13-MIN READ

Happy Birthday, Ruskin Bond: A Short Story You Have Never Read Before From the Beloved Author

Ruskin Bond. Image credits: Facebook.

Ruskin Bond. Image credits: Facebook.

On the 86th birthday of celebrated author Ruskin Bond, here's a never-published-before short story titled 'Miracle at Happy Bazaar' which tells the tale of tiny miracles, and magical healing, and serves as a wonderful antidote to the depressing tidings we are hearing all day, due to the pandemic.

Ruskin Bond
  • Last Updated: May 19, 2020, 6:08 PM IST
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Editor's note: On the 86th birthday of the legendary children's literature author Ruskin Bond, here's a treat for all his fans. Read below a never published before short story by the author, titled 'Miracle at Happy Bazaar' which tells the tale of tiny miracles, and magical healing, and serves as a wonderful antidote to the depressing tidings we are hearing all day, due to the pandemic.

This little gem is part of a book by the same name that was recently published by Aleph Book Company. This book also contains a few more never published before tales like ‘Chocolates at Midnight’, ‘Life is Sweet, Brother’, and ‘The Old Suitcase’ as well as classics that have delighted generations such as ‘The Blue Umbrella’, ‘Angry River’, ‘Panther’s Moon’, ‘The Room of Many Colours’, and ‘The Cherry Tree’. It is a warm and fuzzy yarn of Bond's signature gentle humour, and rip-roaring adventures that's perfect for kids as well as adults.

Miracle at Happy Bazaar

---By Ruskin Bond

It was called ‘Happy’ Bus Stop because a local boy called ‘Happy’, happily drunk, had got into the driver’s seat of the local bus and driven it over the edge of the cliff, onto the rocks some seventy feet below the road. Fortunately, the bus had been empty at the time, and only Happy and the vehicle had perished.

When I was a boy, the old road to Tehri had been little more than a footpath, and you walked from one village to the next. If you were in a hurry you could take a ride on a mule—mules could navigate the narrowest of tracks—and reach your destination with a very sore bottom. It was wiser to walk.

Then, in mid-1962–63, after the Chinese incursions, there was a flurry of road-building in the hills, and the old footpaths and mule tracks were turned into motorways. A bus stop came up just outside the Landour boundary, and by 1970 there were buses to Chamba and beyond.

Where there is a bus stop you will find a tea shop, and if the tea shop prospers it will be followed by another tea shop. Then there has to be a vegetable stand, because at the last moment bus passengers will remember to buy vegetables to take home. Sometimes they will fetch seasonal vegetables from their own villages to sell in the Landour market—cucumbers and beans during the monsoon rains, pumpkins and maize a little later.

The vegetable stalls near the bus stop and in the town will have fruit and vegetables from all over the country—coconuts and pomegranates, pineapples and custard apples.

As the bus stop grew bigger, and the number of buses increased, the shops prospered. One tea shop specialized in pakoras, the other in samosas; the competition remained friendly.

Soon, a little chemist’s shop was opened. After all, there was a hospital nearby, and sometimes the patients, or their relatives, required medicines that were not available from the hospital’s small pharmacy. Sick and injured people from the surrounding villages would use the buses to come to the hospital.

The town had one ambulance and this was usually engaged in bringing townspeople to the emergency ward. The ambulance had a loud, piercing siren, and people living along the main road would be woken up in the middle of the night, or in the early hours before daybreak, by the wail of the ambulance.

Early morning, the first bus left for Chamba. Late evening, the last bus arrived at ‘Happy’ Bus Stop. Gradually, the owners of the shops expanded their shacks into brick houses. They teetered over the side of the road, packed together like an upside-down Potala Palace.

By the 1990s there were at least ten shops (and residences) near the bus stop, and people began calling it a market. They had forgotten who ‘Happy’ was, but they called it the Happy Bazaar. And presently a ‘wine’ shop opened, to relieve the thirst of bus drivers, passengers, shopkeepers, hospital patients, and their relatives, and anyone who cared to stroll down Happy Bazaar.

It wasn’t strictly a wine shop, merely an outlet for country liquor. If you wanted ‘foreign liquor’ (i.e. whisky or rum) you had to go to the ‘English Wine Shop’ in town, where you could get Indian-made foreign liquor.

The country liquor was strong stuff and sometimes fights broke out and accidents took place. An inebriated bus driver tried to take a shortcut to Chamba by avoiding the road altogether, with the result that both he and many of his passengers took a shortcut into their next incarnations. Fortunately, there was a police outpost not too far away, and things did not get out of hand too often.

