People get married for myriad reasons: some for a financial and social safety net, others because it is the right time, still others because it is the right person. And then there is that one soul who got married because she met Ruskin Bond: me.
As a 9-year-old growing up in 1980s Bombay, I lived a few thousand miles and several worlds away from a quiet Anglo-Indian writer’s Himalayan universe. And yet, once I boarded his Night Train to Deoli, there was no getting off. Ruskin Bond created spaces I wanted to inhabit, places I missed despite never knowing them, people I felt safe with. Would these characters have had anything to say to a missionary-schooled Parsi kid with elocution-trained inflections and appalling Marathi? I doubt it. But I wanted in. In my fertile head, we were all going to be fast friends as we walked miles down pine-forested paths (never mind that I couldn’t make it ‘round my school compound without puffing).
But the allure of this Bond of all Bonds never passed. His words kept me snug and content on Fall nights in upstate New York, where, after working my day job and an inhaling an early supper, I’d shut out America and curl up with Binya, Sunil, and Miss Bun.
There were other literary escapes, for sure. Blyton’s world, and later, James Herriot’s landscape. Opu’s Bengal and Kipling’s jungles. But the allure of this Bond of all Bonds never passed. His words kept me snug and content on Fall nights in upstate New York, where, after working my day job and an inhaling an early supper, I’d shut out America and curl up with Binya, Sunil, and Miss Bun. The simplicity of their lives was what I craved in a post-9/11 America of instability and worry. Landour and Dehradun and Shahpur were my hangouts of choice, as I stood in line at self-checkouts in a country whose quiet sounded vastly different.
Back in India, Bombay, now rechristened and hurtling away from its past, was a black hole of family, friends and Things To Do. Until, on a day like any other, someone stepped in and my train track shifted, sliding smoothly in a brand new direction. A conversation with this person (and there were many, we are still at it 9 ½ years later) led to a Bond reference, because, you know, BOND. And there we were, a few months later, on his little front porch in stunning Landour, watching him smile at us over a watering can.
“Are you the lady from Pune?”
Stop it, Dilnavaz, you will not cry.
“No,” (voice quivering, knees buckling) “I’m Dilnavaz. From Bombay? We brought you some guava jam.”
Right. Because he wants your jam, of all things.
This is the part where, if I watched desi telly serials, bells would crash and dramatic music reverberate as my third eye flowered and my supposedly-auspicious right foot arced over the threshold. But we are in Mr. Bond’s parlor. And it is peaceful and lined with books and plants. I tell him what brings us here, choking back a sob and fervently hoping he doesn’t think I’m a stalker. It is August 15, 2008, and the only time I’ve felt more elated was when I birthed a human being six years later (and Ruskin was a serious contender for his middle name). Stories about his Parsi dentist follow, once he learns of my ancestry. I sit ramrod straight, soaking it all up, trying to look like I do this all the time, casually hanging out in the home of my literary deity. Forty beautiful minutes, a glimpse of his writing room, and a couple pictures and autographs later, he turns to us and sweetly inquires, “Honeymoon?”
There we were, a few months later, on his little front porch in stunning Landour, watching him smile at us over a watering can.
“No,” we shake our heads in unison, but Mr. Bond, if you ever read this, please know there was a honeymoon, two years later. In large part because the man of my dreams met the man of my dreams. And now the story continues in gorgeous California, where I amble through redwood forests, pretending Mussoorie is just a few miles ahead, and I’ll stop by the peanut vendor at the clock tower and do a spot of shopping at the Dilaram Bazaar before I hop into my shiny SUV and reenter my everyday existence.
Dilnavaz Bamboat was a bonafide Bombay girl and shoe lover, before she swapped it all for motherhood and dragonfly-counting in Silicon Valley. She still occasionally dreams of a quieter life in the Himalayan foothills.