|CURRENT ISSUE DECEMBER 27, 2004|
Best With the Bond
While Ruskin Bond returns with his universe in the Himalayan foothills, another book opens sepia-coloured windows to his past
There are few writers who become quiet legends now. In these eclat-crazy days of mega-advances, literary uberagents and media blitzkriegs, an author can instantly become a decaf celebrity-a politically correct hybrid of Puff Daddy, Confucius and a Barnum circus freak. And after their 15 reviews of fame, many lapse into the great unknown. Fortunately, there is also Ruskin Bond.
In two books out this month- Bond's Book of Nature, and Ruskin, Our Enduring Bond by long-time compadre Ganesh Saili-we get rare glimpses of a writer who followed his passion with an endurance and prolificity that has turned him into an undying voice, a reserved yet much-loved storyteller for whom fame is never a pursuit, independence is more important than big bucks and whose universe is simpler than the world he lives in.
Bond is an unwilling celebrity because he is a legend, a quiet yet colossal presence in Indo-Anglian literature who grew through the years like one of his favourite banyan trees, or a forest oak. It is in the shade of the banyan that most of his stories should be read, a perfect summer afternoon in the mountains slowly and unnoticeably turning into twilight's golden hour, an aftertouch of sadness, a gentle nostalgia, a sense of timid loss.
In Ruskin, Our Enduring Bond, Saili, photographer, professor and chronicler of Mussoorie, has made an unusual tribute to Bond. The book's exemplary design reflects the passage of a reclusive author known for his gigantic output and is filled with rare photographs of an era that still stains the Doon Valley with faint shadows. Pictures of the writer as a child in the erstwhile princely state of Jamnagar, a young Bond looking dashing with a Nelson Eddy puff and many such embellish the pages.
The narrative opens sepia-coloured windows to the author's past-his anguish at the breakup of his parents' marriage, schooltime at Bishop Cotton and his struggling London years when he wrote his first novel The Room on the Roof that went on to win the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize in 1955. We learn of Bond's Vietnamese girlfriend
Vu-Phuong who left London never to return, about his voluptuous descriptions of the housemaster's wife in his diary that got him into trouble at school, and fireside evenings with Nandu and Saili at the ancient Savoy Hotel. Saili has chronicled the life of his amigo with unbiased affection, pencilling the character of a man who has dealt with life's celebrations and tragedies with an understated courage and a chuckle.
The Book of Nature is essentially a verbal album of someone who has danced with the wind and felt the tiger in his soul, observations on a village life rapidly vanishing in the Himalayan valleys. Funny, sad, perceptive and gentle, the books reveal a man whose interest lies more in his journey that the destination.