One of the toughest things I had to do till date was to leave the first love of my life behind as I shifted base to an alien city in North India. It was challenging, and I missed ‘us’ all the time. Some days it was so bad that I would call up home and talk about nothing but our eternal love story, and how happy I was then, and how crappy I feel now. But I learnt to survive, and gradually my heart settled for what I was too snobbish to consider earlier.
But honest to God, you have no competition. I miss you sorely, dear Rosogolla.
I drool as I begin to write on the undying love I profess for all things sweet. SwEEEter, the better. Yes, with capital E’s. Give me a box of candies anytime, and you won’t find a happier soul. Better still, treat me to a platter of sweetmeats, at any odd hour of our twenty-four, and I will consume it with unadulterated relish. The little bursts of sweetness, and the mushy sounds made when these heavenly delights crumble in the mouth, soothe my being. Not to forget the mellow aftertaste that lingers behind. I love sweet. With my mind and soul. I live to eat- Mishtis.
Back home, not a day passed when I did not treat myself to a handsome amount of mishtis. It was either the boon of Rosogolla or the double delight of KheerKodom; the mouth-watering Chhanar Payesh or the delectable Lyangcha; the yummy Sondesh or the potful of chilled Mishti Doi, only to mention a few. Sunday mornings were incomplete without my plateful of scrumptious Jalebis which I would savour bit by bit, happily munching on till sweet was the only taste my buds could tell.
Birthday celebrations, in every Bengali household begin with a customary big bowl of Kaju-Kishmish encrusted, Kesar laced delicacy of Payesh prepared by Ma with all her devotion. And you simply cannot say no to that. Or even put it off. She takes it as a personal offense, mind you. It has got to be the first thing you taste on your birthday. Bengali moms be like, “it marks a sugar-coated beginning to your new life”, though I guess, it has got more to do with the feeling of contention she experiences when she sees her child well fed with food she so lovingly prepared.
My taste buds have now adapted to the flavor of North Indian sweets. Though mostly on the drier side, except maybe, Gulab Jamun, I enjoy them nonetheless. I sometimes skip dinner for a veg burger and a ton of Jalebis. Gajar ka halwa, soan papdi (ranging from orange to strawberry to chocolate flavored), gujiya, besan ka laddoo, doda and what not! But sweet shops are not as frequent over here as I would love them to be, and so my diet of sweets gets curbed, though not so much, thanks to the occasional solitary sweet that I get to have with my office thali at lunch. Call me selfish if you will, may hail and storm come, but I cannot get myself to share my sweet with others around the lunch table. Though, I wouldn’t say a no, if you offered me yours. I can have Rasgullas anytime I want, but sadly, here they do not come with the divine smell of syrup soaked earthen pot (which Rosogollas come in, in contrast), that drenches your olfactory senses with unparalleled satisfaction. I can never forget that smell, even if I tried to. I have grown up with it, for it.
I hear from my Ma that I have always loved eating sweets. Even as a tiny tot, I would ask for mishti, and not fries or chips, like my peers did. I even remember that shop beside my kindergarten school, where Ma would take my sister and me for our daily treat of sweets after a four hour gruelling session of “A for apple, B for ball”. I mostly used to choose a swan shaped sweet which had this thick sweet syrup sealed inside.I imagine that is what heaven must taste like!
Maybe because of my love for sweets, my grandma chose to call me Mishti, to celebrate the relationship my senses share with this one thing that can never fail me. Even when things go wrong and life seems messy, one chunk of this sheer goodness can bring a smile to my face and a smack on my lips!
“Sir could I please have a photograph with you?”
And the result was this:
I met him. Yes, I met Rusty, with the same glint of boyish mischief in his eyes, I had imagined Mr.Bond has, while reading his work. I am not a voracious reader, but once I get hold of a Ruskin Bond, I cannot let go, even after I have read it for the umpteenth time. I imagine, he was one of the earliest authors of childrens’ books, to whose world I was introduced as a kid. On a lazy Saturday afternoon, post a sumptuous lunch, I would curl into a cozy corner beside the window in my room with his book of short stories and devour it. The simple stories of the simple life of an individual based on a humble background and his down-to-earth way of life would pull me to his world of his Uncle Ken, his grandma, his Rani. I wonder if Rani was indeed real. Should have asked him when I met him, but shoot! My tongue decides to get tied the moment I meet him, and I come back without asking about Rani.
