A Quaint Short Story
As stories go this one is not much of one. It relates to a day in the life of a very average schoolboy, who for want of nothing better to do decided to take a stroll. Only this stroll was to take him to the top of a mountain, really. This is not extraordinary for a school boy from Dehradun, all of whom at some point of time have taken the seven-mile trek to Mussoorie. But Hari decided to do it alone.
At thirteen, he thought that he was old enough to do it on his own. You might find it odd that a boy so young would choose to do something like this. But that was Hari. Where most boys his age were happy to be guided by their friends and parents, he had a mind of his own. He was of course quite obedient towards his parents, but he never did anything unquestioningly, as most children his age are wont to do. Luckily his parents were quite supportive of him in this and in fact encouraged him to do things his way, as long as he was convinced that it was the right thing to do.
So it was that Saturday morning in September that he took the short ride to the village of Rajpur on a bus. Rajpur is an old and small settlement, from where the erstwhile pony trail to Mussoorie began, and this was precisely the route taken by those who chose to trek to the somewhat inappropriately named queen of the hills. He had left home at six in the morning so that he could start early, and reach by noon, which would leave him enough time to stroll down the Mall Road, and take the evening bus home.
So here he was walking up the shingle path into the sometimes dense and sometimes sparse mountain shrubbery. His mother had packed him a breakfast of cheese, and cucumber sandwiches as well as some paranthas and scrambled eggs for lunch. But it was too early to think of food. He was reveling in the sheer opulence of nature- the clean fresh air laden with the scent of trees, the tweeting of a thousand different birds, and stretching seemingly endlessly above him the lime-stone hills of Mussoorie.
At first, he hardly felt that he was ascending a thousand feet up a mountain. But as he walked, ever so slowly he could feel the change in altitude. He paused every fifteen minutes or so as anyone who has ever trekked up a mountain will know is absolutely essential, and each time he could actually look down and see how high he had come. By now he could make out the spread of the DoonValley quite clearly.
Right at the base of the hill he could see the cement factory, which hadn’t yet opened its gates to the workers, and looked strangely grotesque, in its verdant surroundings. A little further down he could see groups of people, ant-like in size and beginning to move around, in the early morning sunlight.
Casting his eye a little farther the valley looked like a haze of green dotted with the white of houses, lines of black representing roads, merging with a pale blue of the sky interspersed with wisp-like white clouds. His climbing had made him hungry, and he decided to perch himself on a big boulder from where he had 360-degree view of his surroundings, and dug into his sandwiches, and have some water from his canteen.
The scene around him was picture perfect. A small mountain stream gurgled by him, beside which two squirrels fought over a fallen chestnut. Some sheep grazed noisily at a grassy patch a little ahead, their masters nowhere in sight, as they probably knew their way home, in the nearby mountain settlement.
Refreshed by the breakfast Hari resumed walking up a shingle path that would take him to Jhari Pani, famous for the Oak Grove school, where children of Indian Railways officials study. The air was almost cold now, and the strong scent of pine conveyed that he was truly out of the tropics now, and in the temperate zone. Very soon the shingle trail changed into partly natural and partly man-made steps carved into and winding up the damp mountainside.
As he approached Jhari Pani, he came across groups of students, appropriately attired in school blazers and trousers or skirts the case of girls, determinedly clambering up the steps. Some were from Oak Grove and others from Hampton Court, and St. George’s, famous Mussoorie schools. Hari got no more than a cursory glance from the children, as it was not that unusual to see boys of his age go up and down the hills in these parts.
For there is any number of schools in the Dehradun-Mussorie belt, and at any given moment you could run into, school kids chatting noisily away or heading to a snack shop to grab some stick-jaw toffees or bun samosas. Soon Hari had left Jhari Pani behind and was now climbing steadfastly up towards King Craig, a small check post, and a couple of miles short of Mussoorie.
He was no longer walking alone but had a lot of interesting company now. From a pony driver, walking his retinue of three saddled ponies, which would be ridden by tourists visiting Mussoorie, to sightseers from different parts of north India out for an extended early morning mountain walk, and of course, the ubiquitous school kids talking animatedly amongst themselves.
The mountain trail had now given way to a proper metalled road on the last leg of the trek, and Hari found this relatively flatter stretch more tiring, than the one in the woods, perhaps because he had been walking intermittently for about five hours now. Soon enough he entered Mussoorie from the Picture Palace side, and promptly became one among thousands walking down the Mall. The sky had turned overcast, and a cold breeze made everyone hug their clothes tighter.
Ravi silently thanked his mother for insisting that he wear a wind-cheater. The atmosphere on the Mall Road as usual was very festive, with music blaring down from gaily decorated shops and commercial establishments. Tourists, most of them from Delhi were reveling in each other's company, and generally having a fantastic time away from their mundane lives in the faraway plains.
Hari viewed them with amused nonchalance for he knew that the same Mall Road would be a deserted and forlorn stretch, just a couple of months from now, when the real cold would set in, to again come alive in December after the first snowfall. He soon found himself a bench, one of the many overlooking the Doon valley, and sat there for some time staring down at the valley that he had walked from.
Inevitably his thoughts returned to his parents, and he smiled warmly, thinking how proud he would be to relate his exploits when he returned in the evening. Thinking of his parents reminded him of food, and soon enough he had hungrily devoured his paranthas and scrambled eggs. He topped it up with a softy ice cream, bought from one of a series of roadside stalls, again a Mussoorie specialty.
He was now fortified and ready to walk to the other end of the Mall, which was really the end of the town, at least the part most frequented by the tourists. Halfway down the Mall lies GunHill the highest point in Mussoorie, and Hari took the mandatory ride up in a cable car and had a photograph of himself taken astride a make-believe jeep, at one of the many photography studios lining the north side of the platform on top of the hill, which cater to the visitors, and for a little extra money, the photographer would mail it to his home.
Coming down again, he went into a souvenir shop, where he bought an ornately carved walking stick for his father and wooden prayer beads for his mother, as also a small wooden chessboard, which he meant to present to his best friend in school. It was evening by now, and Hari had almost reached the Library chowk end of Mall road, and already it was quite cold.
The tourists had started going back to their hotels, and the lights had come on in the shops fronting the mall. Gazing down the hill towards Dehradun, he could see small groups of lights here and there. He knew that in a couple of hours, when night set in, Dehradun would look like a sea of lights, and incredibly beautiful. It was time for him to catch his bus home, and he couldn’t help feeling a little lonely. Twilight does that to everyone, and Hari was but a child.
On the bus, Ravi was glad to find his neighbor Rahul, and his father seated next to him. They had come on a day’s visit to Rahul’s uncle who lived in Landour in old Mussorie. The hour-long journey back home was a happy one, as the two friends had much to catch up on. Very soon Rahul fell asleep as the day’s exertions had tired him.
His father, who had come to receive him at the bus station woke him up and took him home on his scooter. His mother welcomed him warmly, as she had been a trifle anxious about him. After a warm bath and a tasty dinner of his favorite rajma-rice, Hari kissed his parents goodbye and went to bed. In no time he was fast asleep, happy in the thought that he would have a great time recounting his day’s tale to his class-mates the next