“I don’t remember any dwellings around Barog”

Never mind. It was the breakfast that was important. And that I was with my father and on my way to Simla and a boarding school.

Published: 04th December 2019 06:50 AM  |   Last Updated: 04th December 2019 06:50 AM   |  A+A-

By Express News Service

BENGALURU: It’s well over seventy years that I actually breakfasted at Barog, that little railway station on the Kalka–Simla line; but last night I dreamt of it—dreamt of the station, the dining room, the hillside, and the long dark Barog tunnel—which meant that it had been present in my subconscious all these years and was now striving to come to the fore and revive a few poignant memories.

Should I go there again? The station is still there, and so is the tunnel. I’m told that the area has been built up over the years, so that it is now almost a mini hill station. That wouldn’t surprise me. Our villages have become towns, our towns have become cities, and in a few years’ time our country will be one vast megacity with a few parks here and there to remind us that this was once a green planet.

I don’t remember any dwellings around Barog, just that one little station and its one little restaurant with a cook and a waiter and its one little stationmaster. No, such a small station couldn’t have had someone as important as a stationmaster. Someone quite junior must have been in charge.

Never mind. It was the breakfast that was important. And that I was with my father and on my way to Simla and a boarding school. The boarding school was the least desirable part of the journey. It was almost two years since I had been in a school and I was perfectly happy to continue living in an ideal world where schools need not exist. The breakup of my parents’ marriage had resulted in my being withdrawn from a convent school in Mussoorie and taken over by my father who was on active service with the RAF It was 1942 and World War II was at its peak. Against all regulations he kept me with him, but to do this he had to rent a flat in New Delhi.

Most of the day he was at work and I would have the flat to myself, surrounded by books, gramophone records and stamp albums. Evenings I would help him with his stamp collection, for he was an avid collector. On weekends he would take me to see Delhi’s historic monuments; there was no dearth of them. From the stamps I learned geography, from the monuments history, from the books literature. I learnt more in two years at home than I did in a year at school.But finally he was transferred—first Colombo, then Karachi, then Calcutta—and it was no longer possible for me to share his quarters. I was admitted to Bishop Cotton’s in Simla.

We took the railcar from Kalka. It glided over the rails without any of the huffing and puffing of the steam engine that dragged the little narrow gauge train up the steep mountain. I would be travelling in that train in the years to come, but on this, my first to Simla, I was given the luxury of the railcar.
It glided into the Barog station punctually at 10 a.m., in time for breakfast.

The Barog breakfast was already well known and I did full justice to it. I skipped the cornflakes and concentrated on the scrambled eggs and buttered toasts. There was bacon too, and honey and marmalade.

Extracted from Rhododendrons in the Mist by Ruskin Bond , with permission from Aleph Book Company

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