Dehradun, in 1955, was still a small town with a population of roughly 50,000 souls. I say souls instead of people because each person I knew or met was a distinct individual with a soul of his or her own. It has now become difficult to separate one individual from another (not just in Dehra) as people seem to have merged into a certain similarity, all interested in the same things. Or is this feeling of mine just an old man being a little disgruntled with the present? Friendship seemed to mean something then, or perhaps it was just that we had more time for each other.

The British had left India, but I felt confident that the English language wasn’t going away. The Illustrated Weekly was still in the capable hands of CR Mandy. Most of my fiction appeared in that magazine. It was a productive period for me. Many of those stories still appear in collections and anthologies; “The Night Train at Deoli”, “The Eyes Have It”, “The Woman on Platform Eight”, “The Thief”, “The Crooked Tree” (probably my favourite), “Time Stops at Shamli”. And when The Room on the Roof finally appeared, it was serialised in the Illustrated Weekly, with Mario de Miranda’s evocative illustrations. (Mario de Miranda was an artist, cartoonist, and illustrator.) I was also writing for The Statesman, Sport and Pastime, Shankar’s Weekly, Sainik Samachar anyone who would publish me!

All this literary activity took place in two rooms above the Astley Hall shopping complex, then the social and commercial hub of Dehradun. Over the years, British names have been removed from roads, buildings, and institutions. Somehow Astley Hall never lost its name. And no one, till today, has the faintest idea of Astley’s identity. Who was Astley? No one knows. Perhaps that was why his name has survived, although sometimes corrupted to Asli Haal.

I was without electricity throughout the two years I spent in those rooms. No light, and no fan during the months. My good landlady hadn’t paid her electricity bills for several years, and the amount that was due was now beyond her means as well as mine. But there was a little balcony looking down on the busy road, and I could sit there in the evening and converse with my neighbour’s cat. At night I used a kerosene lamp, and did most of my writing by its gentle glow. I wrote by hand, but in the morning I would type out my stories or articles.

It was good to be among old friends, and the old friends brought over new friends, and the new friends brought their friends, with the result that there were constant goings and comings during the day a far cry from the lonely bed-sitting rooms of London.

So where did I find the solitude that I craved occasionally?

I found it in the busiest place in town the railway station.

The station was a 15-minute bicycle ride from Astley Hall. When the urge took me, and when I was on my own, I would ride over to the station, park my bicycle outside, buy a platform ticket, and pass a blissful hour on a bench at the far end of the platform. No one paid any attention to me, people were too busy arriving or departing or looking for their children or their luggage. I sat there quietly and watched them as they went about their business. No wonder so many of my early stories are set on trains or railway platforms. Spend an hour on a platform bench, watching the world go by, and you will soon have a story.

There were busy periods and quiet periods, and soon the vendors and some of the station staff got to know me, and I did not have to bother with a platform ticket. I was exempted from this formality, as were the coolies and stray dogs.

Over the years, I have known many railway stations. Old Delhi, where my Uncle Fred was the station superintendent from 1943-44. The little station at Barog, on the way to Shimla, where my father and I stopped for breakfast. Charing Cross station in London, where I sheltered on a foggy night, drinking endless cups of twice-brewed tea. Ambala junction, where as a schoolboy, I got lost. The little station in the jungle at Kansrao, on the way to Dehra, where only one train stopped in the middle of the night…

After I came to live in Mussoorie I saw less of trains and railway stations, but in my memory, I still hear the shunting of engines, the cries of porters and hawkers, the guard’s whistle, passengers calling goodbye. And suddenly the platform is empty and only a disgruntled-looking crow is sharing the bench with me.

Excerpted with permission from The Hill of Enchantment: The Story of My Life as a Writer, Ruskin Bond, Aleph Book Company.