On his 82nd birthday the writer’s imagination remains fresh and his ink fertile! He is one of my favourites as, despite the repeated themes of the mountains, rural folk, small town idiosyncrasies, camaraderie, unrequited love and rejection, hope, yearning and also haunted house and hills; his words skirt clear of wordiness and pretensions!
It is as if Rusty never grew up! From his first novella where Rusty is seen with flesh and blood characters of Somi, Ranbir and Suri. They inhabit not the one-day touristy hills, but, traverse the ups and downs of life! They live in the moment and also talk of the future; they relish the sickly sweet jalebis from a dusty, bustling market, that they call home away from home! ‘A town called Dehra’, ‘Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra’, ‘Dust on the Mountains’, ‘The Night Train at Deoli’, ‘The Adventures of Rusty’, ‘Time stops at Shamli’; Bond’s world is inhabited with all that is nature- animals, trees, mountains and the mystery that comes with it!
|The Room on The Roof- Where it All Began!|
The stoic mountains lend a quite charm to his prose and the trains at his stations carry stories not tales, the stations are where the intriguing woman with a basket captivates the young Ruskin- they are a place for chance encounters with strangers whom Rusty calls ‘mother’ in the end. (The Woman on Platform 8) A time when the time stops still and the boundaries of stranger and family, public and private are challenged.
Ruskin is a master story teller- his characters overshadow the plot and stay with us long after the tea and the book are drunk! His characters are not cardboard cut-outs neither, sophisticatedly contrived and complicated! They are real men, women, servants and adopted families- full of follies and victories, greed and contentment, mirth and tears! They are the wonky Uncle Ken and an aloof grandmother, the robust Somi and the hearty Ranbir! Ruskin is as much as a writer for adults as he is for young readers and children. His childlike quality hasn’t rusted by over exposure to the Metro elements- It remains unfettered by bias and unburdened by literary expectations, safe in the custody of the Ivy Cottage, where he resides with his adopted family!
Ruskin’s journey is undertaken by the reader when his chums from The Room on the Roof to its sequel Vagrants in the Valley, connect with Ruskin after decades of having lost touch in real life.
His journals, observations and sensitively documented facts in writing such as ‘Landour Days – A writers Journal’ and others doesn’t make him stop from sharing his insecurities, fears and his lonely childhood days. Bond’s strongest aspect is his honesty with the reader and the loyalty that he earns thereby. We remain as young as the author!
His love affair with the mountains started quite early I am guessing, considering that he was born in a military hospital, to Edith Clarke and Aubrey Bond, in Kasauli, Punjab States Agency, British India. He talks tenderly of his time with his dad who was in the R.A.F (Royal Air Force), in Jamnagar and Delhi. At the age of ten, Ruskin went to live at his grandmother's house in Dehradun after his father's death that year from jaundice. Ruskin was raised by his mother and stepfather. ! It was at his school, Bishop Cotton in Shimla, that he won several writing competitions including the Irwin Divinity Prize and the Hailey Literature Prize. His lonely childhood does find an entry in his writing, what with his affinity to writing for children. To think that he wrote one of his first short stories, ‘Untouchable’, at the age of sixteen in 1951! He inadvertently chronicles subtly the changing socio-political-cultural canvas of India. Who better than him to do that, having been through colonial, postcolonial and post-independence phases of India!
If you are a Ruskin newbie- the way to start would be with A Gathering of Friends (Aleph Book Company) 2015. It is a bouquet of handpicked favourites by the author himself! From Rusty to the train at Shamli, to The Cherry Tree (that still exists); from the Fosterganj father of a dozen children, Hassan the Baker to H.H. (the Maharani) at the Savoy, they all populate this perfect gift of a summer read!
For me Ruskin’s forthrightness with his prose and his deep, deep understanding of human follies make for a lifetime friend in him. As he says in the Introduction to ‘A Gathering of Friends’, ‘With luck (and this is every writer’s dream) the characters will walk off the page and into your life.’
Rest assured Mr. Bond, Rusty never walked out of my life!