All went well for several years, and the population of Happy Bus Stop and Happy Bazaar grew and prospered. They did not pay much attention to the new road that was being built, a bypass that would provide an alternative route into the mountains. And one day, amidst much fanfare, a minister from the state’s capital arrived and opened a new bus stop, a couple of miles from Happy Bazaar, and flagged off a brand new bus to Chamba and beyond.

The Happy Bus Stop continued to function—but not for long. The claims of the new bus stop were considered to be much stronger, and it had political backing, which made all the difference. One by one the buses and their crew moved on to the new site. There was a marked decline in the number of people who used the little marketplace. Fruit and vegetables piled up, and the owner of the vegetable stall was kept busy all day, dousing his wares with cold water in order to keep them fresh. One of the tea shops closed down, the owner renting premises at the new site.

I remained loyal to the remaining tea shop, as I preferred pakoras to samosas, and, besides, my home was close by. I sat alone in the tea shop, keeping the owner company. ‘Well, at least the mules are back,’ said Melaram abruptly. He was always the optimist. ‘This was always their road,’ I said. ‘They resent the cars and buses.’

The muleteers and local villagers helped to make up the loss of business, but it wasn’t quite the same; they did not have much money to spend. Occasionally, Melaram would provide tea and pakoras to the relatives of patients who were in the hospital, and this kept him going. And the chemist’s shop remained in business, and so did old Abdul the Bulbul (as he was called by the children) who made mattresses and razais for the hospital and local residents.

But most of the time Happy Bazaar wore a forlorn look. And then one day, as I was sitting in the tea shop, contemplating a dish of pakoras, a dapper-looking gentleman walked in and ordered a cup of tea. Melaram and I took notice. It was some time since a stranger had walked into the shop.

Over a glass of hot tea he seemed inclined to talk, although, when we asked him where he came from, he was rather vague and mentioned some town in Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan, I’m not sure which, and told us his name was Dr Cosmo.

‘You can call me Cosmos if you like,’ he said with a brilliant smile. ‘In reality I belong to the world. To the universe.’

‘And what kind of doctor are you?’ asked Melaram.

‘Can you cure my rheumatism?’

‘Of course,’ said the stranger. ‘But to tell the truth, I’m looking for a quiet place where I can rest from my labours.

All this healing can be very taxing. But come closer. Tell me where it hurts. Is there a swelling?’

‘In my wrist,’ said Melaram. ‘And in my elbow. It’s worse at night. The pain prevents me from sleeping.’

‘Give me your hand.’

Melaram presented his hand, and the stranger took it and held it for some time.

‘Do you feel anything?’ he asked.

‘No.’

The stranger held it a little longer—long enough for me to finish my tea and pakoras.

‘I feel a tingling,’ said Melaram.

‘Good. That’s the energy from my body passing into you. It’s called cosmic energy. It comes from the sun. It’s absorbed by me, and I pass it on to you. You will sleep well tonight. There will be no pain. Now tell me where I can find a place to stay. I like the look of this place. It’s restful, at peace with itself.’

‘It’s restful because most of the people have gone away,’ said Melaram. ‘This used to be a busy bus stop. But the bus stop was moved closer to the town, and most of our business has gone with it. There’s no hotel here. But I have a spare room behind the shop. It used to be occupied by a tailor, but he’s moved on too. It’s a very simple room—too simple for you, perhaps.’

‘The simpler the better,’ said Dr Cosmo. ‘A good bed, a clean bathroom—and breakfast, perhaps?’

‘His parathas are very good,’ I chimed in.

‘Then lead on, my friend. Show me your honeymoon suite.’

And the next day the good doctor—healer would be a better word—moved in, accompanied by just a few worldly possessions, or rather necessities, and absolutely no medicines or any indication that he was a conventional doctor. But he liked being called ‘doctor’, and to one and all he would be known as ‘Doctor Cosmos’.

Melaram’s rheumatic pains disappeared overnight, and he lost no time in telling his friends and neighbours of his tenant’s healing powers. And it didn’t take long for others with chronic disabilities to turn up at the tea shop seeking similar treatment.

Dr Cosmos obliged everyone. He laid his hands on you—on head or heart or back or foot or wherever the patient felt pain or weakness—and then gave the sufferer a few words of encouragement and sent him on his way. Soon people reported that they felt better; some even claimed to be cured. Cripples stood straight and walked with a spring in their step. Old women abandoned their wheelchairs and climbed steep hillsides on foot.

