Typing Test


It is only when the car begins its rapid ascent to the hill town of Mussoorie that I consider the purpose of my trip. Our dusty wagon is making its way up with a certain sense of doggedness. Here goes Dehradun, the newly established capital of Uttarakhand. Here starts the majestic Shivalik range. And here, we pass a sign offering discounted trips to see the famed Himalayan snow leopard. But I am in pursuit of a creature much more elusive than the big cat - the children’s writer native to this region, Ruskin Bond. Like countless Indians, I grew up reading him. It is only when I enter his terrain that he reveals himself anew; coyer, shiftier and a great deal harder to catch than any endangered speciesMy hunt threatens to begin on an embarrassing note. The pickings are slim. Sightings of the great writer are few and far between. Opinion is divided on where he was last seen. Still, I am welcome to try. Between the noisy tourists from New Delhi and the demanding wedding party that has just entered town, my hunt offers a spot of good cheer to the locals.My itinerary is set. I am to begin at dawn. Rumour has it that Mr. Bond frequents the grassy knolls of Lal Tibba. Perhaps I can surprise the master while he hangs upside-down after a good session of yoga. I must approach carefully and soundlessly. Any untoward noise is likely to send the target scrambling back to the warm safety of his cottage. My tip-toeings prove unsuccessful. Mr. Bond is nowhere to be seen."Madam", begins the portly hotel concierge, "Why don’t you try the Cambridge book depot?" He signs books there, I’m told. Good idea! It is imperative that I catch him in his natural habitat. I must not go unprepared this time. On comes the gear, the camera, the first edition copy of A Flight of Pigeons. If he flees my trap without warning, I can always catch a hint of his silhouette with a well-timed selfie Alas and alack! The great Ruskin does not make his customary appearance. At this rate, I’d rather take up the offer of going into big-cat territory. Something tells me that snow leopards are less likely to reject my pleas for an autograph. Or have I been speaking to the wrong people this entire time? Perhaps I should settle down and send a silent prayer to the characters from Mr. Bond’s books. In time, the slightly dishevelled ghost of Pahari Wilson makes an appearance. He is notorious around these parts for abandoning the British army and choosing to go native, à la Kurtz. I cannot hide my disappointment. I would have preferred a more sober ghost, not this unreliable showman. "Hic", says Wilson, "The old boy is known to frequent the writer’s bar for a peg of hot whisky... Wouldn’t mind one meself". Truly dejected now, I give up on finding Mr. Bond and start for the bar. Plus, who doesn’t like a glass of hot whisky? The hills called me and I returned their call. The hunt remains unfinished; I will not have my requisite trophy for Instagram. What I will have instead is a meal at The Savoy duly catalogued by hashtags. "Don’t you see what is around you?" says a gentle voice by my elbow. It is the apparition of my dreams and the erstwhile lady of these hills, Gulabi. Through her eyes, I look and I see Ruskin’s Mussoorie. On my left, I see the present. I see enthusiastic pilgrims on their way to the Shiva temple. On my right, I see the past. The last few soldiers from the British cantonment are packing up, leaving their home on the eve of India’s independence. Joining them both is the invisible ink that illuminates Ruskin’s world. "You only had to look at the trees," whispers Gulabi, laughing at me. She’s right. The trees he planted still grow here. They hold secrets that are more than a 100 years old.