Thursday, June 7, 2007

An Unsual Journey

My tribute to one of the greatest writers of india. Mr ruskin bond, a heartfelt gratitude for all the wonderful stories you have written and making me understand the importance of little things in life.

I had the compartment to myself up to Solan, or I thought. Then a girl got in. The couple who saw her off were probably her parents. They seemed very anxious about her comfort, and the women gave the girl a detailed instruction as to where to keep her things, when not to lean out of window, et cetra et cetra.

I was little oblivious of the people around me. She got up to adjust her luggage, in the overhead luggage shelf. She was standing very close to me, so close that the perfume from her hair was tantalizing. I wanted to raise my hand and touch her hair but she moved away, only the scent of her perfume lingered where she had stood. It would take me some time to discover something about her looks, but I liked her voice. They called goodbyes and the train pulled out of the station.

‘Are you going to shimla?’ I asked

It was a pleasant morning but the girl had a shawl thrown across her shoulder. Her feet were in a pair of ordinary sandals and she was wearing a purple coloured Salwar-kamize. But she was young and graceful.

‘Yes, my aunt is meeting me there.’ the girl said.

She had peach-blossom complexion, set off by shiny black hair and dark eloquent eyes, typical of hill people.

‘Where are you going?’ she asked

‘To Solan, and then to Kasauli.’

‘But you could have gone by road.’

‘Yes, but this is the best time.’ I said recalling my memories. ‘The hills are covered with wild dahlias, the sun is delicious so a trip by train is much preferred.’

She was silent I wondered if my words had touched her, or whether she thought me as a romantic fool, or just another weird guy. She looked out of the window for sometime and neither of us said anything.

‘Quite a misty morning, isn’t it?’
‘Oh! Perfectly misty’ I said making a pretence of observing the landscape.

I turned from the window and faced the girl, and for a while we sat in silence.

‘ You have an interesting face.’ I remarked

I was becoming quite daring, I thought. But it was a safe remark, few girls can resist flattery.

She laughed pleasantly – a clear ringing laugh.

‘It’s nice to be told that I have a interesting face. I’m tired of people telling me I have a pretty face.’

Oh, but you do have a pretty face I thought: and aloud I said

‘Well, an interesting face can also be pretty.’

She looked wonderingly into my eyes, as though searching for something. I don’t know if she found what she was looking for, but she smiled.

‘Thank you’ she said. After a moment or so

‘But why are you so serious?’ she asked

I thought then, I would try to laugh for her. But the thought of laughing made me feel troubled and lonely. So I just smiled faintly.

‘We’ll be soon at your station’ she said

‘Oh, yes we will indeed’ I said glancing at my watch

‘Thank god, that it’s a small journey’ I said ‘I can’t possibly think of sitting down for more than 3-4 hours’

And yet I was prepared to sit there for almost any length of time. Just to listen her talk. Her voice had the sparkle of the mountain stream. As soon as I leave the train, I thought, she would forget our brief encounter; But It would stay with me for the rest of the journey, and a little more after.
The engine’s whistle shrieked, the carriage wheels changed their sound and rhythm. I got up and began to collect my things. The train drew slowly into the station. Outside there was the shouting of porters and vendors.

‘Goodbye’ said the girl

‘Bye’ I grinned ‘have a pleasant journey’

‘Yes, thank you’ said the girl

The guard blew the whistle and the train moved off. We watched each other till the signal box came in the way, and then the train took a turn.

I stood there for some time. There were so many things happening on the platform, and yet I could not rid my mind of the picture of the girls face and her dark, smouldering eyes. It was then that it dawned to me that, our relationship was rather unusual. It was like two logs meeting in a river and then parting only to meet never.

And the words of Ralph Hodgson came out of my mouth:

‘Time, you old gipsy man,
Will you not stay?
Put up your caravan,
Just for one day.’

Friday, June 1, 2007

A Book And A Cup Of Tea

Pick right...

