Just then, a car drives up to the store. The eighty-something author carefully climbs out, supported by the owner of Cambridge, but walks with ease across the road, calling out a “Hello” to all of us who’re staring at him, speechless. A few confident people manage to blurt out their own Hellos. A boy of ten standing in front of me bounces excitedly in place until he’s asked to step forward, holding his first Ruskin Bond book, The Room on the Roof.
Second in line, I realize I have no idea what to say or do as I walk up and greet him. He smiles up at me from his desk, and asks my name and where I’m from, and suddenly we’re talking about his recent trip to the Kolkata Literary Festival and how much he liked it there. “They pamper me a lot”, he says with a diffident smile, and my awkwardness melts away. I can’t fathom why I was nervous in the first place.
He signs all seven books and poses for pictures and looks pleased when I offer him the tiny gift that I have brought him. “A bookmark! Wonderful, thank you.” I walk out of the bookstore with the silliest grin on my face, walking for nearly fifty metres without noticing a thing. Then I stop and take out each of the books from the packet, tracing a finger over his signature. “Stay Well and Happy”, he’s written underneath my name. And I suddenly have a feeling that I shall.
I walk back towards the bookstore for another glimpse and nearly collide with a lady of around forty whose expression mirrors mine. “Exciting, isn’t it?”, she blurts out, and I say, “Yes” with fervour. She is a professor from the plains. It turns out that we’ve both been reading Bond’s work for most of our lives.
“It’s my birthday and I knew this is what I wanted to do.”
I nod. “It was my birthday last week. This is my gift to myself as well. “
Her eyes crinkle into a smile as she bids goodbye. I continue walking, my head wrapped up in thoughts of how this one man, writing about simple things in a straightforward fashion has, for decades, spun stories that cut across thresholds of age and experience. That lady who was born in an era when handwritten letters were the norm, that little boy who might never know what it’s like to receive one, and I, caught between frantically ringing notifications and consecutive days of checking the letterbox- we all dream of a place of our own just like Rusty. When someone asks me what kind of book I want to write, this is the answer. I want to write a book I can come back to at any juncture in life, and still find something to love in it.