I have to admit I love to walk so much so that once a senior professor at my workplace remarked that I actually walk with a vengeance! For me a holiday is complete only if I get to walk for a few kilometers and of course on some of the holidays I predominantly walk.
So when I picked up Tales of the Open Road by Ruskin Bond and realized that many of the short stories were about his walks I knew I was going to like it. This book is a collection of short stories divided in four parts- The Open Road, Plain Tales, At Home in the Hills and Into the Mountains.
In the section The Open Road there are three stories first about the author’s ride to Delhi from Mussoorie in a taxi and the perils of it. Even as early as the 1960s the issues seem to be the same. The taxi driver in this story had a really powerful horn and he blew it liberally! The sense of driving on Indian roads seem to be the same as today, I could easily identify with it! Do things ever change?
The second story is about the author running away from his home to go to Jamnagar to meet his uncle on a sea port! He does so with a school mate. And guess what? They succeed by hitching truck rides and riding on trains. Mr. Bond does not reveal what happens when they were found eventually. The story ends when they see the ship sailing away on which his uncle would have been. I would have liked to know what happened when they were found out! The third story is about author’s rides in Tonga and the thrills of it.
The second set of stories are set in plains and towns like Meerut, Shahjahanpur, Chhutmalpur. For me two stood out, one about his walking experience in Delhi and two in Agra. In the 1960s Mr. Bond decides to walk in Delhi. So when he reaches back to his host’s house the matriarch of the house asks, did you lose your money? When he says no, she asks were the buses on strike? When he says no again she thinks that he must be mad to walk for the heck of it! I guess that sums up the approach to walking for many people?
His opening paragraph about cycle rickshaw in Agra has been copied by so many travel agent websites! At one point I was searching on the web and I came across that beautiful paragraph on a website and I was impressed. Only when I read this book I realized that the original lines are by Ruskin Bond!
The last two sections have lovely stories about walking in the mountains and drinking chai from the road side dhabas. His last story is about walking up to a glacier and then getting lost! For me walking stories are the best stories and I thoroughly enjoyed reading Tales of the open Road by Ruskin Bond. For me it was a quick read too, I could finish the 2002 pages in two days of intermittent reading.