. Before one could diligently make a note of the title and the author name – as one would, if the Bond personally recommends a book – Ruskin was handing the book over to her. ‘Take it; it’s quite an interesting read.’
Over lunch at the Tavern, Ruskin told us stories – formed, unformed, already written, yet to be written. He listened to our stories and accounts of childhood, giving the darker ones a light-hearted spin. Watching him weave stories from anecdotes, breathing life into characters and turning skeletal description into plot, you get a glimpse of the magic of Ruskin’s writing, which only truly comes alive in the hills. An account of a man who leaned on an elephant leg thinking it was a tree trunk, in the master’s hands turns into a hilarious story about a drunken man holding on for dear life, to the tail of an elephant gone wild!
The day was tapering to an end as we made our way to the Cambridge Book Store, for the launch of Koki’s Song – a book about friendship and childhood and the lyrical beauty of the hills – and an evening of book signings and fans gushing over old favourites and new releases. But even though we had obtrusively eaten into his many siestas, Ruskin sat at the desk with the patience and kindness of a monk, signing books and postcards, talking to fans, catching up with the regulars. The crowd grew exponentially, with the chairman of the town officially launching the new book, and news reporters flooding the bookstore. Eventually, the day came to a close with the readers returning with bagsful of books, signatures, personal messages and memories, and reporters haggling for just a few bytes more.
On our way back to his place, Mr Bond regaled us with interesting facts from the hills – how cicadas make their symphony by rubbing their legs against each other; the rhododendrons that grow bright and big; how to spot the wild yellow roses hiding behind walls and trees; and that the orchids in the hills are ground orchids – and no, dear me, they are not poisonous!
In all my years working in the publishing industry, I have never met a more unassuming author or a warmer human being – something everyone who has ever met him will unequivocally attest to. As we bid him goodbye, wishing him a fulfilling albeit horribly delayed “morning nap,” extracting promises of more words and books from him, to keep the world a sane place, he smiled and asked us to let him know if we needed anything.
‘My steed is on stand-by, must you need me to come rescue you!’
Koki’s Song is out now on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2JQWNTA