Imagine, if you will, a rainy afternoon, a book you have been saving up for special occasions and a mug of fresh brewed tea. Imagine the feelings that course through you as you brew your tea and anticipate the pleasure of shutting yourself off from the world for an afternoon. A retreat into your own private world, a drawing shut of the curtains between you and everyday, hectic, busy life. Can you imagine a pleasure greater than this for a book lover? I cannot. The sweet aroma of tea curling around while you weave a web of fiction around yourself. The gentle joy that words give you as you sip on your Earl Grey or Darjeeling. It can be the ultimate sensory experience. A book for your eyes and brain and imagination. A cup of tea for your stomach. Tea for the body and a book for the soul.

Clear your schedule so you have a small space for pleasure in your otherwise humdrum day, pick your favourite author, better still, pick two or three. Brew your tea. Settle down in your favourite spot. It could be a window seat, your bed, the floor of your mother's kitchen. I'd suggest the loo, but it's not hygienic to take your tea there. Wrap your self in a world created specially for you by the book you choose. That is the way to instant heaven.

Picking the book is important. If humour is your thing, you can go down an imaginary river with Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men In A Boat. P. G. Wodehouse is not a bad choice either. An afternoon spent at Blandings Castle or in London society guided by that unique Wodehouse creation, Jeeves, is an afternoon well spent. One could also turn to the epic book The Lord Of The Rings for an afternoon of action swathed in fantasy spent in a world never seen anywhere but in J. R. R. Tolkein's mind. If you have a hankering for murder and mystery, if you want to catch up with the much moustachioed Hercule Poirot or the fluffy Miss Marple then turn to your collection of Agatha Christies. Maybe you like your stories with a twist? Then Roald Dahl would be just what the doctor ordered. Arundhati Roy, Salman Rushdie, Khalil Gibran, Sidney Sheldon, Jeffery Archer, Erle Stanley Gardner and John Grisham are all good authors for an afternoon meant for fiction. It all depends on what you like to read. Pick a book. Any book. But make sure your book suits you. The worst thing that can happen is finding out that you are in the mood for science fiction when you have settled down with a detective novel.

The tea is just as important. Tea comes in more varieties than you'd expect. There's black tea, green tea, oolong tea and the very rare white tea. You could even pamper yourself with an herbal tea like chamomile or peppermint. Take your tea with or without milk. It's entirely up to you. Just make sure that your tea is the way you like it. Take it with biscuits or take it with cake. Take it with anything you like. Whatever you do, this is your afternoon and it should suit you. Forget about everyone else. And please yourself this afternoon. You could even make your self a cup of coffee or soup. But for the best results, tea cannot be beaten.

Then we come to the all-important question of where to hide away for the afternoon. A window seat is a lovely place to read. You can take a couple of cushions along for the ride. And then there is the added advantage of natural light. Whenever you get bored with your book (shame on you if you do), you can come back to reality and watch the world go by your window. It can be quite a surprise to find that while you were away with your book, the sun may have set and the afternoon is no more. If you do not have a window seat of your own or if someone else has already booked the only available window seat, then the best course is to retreat to your bed. Everyone has one. Curl up with your books and pillows and your cups of tea. It can be one of the most satisfying experiences in the world. You can last the day through with all these adjuncts to a delightful experience. If you have a room to your self, you are really lucky. You can go the entire day without being disturbed by anyone.

Rain is always a welcome addition to this afternoon. The sound of gently falling rain is one of the most soothing things in the world. If it is pouring cats and dogs, all the better. You are safe and dry at home while the rest of the world is scurrying around in the rain. It does not have to rain. It could be a bright, sunshine day. It could be any kind of weather. If you are one of those lucky people who do not have to work for a living, spare a thought for all those fellow human beings who are out there working to support the economy while you are wrapped in your book. If you do have to work, then thank your lucky stars that you have an afternoon off to spend with a book. Even if you do have to work, escape for a day... You will never regret it.

So go ahead and find heaven. It's only a book and a cup of tea away.

Ps- Warm thanks to lady C.