‘Contains several irresistible pieces in prose and verse.’
‘He observes things that others would never see and makes them come alive through simple prose that comes form genuine feeling. For those who seek a change of pace or a renewal of faith in life, his writings are like a refreshing mountain spring to bathe in.’
‘In and age when steamy sex and chiller thrillers are in vogue, we need a Ruskin Bond to bring us gently back to earth, to reawaken our senses to the natural beauty around us, especially the mountains that he loves and which have produced his most inspired work,’
‘He is near to the Zen concept that if you observe and recognize the presence of every feeling about phenomena around you, of aware of your awareness, which is a form of transcendence above mundane experience.’
‘He has helped us see what we would have otherwise misses.’
‘The uncompleted style that is so apparent in him, disarms even the most cynical reader.’
Ruskin Bond was born in Kasauli, Pradesh, in 1934, and grew up in Jamnagar (Gujarat), Dehrdun and Shimla. In the course of a writing career spanning thirty-five years, he has written over a hundred short stories, essays, novels and more than thirty books for children. Three collections of the short stories, The Night Train at Deoli, Time Stops at Shamli and Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra have been Published by Penguin India. He has also edited two anthologies, The Penguin Book of Indian Ghost Stories and The Penguin Book of Indian Railway Storeis.
The Room on the Roof was his first novel, written when he was seventeen, and it received the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize in 1957. Vagrants in the Valley was also written in his teens and picks up form where The Room on the Roof leaves off.
These two novellas were published in one volume by Penguin India in 1993 and in early 1995 a collection of stories, essays, poems and a novella were brought out in a volume titled Delhi is Not Far: The Best of Ruskin Bond.
Ruskin Bond received the Sahitya Akademi Award for English writing in India for 1992, for Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra.
All Night the rain has been drumming on the corrugated tin roof. There has been no storm, no thunder, just the steady swish of a tropical downpour. It helps me to lie awake; at the same time, it doesn’t keep me from sleeping.
It is a good sound to read by—the rain outside, the quiet within—and, although tin roofs are given to springing unaccountable leaks, there is a feeling of being untouched by, and yet in touch with, the rain.
When, at the age of seventeen, I went to live in Jersey (in the Channel Islands), my first job was that of a junior clerk in a solicitor’s office. The firm, believe it or not, was called Smith,
Smith and Smith, but it was unusual to find all the partners in
the office at the same time. The telephone would ring, and the
ensuing conversation would go like this:
‘May I speak to Mr. Smith?’
‘I’m sorry, he’s away on holiday.’
Then may I speak to Mr. Smith? ’
‘He just went out to lunch.’
‘Well, never mind. May I speak to Mr. Smith?’
I left this firm to work for a well-known travel agency, which had just decided to set up a small branch office in Jersey. It was manned, or rather womanned, by a certain Mrs. Manning, who had left her husband on the mainland and was busy having an affair with a man who renovated old fire-extinguishers and sold them as new. She took me on as her assistant, and then left me to man the telephone, make hotel reservations, and keep in touch with the head office while she had the time of her life. Being totally inexperienced in this line of work, I made a complete mess of everything, for I had yet to appreciate the difference between Twin Beds and Double Beds. People who had never slept together were booked into rooms with double- beds, while those who had shared the same bed for years were now forced to sleep separately. Mrs. Manning and I both got the sack.
My third job consisted of carrying pay-packets down to workers in the island’s ancient sewers. Actually, there was a literary connection here, because Victor Hugo (who had lived on the islands for some time), had apparently visited them in order to collect ‘atmosphere’ for his novels. They certainly had atmosphere.
But why am I telling you all this? This is a book about my life in the Himalayan foothills.
Well, when I finally got back to India, I felt I’d had enough of doing uncongenial work and that henceforth I would make a living from freelance writing.
I could not immediately take to the mountains, but from my small flat in Dehradun I began bombarding every newspaper and magazine editor in the land with articles, stories, essays and even poems. In those days there were hardly any book publishers around (apart from those who brought out text-books), so that one really had to concentrate on journalism. There was, of course, The Statesman and The illustrated Weekly and a couple of other well-known papers; and there was also The Tribune of Ambala (it shifted to Chandigarh in the 1960s), and The Leader of Allahabad, and Shankar’s Weekly, and Baburao Patel’s Mother India and The Hindu’s Sport and Pastime, which actually published fiction along with its sports features. Mother India was not about motherhood, it was about Baburao Patel, who solved your personal problems along with the world’s problems in each monthly issue. Payments varied from five to fifty rupees per article, but for several years I managed to eke out a living as a freelance. That man is strongest who stands alone!
This was in the Fifties and Sixties. Things got better in the Seventies. I discovered The Christian Science Monitor in Boston, Blackwood’s in Edinburgh, and The Asia Magazine in Hong Kong, and I was able to realize my dream of Living in the hills. My children’s books began to be published in different parts of the world, too, and then in the Eighties along came Penguin India. When they expressed an interest in publishing some of my work, I was, like a good boy scout, ‘fairy prepared’! Those hundreds of stories and essays and poems and sketches were all there, just waiting to be collected and published between beautiful covers. And people even bought my books, thus proving wrong those Jeremiahs who had always said my work would never ‘sell’! Of course, more people are reading books than ever before in spite of, or possibly because of, the TV— video boom. The lack of any thought-content in these soap operas is driving intelligent people back to literature.
So how did this book come about?
The journals, the diary extracts, the play and even some of the essays and poems have not been published before. But they were lying in one of my boxes, forgotten for many years until Boston University offered to keep my papers in their Special Collections Library. Going through those old diaries and exercise books again, I thought they made, if not a complete, then a fairly entertaining record of the twenty-five years or more that I have spent here on the mountain-top. When I showed them to David Davidar, he suggested that if I linked them up with my personal and nature essays and poems, they would make a book of some substance.
I think I should explain that the book is divided into five sections. The first section has the journals written in the Seventies and ends with a play written about the same time. The second section contains some of my essays written in the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties; these are followed by the third section which is diary extracts. The fourth section is a selection of essays written in the Nineties. Section five, the Epilogue, ends the book.
Some of my poems were jotted down as spontaneous diary entries, so that they are almost nature notes in themselves. We felt that a selection would not be out of place here.
I couldn’t have done it without his help and the guidance and support of his colleagues, especially Rirna Handa, who has arranged everything so neatly, in order to make this book a complete reading experience.
Bells in the hills. A school-bell ringing and children’s voices drifting through an open window. A temple bell heard faintly from across the valley. Heavy silver ankle bells on the feet of sturdy hill women. Sheep bells heard high up on the mountainside.
There are sounds that come from a distance, beautiful because they are far away, voices on the wind—’they walketh upon the wings of the wind.’ Drums beating rhythmically in a forest clearing. The croaking of frogs from the rainwater pond behind the house.
And so we return to the rain, with which my favourite sounds began. I have sat out in the open at night, after a shower of rain, when the whole air is murmuring and tinkling with the voices of crickets and grasshoppers and little frogs. There is one melodious sound, a sweet repeated trill that I have never been able to trace to its source. Perhaps it is a little tree frog, or it may be a small green cricket. I shall never know. There is so much that we shall never know. Ah, sweet mystery of life!
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