(written in April 2010)
That’s right, I ran into Mr Bond, he was this close, I kid you not – and I didn’t say a word to him.
I must be one of the very few people who went to Mussoorie, stayed there for twelve days and saw Mr Bond, and did not speak to him – not one single mono-syllabic word.
Before I got there, I was told that Mr Bond lives there, he walks every day at Lal Tibba, and that I must make it a point to meet him and say ‘hello’, and that he is used to having complete strangers dropping by at his house, without so much as a by-your-leave and telling him how they are big fans of his, how much they like his books, etc. etc. And I didn’t do this.
I feel I owe a word of explanation to my adoring fans. “Jayanta a shrinking violet!? Can’t be! Something must have been wrong. This is so unlike him. That great and good man cannot have given up such a great opportunity of meeting the greater and better man and express his appreciation of the latter in glowing terms, without some very good reason or reasons.”
Yes, there was a very good reason. I went back some thirty years – 1975 or so, if my memory serves me well. Some friends and I were brunching at Samovar, at the Jehangir Art Gallery, when who should come by but the great santoor maestro, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma. It had so happened that all of us had gone to his concert the previous night, and the strains of his beautiful were still ringing in our still unbathed ears.
So, when Panditji was passing by, I stood up, bowed and asked him whether he was Pandit Shivkumar Sharma. Very politely, Panditji acknowledged that my wild surmise was indeed true.
What followed was the longest three minutes or so in my long and fairly eventful life, filled with faux pas, words out of place, and social gaffes. Time stood still, my friends were frozen like the citizens in the village feast painted by Breughel (I think – I don’t know whether it was the elder or the younger, or the fellows in between, and it’s not germane to the story), Panditji was frozen as well, and the other patrons of the restaurant looked in like statues, waiting for the next momentous words to fall from my lips. They had to wait a long time, since my brain had been replaced by some cheap cauliflower substitute, in the immortal words of the late sainted P G Wodehouse.
This too did pass, and after a polite nod of his head, Panditji went on his way. And I was forever labelled as the Man who Met Pandit Sharma and Froze up after Six Words.
Since then, I have given up on the hobby of speaking to the famous.
And look at it from the point of view of Ruskin Bond. The poor fellow, he must be inundated by hundreds of thousands of people who land up at his doorstep with the line that they are huge fans of his, and how much they love his stories, how their lives have changed after reading him, how much they admired him, etc. etc. And he has to listen to all this stuff with a straight face, and make polite conversation, with becoming modesty, which I am sure comes to him naturally.
All the while, he is possibly thinking of all the things left undone – stories halfway completed, plots to be unweaved, characters to be fleshed out, and other matters of much greater moment than to have to listen to the mindless maunderings of a fan.
I couldn’t do it. I had visions of a repetition of my encounter with Panditji and I shrank from another lengthy three minutes in my life.
Next time I visit Mussoorie, I will go with a prepared speech and hopefully this time I shall gather the courage to disturb Mr Bond, with the fullest confidence in my abilities to hold his attention for at least ninety seconds without making an utter fool of myself.