The sun peeped in through the voile curtains, drawing a thin line across the bed. The boy tossed around and then pulled a blanket to cover his face. But the sun continued to coax him before he sat up in his bed and looked at his sister sleeping next to him, still oblivious of the morning. The boy continued to stare at her thoughtlessly, when suddenly, as if gripped by anxiety and exuberance all at once, he sprang out of bed and rushed to his parents’ room. He wasn’t very tall, in fact a little short for his age. He had a round face and lanky legs. As he sprinted to his parents’ room,he paused just for a moment to look at his grandmother strolling in the verandah but hurried off the very next minute.
He barged into the room and jumped on to the bed. The mother, a woman in her late thirties was only as tall as the boy. She too had a round face and short hair. Thin of frame, it was evident the boy had taken after her. She was busy fidgeting with her vanity case when the boy arrived.
‘Weren’t we supposed to leave for the writer’s home this morning?’ he asked.
‘Good morning! Well, the day has just begun,’ said the mother sternly. ‘And anyway, I’m not sure if we should be going. The fellow at the book store said the writer doesn’t keep too well and avoids meeting people and the cab driver confirmed this as well. Besides, we will have to climb up the hill, almost two kilometres and we don’t even know…’
‘Don’t say that! You promised before we started off for this place. That is the only reason I came. I might as well have stayed back in Doon and played with my friends.’ The thirteen-year-old sounded rather belligerent.
The family was out for a short vacation in the hill town of Mussorie. The boy, who was neck-deep into reading had agreed to accompany them for the sole reason that he would get to meet his favourite author, who happened to live in the hill station. His sister, all of eight, had also read a few books by the writer and was happy at the prospect of meeting him. She had, as a preparation for the meeting, bought two more of his books and planned to get them all autographed by him. The mother had hoped she would be able to fulfil their wish but it wasn’t on her priority list. She had only been desirous of running away from the cooking spells back home and thus had planned the weekend getaway. But the children had taken her proposal to visit the writer very seriously.
Just when their conversation seemed to be heading nowhere, the father walked in with the grandmother, an old lady in her seventies. She tied her grey hair in a bun and wore a pristine white saree. Her face was wrinkled but wore a charming glow.
‘Don’t ask me to drive you all the way up to that writer’s house. It seems a steep climb and I don’t even know the ways here. Besides, India is playing for a slot in the finals today,’ announced the father, a well-built, good-looking man, much taller than the mother.
The grandmother looked around at the three of them, trying to make sense of what was happening. The boy knew well that only she could turn out to be his saviour. And so, without wasting a minute, he ensured to look despondent and full of sulks. The old woman picked up her Do Shalla and wrapping it around her shoulders asked, ‘What’s the story?’
And the boy immediately began his long tirade of the atrocities that had been hurled upon him. A grandmother’s love is no mountain that cannot be moved. Soon enough the parents were convinced that if children return from a vacation all unhappy and aggrieved, it might just as well be the most ill-planned holiday of the season. So, a cab driver who was well aware of the destination was summoned and the ride fixed for an amount of five hundred rupees. The mother was to accompany the children while the father and grandmother would join them later in the bazaar after the first inning of an all-important match would be over.
The boy readied a small back pack with two of his favourite books by the author, three umbrellas and a bottle of water. The sister, a sweet looking girl with brown eyes and light black hair held together with a hair-clip, added two books of her own to the bag. She had a pleasant demeanour and was always found smiling.
So, at four in the evening, a mother and her two children, in good mirth, set off to meet an old, popular writer.
The route wasn’t an easy one but the cab driver was well experienced. The mother struck a conversation with him, asking him about the place and the bazaar. As the car went uphill, the road narrowed further. Lined with shops and houses on both sides the almost perpendicular road was rather scary. At places there wasn’t enough place for two cars to pass but the driver dexterously managed to drive through. While the mother had her heart in her mouth all the way up, the boy couldn’t stop narrating tales of people who had met the writer and whose accounts he had read online. He was well aware of the different ways in which the author greeted those who knocked at his door, and he kept asking his mother all the things he should say when he would see the man in person. The sister listened in all excitement and added her own notes.
The mother, more experienced and ripened, cautioned the two of an alternate probability, but they just brushed it aside, telling her not to be a pessimist. Finally, the car stopped outside a beautifully painted hotel. Two boys of about twelve years of age smiled and greeted the woman who looked at them from her window seat. They wore loose pajamas and cotton shirts. The driver fidgeted with his mobile, trying to get the exact address from his colleague. In the meantime, the woman took it upon herself to find out from the boys outside, while her son shouted, pointing to a house in a corner, ‘It’s that one! I had googled the picture.’