Word of the miraculous healings spread beyond the hill station, and soon the sick and weary from other parts of the land were making their way to Happy Bazaar in search of cures.

Dr Cosmos did not claim to be a faith healer or a dispenser of miracles. It had nothing to do with religion, he said. It was all cosmic energy. It passed through him and into the sufferer, and behold, the pains, the weariness, the ailments disappeared.

‘You can try doing it yourself,’ he said. Well, I did try it, but without any success. I tried to cure an old woman’s toothache by placing my hand on her cheek, and she brushed it away, saying I was a cheeky fellow and a fraud. But no one accused Dr Cosmos of being a fraud.

Not everyone got better or was returned to normal, but a good many did seem to benefit from his doses of cosmic energy, and he was in great demand. Before long he needed a couple of helpers, and a large room, and these were provided by the bazaar people. They also persuaded him to accept a small fee from his patients to pay for his board and lodging.

A guest house came up to accommodate patients from other towns. It was built where the old bus stop had stood. Nearby hotels and hostelries were reported to be full, even off season. Cars rolled up with rich sufferers, ready to part with large sums of money if they could be cured of chronic ailments, cancer or diabetes or old injuries. And Dr Cosmos treated them too but did not take any ‘fees’.

Then some medical men persuaded him to come to Delhi to demonstrate his ‘powers’, to lecture them on cosmic energy. He made several trips to the capital. He was becoming famous. But every time he returned from Delhi he looked a little thinner, a little more frail, a bit like some of his patients. It was clear that the capital’s air or water or atmosphere did not agree with him. He had become accustomed to the good, clean air of the hills. ‘Up here, the cosmic energy flows without hindrance,’ he claimed.

‘Then stay up here,’ said Melaram.

‘You can’t cure all of Delhi of their ailments. I don’t go there myself. They should move the capital elsewhere!’

‘Someone tried that long ago,’ I said.

‘They moved to Daulatabad. But it didn’t work. I think they missed the dear old Jamuna.’

So Dr Cosmos’s trips to Delhi continued, and although his fame grew, his own health deteriorated, so much so that I felt tempted to say, ‘Physician, heal thyself.’ When I heard that he had been admitted to one of the capital’s premier hospitals, with an ‘unknown’ and

unspecified complaint, I went down to see him, accompanied by Melaram.

Lying there in his hospital bed, he looked desiccated, devoid of life’s juices. This was not the Dr Cosmos we knew. He was barely recognizable. His cheeks were sunken, his teeth missing, his hair falling out. But he recognized us, and raised his hand in a feeble greeting.

‘What happened to you?’ I asked.

He shook his head, whispered: ‘I took on too much. Now I have all the diseases in the world. It’s a wonderful thing, in a way. Absorbing their fits and fevers, giving them energy in return.’

‘Cosmic energy,’ I said. ‘You should have kept some for yourself.’

He nodded. ‘I will recover. I will regain my strength as soon as I am back in the mountains.’

But he did not return to the mountains. Melaram and I had to return without him. He was too far gone. And a week later we heard that he had joined the cosmos. Some of his relatives turned up and buried him in a corner of a Delhi cemetery; there is no tombstone to mark the place, no record of his fleeting presence on planet earth. No cause of death had been given; but the medical report did mention that traces of strontium had been found in his blood.

How did this obscure metallic element get into his system? Had it something to do with the cosmic energy he radiated? We shall never know. There will always be mysteries.

It was thought that the passing of Dr Cosmos would affect the popularity of Happy Bazaar as a destination for tourists. But this did not happen. Curious visitors continued to come our way, many of them eager to see the humble room in which the healer had first seen his patients and sent them happily on their way, bursting with cosmic energy. Some felt that by touching his desk or chair or bed they would obtain relief from their various ailments. And perhaps they did. For thought is a wonderful thing, and mind can prevail over matter.

Happy Bazaar continued to prosper, and so did Melaram, for he owned the premises, and although he did not charge an entry fee, visitors would spend some time in his tea shop, sampling his tea and pakoras. No one made better pakoras. I was present when a local guide brought a group of tourists into the shop, and expounded on the history of Happy Bazaar, telling them how it had gained its reputation for happiness because of the miracles performed by the now legendary doctor.

I tried to interrupt and tell them that the bazaar had in fact got its name from the delinquent youth ‘Happy’ who had driven a bus over a nearby cliff. But no one was listening to me.


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