It all began the day our Clock Tower went missing.
‘Landour is changing so fast!’ Residents and visitors here complain.
Much is changing, perhaps a bit too fast. Yesteryear’s ugly multi-tiered parking-lot has thrown up a vegetable shack; down below, a welder plies his lonesome trade above the musty guest house on the ground floor.
‘Just too much money floating here!’ complains Misraji, a friend of old, as he points to our stationary shop: ‘Look! He’s selling suitcases now!’
Times, indeed, are a changing!
Amid the changes, mercifully, just one thing remains the same. And that’s my friend of more than fifty years, (and no prizes for those of you who have guessed already!) author Ruskin Bond. In his eighties now, he is still writing, fast and furiously. If you can’t find him at home on a Saturday afternoon, it’s not because he’s run away from home but gone to the bookshop instead for a tryst with his faithful fans.
Writing this piece brings me back to a cold morning. It was the phone call which caused the trouble. It usually is a phone call. This too from a pesky specialist in: ‘Breaking News!’
‘Hi Ganesh! How’s Bond?’ he asks.
‘He’s doing very well. Thank you! We were together last evening!’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Of course! Call him!’
‘I did. His phone line is down,’ he explains, adding: ‘Please do me a favour, could you please confirm?’
‘I shall,’ I mumble, having no intention of haring up the hump of hill to satisfy idle curiosity.
I put the phone down. It rings again. The local magistrate’s is on the line: ‘Saili Sir! Sorry but what news of Mr. Ruskin Bond?’
‘News? What news? He’s at home probably having his early cuppa chai. It’s allowed. Isn’t it?’ I snap.
A few more calls set the butterflies aflutter in my tummy. Obviously, rumours were flying fast and thick. By now in a twist, I dash up to his cottage, arriving out-of-breath at the top, to find a police jeep parked with lights flashing.
What’s happened? I wonder.
Going up those twenty-two steps, at a lick, two at a time, gasping, I manage to catch up with the Station House Officer of Police. The door opens. There stands Bond in his crumpled pajamas, more bemused than surprised to see us.
‘Kya ho raha hai sa’ab?’ asks the SHO.
‘Captaan Sa’ab from Dehradun called to personally check if all is well with you.’ He shuffles, taken aback by the author’s calm demeanor. He stutters and contritely hurries back to the jeep. I mumble: ‘out–for-a-walk-early-morning-walk’, and slip away. By now the local media, our patrakar bandhu, have melted away, perhaps a trifle dejected at having missed the day’s ‘Breaking News’.
Our escape leaves behind a very bemused author.
Later, only much later in the day, does one find out that an old Doon School teacher had passed away last night. It turns out that the old boys, had nicknamed him ‘Bond’ (as in ‘James Bond’) because of this habit of spying on them by hiding behind doorways, poaching on them, hoping fervently that they’d break some school rule.
Thus all it took was one ex-Dosco ringing to say: ‘Bond is dead!’
And the gossip mills had begun to grind.
Ruskin has had this happen to him on earlier occasions too. It ceases to distress him. On the contrary, he finds it very funny.
‘Ah! It was just a dress rehearsal,’ he says later, almost philosophically: ‘At least one knows what’ll happen when the curtain call finally comes!’