And then comes Ruskin Bond….

An experience, whether good or bad, is a priceless collector’s item. These words by Isaac Marion hold true for this incident. It was a lovely evening, for me, because I was going to the Pune International Literary festival for my very first book reading. The Writers’ club of my school had recently published a book which included stories and poems written by all its members. I was one of the ‘published’ writers and I was going to read an extract from my story ‘Room 37’.

After an entire week of practising the paragraphs in front of the mirror, perfecting the expressions and of course anticipation, the day finally arrived. I joined the other members of the club in the auditorium. We decided our speaking order and took our seats. From the corner of my eye, I could see the audience collecting. Just to get a feel of the crowd, I turned around. I saw my cousin waving at me from his seat. I also saw some of my friends from my old school. Their presence gave me a sense of calm and pride. They had come for my book reading and the last time I had met them was five years ago. I turned back the pride suddenly turned to panic. Five years! I thought, and what if I miss a line while reading? Or mispronounce a word? That would certainly bring them down.

I was so engrossed in thought that I did not notice my teacher come up to me. She asked me about the lines I planned to read. I pointed out the paragraph, my handshaking. Reading my mind, my teacher smiled at me. “Don’t be scared,” she said, “When you’re out there, the entire stage is yours. Besides your story is one of the best.” I smiled at her and nodded. Of course, I don’t see how I didn’t notice my story that well before. Those few consoling words made the confidence return. I was ready. Ready to read ‘Room 37’. Now, the only thing between me and the stage was the arrival of the chief guest. I just prayed he arrived soon. I couldn’t hold the excitement any longer.

I spoke to some of the other members to calm myself. I looked at my watch, the chief guest should have come by now, what was taking him so long? Another half an hour passed, still no sign of the chief guest. After ten minutes or was it hours a mobile phone rang. My teacher answered it. After a short conversation she put the phone down and said, “We’ll have to start off without the chief guest.” There were groans from all the members but it didn’t last long. Everyone wanted to start.

And the show began. The first reader went up and put her soul into the reading. The applause proved the fact. Soon it was time for the second reader, then the third. I grew cold just as the third girl went up, I was next. For a moment, everything seemed to stop. I felt like a celebrity already.

Just as the third reader finished, I stood up. All set, I was about to take my first step towards the stage when suddenly, a man rushed in and announced, “We can’t have another reader, Mr. Ruskin Bond is waiting. I request you all to wind up immediately.”

There goes! The entire world seemed to crumble. It was so close and yet unreachable. But what to do. It’s an experience which I will never forget. A priceless collector’s item!

 

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