Saturday, May 19, 2018



What happens when fantasy meets reality? Is there a sense of disappointment or déjà vu? Perhaps. Sometimes, though, reality itself can be romantic beyond expectations.

Finally, I was going to Mussoorie−the la-la land brought alive by Ruskin Bond’s books and writings. The naval-officer husband was deputed to do a joint civil-military training programme on national security at the prestigious Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration. I am not one to miss an opportunity to spend time in the hills; I must have been a mountain goat in some incarnation. In the back of my mind was a long-standing desire to meet my favourite author.

So here I was at the foothills of Himalayas with vistas of Shivalik mountains stretched before me. My day began well before sunrise−at 5 a.m.−with the song of the Blue Whistling Thrush. The plaintive entreaties of the Great Himalayan Barbet from atop majestic deodars and oaks made sure that I was outdoors. Walking aimlessly through woods, watching the shadow play on the hills and dales, days were energetic and languorous, at the same time.

Statue of Lal Bahadur Shastri at the Academy

Meanwhile, the Academy too proved to be a revelation. Away from the tourist gaze, the premises have come to be a protected area for birds−a veritable birding hotspot. While I hunted the training grounds for birds with my MarkII, I also interacted with the teaching and conservancy staff and participants of the course, informally. One of the directors - a young lady IPS officer - was a photography fiend herself; I was happy to find an accomplice. Thanks to her, I discovered a small shrine tucked away amid patches of purple iris on a hilltop.

Hilltop Shrine

The Academy lawns were the domain of the Blue Whistling Thrush, an otherwise bashful bird, which strutted like a king. It made a pretty picture with a bokeh of beds of pansies and phlox. The lush lawns with ‘art deco’ garden benches and heritage buildings were the haunt of the future bureaucrats, too, who were undergoing training. Young men in corporate-chic and women in their smart saree ensemble walked by the cobblestone paths or sat on the steps taking a break. While the Professors went about brisk business, the petite Yuhinas went about theirs amidst the climbers on the deodars. One of them perched on the nearby signage of Director’s office with utter nonchalance. The minivets and magpies streamed through trees and foliage, totally at home as its human denizens. 

As the husband went about his lectures 9 - 5, I roamed the remote corners and periphery of the campus avoiding eye-contact with the macaques and befriending the malis (gardeners). The gardens at the Academy reminded me of Ooty's Botanical Gardens so bursting were they with vibrant exotic flora. There were rows upon rows of salvia, geraniums, hydrangeas, carnations, begonias... you name it. The in-house plant nursery became my sanctuary just as it was for a flock of streaked laughing thrushes that flitted in and out of pots. 

Away from the exclusive environs of the Academy, in the town square, tourist activities carried on relentlessly. At the Mall, in the well-known Cambridge Bookshop, Ruskin Bond descends from the heights of Upper Landour for a date with fans, every Saturday. At the appointed hour, armed with a shy, bemused smile and a pen to sign books he braces himself to take on the hordes. It was just the godsend I was waiting for. What I did not bargain for was the queue outside the shop that stretched on or that the ‘date’ would be a mere darshan. Both me and the hubby did not feel up to the selfie, social media-driven moment. We let it pass assured in the thought that Bond too must feel compelled to oblige but not quite approve of the charade. The date with Bond, however brief, was not to be.

Later, as we interacted with the staff, we learnt that Bond had been a special invitee for a literature festival the Academy had organised in the recent past. The Professor who was instrumental in organising the event offered to put in a word that a “naval couple” was keen to meet him. Towards the fag end of the course, even as the valedictory function was concluding with the customary tea with Chief of Army Staff who was the Chief Guest, we got word that Bond had agreed to meet us. 


Pink Carnation

Meadow Daisies
Purple Iris


CONTINUED IN PART II where we finally meet him.

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