Let me take you to the beginning of the story. Christmas was around the corner. And I had an office errand to run, which landed me in Selaqui, a quaint town in Dehradun. It was my first solo trip and it turned out to be way more fun than I had anticipated it to be. My work was done by Saturday morning and had one extra day to spare before I had to trundle back to office.I decided to visit Mussourie and Dhanaulti, and made a (utopian) mental note to meet Ruskin Bond, who I knew lived somewhere in Mussourie. I took a uphill bus ride (it is a 2.5 hr ride) and although a bit dizzy from the it, and though I had a handful of luggage with me, I trudged up the stone stairway with a representative from a nearby hotel and booked a room. I freshened up, emptied my backpack, took a bottle of water, some chocolates, my purse, my camera and I was on the road in ten minutes–there was no time to lose!
I walked. I walked. And I walked some more, till I stumbled upon this sign:
..and I was like, “Omygawd..so this is it! ” I stepped into this warm little bookshop named “Cambridge Book Depot” and after a few words with the owner, I got to know that Mr.Bond will be visiting late that afternoon and his fans could get their books autographed, and themselves photgraphed, over a cup of chai and biscuits. Ok, so I have to make slight change in plans, I will roam around the town, come back here, and then roam around some more, but I will have to drop the Dhanaulti plan, which was fine by me.
I walked along the Mall Road, tried roadside munchies, took selfies, stopped here and there to take a few snaps, as the warm December sun blushed upon this little hill town.
So, anyway I made my way to an “aquarium” and was sorely disappointed to see that clay models was all they had on display! Then I realized it was a fancy hotel, which boasted of a rooftop “aquarium”! Fine. A good woman out there advised me on places, which are a must see, but was quick to add that it was not a good idea for a solo woman tourist. I hated to agree, but agreed all the same. She suggested cheerily that I should take the Ropeway, that would take me all the way atop Gun Hill, from where the whole town could be seen. Somewhat satiated by her words, I headed to buy a ticket for the Ropeway. Another disappointment. The famous Ropeway with its infamous fan following ( at least 50 people in queue!) forced me again to change my plans. No worries, I will walk the way up.
A few deep breaths in, and armed with a cup of “boiled-n-salted corns” in my one hand, and a BIG fluffy candyfloss in the other, I started. I googled up to see it was a 400m walk, but honest to god, it seemed way longer! I walked, ran, jumped, rested, had leg cramps at one point, and finally reached atop and collapsed out of fatigue. It was a beautiful market up there and I got up to explore. It was colorful and cheerful. A few yards up from the market grounds, there was this “Telescope Point”, where you pay 50 rupees, and they show you the pride points of this simple hill town. I took my turn and was mesmerized to see The Himalayas, all snowy-peaked. I was instantly reminded of the diagrams in my Geography text book, with fir trees an snow capped peaks! It was enchanting, surreal!
The telescope-man pointed out to me the Kedarnath Peak, the Garhwal Border, the Ranipur Gaon, the Gangotri glacier, and the Nag Tibba (he mentioned that Ruskin Bond lives somewhere around that place). Realizing that I was not satisfied with one view, the kind person offered me another round of this delightful visual tour. Happy at heart, I went trotting off to the market downstairs and splurged on merchandise for back home.
I still had enough time till the meet with the author, so I casually strolled down the hilly way and into Mall Road. It was a pretty arrangement in preparation of the Christmas Carnival. I settled on a roadside bench and slurped on a softy , soaking in the local merriment.
Finally it was 3.30 when I headed for the bookshop, I talked about earlier. I had an old Ruskin Bond book in my bag already, but I chose to purchase a new one for the autograph. It was a 15-20 min wait , and I was half-way through the first chapter, when the man-of-the-moment drove in. I wowed at the first glimpse and mentally revised all that I wanted to talk about, with him. I was second in the queue and a few moments later, I was ushered inside. I fumbled with my pen, then noticed he had a pen in hand all ready, and presented the book in front of him.
With surprising agility, for an 81 year old, he steadily printed “Priyanka~ Stay happy!” and swooshed a crisp autograph. I posed for a photograph with him, but sadly forgot all about chatting with this jewel of a man. By the time I was getting ready to start my chat, I was politely asked to leave by the shopkeeper, giving the acceptable excuse of the eager(and long) queue of fans.
My watch told me that I still had time for a short trip to Camel’s Back Road, so I rented a ricksha till that spot and back. The route left me wanting for more, with its deep undergrowth on the roadside, and the mighty HImalayas visible with all its grandeur.
We stopped on the way for the visual treat of the setting sun on the mountains and a few quick snaps.
..and then finally reached the spot:
It indeed looked like a camel hunching on its limbs.It is the result of natural rock formation, that has led to such an unambiguous structure.
It was getting dark by that time and and so we rode off back to my hotel. Early next morning, I took a return ticket to Delhi and after a 7.5 hr long ride, I was back where all of it began, but a contented soul this time.
PS– These cuties I met that day agreed to pose with me!: