My English teacher spoke with reverence when she uttered Ruskin Bond. Successive English textbooks had an extract or a short story from his books. I was convinced he was royalty of some sort. He was British too, left behind I thought when his brethren went away after an extended uninvited stay in our country. Perhaps he had been left behind to keep the tradition of British English alive. In any case he stayed locked in some corner of my mind for the longest time.
Many years later when I was in Delhi after a visit to Dilli Haat oohing and aahing at traditional crafts and boring my philosopher and compassionate friend Anjan, we went in to a bookstore. There was Mr.Ruskin’s work sitting in a proper hardbound cover called Landour Days. Deliberation followed and the book bought to make my days at Bhiwani a little more literate.
Employed as I was then with the Birla’s at their Bhiwani facility I was taken up more by the black faced spider monkey on campus (kept to keep the rhesus monkey at bay). One afternoon as I walked the short distance between guesthouse and office I saw a peacock in the midst of the rose garden. I kept staring at him and him at me. Then he turned with a swish of his royal tail and like a plane ready for takeoff he flew to sit atop the guesthouse.
The only decent tea (more tea less milk) was to be had at the teashop outside the factory where Anjan and I sat every morning watching the pig and her litter muck about the muddy puddle. I digress.
Landour Days, A Writers Journal turned out to be a real delight. The book is split into Summer, Monsoon, Autumn and Winter. Young readers will enjoy this book that traverses the journey between childhood, young writer and an ageing one effortlessly.
The book details the flora and fauna of the hill town in a way that can only be done with one who loves it so. The litchi fruit, the warbler, the barbet, the spotted owlet, the fox, the deodars, the crickets, the shrew, pepperwort and dog roses are only some of the inhabitants of Landour that are described.
His sketches of the village postmen, the old groundnut seller, the waiter at The Savoy, writers in search of inspiration, the history of the Grand Trunk road are exquisite and soul stirring. Inhabitants of Landour, cemetries and railway stations are portrayed. Take this passage where he describes the Kangra Valley Railways.
“There is nothing like an Indian railway station anywhere else in the world. We are not a melting pot of races and religions; we are a mosaic of all these things. A mosaic that is best observed from the trains that pull the glittering pieces together.”
If I were the Railway Minister this would be put up in every station and Mr.Bond commissioned to write all tourist material for the Indian railways!
“The Kangra Valley Railway is one of my favourite journeys. The particular railway is visible proof that the railway construction engineer can create a work, which is in complete harmony with the beauty of the surroundings. Without in anyway interfering with the grandeur of mountain and valley, the railway engineers on this line have revealed to the traveller a land of great enchantment. The graceful curves of the rails, the neatness of the culverts, the symmetrical design of the bridges, the directness of the cuttings – all these help to throw into bold relief the ruggedness of the huge crags through which the line play hide- and- seek.
By contrast, if you take the train to Shimla, you will spend half your time burrowing through the bowels of the earth with the scenic grandeur of the Himalyas blotted out from your vision and the hillsides made to resemble rabbit warrens.
Instead of boring his way through the mountains, the railway engineer in Kangra skillfully avoided running headlong into the hillside. Instead of following dizzy curves, he cleverly chose to avoid the awkward corners. He must have been a Taoist at heart, taking Natures way rather than opposing it.”
His own excitement and the surrounding world’s nonchalance are captured in such a way that only a grounded person can. Note Ruskins encounter with the cow in the market as he weaved his way home with a copy of the Illustrated Weekly of India with the first installment of his ‘ The Room on the Roof’.
“See here, friend cow,’ I said displaying the magazine to the ruminating animal. Here’s the first installment of my novel. What do you think of it?’
The cow looked at the magazine with definite interest. Those crisp new pages looked good to eat. She craned forward as if to accept my offer of breakfast, but I snatched the magazine away.
‘I’ll lend it to you another day’, I said, and moved on.
Now I no longer see him as someone left behind, but as the writer who opened my eyes to my country and it’s many wonders – a national treasure, who can chuckle at himself.