Today, Ruskin Bond remains one of the most sought after Indian authors, writing in the English language. His works describe a new India that has emerged post-independence even as the melancholic lament for a more humane and laid back Hindustan of the times when the sun was setting on the British empire, lost somewhere in our quest for mad modernity, pervades his work.
This is the romance of Ruskin Bond, evident in his innate ability to connect the unfeigned contemporary with forgotten pasts, each word mapping the transformation in graphic detail. Even though his stories may be about small nothings-a bird by the window, a shrub on the walkway, a chance meeting with a vagabond or a rendezvous with a wild feline-they never fail to evoke the romance of what could have been, of what we could have done differently with this world, given another opportunity.
While his short stories and novellas are appreciated globally, few realise that it is the valley of Dehra Dun in the Himalayan foothills that shaped Ruskin’s sensibility. Ruskin grew up in the valley, it was here that he left his stepfather’s home never to return, it was here that he met his first crush, and it is right here that he first experienced India, in all its splendid squalor. In his very first book, The Room on the Roof, written in the 1950s tells us of the young Rusty growing up as a miserable teenage orphan .
People who think of Dehra Dun as a place and not a space, a home forever and not as somewhere they built a house and earned a living, can relate to his love for the valley. Dehra crops up time and again in his works, the author completely ill at ease with the manner in which the town he once knew has bloated into a city.
His emotional connect with the valley kept oscillating between love and hate until Ruskin Bond, having travelled the world, decided to settle at a safe distance in the hills at Landour, finding a spot from where he could constantly gaze at his estranged beloved, down below, under the shifting clouds. It is only befitting that the first major research work on Ruskin’s romantic imagination, penned in Jaskiran Chopra’s evocative style, emerges out of the valley, and nowhere else.
Jaskiran Chopra, like some of us, has remained a more determined lover of the valley and continues to live here, while regaling us with stories of change and permanence. Her work on this pre-eminent author easily debunks the notion that Ruskin is a children’s author. Sincerity to the written word cannot be confined to slots, just as words from the heart can melt even the most hardened of hearts. Ruskin is an honest author and touches emotional chords when writing about the hills and their people. He remains a refuge for all age groups; looking for their lost loves which, in Jaskiran’s words, “binds together the elements of his writing like innocence, personal narration, love for the past, love for nature and environment, and interest in childhood.” This interest in childhood, many critics have misconstrued as children’s literature while Ruskin appeals universally, to the innocent child that conceals itself within each one of us.
This work, aptly titled Fiction and Film:Ruskin Bond’s Romantic Imagination has also, perhaps for the first time ever, brought out Ruskin Bond’s monumental contribution to the celluloid world. Who can forget the climax of the Vishal Bhardwaj film, ‘Saat Khoon Maaf’, when the protagonist, having dispensed with six of the men in her life finally finds refuge in God, even as she makes a confession to a priest, enacted by Ruskin Bond himself? The closing scene of the film depicts Susannah (enacted by Priyanka Chopra) whirling around with Ruskin Bond inside a church, to the haunting melodies of a song sung by Rekha Bhardwaj (who also, interestingly, spent her childhood in Dehra Dun), composed by the director himself.
Ruskin’s contribution to literature transcends media, for, besides the print, he has given in equal measure to cinema and television. His genres have also ranged from the historical to tales of childhood. The book effectively analyses all of Ruskin’s works and brings to fore how their adaptation to the cinematic medium has heightened their impact, making more people sit up and notice Ruskin’s unpretentious literary genius.
For all the dimensions of his work, Ruskin remains a master storyteller, who, in his own minimalist way is able to impart an immortality to his characters that otherwise seem to lead very ordinary lives. Whether it is Ranbir, Somi or Maharani, the queen to the Raja of Mastipur, each individual-biographical or fictional-remains etched in his reader’s memories. Jaskiran Chopra attributes this to Ruskin’s amazing sense of place and history, his spontaneity and his interest in the mysterious. Clearly Ruskin is an author for all ages and will continue to live in the hearts and minds of generations of readers. So will this path breaking work that re-introduces us to this chronicler of innocence.
Fiction and Film: Ruskin Bond’s Romantic Imagination needs to be read not just as a book on Ruskin Bond, but also as its author’s reaffirmation of faith in the Himalayan hills and valleys that she has chosen to live in and work with. The book is not just a tribute to our real Bond, but also an assessment of the idea of romance in contemporary literary writing.
The writer is Founder, REACH (Rural Entrepreneurship for Art & Cultural Heritage)