An illustration from Hop On: My Adventures on Boats, Trains and Planes by Ruskin Bond.
Photo: Samrat Halder
One of India’s most beloved authors, Ruskin Bond is 86 years old and still writing heart-uplifting stories. He reminisces on his childhood journeys across land, sea and air in his latest book Hop On, a short read with illustrations by Samrat Halder and published by Talking Cub, the children’s imprint of Speaking Tiger.
Read an excerpt below from the chapter “A toot and a whistle”, taken from Hop On: My Adventures on Boats, Trains and Planes written by Ruskin Bond and published by Talking Cub. In the chapter, Bond recalls one winter’s night when he and his schoolmates were stranded on the small hill train that passed through 100-odd tunnels on its journey from Kalka to their school in Shimla.
A toot and a whistle
Once, on this journey, the hills were still covered with snow. It had been an unusually harsh winter and there had been snow above Kalka. The train groaned and whistled and puffed through the 100-odd tunnels that dotted this pretty route. Usually the hillsides were full of rhododendron trees in bloom, the red flowers like little flames lining the way. But this time, everything was bare. There were patches of snow all over and brown trees wherever we looked. The train, which went slowly at the best of times, travelled even more slowly, the driver hooting the horn often. Finally, as evening fell and we were still some miles from Shimla, the train came to a halt. What happened?
Everyone stood up and craned their heads out. Mr Oliver marched off towards the engine. He came back after a short while and said that the driver had decided that it was too risky to take the train on the snowy tracks in the dark. We would have to spend the night in the train.
It was an unbelievable adventure! A night on a stationary train in the pitch dark and silence of the mountains. When the noise of the boys died down, I heard something I had not known earlier—a deep and bottomless silence. We all took out our warmest clothes and wore them, huddled together in the small compartment. Mr Oliver gathered all the food we had with us and, by torchlight, distributed it among us equally and as fairly as possible. I still remember what I ate for dinner that night—puri-sabzi, bread and jam, and a boiled egg!
The night passed with us trying to sleep on our seats, our heads falling on to each other’s laps and shoulders. It was a friendly, cosy sort of night, though none too comfortable, but then young boys and girls can sleep just about anywhere if they are tired enough.
In the morning we woke up to a wondrous sight. It had snowed lightly, and all around was a thin sheet of white. The sun was trying to come out, but it was a weak sunshine. The cold bit into our noses and ears. Finally, it was decided that it was still too risky for the train to move on the tracks.
We were out of food and water, so we would walk the last few miles into Shimla.