Well, he was right. The boys pointed to the same building.
‘Walk up the long flight of stairs to a well barricaded iron gate. His name is right outside the door.’
The trio climbed up the stairs. The children felt nervous. The mother had decided to stay back on the last stair and let the children do all the knocking. She wasn’t hesitant but thought that young children stood a better chance with celebrity writers. Anyway, she wasn’t even sure if landing unannounced at his doorstep was the best thing to do. The boy was apprehensive. He wanted his mother to come along but she insisted. That is when the sister took it upon herself to do the needful.
They rang the bell and waited. They could hear noises from inside, the chattering of two or three people. It was a huge door with mullions lining the glass half-way up to the top. You could see nothing of the inside through the glass but probably you were well in view of the people who looked from the inside out. There was also a sturdy green gate that covered the door, iron bars all across like in a prison maybe . The girl wondered if all the security was for the inmates or those who tried to break in! A few plants fringed the stairs and the writer’s name hung proudly on the wall adjoining the door, along with two others.
The first bell was wasted and then the boy rang it a second time. Another minute passed by and there was no response. Then the mother pointed to the door knocker, asking the children to try that. The boy knocked loudly, with his bag hung on his shoulders, the books waiting to be autographed while the sister looked on. Just then, they heard someone walk up to the door. There was quick movement of unlocking from inside and a middle-aged lady in trousers and a green floral shirt peeped out, opening the door a little more than just one-third. She didn’t even consider opening the gate.
‘Hello, ma’am! We are here to meet sir…’ the boy had barely uttered a few words.
‘Sorry, he is away to Dehradun for work.’ And the door closed with a thud. It happened so fast that there wasn’t scope for a second knocking. The boy gawked at the shut door and his sister turned to the mother, her eyes a pool of water.
The mother took a step forward. ‘Let me try…’
‘No,’ shouted the boy. ‘We are going home right now.’
‘I wish we could ask where in Doon,’ the mother tried to kindle hope. ‘Maybe we can… anyway, let me take your picture here. At least we will remember we visited the house.’
The children smiled unwillingly for the picture. The mother took two hurried shots because the boy seemed to be getting restless. As they went back to the car, one of the boys in the pajama called out, ‘He wasn’t there? Maybe you should have come yesterday. I saw him.’ He sounded very conceited to the thirteen-year-old. The mother smiled and said thank you to the boys.
On their way back, the mother shared with the children how she always had her apprehensions about meeting the author with all the news about his ill health and how he might be irked with so many visitors who come to meet him.
The boy wasn’t too pleased, ‘Maybe you should have shared your concerns with us before and we could have been saved all the trouble.’
The mother smiled to herself trying to recollect the conversation they had had that morning. The rest of the ride was spent in discussing whether there was truth in whatever they were told by the woman at the writer’s home. While the little girl was sort of convinced that they hadn’t been lied to, the boy thought otherwise. He was grown up and understood the clever ways of the world, or so he thought.
The conversation ended only when they reached the bazaar where the father and the grandmother in her Do Shalla were waiting for them outside a chaat shop. Chaat was just the right way to lift spirits and so they all sat down to have their fill. The father was very upset about India’s performance in the match until then and was constantly busy checking scores on his mobile.
The market was full of people, mostly tourists. But almost everyone was glued to the cricket match. If not on their mobile phones, then in the shops that played sports channels on Smart TVs. The father and the children soon found a spot to watch the rest of the match, while the grandmother and the mother went shopping. Passers-by asked each other scores and unknown people discussed the proceedings of the match. Somebody approached mother as she admired a fir-coat in a shop, to ask if she had any idea about who was playing at the crease. Just as she was about to nod her head, the shop-keeper chipped in, ‘Don’t worry. India will win, hands down.’
Well, India didn’t win. It was all gloomy thereafter. Of course, discourses on the match didn’t stop. Father was annoyed, irritated and vexed, all together. The son bombarded him with questions and that irked him more.
As the family sat down for dinner, the little girl said, ‘What a sad day. We lost the match.’
‘And you couldn’t even meet the writer,’ added the grandmother.
‘That’s okay,’ said the boy. ‘At least we got to visit his house. But we lost the match, that is really sad.’
The mother smiled to herself. ‘How the most inconsequentially upsetting moments slip into the background on another day,’ she thought. ‘That’s life!’