Of Hill Stations And Chai

“Ramya , wake up”  she said, “you have to come outside quickly. And then she walked back to the door as I opened my eyes at what looked like a very odd hour. I pushed my blanket away and a breeze of cold air came out of nowhere as I walked to the door. We had vacationed a lot before too but the scene I saw that morning was inexplicable! It was as though everything was meant to be, that we were there and I was standing in the balcony of the wooden cottage, looking straight at the hills of the Kumaon region of Panchachuli and a hint of the sun slowly peeping out. A tall young man in a black and white uniform came upstairs, walked to us and put down a tray on the little table. “When did you order tea?” I asked as my mom started pouring hot chai into two cups. I couldn’t stop looking at the hills. The foggy beautiful sunrise that I always read about in books and imagined it right through my mind’s eye that I could really trust what was being said there. It felt perfect with the chai in my hand and mom beside me. I was 16 years old and I didn’t want anything else in life. I felt present for the first time. Or probably knew it for the first time.

A quiet boy, among all my class mates had also brought a book on the day of the ‘favorite book exchange’ in school. A bunch of 8th graders in the 2000’s, one might think but we were no ordinary batch. On that sunny chilly day in October, just before the school was closing for Dussera holidays, everyone in the library was waiting to get their hands on a new book they hadn’t read before. As I sat there, all I wished was I wasn’t handed a Harry Potter book. I mean no offense, but by then I hadn’t read any of the books in Harry Potter series. And that might sound extremely strange…. OR MAYBE NOT. 

It was all quiet and calm as everyone had kept their books on the bench near the Newspaper shelf and sat down. We were all supposed to go one by one and pick a random book from the pile. One of my class mates whispered rather loudly walking back with a book “Ah, Dan Brown!” excited. 

At my turn, I walked there and picked up a book from the pile that had pink water colored print on the side and the title read “Rusty Runs Away” by Ruskin Bond. I looked at the book cover walking back to my seat. It had water colored picture of a boy, wearing a plaid Shirt, sitting on grass looking at the sea.

This incident wasn’t something I’d remember had the book been mediocre, or if it’d been one more Enid Blyton book or to my despair, a Harry Potter book. No offense, again. Because I eventually came around to reading Harry Potter and loved it too! It just wasn’t time for Harry Potter yet.

But it worked out fine for me. Because it was “Rusty Runs Away” and it was just the book I needed to read that October on every afternoon of my holidays until I finished the last page. Every time I opened the book, I remember going a few pages back and reading it again before going further. It was the first time I had imagined hill stations of India. I had been to hill stations before but this was different. It wasn’t like picturing wild moors, or hills of unending grasslands, or picnic baskets. I pictured the old streets of Delhi, the bazaars, the train stations and even found myself feeling like an adolescent boy experiencing it all.  It was note worthily original and spoke to me in ways no book or novel ever before could.

Sitting there amidst the hills, with mom beside me, sipping away hot chai, at 5 something early in the morning,2 years after I read that book, I felt like some of the scenes were coming to life. It all made sense in that moment. Mom was right. Books really are best friends. They show you your true power, they know where to stop, where to go all in and where to let you observe in silence and learn from a moment. This was one of those moments where all these three lessons came together for me. Kausani is special to me. Over the years, I grew scared of long drives, I travelled to different countries in the world, and I met interesting people on train journeys, and every time something reminded me of the words in that book, I was transported back to Kausani, into that wooden rocking chair that squeaked a bit, that foggy morning when the sun rose from behind the hills as we looked from that little cottage resort with chai warming our hands.

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